In most towns, people hop in their cars and drive to search for the most-decorated, lighted-up homes they can find during the holiday season. In Huntington Beach, they take the boat out instead.
Along the waterways that run through Huntington's tiny islands, multi-million-dollar homes get their bling on. The effect is magical, with each home's sparkling display doubled by its reflection in the water.
The decorations range from simple white lights to extravagant spectacles created by professional lighting installers. In past years, these have included dancing snowmen, a blinking Menorah, a home transformed into a mountain with a railroad twisting around its edges, and an inflatable Uncle Sam nearly large enough to be in the Macy's Parade.
The catch is that they face the water, not the street. If you don't own a watercraft or yours is docked somewhere else, the Huntington Harbor Cruise of Lights offers a way to join the fun. The cruises run nightly for a week, starting in mid-December. Reservations are a must.
The harbor cruise is just one of the fun things you can do in Orange County at Christmas. And don't miss the Newport Beach Boat Parade.
Why You Should Go
This seemingly simple activity has been voted Top 10 for the holidays by Coastal Living Magazine, one of "10 Best Christmas Lights Destination in the U.S." It's "Worth The Drive," according to the SoCal AAA club.
Thousands of visitors come to see the show every year. Many of them cruise the waterways in their boats, shouting "Merry Christmas" to each other as they pass. The effect brings to mind a small town, with a rare, old-fashioned charm.
These tips will help you avoid frustration and have the most fun possible.
Don't be confused when the starting destination listed with your tickets seems to be inland. Guests park behind a shopping center and take a shuttle bus to the boat dock.
The cruise goes on, rain or shine, and it can be colder than you might think on the water on a December night. Even if this is supposed to be sunny southern California, locals complain about how cold it gets. Dress warmly. Many people suggest taking hats, scarves, and gloves.
Most people want to see the lights from the top deck. If you want to join them, go straight upstairs when you get on the boat.
If you have mobility issues, call before you buy your tickets to be sure they can accommodate your needs.
The cruise won't be much fun if you get "hangry" before it's over. Eat dinner or a snack before you go. If you want to buy something to eat or drink on the boat instead, do it when you first arrive. Otherwise, you'll end up inside standing in line when you should be outside, seeing the lights.
How to Get Tickets: Order tickets online. Up to four tours go out each night.
The standard cruise lasts 45 minutes, but you can also choose an extended 70-minute version that cruises down some of the more intimate, narrow channels in Huntington Harbour.
They also offer a Land and Sea tour, that includes a secret stop to see some of the decorations up close. The tour starts with dinner at the “members only” Huntington Harbour Yacht Club, which overlooks the Harbour and includes “front of the line passes” for the boat.
The Huntington Harbor Cruise of Lights supports the youth music education programs of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.
How to Get There: Huntington Harbor is just off Pacific Coast Highway, on the east side of the road. That might sound like it's inland, and in general, it is. But the highway runs along a narrow finger of land that separates the ocean from the harbor.
You'll get directions to your starting point when you get your tickets.