For many people, celebrating America’s birthday is a pretty big deal. The bright fireworks, the big parties and barbecues, and the quality time spent with friends and family all mark the pinnacle of summer across the country. Not every destination in the USA does the 4th of July the same, though. From cities with gigantic pyrotechnic shows to quaint towns that avoid fireworks altogether, these are the absolute best places to go for Independence Day:
1. Washington, D.C.
Being the capital of the country, it’s no surprise that Washington, DC puts on a spectacular 4th of July celebration. This is one of the nation’s largest and most impressive fireworks displays, in addition to many other events throughout the city for the big day.
You can watch the fireworks show against the skyline at any of the many spots with an awesome view. The most obvious is at the National Mall, though it gets extremely crowded. Perhaps a better idea is taking a nighttime boat cruise on the Potomac River, on which you can get a great view and avoid being in a packed crowd. There are also a number of rooftop bars, like La Vie and Top of the Gate at the Watergate Hotel.
Some stellar 4th of July events in Washington DC include the annual A Capitol Fourth concert and the National Archives on Constitution Avenue celebration.
2. Chicago, Illinois
Chicago is another big American city that puts on a huge 4th of July fireworks display. Given that it sits on Lake Michigan, there’s ample opportunity to see the bursts of blazing colors from the water, where you have the added advantage of watching the light reflect off the lake.
One of the best places to watch the holiday fireworks in the Windy City is Navy Pier, but it can get ridiculously crowded. If you don’t want to brave the throngs, consider doing a fireworks boat tour for a better view.
While you’re here for Independence Day, take advantage of all the free things to do in Chicago!
3. New York, New York
Considering that the Big Apple is the largest city in the country, it’s no surprise that its 4th of July celebration is one for the books. The legendary pyrotechnic show launches from Manhattan on the East River; you can see it from the Brooklyn Bridge and surrounding area, as shown on this awesome map.
The locations on the map are most likely to fill up early and get very crowded, which is understandable, considering this is the largest fireworks display in the nation. To avoid the crowds, many New Yorkers opt for making a reservation at a rooftop bar and enjoying the event there. 1 Hotel Rooftop and Garden Bar, Westlight NYC, and One Vanderbilt The Summit are all local favorites.
Besides the many free things to do in NYC, there are also tons of 4th of July events to check out. The Travis Fourth of July Parade on Staten Island and the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog-Eating Contest are both classic events.
4. West Texas
If you’ve been thinking about heading to West Texas for a stargazing trip, the 4th of July just might be one of the best times of the year to do it. The wide-open highways of the region are perfect for a road trip, on which you can make a stop in breathtaking Big Bend National Park.
There are plenty of small towns throughout West Texas in which you can watch a fireworks display. Fort Davis, for example, is a tiny town of barely 1,200 people. Each year, it throws a multiday celebration for the 4th of July, highlighting the tight-knit community’s hometown pride and patriotism. This kind of celebration is typical in this region and is a fun way to spend the holiday.
5. California’s Pacific Coast
There are few road trips in the USA that beat driving along California’s Pacific Coast Highway. While a drive like this one is fantastic any time of year, the 4th of July is especially magical. Here there are tons of scenic stops and quaint campgrounds, and miles and miles of coastal views.
Due to restrictions meant to keep forest fires at bay, many towns and cities in California cannot currently put on a fireworks show. Therefore, your 4th of July festivities on the PCH can simply involve having a barbecue at your chosen campground and exploring the various national and state parks along the route.
Here are more places where you can escape the fireworks if you’d like:
6. North Lake Tahoe, California
If you’ve never been anywhere that omits fireworks on the 4th of July, it might seem sacrilegious to skip such an old tradition. However, there are some serious consequences to using pyrotechnics. For one, dogs and other animals are greatly disturbed by fireworks and they can be extremely dangerous to areas where forest fires are a concern. They can also be harmful for war veterans and refugees who have PTSD. That’s why North Lake Tahoe is such a great place to spend the holiday, as fireworks are not part of the festivities.
Instead, you can join the annual July 3rd Beach Party on Kings Beach. Here you can watch a drone light show that is just as impressive as traditional fireworks. Plus, visiting Lake Tahoe during the summer is a treat on its own, with tons of things to do on the water, ample hiking, and other stellar outdoor activities.
7. Breckenridge, Colorado
Since 2019, when the town of Breckenridge banned the public and private use of fireworks, this charming mountain destination has enjoyed a quieter, safer 4th of July celebration. Instead, it hosts a jam-packed, daylong celebration that starts at 7am with a 10K run. The town closes its main street on the 4th of July to accommodate the race, parade, and party.
Breckenridge is one of the best places to go for the 4th of July if you want a laid-back, environmentally conscious experience. Many people who have dogs prefer coming here as well, because of the absence of loud fireworks that can scare them.
8. Cannon Beach, Oregon
Similar to the destinations above, Cannon Beach (and many places throughout the PNW) decided to put an end to its fireworks tradition due to concerns about fires. Considering that Cannon Beach’s stunning natural beauty is the top reason why people come to visit, it’s no surprise that the town decided to put the ecosystem first by banning fireworks.
That said, this destination is a fantastic place to spend the holiday if you’re traveling with pets or just want a more chill celebration. Events include a kitschy Independence Day parade and the unique Great Cannon Beach Puffin Watch.
9. St. Augustine, Florida
Is there really a bad time to go hang out on the beach in St. Augustine? No, not really. The 4th of July is just as good as any other time, with the added bonus of having an awesome celebration to take part in. The fireworks display happens on the bayfront of the Castillo de San Marcos, with the show reflected in the water below. Throughout the evening of the 4th, you can find live music and street vendors, adding to the festive mood of the holiday.
Many streets in St. Augustine’s historic district are closed for the celebration, so you can enjoy the sights of this charming city and check out the annual Independence Day parade as well. St. Augustine also made our list of the best cheap beach vacations in the USA, so you can visit without breaking the bank.
10. Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach is that quintessential all-American beach town that not only has beautiful sandy shores but Southern charm and hospitality like no other. Here you’ll find that the boardwalk is buzzing with locals and visitors alike, all excited to see the magnificent fireworks show, one of the largest on the East Coast. Since the pyrotechnics are shot from a barge on the ocean, it’s easy to get a great view, as there’s plenty of space on the beach to set up and watch.
The boardwalk also features live music, family activities, and food vendors galore for the 4th of July. In addition, there’s a celebration at Mount Trashmore, where you’ll find food trucks and more live music throughout the evening.
11. Mackinac Island, Michigan
This enchanting Midwestern island is as idyllic as ever in the summertime and puts on a great 4th of July party. The defining feature that sets it apart from other places on Independence Day is that it does a rendition of an 1880s celebration. That means performances of patriotic music from the 19th century, Victorian children’s games, and Revolutionary War cosplay galore.
One of the stars of the Mackinac Island 4th of July is the Tea Room Restaurant, which already has a time-capsule feel any other day of the year. But on this special holiday, the staff dress up as 1880s characters to give guests an even more historic experience.
12. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston’s annual 4th of July fireworks display is put on by none other than the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum. If that doesn’t count as one of the most historic ways to celebrate the holiday, I don’t know what does. Each year, the museum hosts a free party at which guests can ring in America’s birthday from inside the historic World War II aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.
You can watch the fireworks display from Charleston Harbor, where you’ll also find live music and dozens of food trucks. Or watch from the Yorktown flight deck for an admission fee of $25.
Just as our beautiful country is diverse in its people, customs, and cultures, so are 4th of July celebrations across America. I hope you found the ideal Independence Day destination for you.
Which one will you choose?