America goes all out for 4th of July celebrations. Sure, people are remembering that historic declaration on the fourth of July, 1776, but they’re also ready to enjoy a three-day weekend right in the middle of the summer. That usually means barbecues, parades, free concerts and fireworks. Whether you celebrate in a big city or a small town, you’ll get a true taste of what the Fourth means in these ten places.
It’s as if the National Mall - the three-kilometre-long lawn at the city’s heart - was built for fireworks displays, and this one has perhaps the biggest budget in the country. During the day you can watch grand military parades (including the army’s Old Guard Fife & Drum Corps in historic regalia) and graze at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
New York City
The legendary fireworks over Manhattan are set off from barges on the Hudson River as the famous skyline stands in silhouette under the show. Head to West Side Highway, which will be closed off to make way for crowds of spectators in the midtown area, or the waterfront around Battery Park City for spectacular views of the action. For VIP treatment, you can hop a cruise boat to eat, drink and dance the night away. During the day, don’t miss the hot dog eating contest at Coney Island, which is pure Americana though almost always won by a Japanese contestant.
For the best historic surrounds, America’s birth place can’t be beaten. Visit the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall, and once you’ve done your homework, hit the food vendors at the seven-block-long Party on the Parkway. Fireworks go off over the Philadelphia Museum of Art, while the country’s largest free concert features an eclectic mix of pop artists (this year it includes John Mayer, Neo and Philly locals The Roots).
Another grand old American city with a grand old tradition: Boston anchors its celebration with a Boston Pops performance, culminating in a rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” complete with cannons, church bells and of course fireworks exploding over the Charles River.
This scenic coastal town just north of Boston offers a truly small-town American experience with flair. The daytime Marblehead Festival of Arts, which runs the whole weekend, sets the tone for creativity, at events like a sand sculpture contest and the Horribles Parade, a New England satirical tradition that features kids and pets in decorated wagons and bikes. Fireworks light up the bay after.
Just 20km from Dallas, this community of 15,000 is better known as “Kaboom! Town”, as its massive fireworks budget rivals that of major metropolises, and over half a million people come to watch the sky explode in color every year. Because of the vast crowds it’s best to park out of town and walk to see the display.
Bristol, Rhode Island
This small seaport claims the longest-running Fourth of July celebrations in the country, with a parade running every year since 1785. The place is so dedicated to the holiday that the center stripe down its main streets is painted red, white and blue, and the buildup to the Independence Day starts three weeks earlier, on Flag Day, with a whole series of pageants, parades and concerts—so you can get in the spirit of the Fourth before the big day arrives.
Key Biscayne, Florida
Just across the water from Miami, the town’s parade is a huge event, and the oldest of its kind in southern Florida—it’s been going for 54 years, and participants are motivated by the $1,000 prize for the best float. The parade shows off the community pride, and the fireworks are world class. (In fact, you can even cheat and watch them from Miami Beach.)
Who says you have to honor history with old traditions? The party capital of the West celebrates with just a bit more glitz than usual, with a performance and fireworks by the Las Vegas Philharmonic, while clubs host big-name DJs, drink specials and even topless pool parties. For more wholesome fun, head to nearby Boulder City for its Damboree, where you’ll find thrill rides, games and a pie-eating contest.
Madrid, New Mexico
This reclaimed ghost town, south of Santa Fe, stretches their parade along the main drag, and back again, just to make the festivities last 15 minutes. Madroids, as locals call themselves, roll up with whatever they’ve got: a fire truck, bicycles, old Cadillacs, a llama or two. This event may not be worth flying in for, but it’s typical of the celebratory spirit found in even the tiniest American towns on the Fourth of July—no matter where you land, you’ll find something special.
Zora O'Neill blogs at rovinggastronome.com and you can follow her on Twitter on @zora.