The North Embarcadero along North Harbor Drive may be under construction for its big transformation, but that won’t stop the Big Bay Balloon Parade from bringing its wonder to the downtown waterfront.
This year’s parade kicks off at 10 a.m. on Thursday, December 27, in front of the County of San Diego Administration Building on North Harbor Drive. Due to the ongoing construction related to the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan Phase I project, the parade route has been altered this year. Instead of proceeding straight down North Harbor Drive, it will take a left turn on Ash Street and then proceed south on Pacific Highway. It will end at Pacific Highway and E Street.
The theme for the parade is “World of Wonder” and the parade’s grand marshal is Jared Gilmore, star of the modern day fairy tale “Once Upon a Time,” which airs on ABC on Sunday nights.
The Port is the title sponsor of the parade, which is often referred to as “America’s Largest Balloon Parade” because of the number of giant inflatables. There are 25 this year, including old favorites Woody Woodpecker, Mr. Potato Head, Bob the Builder and Jay Jay the Jet Plane. There are two new balloons this year – The Lorax and Olivia the Pig.
The bands for the two teams competing in the Holiday Bowl game- the Baylor University Golden Wave Marching Band and the UCLA Bruins Marching Band – will be marching in the parade. They will join Navy Band Southwest, Marine Band San Diego and others, including 14 high school bands from around the United States. Six creative floats and 25 specialty units will round out the parade, which will be watched by about 100,000 spectators on the streets, and many more on television. It will air live locally on Channel 4 San Diego.
The parade is just one of many activities leading up to the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl game, taking place at Qualcomm Stadium at 6:45 p.m. the same day. The game matches Baylor University from the Big 12 against UCLA from the Pac-12.
Just before the parade starts, more than one thousand runners will compete in the annual Bumble Bee 5k Run. The run begins at 9:45 a.m. at the corner of Harbor Drive and Ash Street. It heads south on Harbor Drive behind the San Diego Convention Center, makes a loop through Embarcadero Marina Park North and ends at Ruocco Park, just north of Seaport Village.
The San Diego County Credit Union Big Bay Family Festival will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier. After the parade is over, head over there to witness the Battle of the University Bands, see how far your field goal kick is, or test your rock-climbing abilities on the rock wall. All activities at the family festival are free.
Parking for the parade is extremely limited. The Port of San Diego encourages carpooling or the use of public transportation. The San Diego Trolley has convenient stations with service to the Harbor Drive and Embarcadero areas with free and paid parking lots. These are located at the Fashion Valley, Old Town and America Plaza Stations.
Street closures for the parade begin at 7:30 a.m. and include the following streets:
• North Harbor Drive from Grape Street to Ash Street
• Ash Street from North Harbor Drive to Pacific Highway
• Pacific Highway (one northbound lane will remain open) from Cedar Street to Harbor Drive
Images courtesy of the Port of San Diego.