Big Bay Balloon Parade kicks off

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SAN DIEGO -- Thousand of visitors filled the San Diego bayfront Friday for the 24th Annual Port of San Diego Big Bay Balloon Parade.

Meb Keflezighi, the Eritrean-born American long-distance runner, was the grand marshal at this year's parade, whose theme was "Forever Young."

The Port was 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 28 this year.

The balloons take minutes to blow up, but months go into the process of making them.

"From the day we have the design in place...about two months, " said Charles Trimble, the President of Big Events Inc.

A 5k run and a Wienerschnitzel Wiener Nationals dog race took place before the parade. A five-year-old wiener named Mr. Schnitzel beat out 6 other dogs considered to be the fastest wieners in the West Coast. Owner Lois Hernandez said her dog was more of a long-distance runner, but that he's proven to be a fast sprinter too.

"He's a champion. He just showed us...that this is what he's made of, " said Hernandez.

There will also be nine bands, including the USC Trojan and University of Nebraska Cornhusker marching bands. Seven floats and several specialty units will complete the lineup.

The parade is one of the many activities leading up to the 2014 National University Holiday Bowl game between the USC Trojans and the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers at Qualcomm Stadium at 5 p.m. Saturday.

It will run south along Harbor Drive from the County Administration Building to the corner of Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway, near Seaport Village. Segments of Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway will be closed for the parade starting at 12:45 p.m., and the parade itself starts at 3 p.m.

Parade organizers said Waterfront Park at the County Administration Center will be one of the best places from where to watch the procession of balloons. Event organizers are urging visitors to take public transportation as downtown parking will be at a premium.

The Little Italy trolley stop is located one block east of the Waterfront Park.