America’s Best Towns for July 4th
The Tillery family has vacationed in Boulder, CO, every summer since 1998. Pat Tillery, a native of Poulsbo, WA, says all three generations love to "see the mountains, walk the trails, and stroll along Boulder Creek. It's idyllic."
They particularly love coming here for the 4th of July—and they're not the only ones. T+L readers ranked Boulder as one of the top five places to celebrate the birth of our nation. As part of our America's Favorite Towns survey, readers evaluated hundreds of destinations, from Chatham, MA, to Homer, AK, for qualities like quaint B&Bs, great wine bars, and attractive locals.
The high-ranking towns for July 4th tended to score well in founding-father-friendly categories like charming main streets, parades, and feeling patriotic.
While most offer festivities like watermelon-eating contests, dog parades, or fireworks, other winners just exude enough star-spangled pomp to feel like a trip back in time. In Lambertville, NJ, or New Hope, PA, you can walk the same streets where Washington’s army marched, or eat pizza at the same corner where his troops once camped for the night.
The winning town of Flagstaff, AZ, can't claim any direct ties to 1776, but, like Boulder, makes up for that with more than enough fanfare.
The Tillery family, for instance, watches four fireworks displays each Independence Day, from a perch behind Boulder’s Chautauqua Auditorium. "It's as if you could reach out and grab the lights," muses Pat Tillery.
No. 1 Flagstaff, AZ
With its ponderosa pines, frontier spirit, and easy access to the Grand Canyon, this Arizona town won the medal of honor in T+L’s Independence Day contest. Flagstaff also made the top 10 for its town squares, and the centerpiece of its July 4th celebration is a parade through downtown—along with fireworks, a fun run, a concert by the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, and “Flagstaff Art in the Park,” a juried art and fine crafts show in downtown’s Wheeler Park. Flagstaff won high marks in the survey for its parks and hosts a downtown Art Walk monthly.
No. 2 Bend, OR
Bend ranked No. 1 for town pride, and one reason may be its creative celebration of the Fourth: an all-day party in Drake Park with old-fashioned gunnysack races, hula-hoop contests, and, the pièce de résistance, the July 4th Pet Parade. (The fun continues throughout July and August in Drake Park with free outdoor concerts.) Dating back to the 1930s, the parade features costumed kids and pets walking or riding in wagons. Bend also ranked highly for family-friendly hotels, such as the River House Hotel, sitting on the Deschutes River.
No. 3 Lahaina, HI
By July, whale-watching season is over in this village on the west side of Maui, which was once a royal Polynesian hangout. Fireworks and other holiday festivities tend toward the spontaneous here; locals typically have potlucks on the beach. And readers apparently liked it that way, giving Lahaina strong scores for both its barbecue and gorgeous weather. For a sit-down version of a Hawaiian barbecue potluck, go to Aloha Mixed Plate, where you can enjoy the islands’ diverse array of comfort foods, from Korean short ribs to Kalua pork and fried Mochiko chicken.
No. 4 Newtown, PA
In Bucks County, roughly an hour from Philly and the Liberty Bell, Newtown throws a charmingly small-town-style party: its First Fourth! The celebration includes a parade and ends with fireworks at the local middle school. (The only hitch: it happens July 5th.) Newtown came in No. 1 for its ice cream; toast your holiday over ice cream sodas at Goodnoe Farm Dairy Bar, est. 1918. Or try the more recent arrival, the Zebra-Striped Whale, which specializes in creamy, granite-slab-mixed concoctions.
No. 5 Boulder, CO
This Rocky Mountain town comes into its own during summer, and the July 4th festivities downtown include a bike rodeo, a fun run, and a beer garden. The biggest fireworks show, Ralphie’s Independence Day Blast, shoots out from the Colorado University stadium and features the school’s live mascot, Ralphie the Buffalo. Boulder also ranked near the top of the survey for its quirky locals and its delicious burgers, such as those at The Sink, which has been around since 1923.
No. 6 New Hope, PA
He may not have slept here, but George Washington reportedly marched through this quirky town on four occasions during the Revolutionary War. Today, New Hope also ranked in the top 10 for its bars and music scene—and makes a lively launching pad for area festivities, from the Revolutionary Run in Washington Crossing, just a few miles south. If you visit New Hope before the Fourth, you can check out the Liberty Canal Festival, where enthusiasts reenact George Washington’s June 20–22, 1778, encampment. New Hope also ranked near the top of the survey for antiques shopping and cafés; brunch spot Logan Inn dates back to 1722.
No. 7 Estes Park, CO
Known for its huge fireworks display, this town outside Rocky Mountain National Park starts its Go 4th Festival on July 3rd with the Tunes, Treats and Toasts party featuring a pig roast, live music, and a beer garden. July 4th brings both an annual pancake breakfast and bull-riding show. Readers clearly wanted to stick around, ranking Estes Park in the top 10 for its motels, historic hotels, and vacation homes. Your choices include the romantic 14-suite Della Terra Mountain Chateau.
No. 8 Sonoma, CA
This wine-country town also made the top 10 for town squares, and its adobe-lined Plaza is where you’ll find Sonoma’s 4th of July parade with marching bands—followed by a carnival and topped off with fireworks. No surprise, the town also scores highly for its wine-friendly bars; head for the tasting rooms at Charles Creek Vineyard and Adobe Road Winery, right on the Plaza. Readers also approved of the local coffee from sources like Sunflower Caffe Espresso & Wine Bar, located inside a historic home.
No. 9 Whitefish, MT
This town in the Flathead Valley impressed readers with its array of festivals, so it’s no surprise that the holiday weekend calls for more than just fireworks. It’s also the occasion for the annual Whitefish Arts Festival, showcasing photography, woodworking, and metal sculptures. Traditional July 4th festivities are concentrated at Whitefish Lake’s City Beach, where you’ll find live music and fireworks over the water. Readers also gave the Montana town high marks for its brunches and baked goods; a good place to find both is Loula’s Café, which serves lemon-stuffed French toast with raspberry sauce and an all-American, award-winning huckleberry-peach pie.
No. 10 (tie) Amelia Island, FL
This barrier island could have made the Independence Day top 10 for its great tradition of flag-waving—even if, thanks to centuries of explorers and colonizers, it waved the flags of seven nations before settling on the Stars and Stripes. No matter, the 4th here means a free concert in town, and the rest of the weekend includes a Civil War–era reenactment at Fort Clinch. Readers also saluted the town for its B&Bs—like the Williams House, an antebellum mansion—and its commitment to good beer. Sample it for yourself at the Palace Saloon, the self-proclaimed oldest watering hole in Florida, with a bar designed by Adolphus Busch.
No. 10 (tie) Brunswick, GA
Folks in this shrimp-loving port town could have celebrated the original July 4th—the Brits established this town in 1771. Today, Brunswick offers free watermelon slices, horseshoe tossing, and fireworks on the 4th at its Mary Ross Waterfront Park. Readers loved the overall historic vibe, including a parade of old homes reflecting Queen Anne, Jacobean, Mansard, and Gothic styles.
No. 10 (tie) Chapel Hill, NC
Readers ranked this Research Triangle college town in the top 10 for its bar scene, but the local July 4th fun is still pretty family friendly. There’s music and fireworks at Kenan Memorial Stadium, along with a watermelon-eating contest where the top prize is tickets to UNC games. For a non-student bar, try microbrewery Top of the Hill, or West End Wine Bar, with its mix of global wines, cheeses, and charcuterie. Locals also charmed readers with their forward-looking tech-savvy and their old-style southern drawls.
No. 13 Lambertville, NJ
On the Delaware River, Lambertville exudes enough Revolutionary War history to make it a natural spot to kick back for the holiday. As the midway point between New York City and Philly, it provided an outpost for General Washington and his army, which once camped at an orchard at the corner of Bridge and Union streets. (Now at that spot you’ll find Giuseppe’s, a 50-plus-year-old family pizzeria.) For a hotel with historic street cred, stay at the 26-room Lambertville House, which has welcomed guests—among them presidents Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant—since 1821.
No. 14 Myrtle Beach, SC
It’s easy to fill up on summer favorites at the seafood shakes and barbecue joints in this family-friendly beach town. (We suggest starting with pork sandwiches at local favorite Little Pigs Bar-B-Q.) You’ll want to fuel up, as July 4th gets busy here, between a boat parade along Murrells Inlet, a cupcake-eating contest at Croissants Bistro & Bakery, flyovers by vintage planes, and no shortage of fireworks along the shore. If you miss the 4th, just wait a few days—during the summer, there will also be fireworks every Monday and Wednesday nights.
No. 15 Oakland, MD
With its 1884 train station and the old-style soda fountain at Dottie’s Grill, this Garrett County town embraces Americana. Indeed, the town ranked No. 1 for being patriotic. It kicks off July 4th festivities early, hosting fireworks on the 3rd at Broadford Park, with a concert by the Garrett County Concert Band. On Thursday nights all summer, you can catch free movies at Pocket Park and, on every Friday after the 4th, a free concert on the banks of the Little Youghiogheny River. Readers also loved Oakland for B&Bs like the quaint Oak and Apple Inn.
No. 16 Glenwood Springs, CO
Located between Vail and Aspen, Glenwood Springs is proof that you don’t need fireworks (which get shelved if the weather’s too dry) to please crowds. With or without pyrotechnics, early July tends to be the peak of summer travel here, since it’s also prime time for soaking in the hot springs pool (the biggest in the world), as well as rafting and kayaking through Glenwood Canyon on the Colorado River. On summer Tuesdays, there’s an outdoor market with wine tastings and live music.
No. 17 Manitou Springs, CO
Set at the foot of Pikes Peak, this mountain town hosts year-round fireworks of a sort: 11 bubbling mineral springs. It won raves from readers for its parades, such as the offbeat Emma Crawford Coffin Races & Parade, which happens every year before Halloween. In July, meanwhile, a red-wagon parade has become a tradition for Independence Day, followed by fireworks and, a few days later, a giant ice cream social and pie-baking contest. Manitou locals also impressed readers for being brainy and hip.
No. 18 Doylestown, PA
Readers gave props to the seat of Bucks County for its museums, such as the Michener Art Museum—rich with Pennsylvania Impressionist paintings—and Fonthill Castle, which is the focal point for the Fourth festivities. The Gothic-meets-Byzantine castle was once the home of a local scholar, and now plays host to the July 4th bike parade, picnic, bucket-brigade relays, and “town ball” (a 19th-century version of baseball). Doylestown can also boast that General Washington stopped here during the Revolutionary War.
No. 19 Southbury, CT
This 227-year-old town has its share of historic charm: the grassy King's Land area was a parade ground during the Revolutionary War, and a giant sycamore on Main Street is known as the Lincoln Tree as it was the site where a prominent local first learned of the president’s assassination. These days, the closest fireworks on the 4th are over Lake Quassapaug; buy 3-D glasses for $1 to boost the ooh-and-ah factor. Next to Southbury’s Town Hall, July brings a Monday night concert series, from Irish folk music to Beatles covers—with the kind of bring-your-own-picnic-dinner vibe that readers love.
No. 20 Cedar City, UT
Near Zion National Park, Cedar City has the nickname Festival City, and with good reason: its Main Street parade on July 4th runs the risk of being overshadowed by the town’s Tony-award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival, which runs from late June until October and features a replica of the Globe Theatre. Starting July 5th, you can also check out the Wildflower Festival at Cedar Breaks National Monument. Dine between festivals for Cedar City’s high-ranking burgers and barbecue; Rusty’s Ranch House gets raves for its filets paired with mountain views.