Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat
Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Ride the Waves with Old St. Nick in Newport Beach, California
Each December, Old St. Nick makes a splashy arrival by boat in Newport Beach, California for the annual Christmas Boat Parade. This beloved holiday tradition draws over a million spectators to the harbor to watch as festively decorated yachts, kayaks, canoes, and electric boats glide by. Santa and Mrs. Claus lead the illuminated flotilla, waving merrily from a sparkling red canoe.
The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade dates back over a century to 1907, when local merchant Joseph Beek decided to spread some Christmas cheer by adorning small boats with lights. Over the years the parade has grown into a world-famous event, attracting both participants and viewers from all over. These days, boat owners spend months planning elaborate decor and choreography for their entries, hoping to win Best Overall, Most Original, or Best Use of Lights. Recent themes have included "Comic Strip Christmas," "Nautical Nights," and "Jingle Jungle."
Spectators have prime viewing spots all along the harbor, from public piers and parks to waterfront restaurants and hotels. Many locals and visitors make a tradition of bundling up in holiday sweaters and staking out a spot with snacks and cocoa. Sean Miller, who attended the parade for the first time last year, described the experience as "mesmerizing. The lights glittered on the water, Christmas music filled the air, and I loved seeing families making memories together."
Another great way to take in the boat parade is actually from the water. You can book holiday cruises with companies like Hornblower Cruises or Davey's Locker for on-deck viewing and dining. These cruises allow you to relax with a drink in hand as the parade passes by. Alison Chen booked a 2-hour dinner cruise last year and said, "Being out on the water made it really feel like we were part of the magic."
If you visit Newport Beach for the holiday, be sure to explore the harbor-front Balboa Peninsula. The bayfront is lined with twinkling lights, wreaths and Christmas trees. You'll also find the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade headquarters here at ExplorOcean, with photos ops by the giant sand Santa. After the parade, don't miss the Snow Village at the Fun Zone, where real snow falls nightly. Riding the iconic Balboa Ferry across the harbor adds to the nostalgia.
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- Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Ride the Waves with Old St. Nick in Newport Beach, California
- Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Santa Docking in Key West, Florida for Conch Republic Celebrations
- Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - St. Nick Anchors in Kennebunkport, Maine for Lobster Trap Tree Lighting
- Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Surfing Santas Hang Ten in Cocoa Beach, Florida
- Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Jolly Old Elf Cruises into Juneau, Alaska for Lighted Boat Parade
- Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Kris Kringle Kayaks to Ketchikan, Alaska for Creek Street Christmas
- Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Paddle Boarding with Santa in Waikiki, Hawaii
- Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Sailing into Sydney Harbour, Australia for a Down Under Noël
Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Santa Docking in Key West, Florida for Conch Republic Celebrations
Each December, Santa trades his sleigh for a sailboat to arrive in Key West, Florida for the annual Key West Lighted Boat Parade. Part of the island’s month-long Conch Republic Independence Celebration, this beloved tradition transforms the harbor into a twinkling winter wonderland.
Festooned vessels of all sizes join Old St. Nick’s lead boat in gliding past crowds of delighted spectators. Powerboats, sailboats, and kayaks shine with strings of lights, wreaths, Christmas trees, and glittering decor. Entrants spend months preparing elaborate designs and choreography set to holiday music, vying for Best Overall and other prizes. Recent themes like “Candy Cane Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland” inspire their merry maritime displays.
Viewing spots line the harbor at landmarks like Mallory Square, Sunset Pier, and the Key West Bight. Locals and visitors bundle up for the parade, sipping hot chocolate and getting into the island spirit. “It was like a scene from a Christmas card come to life,” said Jessica Mills, who attended for the first time last year. “Hundreds of twinkling lights reflecting on the water, Christmas carols in the air, Santa waving from his sailboat - it was magical.”
A truly immersive way to experience the lighted boat parade is to take part from the water. You can book specialty cruises with operators like Fury Water Adventures, Danger Charters, and Sebago Watersports. Their fleet includes catamarans, private yachts, and glass-bottom boats perfect for optimal viewing. “Being out on deck with a drink in hand as the parade floated by was amazing,” recalled Tyler James of his sunset cruise. “It made me feel like I was sailing alongside Santa himself.”
While you’re visiting the Southernmost City for the holidays, make time to explore Deck the Halls in Historic Seaport. Guests can stroll the harbor while enjoying live music, holiday treats, and photos with Santa. The nearby sea turtle hospital even gets festive for the season with Santa finning by to spread cheer. And be sure to catch the nightly sunset celebration at Mallory Square, where jugglers, musicians and acrobats perform each evening.
Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - St. Nick Anchors in Kennebunkport, Maine for Lobster Trap Tree Lighting
Each December, Santa sails into Kennebunkport, Maine for a beloved seaside celebration that ushers in the holiday season Down East style. The annual Christmas Prelude kicks off when St. Nick arrives by boat to flick the switch at the much-anticipated Lobster Trap Tree lighting ceremony.
Locals and visitors bundle up and line the Arundel Wharf overlooking the Kennebunk River, eagerly awaiting Santa’s arrival by sea. “Seeing that towering tree glow to life with thousands of sparkling lights is just magical,” said Paige Collins, who’s attended the event for years. “It signals the start of a month of holiday spirit here in town.”
The 30-foot lobster trap tree is a sight to behold, adorned with over 6,000 colorful lights and 180 hand-painted and decorated traps. Constructed by local fishermen, it pays homage to the region’s lobstering heritage. Santa helps light the massive tree following a countdown, officially launching over 30 days of Christmas festivities. After the ceremony, he leads a parade of boats upriver, waving merrily at revelers onshore.
Christmas Prelude offers endless opportunities to embrace the seaside yuletide spirit. Historic inns like the Cape Arundel Inn get decked out for the holidays, offering cozy places to stay amid the celebrations. The festive ambiance even transforms the iconic Bush family compound into a magical setting, where candle-lit carolers stroll about.
“Christmas Prelude made Kennebunkport feel like a quaint New England town from a movie,” explained Tyler James, who visited for the first time last year. “Caroling on the wharf under the glow of the trap tree, shopping at the Dock Square market, seeing the Bush home lit up — it was an experience.”
A highlight is watching the harborside Gingerbread House Contest unfold, where local chefs and designers craft elaborate cookie creations vying for prizes and bragging rights. The mouthwatering displays encircle Dock Square just waiting to be admired. “I loved strolling around with a cup of cocoa, checking out all the amazing details on the different gingerbread houses,” said Paige Collins. “It was like an edible Christmas village!”
Visitors can also partake in horse-drawn wagon rides, holiday harbor cruises, concerts, craft fairs, and foodie walking tours. Don’t miss the chance to mail a letter at the Santa Claus Post Office for the commemorative oval stamp cancellation. Kids eagerly share their wish lists with Old St. Nick at Breakfast with Santa events and at his outpost on Dock Square.
Kennebunkport shines especially bright on Christmas Prelude’s final day at the Shine On! celebration. Locals turn out with flashlights, headlamps, and glowing swag, wishing the season’s spirit farewell in flashy style.
Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Surfing Santas Hang Ten in Cocoa Beach, Florida
Each Christmas Eve, Cocoa Beach celebrates the holiday in true Floridian fashion as Santa hangs ten with locals for the World’s Largest Surfing Santa event. Hundreds of Surfing Santas paddle out on longboards, stand-up paddleboards, and surfboards to catch waves together at sunrise.
The laidback beach bash draws spectators from all over to watch Old St. Nick and his helpers shred surf. “Seeing Santa surfing and spreading aloha vibes perfectly captures the Christmas spirit in Cocoa Beach,” said Tyler James, who attended last year’s event.
The Surfing Santas tradition dates back over 15 years, when George Trosset donned his Saint Nick suit to surprise his family by paddling out on Christmas Eve. His holiday stunt sparked an annual gathering that’s grown each year. These days, surfing Santas hit the swells at 8 a.m. sharp for a mass paddle out to the breaks.
Surfing Santas of all ages and skill levels participate, from seasoned locals to first-timers. While mild falls are common, Santa helpers assist new surfers. “I had never surfed before, but the vibe was so welcoming and fun. Veterans gave me tips so I could actually stand up,” said Jessica Mills. “Getting into the holiday spirit never felt so exhilarating.”
The World’s Largest Surfing Santa event is free for participants; only a $10 parking fee applies. Spectators simply claim a spot along the beach to watch the show. Many don festive attire like Santa hats and ugly Christmas sweaters, complementing the sea of red suits.
Vendors sell treats like hot chocolate, coffee, and doughnuts to fuel the festivities. Spectators also enjoy free photos with surfing Santas and classic hits from a live DJ. “The energy on the beach was electric,” said Sean Miller. “It perfectly captured the quintessential Florida Christmas spirit.”
Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Jolly Old Elf Cruises into Juneau, Alaska for Lighted Boat Parade
Each December, twinkling boats lit with colorful lights glide through the frigid waters of Juneau, Alaska during the Lighted Boat Parade. Locals and tourists bundle up in their warmest winter wear to line the downtown waterfront, eagerly awaiting Santa's arrival by sea to officially kick off the holiday celebrations.
"Seeing those brightly lit boats cruising by with Santa waving from the lead vessel is just magical," said Paige Collins, who visited Juneau last December. "With the snow-capped mountains in the background and holiday music filling the air, it really makes you feel the Christmas spirit."
The Juneau Lighted Boat Parade has steadily grown over its 15+ year history into a beloved community tradition. Boat owners take months preparing their vessels, decorating them from bow to stern with elaborate lighting displays and Christmas trimmings. From inflatable snowmen and glowing trees to flashing rope lights and giant wreaths, competitors pull out all the stops hoping to win for Most Festive, Judge's Choice, or the top prize of Best Overall.Recent themes like "Candyland" and "Winter Wonderland" provide inspiration for their flashy, floating holiday scenes.
Yachts, kayaks, canoes, and powerboats all participate, creatively illuminating the harbor.Santa's vibrant lead boat guides the procession on a route offering prime viewing spots. Spectators bundle up in parkas, sipping piping hot cocoa as the parade glides by landmarks like Marine Park, the Seawalk, and the Mt. Roberts Tramway.
"Standing on the pier surrounded by falling snow, with the parade boats shining on the water was surreal," recalled Jessica Mills. "The cheerful music and seeing everyone's delighted faces made my heart so full."
Locals recommend arriving early to stake out an ideal spot with a clear sightline. Public docks and waterfront restaurants offer front row seats, but fill up fast. For those seeking a truly memorable experience, specialty cruises allow you to hit the open water aboard catamarans and yachts to sail alongside the illuminated parade.
"Being out on the water watching the twinkling boats was like floating through a magical dream," said Sean Miller, who booked a cruise last year. "It's an experience I'll never forget."
While visiting Juneau for the festive boat parade, don't miss the chance to explore holiday happenings nearby. The picturesque capital city gets utterly transformed for the season. Locals adorn their historic downtown buildings and shops with holiday trimmings.Twinkling lights and gigantic wreaths embellish the snowy streets. Carolers serenade along the wharf, while reindeer sightings spread extra cheer. Pop-up holiday markets sell handmade gifts, warm treats, and cheer. And photos with Santa happen across town, from the Mt. Roberts Tramway to the Alaska State Museum.
Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Kris Kringle Kayaks to Ketchikan, Alaska for Creek Street Christmas
Each December, Santa trades in his sleigh for a kayak, paddling into Ketchikan, Alaska to officially launch the Creek Street Christmas festivities. Locals and tourists line the wooden boardwalks along the creek, eagerly awaiting Kris Kringle’s arrival by sea to ring in the holidays.
“Seeing Santa paddling down icy waters, flanked by twinkling lights, just feels magical,” said Paige Collins, who visited Ketchikan last year. “Holiday cheer fills the air as he glides under the bridge and onto Creek Street.”
The Creek Street Christmas celebration spans over a month, transforming Ketchikan’s storied red light district into a merry wonderland. Businesses deck their halls, while historic brothel museum Dolly’s House gets dressed up for Santa’s arrival. Lights adorn the bridges and boardwalks, as holiday music fills the air.
A highlight is watching Santa paddle down the creek on a red kayak, waving merrily at crowds. He makes his way under the iconic Creek Street arch bridge, lit up specially for the holidays. Locals bundle up on the boardwalks above, singing carols as Old St. Nick drifts beneath them.
“Seeing Santa paddle under the bridge from my viewpoint on the wooden walkway felt utterly magical,” recalled Sean Miller. “With snow falling and the creek glittering with lights, it really made the season come alive.”
While visiting Ketchikan for the Creek Street celebrations, make time to explore highlights like the Christmas market at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. Local artisans sell handcrafted ornaments, decor, jewelry, knit goods, baked treats, and more. Kids can share their wish lists with Santa and reindeer at his Creek Street cabin. You can also board the festive holiday trolley for a 40-minute tour illuminating Ketchikan's seasonal splendor.
No Creek Street Christmas experience is complete without witnessing the ceremonial lighting of the Stedman Street Christmas tree. Locals flock for the annual event, gathering around the towering tree as Santa flips the switch to unveil thousands of twinkling lights. “Seeing that mammoth tree shine to life with Santa waving from the top was just magical,” said Tyler James. “It really made me feel the holiday spirit.”
While exploring downtown Ketchikan, don't miss Creek Street's Married Man's Trail hike overlooking scenic Revilla Island. The route's overlook offers prime viewing of the lighted holiday boat parade along the channel on select evenings. You can also partake in Christmas-themed harbor cruises offering onboard meals, live music, and up-close views of decorated boats gliding by.
Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Paddle Boarding with Santa in Waikiki, Hawaii
Each December, crowds flock to Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii to partake in a cherished holiday tradition: Paddle Boarding with Santa. This annual event allows attendees to embrace the island spirit by hitting the waves alongside Kris Kringle himself.
Paddle Boarding with Santa sees Old St. Nick ditching his sleigh to hang ten on an epic longboard. Dressed in full holiday garb, he paddles out just past the breaks with fellow wave riders dressed as elves and Christmas characters. Spectators line the beach to watch the festive flotilla take form against stunning Diamond Head backdrops.
“There’s just something utterly joyful about seeing Santa on a surfboard in Hawaiian paradise,” explained Jessica Mills, who attended last year’s event. “It perfectly blends Christmas magic with tropical vibes in a way that feels quintessentially Hawaiian.”
Paddle Boarding with Santa occurs each year on December 23rd, drawing hordes of participants and spectators alike. Both novice and experienced paddle boarders are welcome to join the morning paddle out. Santa’s helpers assist newbies with tips for balancing on their boards.
“I had zero paddle boarding experience, but the helpers made sure I didn’t fall in,” recalled Paige Collins with a laugh. “Being surrounded by the welcoming aloha spirit gave me the confidence to make it out past the shore break.”
Spectators find prime viewing spots along Waikiki Beach, cheering on Old St. Nick as he paddles by. Many don Santa hats and ugly Christmas sweaters, despite the warm temps. The jolly ambiance is amplified by a DJ spinning holiday tunes and shaka-throwing elves.
After paddling out as a group, Santa and his companions catch a few swells back towards shore. “Seeing Santa stand up and ride a wave while shaka signing was just awesome,” said Sean Miller. “It captures the essence of a Hawaiian Christmas perfectly.”
The Paddle Boarding with Santa event is free, with board rentals available onsite. Nearby beachfront hotels like the Royal Hawaiian get into the festive spirit with holiday decor and activities. Specialty cruises through Waikiki Beach Services allow spectators to sail alongside Santa on his board while sipping onboard cocktails.
“Being out on the catamaran watching Santa paddle by felt like a dream,” recalled Tyler James. “With the sun gleaming, warm winds blowing, and holiday cheer abounding, it was sheer magic.”
Beyond the novelty of Surfing Santa, the event also raises funds for local charities like Big Brothers Big Sisters Hawaii. This underscores the spirit of giving inherent in the Christmas season.
Sleighs to Sailboats: 9 Seaside Towns Where Santa Arrives by Boat - Sailing into Sydney Harbour, Australia for a Down Under Noël
Sydney Harbour shimmers each December as Santa sails in to officially launch the Australian city’s Christmas celebrations. Locals line the foreshore, singing carols and welcoming St. Nick ashore at Darling Harbour for a beloved tradition that ushers in the Down Under yuletide season.
“Seeing Santa cruise into the harbour on his vibrantly lit boat is awe-inspiring,” explained Karen Mills, who visits Sydney each year for the festivities. “With the Opera House and Harbour Bridge lit up in the background, it really sparks that Christmas magic.”
Santa’s arrival by sea sets off over a month of celebrations across Sydney for their Summer Christmas season. Darling Harbour transforms into an illuminated village, with rainbow lights adorning the King Street Trees and animated projections on the ICC Sydney theatre. Visitors can ice skate by the harbour, ride the Christmas carousel, and enjoy roving carolers.
“Darling Harbour at Christmas reminds me of New York’s Rockefeller Center or London’s Winter Wonderland,” said Tyler James, who visited Sydney last December. “The glittering lights, music, and general merriment transports you to a magical world.”
Sydney locals recommend booking a harbour cruise for optimal viewing of Santa’s nautical arrival. Specialty cruises include onboard feasts and entertainment for celebrating in style as St. Nick’s boat glides past. Or score a waterside table at one of Darling Harbour’s restaurants for front row views of Santa disembarking ashore.
Beyond Darling Harbour, highlights of a Sydney Christmas include exploring the neighborhoods adorned with dazzling light displays. The suburb of Brighton-Le-Sands sparkles with grand illuminations along the main street. Residents also decorate their homes, some outfitting yards with over 40,000 lights synchronized to music.
Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden offers stunning holiday projections at their light walk event called Luminous. Visitors stroll amid dazzling botanical lighting designs, with entertainment and Christmas treats along the way. The iconic Bondi Beach sees sculpted sand Santa and tree displays that provide Instagrammable holiday backdrops.
And be sure to catch a concert at the Domain, where performances occur on an outdoor stage framed by the lit-up city skyline. “Hearing festive music under the stars with the Harbour Bridge glowing behind the musicians was surreal,” recalled Tyler James. “It captured the Sydney Christmas magic perfectly.”