Top Places to Celebrate July 4th

Small town parades, fabulous fireworks, and old-fashion fun across the good ole’ USA.

Sure New York City goes nuts with the famous Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks, launched from three different locations and accompanied by an Air Force flyover; the Boston Pops Orchestra performs a riveting concert in perfect synch with extravagant pyrotechnics over the Charles River; and the nation’s capital hosts a massive parade down Constitution Avenue followed by colorful bursts over the Washington Monument, but small towns across the country also put on their own patriotic performances that reflect the town’s character and local flavor.  Here are a few off-the-beaten-path places to celebrate the 234th birthday of America.

Friday Harbor, San Juan Island

Photo by David Erlich

If you haven’t explored this archipelago, you are missing out on one of the best-kept summertime secrets, as it’s consistently sunny and 70 degrees across the 400-plus islands scattered off the coast of Washington.  These stunning isles receive about half the amount of rain that falls on Seattle as the nearby mountain ranges serve as a rain shadow or barrier, which halts intrusive stormy weather. Orca pods frolic, bald eagles soar, and seals sunbathe in this natural pristine playground.  The enchanting village of Friday Harbor knows how to celebrate Independence Day and this year’s parade honors their robust farming community with a “Tribute to San Juan Farms.”  (Think fields of lavender, fresh blueberries and lingonberries.) Nighttime calls for an exemplary fireworks show. Families will love kayaking, biking, boating and hiking.  This part of the world serves up some of the best whale watching on the planet, so get out on the water with San Juan Safaris.  Book a waterfront cabin at Snug Harbor or room at the 1898 historic Tucker House Inn.

South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe FireworksThis glorious crystal blue lake, the second deepest in the US, is ringed by snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and giant fir and pine trees. In addition to the jingling sounds of slots and flickering lights of the casinos, South Lake Tahoe boasts the single largest synchronized fireworks display west of the Mississippi, best viewed from a boat floating gently on the lake.  If you do not have your own water vessel, the Tahoe Queen and MS Dixie II are also great vantage points for viewing the fireworks, with dinner and dance cruises that evening.  Fireworks soar into the sky from an offshore barge with a simultaneous music broadcast on local stations KRLT-FM 93.9 and KOWL-AM 1490.  If staying overnight in South Tahoe, skip the smoke-filled casinos and check out 968 Park Hotel, an award-winning green hotel, with a sleek pool area replete with cabanas and lounge beds for relaxing and sipping cocktails while the pool changes into a rainbow of colors.  Almost every material on site has been reclaimed or recycled–the design is hip, the beds are cozy, and the staff is super friendly.

Martha’s Vineyard

Edgartown. Martha's VineyardEast Coast denizens truly embrace the long languid days of summer and Martha’s Vineyard stands out as a favorite arrive-by-ferry destination. Even with its glitterati vacationers like the Obamas, Clintons, Kennedys, Diane Sawyer and Bill Murray, a laid-back vibe permeates the island.  The charming town of Edgartown hosts a home-spun parade along picturesque Main Street and the Old Whaling Church built in 1843, and continues down North Water Street past its rows of picturesque captain houses replete with widow walks reminding visitors of days gone by.  At dark, a massive pyrotechnic display illuminates the water front area at the Memorial Wharf.  Martha’s Vineyard is famous for its windswept dunes and expansive beaches, gourmet restaurants and yacht-filled marinas and regattas.  Check out the charming historic Edgartown Inn or Ashley Inn, a tranquil bed and breakfast.

Carrboro, North Carolina

Cane Creek CloggersThis colorful artistic town, just west of Chapel Hill, pulls out all the stops for July 4.  The morning commences with wagon and bike decorating, and hat making, while the Cane Creek Cloggers perform on the nearby main stage.  Tykes will love the patriotic costume contest followed by the whimsical Carrboro town parade.  Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Phyllis Heil–International Whistling Entertainer of the Year, dazzles with her air-blowing talent as, in addition to gospel, her repertoire includes patriotic, big band, classical and children’s music.  Captain Jim performs a magic show and then a pie-eating contest ensues.  If that’s not enough, there’s also watermelon seed spitting contests, limbo sessions, sack races and a water balloon toss. After an action-packed day, residents head to Chapel Hill’s Kenan Memorial Stadium for a firework extravaganza with live music.  Rest up after all the festivities at the Inn at Bingham School, just west of Chapel Hill, tucked on 10 acres under large pecan trees.  This 208-year-old bed and breakfast inn, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, delivers a true taste of North Carolina hospitality and halcyon relaxation.

Austin, Texas

Toe-tapping good music, elaborate picnics and backyard activities characterize Austin, Texas over Independence Day.  Spend a bluegrass afternoon at the new Backyard concert venue where Mr. Willie Nelson joins Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Price, David Allan Coe, and other friends gather for the ultimate picnic and laid-back tune fest. Classical music fans will appreciate the free performance of patriotic music by the Austin Symphony at Auditorium Shores along with the shooting of cannons by the Texas National Guard Salute Battery at the Long Center.  Then a scintillating round of fireworks will be shot over Lady Bird Lake.   Finally, there’s always the Brew B Que at the Buda City Park for live music, barbeque contests, a lumberjack show with log rolling and chainsaw racing, along with beer pong competitions and, yes, Chihuahua races.  Check into the historic Driskell Hotel, built as a showpiece by cattle baron Jesse Driskell, which sits in the center of Austin, the “Live Music Capital of the World.”

God Bless America for its diversity, simple pleasures and small town fun…

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  2. Arlene on June 26, 2010 at 7:20 am

    If you’re in Los Angeles and want a special treat — take the spectacular drive up to Lake Arrowhead for a fabulous fireworks display in a beautiful setting — over the lake and surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest. Start a family tradition. The resort has a package deal.

  3. Suzanne on January 6, 2011 at 12:04 am

    I haven’t been to these places as we always spend our July 4th in my parent’s place in upstate new York. I will surely check out these places !

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