Celebrating the birth of our nation is one of America’s favorite holiday. It’s truly a family holiday, with picnics, barbecues, outdoor games, fireworks, and reunions with friends and relatives. It also represents the commencement of hot days, summer fun, and the pleasure of being outdoors. But, first and foremost, Independence Day brings us together to celebrate as Americans, regardless of our individual heritage or political views.
Among America’s patriotic holidays – Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Veterans Day – it’s the celebration of “The Fourth” that most evokes our history and the freedoms we enjoy. In communities across the country, fife and drum corps, marching bands, and symphony orchestras perform Sousa marches and patriotic melodies before immense gatherings, building to a crescendo of pyrotechnics, all in celebration of our country’s founding.
Well in advance of the holiday, most Americans know what they will be doing to celebrate, and children everywhere look forward to staying up late for fireworks, a highly anticipated tradition from an early age. For daytime activities, even the smallest towns and villages have their own unique salute to our nation.
While a family might look forward every year to the comfort and pleasure of attending a hometown celebration, many will occasionally change it up by traveling to a larger – or otherwise different – venue as a special treat. 24/7 Tempo has reviewed some of the largest 4th of July events, focusing on family friendly celebrations, many of them multi-day affairs, that offer a variety of activities and experiences for free or at a small cost. Some of the cities with the best celebrations are among the top places Americans will go for the Fourth of July.
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Steeped in Revolutionary War history, no city does Independence Day like Boston. Called Harborfest, Boston’s celebration lasts a week and attracts nearly 3 million visitors every year. The week of events – many of them free – include parades, harbor cruises, ceremonies, tours, live music, exhibitions, and a famous “chowderfest.”
The biggest party is the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on the 4th. Thousands of residents and visitors alike spend the day picnicking in front of the Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River Esplanade, assuring themselves a good spot to enjoy the evening’s free Boston Pops Concert. The orchestra ends its concert with a rousing performance of the 1812 Overture to kick off a spectacular fireworks display over the river, viewable from the 3-mile long esplanade or from across the river in Cambridge.
Like Boston, Philadelphia takes its role in America’s independence to heart, making the 4th of July a weeklong celebration, called the Wawa Welcome America festival. Free events include museum days (free or “pay what you wish”), block parties, concerts, outdoor movies, a variety of children’s activities, food events, live performances, a parade, and pyrotechnics. There were fireworks over the Delaware River on June 29, and another show on July 1. But the biggest party is on the 4th.
Festivities begin at noon with a massive “Party on the Parkway,” covering several blocks of the city’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with food, live music, games, and brew, that end with an outdoor concert, this year starring Jennifer Hudson and Meghan Trainor. It all comes to an end with a glorious fireworks display over the Philadelphia Museum of Art, choreographed to a patriotic soundtrack.
New York City
Not to be outdone by the two cities that most evoke the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, New York City will host its 4th of July celebration, with millions of people celebrating from the city’s rivers, parks, and rooftops. The legendary Macy’s fireworks show, the largest in the country, will fire from the Brooklyn Bridge and four barges on the East River, with many other displays also launching in the area, including in Coney Island, Jersey City, Manhattan’s West Side, and Staten Island.
There is a lot of other free or inexpensive fun on the 4th in the Big Apple besides the fireworks: an international 4th of July night market in Queens, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island, and a concert by the Staten Island Symphony on the waterfront overlooking New York Harbor, as well as with special film screenings and sports events.
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Our nation’s capital takes great pride in its 4th of July celebrations, which begin with a noontime parade with floats, fife and drum corps, and military personnel and VIPs marching and rolling along 10 blocks of Constitution Avenue. Later, as a prelude to the evening’s more traditional celebration, this year the federal government will sponsor a “Salute to America” to take place at the Lincoln Memorial, with military bands, fly-overs, and an address by President Donald Trump.
The annual concert by the National Symphony Orchestra, with special guest stars, takes place at dusk on the Capitol’s west lawn, and, as in Boston, the concert ends with Tchaikovsky and cannon fire to cue the fireworks. With the magnificent monuments, museums, and memorials as the backdrop, the annual fireworks on the National Mall provide a memorable and moving experience.
The 4th of July is celebrated throughout the city and neighboring communities, with several fireworks displays and a range of free concerts, exhibitions, family activities, and parties taking place in community parks and other venues throughout the larger metropolitan area. But what sets Atlanta apart on the 4th is its annual AJC Peachtree Road Race.
The famous race, organized by the Atlanta Track Club, is capped at 60,000 participants and billed as the largest 10k in the world. This year’s event could be the liveliest in the event’s history, as it is celebrating its 50th anniversary. One hundred fifty thousand spectators will be lining Peachtree Road to cheer on the runners and enjoy the eateries and special events along the course. The public is also given free access to the Peachtree Health and Fitness Expo at the Georgia World Congress Center on July 2 and 3.
Last year, a quarter of a million people came to Nashville’s downtown to enjoy a full afternoon’s worth of 4th of July entertainment, topped off by one of the largest fireworks displays in the country. This year, the free concert will be followed by 62,000 shells that will fire for 30 minutes – accompanied by the Nashville Symphony orchestra.
The free concert and fireworks spectacular is surrounded by events throughout Music City’s metropolitan area, including a 5K and 10K race on the morning of the fourth, a series of fireworks from the 4th to the 6th over Nashville area lakes, and many parties, some offering free food, at Nashville’s eateries, breweries, and bars.
Tahoe South, California
This city of around 20,000, which shares a border with Nevada, sits on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. On the 4th of July, the city’s population will swell to over 100,000 for the Lights on the Lake Fireworks, one of the biggest pyrotechnic displays in the country. Part of the fun is finding the perfect spot for watching the show. Since the fireworks are launched from barges on the lake, the view from a boat can hardly be beat, unless you make the effort to climb Mount Tallac for a uniquely breathtaking viewpoint. Beaches, shorefront parks, and tourist lodges also host thousands of viewers.
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Miami Beach, Florida
There are plenty of fun opportunities to celebrate the Fourth in Miami Beach, with pyrotechnics firing from a number of locations: Key Biscayne, Downtown Miami, Coconut Grove, Miami Beach, and on Ocean Drive over Lummus Park. The most popular is the Fire on the Fourth Festival, celebrated at the North Beach Bandshell. The fireworks will launch over the Atlantic Ocean, following the ultimate family beach day. Activities are particularly geared toward children and families – bungee jumping, games, food trucks, rock-climbing, and crafts.
What makes the 4th of July stand out in Anchorage is the length of the day of celebration. It begins with a community pancake breakfast at 8:00 a.m., an unusually early start for a holiday party, unless you consider that the sun will have been up since 4:30 a.m. Celebrations stretch out at the other end of the day as well; fireworks require dark skies, and the sun won’t set until 11:30 p.m.
In between the initiation and close of the celebrations, there is a lot going on. After breakfast is a parade, followed by a reading of the Declaration of Independence and a festival of food (with an emphasis on fresh seafood), games, period costumes, and then the annual double header between rival hometown baseball teams. The last pitch signals the start of the pyrotechnics.
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There is an admission charge to visit Colonial Williamsburg, but it offers a unique and fun experience whenever you choose to go. If you are able to book tickets for the holiday, it could be your most memorable 4th of July.
In this most famous reproduction of a colonial village, visitors experience the revolutionary spirit through a cast of villagers dressed in period costumes and working at traditional trades and tasks. On the 4th, the living history of Williamsburg is particularly spirited and moving, with Thomas Jefferson strolling through the crowds, pausing to read the Declaration of Independence aloud. There are fifes and drums, of course, and a number of performances and demonstrations, though many of the celebratory activities revolve around dinner and can be pricey. At the end of the day, the fireworks, timed to patriotic music, are for all to enjoy.
New Orleans flaunts its musical DNA at Louis Armstrong Park with a nine-hour free 4th of July concert, billed as Essence in the Park, with an impressive list of featured acts performing from two stages. The celebration includes vendors, a New Orleans style parade, and activities for all ages.
Part two of the New Orleans Fourth is dubbed Go Fourth on the River. Before the fireworks begin there is more live music in the French Quarter and a fireboat water show on the Mississippi. Fireworks are launched from opposing barges on the River, and revelers can download an app that will allow them to hear patriotic tunes synced with the pyrotechnics.
Los Angeles has more than its share of opportunities to party over the 4th of July holiday, with beach parties, parades, and performances throughout the city and nearby venues. Events range from a day-long block party and free fireworks in downtown L.A., to sky-divers and a parade in Pacific Palisades, to a bodybuilding pageant in Venice Beach.
Many activities are free, but the centerpiece of the celebration, three nights of fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl, preceded each night by a Los Angeles Philharmonic concert, requires tickets, beginning at $15 for the more distant seats. Competing for the crowds on the 4th is AmericaFest at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, which begins with tailgating in the parking lot and ends with a spectacular fireworks show. You have to pay to get in, but the fireworks can be seen from outside the stadium.
The big events – a parade, a concert, and fireworks – are all free in Chicago. The twin hearts of the celebration are Grant Park, which hosts the traditional concert of patriotic songs, and the Navy Pier on Lake Michigan, where the 4th will be celebrated with a day-long party, including a beer garden, followed by impressive pyrotechnics over the lake.
There is plenty of free viewing of the fireworks from the pier and riverfront, but, for those who want to splurge, there are many rooftop venues and opportunities to watch from the water on various tour boats cruises. Some offer dinner and bar services for a grander celebratory experience.
Minneapolis is a prime 4th of July destination because of the variety of events in and around the city, with fireworks shows throughout the region both big (Minneapolis’ Stone Arch Bridge and Lake Minnetonka) and a little smaller (Powderhorn Lake Park, Gold Medal Park, Shakopee’s Valleyfair amusement park, Mystic Lake).
Downtown Minneapolis’ Red White Boom celebration is the center of the festivities, with road races, an outdoor movie, live music, and fireworks. Offering a more patriotic atmosphere, Fort Snelling has ceremonies, cannon fire, fife and drum performances, and a parade. For family fun, St. Paul hosts a day-long party in Langford Park, with races, kid’s activities, a parade, and live music. Nearby Plymouth takes the holiday into the fifth of July in spectacular fashion with fire dancers, the Minnesota Orchestra, and a fireworks extravaganza.
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Smalltown Granbury, notable for a cemetery where Davy Crockett and his family, has about 9,000 residents, yet it draws tens of thousands of visitors to its annual 4th of July fireworks display, the big attraction of the Granbury Chamber of Commerce Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration.
The fireworks, and the free big band concert that precedes it, are spectacular, and the events surrounding the pyrotechnics are homey and fun. The beloved community party begin with a car show at a local Chevy dealer on July 3 and ends with a free outdoor concert in the town park on July 6. In between, there is a decorated bike contest, hometown parade, junior rodeo, and a battle of the bands.
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