It’s that time of year when cities and towns from sea to shining sea go all out to provide you with free entertainment. The best fireworks spectacles may be crowded and involve some logistics, but they’re also great fun for the whole family—and there’s usually at least one lesser-known viewing spot where you can watch the cascades of red, white, and blue without too much squeezing and jostling. Happy Independence Day!
The July 4th celebration on the Charles River Esplanade starts with a free Boston Pops concert at 8 pm and ends with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture accompanied by pyrotechnics that light up the Back Bay. You’ll get the best views from Storrow Drive, from Memorial Drive in Cambridge, or from a boat on the Charles, but check Boston Discovery Guide for recommendations of the best hotel rooftops and rooms for soaking up the show.
Take all those lights already illuminating the Strip, add not one but five over-the-top fireworks displays by Grucci in and around the city (including one from the tower atop the Stratosphere), and you get one spectacular night sky. In fact, the whole Las Vegas Valley lights up, so you’ll want to choose a spot with views of the Valley. Consider the Rio Hotel’s Voodoo Rooftop Nightclub 51 stories above the Strip, or Ghostbar on the 55th floor of the Palms Casino Resort.
Music City claims its “Let Freedom Sing!” fireworks spectacular will be the biggest in the country this year. It was already pretty big last year, when they used more than 30,000 fireworks shells totaling more than 16,000 pounds and the fireworks ran for 27 minutes. The pyrotechnics are choreographed to the accompanying music of the Nashville Symphony.
In the 25th annual Go Fourth on the River, “dueling barges” anchored on the Mississippi River will try to outdo each other with innovative sparkling formations. Last year they launched nautical floating shells that landed on the water’s surface, creating towering fountains of sparks and color. The closest you can get to the fireworks is on a riverboat paddlewheeler, but you’ll probably get close enough in Woldenberg Riverfront Park or, across the river, on the levee at Algiers Point.
New York City
Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks, a showstopper courtesy of Pyro Spectaculars by Souza, are launched from barges in front of the Brooklyn Bridge and explode over the East River. The public viewing areas—the elevated portions of the FDR Drive from lower to midtown Manhattan—grow especially crowded. You might be better off searching for any spot in Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Queens that has unobstructed views of the sky above the East River. Just in case you’re tempted to stay in and watch it on NBC, Macy’s offers a fireworks hotline for those with public-viewing inquiries: 212-494-4495.
The birthplace of the Declaration of Independence celebrates our nation’s independence annually with a Philly Fourth of July Jam—billed as “the largest free concert in America” —that ends with fireworks over the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Best places to view the sparklers away from the worst crowds include the Schuylkill River Trail, Drexel Park, Lemon Hill, and along Kelly Drive.
Big Bay Boom claims to be the largest fireworks display on the West Coast. In fact, with more than 500,000 people expected to attend, it’s apparently the largest annual event in the western U.S. The sky concert happens in the natural amphitheater that is San Diego Bay and raises money for the Armed Services YMCA and local military families. Making a weekend trip out of it? Here are hotels with good views of the Bay.
The fireworks for Tahoe’s “Lights on the Lake” celebration are launched from barges moored just off the South Shore (at Stateline). The display is best viewed from the water, where three Lake Tahoe boats —two giant paddlewheelers and a yacht—offer July 4th cruises; onshore, these spots give you a front-row seat.
At some point you’ve probably watched “A Capitol Fourth” broadcast live on PBS from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. This year the show will start with the National Symphony Orchestra at 8:00 pm and end with fireworks exploding over the city’s monuments. The National Mall is a great but jam-packed viewing spot (the fireworks are launched at the Lincoln Memorial’s Reflecting Pool). You’re more likely to find space to breathe at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (a.k.a. the Iwo Jima Memorial) across the river in Arlington, and in these other spots.
Did you know they celebrate July 4th in Denmark too? Since 1912 Rebild National Park has held the largest July 4th fireworks event outside the U.S. A group of Danish Americans bought the Park in 1911 and deeded it to the King and country the next year, on the condition that it remain undeveloped and available as a space for celebrating the American holiday. Rebildfesten has been celebrated by thousands on every July 4th since.
Of course, there’s also a lot to be said for a small-town 4th of July celebration that offer homespun charm and easy-breezy logistics. America has plenty; here’s an assortment of small towns with big charm on Independence Day.
You’ll find more travel intel from Wendy at WendyPerrin.com.