Where to Celebrate America’s Birthday:
Fourth of July Destinations You Don’t Want to Miss
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence from Great Britain, but it wasn’t until two days later that the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted. It was this date, the Fourth of July, that would become the day on which the country celebrates its independence (much to John Adam’s chagrin). Anniversary celebrations of this significant moment in American history began the following year when Philadelphia “held the first annual commemoration of independence.”
Early celebrations were marked by bonfires, the firing of cannons and muskets, parades, concerts, and public readings of the Declaration of Independence—not too different from contemporary celebrations. Today, the Fourth of July is when friends and family come together for cookouts, fun and games, and, of course, fireworks. Independence Day celebrations happen in every city and town across the country, and with so many options, those wishing to travel for the holiday may not know where to start.
One place to consider is Bristol, Rhode Island, which is home to the oldest, continuous Independence Day celebration–now in its 234th year. Festivities begin on June 14—Flag Day—and include concerts, performances, baseball games, and more before culminating with a parade and fireworks on the Fourth.
And if you’re looking for a destination that will offer Fourth of July events as well as history, culture, and must-see sites, Postcard Press has you covered.
Historically Significant Sites
The Fourth of July is a celebration of the founding of America. So, why not experience that celebration in one of our oldest cities—all of which have had significant roles in the history of our country. These cities are teeming with historical sites and cultural events, which guarantees your trip will be filled with diverse and exciting activities. And because they are historically significant cities, they tend to go all out for the nation’s birthday. If you’re serious about celebrating the Fourth of July, you’ll want to start here:
As the nation’s capital, Washington, DC, always has a way to celebrate American independence and history. From free, world-class museums to national monuments and the seats of government, DC provides the perfect destination for any history buff. Add in America’s birthday and you have the perfect place to celebrate.
Fourth of July festivities start with the National Independence Day Parade, which includes music from the fife and drum corps, military members, and elaborate floats. Then you have two options if you want to participate in the main events. The first is A Capitol Fourth–a live, star-studded concert that takes place on the West Lawn of the US Capitol. Get there early to make it through security and find a good place to watch the show (which also airs nationally on PBS). If you choose A Capitol Fourth you’ll be able to view the fireworks in the distance, or you could find yourself a spot along the National Mall (the closer to the Washington Monument the better) for a front row seat to the fireworks show. If you want to do something a little different or want to avoid the crowd along the National Mall, there are plenty of options across the city to make your Independence Day great.
Independence Day wasn’t formalized as a federal holiday until 1870, but Massachusetts was the first state to declare the Fourth of July an official state holiday nearly 90 years earlier in 1781. So, it’s no surprise that Boston is home to the “largest Independence day festival in the United States.” The celebration begins early with the Boston Harborfest. This week-long event includes hundreds of activities “celebrating Boston’s maritime and revolutionary history,” which means there’s something for everyone—including historical reenactments, tours, live entertainment, a clam chowder contest, and more.
The night of the Fourth, head down to the Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River for “one of the country’s largest and oldest public Fourth-of-July events,” the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. This concert features the Boston Pops Orchestra as well as world-renowned artists in a two-and-a-half hour show before accompanying the 20-minute fireworks display that follows.
Big City Spectacles
Big cities have the resources to go all out for the Fourth of July. Fireworks, parades, and other events are part of the draw for locals and travelers alike. If you visit the big city destinations around the country, you’ll find more than enough to fill your itinerary, whether you’re planning to visit for a couple of days or a week. If you’re looking for excitement, tourist attractions, hidden gems, and so much more, check out these well-known destinations:
New York City, New York
New York City is known nation-wide for Independence Day because, as with Washington, DC, the city’s main event is broadcast across the country. Now in its 43rd year, the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks lays claim to “the largest Independence Day fireworks display in the nation.” The fireworks have been launched over several neighborhoods and landmarks throughout the years, and this year’s show, highlighting the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, would be even more spectacular to see in person.
During the day, New York City is home to many events, including Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, a more than 100-year-old parade in the village of Travis on Staten Island, and many other parties throughout the city. You could even put together your own itinerary to celebrate America: explore the revolutionary-era landmarks, take in a baseball game, or visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The Windy City offers a variety of events and fireworks in and around the city; but for the main display, you’ll want to head to the Navy Pier to view the red, white, and blue fireworks lighting up the sky over Lake Michigan. Of course, the Navy Pier can only hold so many people, and if you’re someone who doesn’t like crowds, consider a night cruise along Lake Michigan instead.
In addition to fireworks, Chicago has a lot to offer on Independence Day; check out the Fourth of July parade and the Grant Park Music Festival’s Independence Day Salute. Held at Millennium Park, along the lakeshore, this concert presents an evening of patriotic favorites. And after the show, you can head towards the lake to catch a different view of the Navy Pier Fireworks. Beyond the Fourth, Chicago has everything a visitor could want, including renowned architecture, art, food, and more.
(Check out this Postcard From Our Travelers: Chicago)
Middle of the Country Fun
Though often referred to as “flyover country,” America’s heartland has a lot to offer travelers, especially those looking to escape big city tourist destinations and find a quieter pace. Smaller cities and towns are rich in American history, culture, and cuisine and are filled with hidden gems. Also, you’re not too far from nature and the peace that can bring. So, if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle and check out some of the Midwest, consider celebrating the Fourth of July in one of these cities:
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis boasts that it’s home to America’s Biggest Birthday Party, with three days of events to celebrate Independence Day. Whether you’re a traveler or a local, this celebration under the Gateway Arch is where you’ll want to be on the Fourth of July. The party kicks off with America’s Birthday Parade, a 137-year-old tradition that includes marching bands, floats, and more. Air shows, musical performances, and other activities will fill the day culminating in the obligatory fireworks show.
Of course, there are many activities you can do in this city, in addition to Independence Day festivities. With an interesting role in American history, the former French Republic outpost provides diversity and culture. If you’re planning a trip to St. Louis, research those must-do attractions and sites that may be off the beaten path.
Known as the Music City, Nashville’s Fourth of July celebration lives up to that name, especially for those who appreciate country music. The party begins on July 3rd with the first day of a two-day music festival, Let Freedom Sing! Music City July 4th, with dozens of live acts taking the stage. Family fun, games, food, and more will help you enjoy the day before you settle in for one of the largest fireworks displays in the nation. The nearly 30-minute show is accompanied by and synchronized to a series of selections played live by the award-winning Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
After celebrating Independence Day, Nashville has something for every traveler, from live music and culture to a rising food scene. Whether for a long weekend or a week-long trip, you’ll find a multitude of experiences to fill your itinerary.
While most Fourth of July celebrations include parades, fairs, and other activities throughout the day, the main event is always the end-of-the-night fireworks. It’s even better to experience those fireworks light up the night sky with a scenic backdrop. The United States is rich in beautiful and diverse panoramas, from mountains to oceans to volcanos and everything in between. It can’t hurt to seek out one of these destinations when planning a Fourth of July trip. Not only will you have fireworks with a view, but you’ll be surrounded by activities and sites to make your trip worthwhile:
San Diego, California
Along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, the city of San Diego is home to many military bases, which means the holiday is just as big there as anywhere else in the country. There are many fireworks shows in and surrounding San Diego, so every visitor can find the perfect celebration. The main show, however, has the added bonus of the beach and the San Diego Bay. The Big Bay Boom July 4th Fireworks Show is a choreographed display that can be viewed from a number of locations around the bay.
If you’re planning a trip to San Diego for the Fourth, you won’t be disappointed by everything else the diverse, multi-cultural city has to offer. Nature surrounds you in San Diego, from Balboa Park—which contains the sunken butterfly garden, museums, the San Diego Zoo and more—to the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park and Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. History, culture, art, food, and Legoland also provide travelers an endless amount of experiences to explore.
If mountains are more your scene, consider the Great Smoky Mountains and the town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Named a Top 20 event by the Southeast Tourism Society, Gatlinburg’s Fireworks Finale lights up the mountain town’s skyline and caps off a long day celebrating America’s birth.
Events for the Fourth of July begin early—Gatlinburg is home of the “first Independence Day Parade in the nation,” which kicks off at 12:01 a.m. on July 4th. Named by National Geographic Traveler Magazine as one of the top parades in the United States, it’s an experience you won’t want to miss. In the afternoon, check out the Gatlinburg River Raft Regatta, where anyone can participate. Don’t have time to make your own raft? That’s okay; you can rent your own rubber duck to send down the Little Pigeon River! After the regatta, you can enjoy all the mountain town has to offer, including the Ripley’s Aquarium. Or, you can head next door to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for the annual Patriot Festival where you’ll enjoy music, food, and fun.
Most Unique Experience
If you want a truly unique and exciting Fourth of July experience, you’ll need to think outside the box and book a flight. On July 4, 2016, I was actually traveling to Australia for work. I was a little bummed to be missing the fireworks—especially since it would be my last year at the White House—but, out of pure luck, my flight from DC to Los Angeles happened to be landing just as the fireworks were beginning. As I looked out the window, I got to see a magical display from above as the many fireworks shows throughout the city lit up the night sky. It was one of the coolest ways I’ve experienced the Fourth. Admittedly, this is a little difficult to plan (unless you book a helicopter flight), but if you happen to be taking a trip on the Fourth, try to find a flight that will be taking off or landing in a city just as their fireworks are about to begin. You won’t be disappointed.
These are just a few of the hundreds of Fourth of July celebrations across the country you may want to explore. No matter where you choose to go, you’ll want to find a destination that fulfills your interests and offers new experiences. Exploring the United States and learning more about each region’s unique history and culture can be the best way to honor America’s birthday.
Do you have a favorite Fourth of July destination? Let us know all about it below!