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.
The country's best July 4th celebrations
The country's best July 4th celebrations
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
Photo: Kevin Fleming/Corbis
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
Photo: NYC & Company/Julienne Schaer
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.
Photo: City of Boulder Parks and Recreation
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).
Photo: Choose Chicago
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
Photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore
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, andRed 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
Photo: Courtesy of Marin County Fair
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 Overtureagainst 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.
Photo: Rick Friedman/rickfriedman.com
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.
Photo: Big Island Visitors Bureau / Kirk Lee Aeder
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
Photo: Steve Spatafore/Las Vegas News Bureau
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