If you don't plan ahead, you could end up stuck in traffic on Coast Highway and miss the boats in the Newport Harbor Christmas Parade of Lights, one of Southern California's most spectacular--and popular--holiday attractions.
Each year, thousands of spectators clog the streets, fill waterfront restaurants and line the boardwalks to watch the more than 200 gaily decorated and brightly lit vessels glide by. This year, the boats will be on view nightly from Dec. 17 through 23.
To make plans, you'll need a map with the parade route and a timetable and also some expert advice.
Getting the map is easy; one appears on the preceding page.
As for the expert advice, some suggestions:
Lorri Valentine at the Newport Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce, (714) 644-8211, sponsor of the parade, suggests that visitors use the grandstands the Newport Harbor Jaycees set up at the Sea Scouts Base, 1931 W. Coast Highway. Tickets are $6 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and $4 for children. Avoid traffic by using the Jaycees' free shuttle service from the Ford Aerospace parking lot on Jamboree Road between Bison and Ford roads. Service begins at 5:30 each night. The parade is expected to pass the grandstands around 7 p.m.
Reservation information for grandstand seating is available at (714) 644-6701.
Some parade veterans suggest making reservations at a waterfront restaurant. Expect some of them to be full by now, however. John Dominis Restaurant, which offers a spectacular view of the harbor from virtually every table, began accepting reservations for the parade July 1 and is sold out for Dec. 17 and 18. Seating was available for other nights at press time, but the restaurant is asking for deposits to guarantee tables. Limited seating will be available at the patio bar upstairs on a first-come, first-served basis. Call (714) 650-5112.
At the Warehouse, across the harbor, all dinner tables have been booked for the run of the parade. However, the outdoor bar patio, a superb spot for close-up viewing, will be open to walk-in customers on a first-come, first-served basis. Call (714) 674-4700.
Other restaurants with space available at press time included Newport Landing, (714) 675-2375; Parker's Seafood Grill, (714) 673-3741; and Cano's, (714) 631-1381.
The chamber offers updates on restaurant seating. "We'll give callers the names of restaurants that might still be able to accommodate them," Valentine said.
If you can't get dinner reservations or prefer not to make them, you could try the Tale of the Whale Restaurant in the Balboa Pavilion. There, seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. The parade will pass the pavilion around 7:50 p.m., but visitors are urged to arrive at 5 to be assured of a table.
The public beaches on the Balboa Peninsula offer excellent views, says Jim Brahler, assistant traffic engineer for Newport Beach.
"One of the best I've found is between 18th and 19th streets on the peninsula," he said. "There's even public parking there, and, if it is cold, you can stay in your car and watch from there. But those parking spots go pretty quick; you'd better come early."
The beach at 10th and Bay streets also is a good spot. You could also could stand and watch from one of the public docks at N, Fernando, Washington, 19th and 15th streets on the peninsula.
"Bring your blanket and some hot chocolate," Brahler says.
On Balboa Island, parade watchers may sit anywhere along the public seawall on South Bay Front for an unobstructed view. The public dock at the east end of Little Island at Park Avenue where Park adjoins the seawall offers another viewing spot, as do the public piers on Balboa at Opal and Coral avenues.
Those who prefer to watch the parade by sea can book passage on any of a variety of boats.
Boats will depart at 6 and 8 p.m. for 1 1/2-hour tours from Newport Landing, (714) 675-0550, and from Davey's Locker, (714) 673-1434. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children. Reservations are required.
Catalina Harbor Tours, (714) 673-5245, will turn its 400-passenger Catalina Flyer into a parade-watching boat during the event. Hourlong tours are $10 and 30-minute tours are $8. Catalina Harbor also offers rides at the same prices on the Pavilion Queen and the Pavilion Paddy.
The Fun Zone Boat Co., (714) 673-0240, has run parade-watching tours for 40 years. It had little space available at press time, however. Tickets are $10.
For those who like the idea of combining dinner and a cruise, there is the package offered on the luxurious 102-foot Hornblower, (714) 549-8866. Guests board the yacht at 6 p.m., sail at 6:30, and return at 9:30. The cost is $66.75 per person and includes a four-course dinner. Stacey Mills, who is in charge of reservations for the Hornblower, suggests booking as early as possible.