Could anything scream “December in Florida!” more effectively than a parade of festive, lighted boats, followed by a fireworks show? The Destin boat parade doesn’t disappoint. An annual Destin Harbor tradition, the 2023 boat parade will be held from 6-9 p.m. on Sunday, December 10. Tour boats, harbor cruisers, and private yachts taking part get decked out in full parade regalia. You’ll spot Christmas lights, inflatable decor, elves, Christmas scenes, and more.
The parade is followed by fireworks set off from a boat on the harbor, so if you choose your viewing spot right, you’ll get to take in the sights of the parade as well as a professional fireworks show afterward.
The good news? Pretty much anywhere along the Destin Boardwalk, you’ll enjoy a prime view of the boat parade. The route is expansive enough that you shouldn’t have any trouble finding an unobstructed view.
Where it All Happens
The boat parade begins on the east end of the harbor, right across from Boshamps Seafood and Oyster House. The parade then travels west just across from the Destin Boardwalk. The boats then drift their way slowly toward the Destin Bridge. Boats turn to travel a short distance parallel to the Destin Bridge, affording onlookers standing on the bridge a bird’s eye view of the procession.
Opportunities to view the Destin Boat Parade abound, whether you’re looking for a quick stop with the family or an all-evening event. The entire stretch of the Destin Boardwalk boasts parade-viewing potential. For a more comfortable seat, you could opt to dine at one of the many harborfront restaurants offering outdoor seating.
Popular spots for parade viewing include Boshamps, Margaritaville, Tailfins, AJ’s Seafood, The Boathouse, and Harry T’s. There are others, as well; scope out your favorite spots ahead of time if you’re determined to get a great view of the harbor. If you’re heading to Margaritaville, you’ll want to try to get seating on the second floor for the best views.
You could also head to HarborWalk Village, grab some hot chocolate and a funnel cake, and head down to the water’s edge to take in the sights. Or grab an early dinner at the Village before the parade begins so you’re sure to get a front-row “seat.” During most of the year, parking at HarborWalk Village is $10, but it’s typically free around the December holidays.
Many people make a tradition of walking up the Destin Bridge to watch the fireworks. You’ll get a spectacular view of the festooned boats coming directly towards you as they progress up the harbor, and you’ll also be in the prime spot to see the fireworks after the parade. To get there, you’ll need to walk a bit, and bring a jacket; it can be windy and cool on the bridge after dark.
You can also watch the parade from Norriego Point, a state park beach area opposite the harbor. The boats will pass close to you here, but because it’s on the opposite side of the boardwalk, the focus of the people on the boat will largely be on the other side–and the boats’ decorations can tend to be one-sided.
Want to Be In The Parade?
You don’t have to have a private yacht to take part in the parade. Many of the tour boats that participate take on passengers during the parade, but you might have to call around to find out which ones do and how to book that tour. You won’t have the same view of the other boats as the people along the shore, but you’ll enjoy a unique perspective–and the cheers of all the onlookers–as you travel up the harbor. You’ll also end up with a front-row seat to the fireworks show afterward.
No matter where you choose to watch the parade, it’s hard to beat the atmosphere along the harbor front at Christmas time. Expect warm music, shops, and stores bedecked with holiday cheer and festive smiles around every corner. Stop by with plans to stay awhile, and chances are good you’ll leave happier than you came.