In most towns, people hop in their cars and drive to see 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, the 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.
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.," by AOL and "Worth The Drive," according to AAA in Southern California.
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, a rare, old-fashioned charm.
Don't be confused when the destination you got with your tickets seems to be inland. You will park behind a shopping center and take a shuttle to the boat dock.
Don't end up hungry and cranky. Eat dinner or a snack before you go.
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, arrive early and go straight upstairs when you get on the boat.
If you want to buy something to eat or drink on the boat, 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
This seasonal event is held every December. 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” to your boat.
The Huntington Harbor Cruise of Lights supports the youth music education programs of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.
If you have mobility issues, call before you buy your tickets to be sure they can accommodate your needs.
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 actually 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. Everyone parks at a nearby shopping mall and goes to the harbor in buses.
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