Immerse yourself in the festive and free-spirited vibe of the Island of Lights Festival, a beloved Carolina Beach holiday tradition. This month-long annual celebration starts the day after Thanksgiving and culminates in a New Year's celebration. Let the festival's signature events make your spirits merry and bright, just like the vibrant lakeside lights and colorful boat parade.
Santa by the Sea
With homes and businesses around the island decked in their festive best, the holiday spirit extends far beyond the lake. During Santa by the Sea, see the vintage seaside Carolina Beach Boardwalk illuminated with dazzling lights. The recurring event takes place on Nov. 25, Dec. 9 and Dec. 16 (all Saturdays) this year. Special programs begin at 5 p.m. and feature storytelling, treats, crafts, visits from Santa and more kid-friendly fun
Holiday Parades by Land and Water
The town’s holiday traditions continue during the Carolina Beach Christmas Parade, which is held the Friday following Thanksgiving weekend. On Friday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m., decorative floats, marching bands and more will parade through town, providing an evening of free, family-friendly cheer.
The festivities officially hit the water the following day, Saturday, Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. with the annual Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla – a Carolina Beach original and a highlight of the Island of Lights Festival.
Elaborately decorated and illuminated fishing boats and pleasure crafts cruise along the Intracoastal Waterway from Snow’s Cut to the Carolina Beach Basin, creating a fantastic display of colorful lights that will wow the whole family. Vote for your favorite boats via text to help determine the winner of the "People's Choice" award. Find additional information on the event’s website.
For prime viewing of the lively water parade, consider reserving tickets for the Island of Lights Flotilla Cruise with Island Cruises. Hop aboard at the Carolina Beach Marina an hour before the flotilla begins and admire the festive lights on homes, docks and decorated watercraft as you float along. Island Cruises’ vessel anchors for passengers to witness the boat procession through the harbor and then joins the parade as it returns to the marina. Plan ahead to book your spot, as this experience typically sells out each year.
Enjoy a front-row seat to the flotilla as you dine on the waterfront patio at Stoked Restaurant. Watch the floating parade pass by while warming up with delicious crab dip and clam chowder. Or, opt to watch from near the Carolina Beach Marina or the Federal Point Yacht Club. Locals often gather at the intersection of Florida and Georgia Avenues, which offers a view of the action from the stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and kayak launch area.
A Seaside New Year’s Celebration
Ring in the new year coastal style with the Island of Lights New Year’s Eve Celebration, which rotates between Carolina Beach and nearby Kure Beach annually. This free, family-friendly celebration wraps up the Island of Lights Festival with a night full of dancing and excitement. Festivities begin every New Year’s Eve at 9 p.m. and culminate with a beach ball drop at midnight and a display of fireworks.
As you plan your holiday season travels, choose from a variety of lodging options in laid-back Carolina Beach, including many within a short walk or drive of signature holiday events like the Island of Lights Festival. Explore our holiday highlights for even more festive trip inspiration!