The Best Fourth of July Celebrations Across the U.S.
Fireworks, food, and patriotic music are part of July 4 festivities throughout the United States, but beyond that, the observances differ as much as the locations themselves. From small towns to larger cities, citizens have created Independence Day celebrations that reflect their culture as well as their place in history. Visiting a new city during this all-American July holiday is an educational and enjoyable experience.
Fireworks, of course, are common to all, with an estimated 14,000 displays throughout the country, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, which also indicated that 24.5 million pounds of explosives were detonated for displays in 2016. We never seem to tire of watching the sky with “oohs” and “ahhs” of surprise and appreciation.
In 1777, on the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia marked the day with fireworks, beginning the tradition that has grown over the last 200 years. John Adams, credited with suggesting “bells, bonfires, and illuminations,” for the event, would undoubtedly be thrilled and impressed with today’s pyrotechnic shows.
Boston’s Revolutionary War history and heritage make it a perfect place to celebrate America’s Independence. Almost 3 million visitors from all over the world agree, making this city’s Fourth of July festival the largest in the United States.
Boston Harborfest 2017 begins June 30 in Faneuil Hall Marketplace with a welcome from the mayor and music from the 215th Army Band. The gala events include Revolutionary War reenactments, cruises, speeches, music, and walking tours at several venues, including the Freedom Trail, Old North Church, Boston Common, King’s Chapel, historic downtown, and along the waterfront. Visit Paul Revere’s house and let him tell you all about his famous Midnight Ride. Refresh your knowledge of American History in the exciting and authentic atmosphere where the events really happened.
Most Boston Harborfest events are free, but tickets are required for the tall ship and Boston Harbor cruises, and for certain tours such as the Boston Tea Party ships and museum, Paul Revere’s North End walking tour, and the historic pub crawl.
The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular will take place on July 3 (concert only, no fireworks) and and on July 4 at 8:30 p.m. on the Esplanade next to the Charles River in the historic Hatch shell.
The finale, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, ends with real cannon fire and church bells ringing throughout the city. After the concert, around 10:30 p.m., the fireworks show begins, launched from seven barges in the middle of the Charles River. Enjoy the show from either side of the river or from one of many rooftop locations in the city, a perfect ending for a memorable Independence Day.
Coney Island, Brooklyn
Nothing says Fourth of July like fireworks and hot dogs, and you can have both at Brooklyn's famous Coney Island boardwalk. Speaking of hot dogs, the 100th anniversary of the annual Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest will happen this year at the flagship eatery.
Joey Chestnut, Major League Eating champion, regained his title (and the Mustard Yellow International Belt) last year by downing a world record 70 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. Can he retain his title this year? Contestants from around the country who won their local qualifying events will be in Coney Island vying to knock Joey off his pedestal and go home with a share of the $40,000 purse. You can join the thousands of spectators, many wearing Nathan’s Famous hats, who will be watching the event on the elevated boardwalk stage, probably vowing never to eat another hot dog.
After that, you’ll find plenty to do during the day while you wait for the 9:30 p.m. fireworks off the beach near Steeplechase Pier. Think about dropping in to the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, a family-friendly show with 10 live acts including Betty the Sword Swallower and Leo the Human Gumby. Go for a swim or soak up the sunshine along Coney Island’s three-mile shoreline.
Visit the New York Aquarium, just steps away. Luna Park, with rides, roller coasters, games, an Arcade, go-karts, restaurants, and food stands is an exciting place to spend the afternoon. Ride the famous Cyclone Roller Coaster, a favorite of roller coaster enthusiasts around the world.
After a day of fun, while you relax on the boardwalk awaiting the fireworks, you may even want to stop by Nathan’s Famous for some fries and a hot dog (or two).
Bristol, Rhode Island
Bristol is the place to join America’s oldest continuous Fourth of July celebration, dating back to 1785. It just might be the longest too, starting on June 14, Flag Day, and concluding with the 2.5-mile Military, Civic, and Firemen's Parade on July 4.
Other events include a concert series at Independence Park, Drum Corps show, Firefighters muster, and a Fourth of July Ball on Saturday, June 24. And, of course, fireworks, with a show over Bristol Harbor on July 3. The concert series goes from June 20 until July 3, beginning with a performance by the 88th Army Band of the Rhode Island Army National Guard and continuing with singers and musicians of various genres over the 14 nights. The Drum and Bugle Corps competition on July 3 features top groups from the United States and Canada.
A golf tournament, orange crate derby, vintage baseball game, tennis, pickle ball, carnival rides, special dinners, and tastings will be part of the fun along with contests for the best t-shirt design, best button, and best photography. The Bristol Stomp Block Dance will be held on June 17. The Independence Rhode Race, a half-marathon through downtown, takes place on July 1, and there’s also a Kids Obstacle Course Run.
The July 4 Military, Civic, and Fireman’s Parade is the oldest annual parade in the United States. Beginning at 10:30 am, it is the culmination of over two weeks of festivities. Last year, over 50,000 spectators enjoyed the marchers, bands, floats, and patriotic spirit of the event.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Visit this coastline city and the surrounding towns, and choose your favorite ways to celebrate the Fourth. Want to start the day with some exercise and fun? Go for the annual 5k or 8k competitive runs starting at 7:30 a.m. at the Market Common in Myrtle Beach. A little later, look for the Garden City Golf Cart Parade in Surfside Beach or the 51st Annual Fourth of July Parade at 10 a.m. in Pawley’s Island.
Murrell’s Inlet, a fishing village 10 miles south of Myrtle Beach, is the place to be for the 34th Annual Boat Parade from 4-6 p.m. on the Fourth. Colorful boats, competing for the best decorated prize, will cruise from Garden City Point to the Hot Fish Club. Watch the Salute from the Shore as Shaw Air Force Base vintage F-16s from the 20th Fighter Wing fly along the coast around 1 p.m.
Starting at 6 p.m. on the Surfside Beach pier, there’s a variety show, inflatable rides, and fireworks. During the day, watch or join the Croissants Bistro and Bakery's cupcake eating contest. Local baseball team the Myrtle Beach Pelicans will provide post-game fireworks along with craft beer and discounts for members of the military.
This town celebrates the entire season with its annual SummerFest at Barefoot Landing from June 1 until September 2 with nightly music, face-painting, entertainment, and Monday fireworks. Independence Day gives them a chance to step up the celebration.
New York City
Spectators flock to New York City to see the always spectacular Macy’s 4th of July Firework show, launched along the East River in Midtown Manhattan. And it’s no wonder, because every year they outdo themselves with fabulous pyrotechnics and synchronized patriotic music. This year’s 41st edition will be no exception, with over 60,000 shells, a 25-minute display, and many never-before-seen effects.
A New York Police Department helicopter flyover and Fire Department of New York water boat show will kick off the celebration at around 9:25 p.m. You can watch the fireworks from many locations throughout the city, including the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfronts, FDR Drive, on boats, rooftop bars, and hotels. Tune in to radio station 1010 WINS-AM to hear the musical score to which the firework display is choreographed.
During the day, get into the spirit of Independence Day and visit some of New York City’s Revolutionary War locations. Downtown in the Financial District is St. Paul’s Chapel where George Washington frequently worshipped, including on his inauguration day. Visit Fraunces Tavern, where Washington bade farewell to his troops at the end of the war. The building was hit by a British cannonball in 1775. Fort Tryon Park, the site of the Battle of Fort Washington, is uptown in Washington Heights. Take a free ride on the Staten Island ferry for great views of Manhattan and a trip to Fort Wadsworth, which was captured by the British during the war.
For some fun after you’ve absorbed enough history, join the Midsummer Night Swing event at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park and dance to live music from Dave Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band. Arrive at 6 p.m. for a dance lesson so you’ll be able to lindy hop with the best of them.
This is where it all began in 1776 with the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and Philadelphia celebrates its important place in American history with six days of festivities. From June 29 to July 4, visitors can enjoy free concerts, dazzling fireworks shows, outdoor movies, Philadelphia’s Historic District Block Party, free museum entry, parades, patriotic ceremonies, and kids’ activities.
On July 1 and 2, take in a free 8 p.m. concert at the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing followed by fireworks at 9:30 p.m. The U.S. Army Band, Pershing’s Own, will entertain with patriotic music, old standards, and new hits. On Friday, June 30, the Philadelphia Orchestra will perform at Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River Waterfront with a free concert. Another popular event will be the July 3 Philadelphia POPS concert at Independence Hall.
Party on the Parkway from noon until 7:00 pm on July 4 will include five blocks of free entertainment including a Zipline, outdoor games, arts and crafts, music, dance, food, cultural events celebrating the city’s neighborhoods and nationalities, an obstacle course, pet-friendly area, beer gardens and more. At 7:00 pm Wawa Welcome America will take the stage on Benjamin Franklin Parkway for one of the largest free concerts in America, featuring Mary J. Blige and Boyz II Men. Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Wawa Welcome America will also include the Philly POPS Big Band and others.
The Fourth of July parade starts at 11:00 am at the Independence Mall. At the Independence Visitor Center, Betsy Ross will lead guests singing Happy Birthday to America. Afterwards, she’ll share 2500 cupcakes in the shape of an American flag. The festivities will end with a grand fireworks finale around 9:30 after the Benjamin Franklin Parkway free concert. Accompanied by rousing music, the fireworks display will light up the skies over the iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Celebrating the city’s 27th annual Go 4th on the River, the NOLA fireworks show is unique, with dueling barges on the Mississippi River each shooting off a spectacular array of lights and sounds, synchronized to patriotic music. Best spots for viewing include Woldenberg Park, the Moon Walk, or across the river in Algiers. Or treat yourself to a cruise on the Creole Queen, Steamboat Natchez, or another riverboat for a real close-up view.
The Port of New Orleans will bring out the General Roy S. Kelley fireboat with its famed water show with red, white, and blue fountains at 6 p.m. The fireworks show follows at 9 p.m. From 5-10 p.m., visit Crescent Park for a DJ dance party, food trucks, and a great spot for viewing the fireworks.
On July 3, City Park will host the Marine Corps Band with a concert at 7 p.m. Food concessions open at 5 p.m., and the evening ends with fireworks at 9 p.m. The Essence Music Fest, the largest event in the United States celebrating African-American culture and music, will take place from June 30-July 4 and will include performances by John Legend, Diana Ross, Mary J. Blige, and others. Don’t miss a chance to celebrate Independence Day in New Orleans and party like it’s 1776.
Wilmington, North Carolina
There’s a lot going on in the port city of Wilmington, starting June 30 with an outdoor concert at Riverfront Park overlooking the Cape Fear River. The concert is free, and beer, wine, and food will be available from 6 to 10 p.m. On July 2, the North Carolina Symphony will perform patriotic favorites and classics at the Wilson Center. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show range from $20-82.
The Vans Warped Tour is scheduled for July 4 at Legion Sports Complex, playing in Wilmington for the first time. The performances cover many musical genres, including metal, hip-hop, reggae, dance, rock, pop, punk, and more. You can also head to nearby Carolina Beach on July 3 for live music and fireworks from 6:30-9 p.m.
Enjoy a night at the “theater” aboard the Battleship North Carolina, a World War II memorial. They’ll be presenting the classic play "Mr. Roberts" on the fantail, with opening night July 4 accompanied by fireworks.
The main event on the Fourth will be 9 p.m. fireworks from a barge on the Cape Fear River. View the pyrotechnics from downtown, along the riverfront, or from one of the boats cruising the river.
San Diego, California
This Southern California city is home to thousands of service members, veterans, and their families, representing the Navy, Air Force, Army, National Guard, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps. Patriotism runs high for the annual Big Bay Boom, with fireworks launched simultaneously from four barges located throughout San Diego’s North Bay at 9 p.m. A favorite – and usually sold out – viewing location is the U.S.S. Midway flight deck, where live entertainment, an exciting USO review, and all-American concessions add to the celebration.
Watch the fireworks from one of many locations including Shelter Island, Harbor Island, North Embarcadero and Marina District, Seaport Village, and the Coronado Ferry Landing. Enjoy a seafood dinner at one of the restaurants or fish markets in the area while you wait for the evening’s fireworks show.
Mild mid-summer weather, beautiful beaches, and a variety of entertainment venues attract thousands of visitors in early July, and there’s something for everyone. Nearby Coronado Island has its own Fourth of July celebration with a parade, concert, road race, art show, swim competition and fireworks over Glorietta Bay. Legoland has its Red, White and Boom fireworks, and SeaWorld has its show at 9:40 p.m. Boats are also ideal viewing spots, and many options are available, including dinner and cocktail cruises.
Family fun prevails in Minneapolis, attracting more than 75,000 people to the Red, White, and Boom events on the downtown riverfront. On Monday, July 3, listen to live music starting at 7 p.m. and stay for the outdoor movie at dusk, featuring "Captain America." On the Fourth there’s a half-marathon, relay, and 5k run.
Live music and family activities start at 6 p.m. leading up to fireworks at 10 p.m. on July 4. At Father Hennepin Bluffs Park and Mill Ruins Park, festivities include jugglers, magicians, face painting, live music, and food vendors. Or pack a picnic for a beach day at Lake Calhoun and stay for a great view of the downtown fireworks at night. Other recommended viewing spots are the Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi, Gold Medal Park, the Guthrie Endless Bridge, and the Mill City Museum, which requires tickets. Rooftop restaurants will also have great views.
At 1 p.m. baseball fans can head to Target Field in the historic warehouse district downtown to see the Minneapolis Twins play the Los Angeles Angels. Members of the military will receive special discounts in recognition of their service.
Naturally, our nation’s capital is a wonderful place to celebrate the Fourth of July. Festivities start with the 50th annual free Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall from June 29-July 4 and July 6-9, featuring concerts, food, dance, and more. On the Fourth, find a spot on the Capitol's West Lawn for a free concert at 8 p.m. presented by the National Symphony Orchestra and a fireworks finale. Other viewing points include the National Mall, Supreme Court Plaza, Mt. Vernon Trail, East Potomac Park, the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial across the Potomac, and the Washington National Cathedral.
The original Declaration of Independence is housed at the National Archives, and the museum celebrates with days of special events. On Friday, June 30, the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps will perform at noon, and on Saturday, July 1, there will be a musical performance by Batala Washington, an all-women Afro-Brazilian band. On Sunday at noon, The Singing Capital Chorus will perform. Taste American Heritage Chocolate near the National Archives store from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
On the Fourth, head for the steps at Constitution Avenue at 10 a.m. for the Declaration of Independence Reading Ceremony, a dramatic reading of the document by reenactors portraying historical characters, including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Abigail Adams, John Hancock, and others. The National Independence Day Parade begins at 11:45 a.m., featuring fife and drum corps, military servicemen and women, floats, VIP’s, equestrian, drill teams, and giant balloons.
For a moving and authentic experience, travel to George Washington’s Mt. Vernon home, just 30 minutes outside Washington. A group of new U.S. citizens will participate in their naturalization ceremony, an appropriate event for the day. There will be military reenactments, drills, a concert, a “Happy Birthday America” cake, and unique made-for-daytime fireworks over the Potomac at 1 p.m.
Of course, music is center stage in Nashville’s celebration of the Fourth with a free concertt, "Let Freedom Sing!," starring gold and platinum album winner Chris Young, the classic Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Bronx-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Jonny P at 12 p.m. Other free concerts around town start at the same time at Ascend Amphitheater and The Green at Riverfront.
They also take their fireworks seriously in Music City. In the 30-minute show set to live music by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, 33,500 pounds of explosives, including over 1,000 submergible fireworks, will be shot from the riverbank at Nissan Stadium and Cumberland Park.
The Family Fun Zone at Bridgestone Arena Plaza opens at noon, with climbing walls, games, water slides, inflatables, and lots for kids to do all day.
Celebrate Independence Day in the authentic colonial atmosphere of Williamsburg, and you’ll feel as if you’ve done some time traveling. You can listen to a reading of the Declaration of Independence by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, observe a special militia muster, and play colonial games at the Market House. Watch a salute to the original 13 states featuring music by a fife and drum corps with firing of muskets and cannons. Of course, there will be fireworks at 9:20 p.m. on the Palace Green.
At the Williamsburg Lodge, a ticket to the Family Fun Celebration includes dinner, children’s games, and special seats on the Palace Green for the fireworks. Enjoy a four-course meal and a history lesson at the King’s Arms Tavern Thomas Jefferson Wine Dinner. Some of Mr. Jefferson’s favorite dishes will be served, and his doppelganger will be there to welcome guests and share fond memories, followed by a reading of the Declaration of Independence.
The first annual Independence Day Celebration at Chowning’s Tavern will feature food, beverages, games, live music, and a souvenir engraved glass. Josiah Chowning’s Tavern is a reconstructed 1776 tavern set in a historic house with servers in traditional colonial dress.
Folks in Gatlinburg like to be ahead of the crowd, and they obviously don’t mind staying up late, because they’re proud each year to have the first Fourth of July parade in the country. The 42nd Annual Gatlinburg Fourth of July Midnight Parade starts at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, July 4, with an expected 80,000-100,000 spectators and a special salute to the men and women of the military services and the nation’s veterans.
The annual River Raft Regatta, a race of unmanned floatables, starts at noon, with prizes for winners in various categories including the most creative boat. This popular and fun event takes place downtown on the Little Pigeon River.
A free concert by the 100th Army Band begins the evening festivities at 8:30 p.m., leading to the downtown fireworks display at 10 p.m.
Gatlinburg is located at the base of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While you’re there, take a ride on the Gatlinburg Sky Lift, an open-air chairlift that rises 1,800 feet to the top of Crockett Mountain, providing breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains.
Charleston, South Carolina
The deck of the historic World War II aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown in Charleston Harbor is the site of the 9 p.m. fireworks display at Patriots Point. You can buy a ticket to board the ship or watch the show on land.
On July 3, Stars and Guitars presents a country music show at Boone Hall Plantation in Mt. Pleasant. The show’s opening acts start at 6 p.m., and country star Trace Adkins performs at 8 p.m. The Fourth of July Fireworks Bash at Patriots Point starts at 4 p.m. with food, drink, music, and family-friendly activities. The Uncle Sam Jam on Mt. Pleasant Pier starts at 7 p.m. leading up to the fireworks with food, drink, and dancing to beach music.
At Riverfront Park from 3-9:45 p.m., enjoy live music, food trucks, craft beer, and what’s billed as “low country’s largest Fourth of July fireworks show.” In keeping with the theme, the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston features Sea Stars and Stripes from 7-10 p.m., featuring a dinner of barbecue and low country boil.