The Country’s Best July 4 Celebrations
Related: America’s Best Towns for July 4th
While our nation finalized the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, it wasn't until 1870 that Congress declared the date a national holiday. Since then, it's become our nation's biggest, with celebrations marking Independence Day taking place in nearly every community in every state. This year, we decided to spotlight a few notable festivities that perfectly reflect the culture of their location. It's a wide and diverse country, and these celebrations offer patriotic inspiration for experiencing more of it. Grab your picnic blanket, basket, and take your seat early—the last thing you want to miss at these bashes are the views.
Naturally, the nation’s capital is known for its spectacular Independence Day. The National Mall fills up early on the Fourth with revelers staking out good spots for the light display. Though watching the fireworks from the Mall is an experience worth having, the crowds are intense, and alternative viewing spots abound. Easy walking distance from the Washington Monument is East Potomac Park—also known as Hains Point; across the Potomac River in Arlington another option is Gravelly Point Park, normally prime viewing for airplanes flying in and out of Reagan National Airport and great for watching the fireworks. Further up the George Washington Memorial Parkway, there’s also a great watching spot in the Lady Bird Johnson Park. —Amy McKeever
This year, Music City promises to host the largest Fourth of July fireworks show in the country, a title previously held by the Big Apple’s impressive Macy’s broadcast. “Nashville has been on such a great roll with tourism, so we wanted the show to be a thank you to our visitors,” explained Deana Ivey, Chief Marketing Officer for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. The show, which will take place on Broadway this Saturday at 9:30 p.m. CDT, will be choreographed live with the Nashville Symphony, and is just one part of the city’s Independence Day celebration. Catch the best views by the waterfront, or pop into the nearby Omni Hotel and head to the roof. The whole schedule of events, including free concerts and a family fun zone, is up on visitmusiccity.com. —Caroline Hallemann
New York City
The iconic Macy’s 4th of July fireworks are the largest in the nation (though there’s competition this year). Expect more than 50,000 shells (1,600 shells per minute) during the half-hour production, which is fired from five barges along the city’s East River—best viewed from Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Many eyes will be on the Freedom Festival at the Intrepid Museum, with performances by no less than Queen Latifah, Amy Schumer, Rachel Platten, Will Hoge, the Alternate Routes and Sara Evans. If you can’t brave the crowds, the New York EDITION, launched just last month, is guaranteeing a room with a view of the fireworks to guests who book over July 4 (packages from $525). The Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest draws an alternative crowd to Coney Island during the day; events at Fort Wadsworth Celebration are family-focused; and partiers may want to check out Jacob Riis Park’s “Get Summered” celebration in the Rockaways or Warm-Up at MoMA PS1, with Studio 54 DJ Nicky Siano, Cut Copy and Bobbito Garcia. —Corina Quinn
It’s no surprise that this college town, which is dominated by the nearby Flatirons and a bevy of natural attractions, keeps its city celebrations properly outdoorsy. Head to the Boulder Reservoir during the day for the Star Spangled Splash, where recreation includes a 5K and 10K running event, a sand volleyball tournament, music, craft beer, margaritas and great food. Come dusk, follow the crowds to the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field for free fireworks. Locals and visitors flock to the stadium for the community sing-along, live band, and CU’s mascot, Ralphie—a real buffalo. She’ll run around the stadium just like she does before every home football game.
This city’s civic pride is first-rate, and few residents miss the jaw-dropping fireworks display at Navy Pier that starts at 9:30 p.m. (plan to go early to stake out a spot). Of course, some of the best views can be had on the water—and boat tours are available through no less than seven cruise operators. Before that, however, there’s the popular Grant Park Music Festival. The popular summer concert series puts on its Independence Day Salute featuring the sounds of Gershwin, Copland and more—concluding with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and John Phillip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever (7:30-9:30 p.m. at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion). Seating on the outdoor lawn is free, but guests can also opt to reserve seats in front of the stage with a Single Night Pass (from $20).
Coral Gables, Florida
In South Florida, you can make like Gatsby and head to the circa-1926 Biltmore hotel, a palatial resort that’s been an icon since the Jazz Age. Nobody around puts on a show like the Biltmore; its lavish fireworks display starts at 9 p.m., but things kick off earlier for gourmet revelers. Visitors can opt for the full Stars & Stripes BBQ dinner, which includes open bar (from $158), or head to the Palme d’Or restaurant, where Executive Chef Gregory Pugin is preparing a special salute-to-America menu, featuring lobster caesar salad, Alaska king crab cake, and bourbon pork belly ($55). You’ll already be in a prime spot for when the show comes to life. —Tom Austin
San Francisco Bay Area, California
Celebrating independence in San Francisco is all about staking claim to a prime slice of waterfront picnic real estate. In the city, Marina Green is the best grassy perch to watch the epic fireworks show light up the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Two sets of simultaneously fired fireworks sync up for a mind-bending mirror-image display that begins at 9:30 p.m. Several San Francisco-based cruises—Hornblower, Blue & Gold Fleet, and Red and White Fleet—embark on voyages across the bay. Meanwhile, the annual Marin County Fair boasts a classic all-American summer carnival, replete with flashy rides, ring toss, a petting zoo, and funnel cake, or you can skip the holiday traffic for a 3.5-hour journey on the Napa Wine Train. —Jenna Scatena
There’s plenty of pomp and circumstance in this historic locale at this time of year. For 42 years now, the city’s toasted our independence with a concert on the Esplanade on the riverbanks. The famed Boston Pops perform Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture against howitzer cannons and church bells, while fireworks erupt over the Charles River. Harborfest, a complementary celebration that attracts 2.5 million people, tips its hat to history, with opening ceremonies at Faneuil Hall that include the U.S. Navy Band, tours of the Freedom Trail and USS Constitution vessel (which also hosts a naturalization ceremony swearing in new citizens), and the chance to sail on Boston’s historic fleet of tall ships. There’s even a re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party in the harbor.
Hawaii Island, Hawaii
Celebrations abound across the islands, but one of our favorites is the July 4th Turtle Independence Day event at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, on Hawaii Island. Since 1989, juvenile honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) from Oahu’s Sea Life Park that have been raised in the Honu Ponds and are released at the water’s edge. This event is family-friendly and a great way to learn about and celebrate the honu.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Sin City loves its pyrotechnics, and it wouldn't be Vegas if there weren't several ways to profit from them. The Stratosphere, which anchors the north end and is the tallest observation tower in the U.S., has the best views. The hotel has recently renovated its Radius Pool, so renting a cabana and staying the afternoon is a good way to go; fireworks launch at 9 p.m. Also consider the fireworks put on by Caesar’s Palace from the top of the world’s highest Ferris wheel, the High Roller. Big spenders can take a whole cabin on it, with a bar and room for 25 people for $2,800, or a cabin without the bar for 30 people for $1,500. If you still want the view without laying out so much cash, there are more affordable options, too. No matter which way you go, to make the most of this, you’ll want to indulge in an extra cocktail during the wheel revolution. —Andrea Bennett
Los Angeles, California
There are at least ten official fireworks displays scheduled for the greater Los Angeles area—not counting suburbs and outlying towns—including a block party at Grand Park downtown, a Smokey Robinson concert at the famed Hollywood Bowl, and a screening of Top Gun at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Before the show—or after—get your grub on at a $35, all-you-can-eat Independence Day cookout on the patio of the new rustic California French bistro Terrine starting at 10 a.m. Chef Kris Morningstar, who previously opened Ray’s & Stark Bar at LACMA, will whip up a special one-day Southern-accented menu that includes pickle brine fried chicken, smoked ribs, barbecued brisket with chimichurri, johnnycakes, mac ’n’ cheese, peach cobbler and corn bread pudding. Bartender Ryan Wainwright will be serving Ancient Age bourbon cocktails and a Negreezy Punch Bowl made with gin, Campari, Vermouth and fresh orange juice, for $8-$11. —David A. Keeps
New Orleans, Louisiana
The Big Easy makes the Mighty Mississippi the backdrop for the majority of its festivities. There’s a 9 p.m. fireworks show on July 4 over the river, adjacent to the French Quarter, that begins aboard “dueling barges” anchored in the water. Each barge tries to out-do the other in a colorful, sonic-booming aerial display that lasts about 20 minutes. Afterwards, of course, the party moves to the French Quarter, where locals celebrate the anniversary of our nation’s birth as only they can in New Orleans.
Philadelphia is America’s birthplace, and you won’t forget it on Independence Day weekend. The town where it all started goes big for the Fourth of July, with concerts, fireworks, parades, street festivals, outdoor movie screenings, and of course, history lessons. A free concert by the Philly POPS on the grounds of Independence Mall kicks off the action, and activities are ongoing all weekend long, but the coup de grace is the Fourth of July Jam and Grand Fireworks Finale. It’s one of the largest free outdoor July 4th concerts in the country, with performances by hometown heroes The Roots and special guests Miguel and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. The soaring fireworks display takes place over Philly’s iconic Art Museum. —Sarah Maiellano
By nature, Portlanders celebrate our freedom—and independence—every day with artful tattoos, blue hair, or riding bikes wearing tutus. But on the 4th of July, we celebrate it like everyone else: with fireworks. Start your day with a long run at 6:30 a.m. at the Foot Traffic Flat, which offers 5K, half-marathon or full-marathon races on the wonderfully flat but scenic Sauvie Island—lush riverside farmland that's a 20-minute drive north the city. Or, buy tickets to the Waterfront Blues Festival, at Waterfront Park alongside the Willamette River. Rock out to Zydeco bands, Gregg Allman, and someone named Terry "Harmonica" Bean, and you'll also have the best spot in town to watch the fireworks when they start around 9:30 p.m. You can also set up a blanket anywhere along the Willamette for a good view, or take to higher ground, like Mt. Tabor Park, the city park on a dormant volcano, or even Sellwood Park, where you get a bonus firework show from Oaks Park. —Sarah Z. Wexler
The celebration starts a day early in the Motor City, where at noon on July 3, art fans can help the Matrix Theater Company construct a seven foot-tall walking puppet of Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of the Arts, and baseball fans can catch fireworks after the Tigers game at Comerica Park. From July 1 through 4, Greenfield Village, the historic recreation of 19th century American life next to the Henry Ford Museum, presents Salute to America, which includes a drum and fife parade, fireworks with authentic canon blasts, and a concert by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra that includes a finale of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. —David A. Keeps
San Diego, California
The skies will be ablaze with fireworks with over two dozen Independence Day Events in San Diego County, including an old-timey parade in Julian, the Gold Rush mountain town famed for its apple pie bakeries, and spectacular shows at family attractions such as Sea World and Legoland. The main event, known as the Big Bay Boom, features fireworks from four barges around the San Diego Bay that are choreographed to music and expected to be viewed by more than 500,000 people. For premium views, locals recommend buying tickets for a harbor boat cruise, and there are free public viewing spaces throughout the city, including the newly opened Waterfront Park. —David A. Keeps
Lake Michigan, Michigan
The lake, river and harbor towns of Michigan celebrate the 4th in red-white-and-blue style with fireworks displays in Holland, Saugatuck, St. Joseph, and Muskegon. The big she-bang takes place in Grand Haven, home of the Musical Fountain, a synchronized water and light show that launched in 1963. On the evening of July 4, the nightly 20-minute show at the Musical Fountain (pictured), a mesmerizing choreography of sprays and neon colors set to classical and pop music, will be followed by a fireworks spectacular. —David A. Keeps
The entire state of Texas hosts celebrations, but the legendary Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic is Austin’s contribution. Held at the Circuit of The Americas’ Austin360 Amphitheater, it runs all day on Saturday, July 4, and features performances from more than 20 artists on two stages. This year’s bill includes Willie Nelson & Family, Eric Church, Merle Haggard, Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Asleep At The Wheel, Jason Isbell, Leon Russell, and more. There will be food, fireworks, and plenty of outlaw country revelry (tickets from $35).