A city that cradled the American Revolution and once threw wild tea parties, today Boston hosts a party of a different kind, as one of the nation's premier July 4th destinations. More than 200 events make up a fun-filled week-long calendar during the annual Boston Harborfest, which kicks off in late June and continues through the Independence Day holiday. This patriotic celebration focuses on the city's strong maritime and colonial heritage, and unfolds, as such, along the waterfront, on the Harbor Islands, and in historic downtown. Expect a slew of events (most of them free), ranging from fireworks, concerts, kids' days, cruises, tours, and more. Some of the festival's highlights include the Boston Chowderfest, during which some 12,000 participants chow down to select the best chowder from Boston-area restaurants; the annual turnaround of the USS Constitution; and the reading of the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the Old State House. The other major component of Bean Town's Independence Day festivities is the free Boston Pops Concert and Fireworks Display; arrive early with beach chairs or blankets to guarantee good seats. Check http://www.july4th.org for the full line-up of events.
Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard
With their sand dunes and salty air, lighthouses and quaint fishing villages, Cape Cod and its neighboring islands make superb Independence Day retreats, with dozens of parades, picnics, and fairs that will have you humming the "Star Spangled Banner" all holiday long. Three of the favorite events are the barbecue at the Old Whaling Church in Martha's Vineyard (4-8pm; July 4; Edgartown), where you'll get a taste of New England cooking and a dose of nostalgia for the country's old maritime days; the Hyannis Boat Parade in Cape Cod (1pm; Hyannis harbor), a veritable fleet of patriotically decorated boats and yachts (with awards given to the best "dressed"); and Nantucket's Independence Day Celebration on Jetties Beach, with good family fun like three-legged races and a tug-of-war by day and fireworks come nightfall. A great way to see more than one island and watch the fireworks from a prime Atlantic spot, is by cruising the Vineyard Sound from Woods Hole (call 1-800/376-2326 for reservations and departure times; $40). For more event information on the Cape, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard, see http://www.capecodonline.com.
Chicagoans get so amped for the city's annual Independence Day festivities that they actually kick off the revelry days in advance. Spectacular firework displays, fun festivals, rockin' concerts, and ballgames make the city an obvious choice for a holiday hurrah. No 4th of July would be complete without a colorful fireworks extravaganza - and Chicago hosts three nights of them! The most elaborate display is set to patriotic music and lights up the sky over the Navy Pier, a superb location with sweeping skyline views along Lake Michigan. Be sure to grab a seat at the Navy Pier Beer Garden, before or after the show, to listen to free performances by stellar Chicago-area bands, which jam to the blues, rock, reggae, and rock n' roll; remarkable free concerts are also held at the Petrillo Music Shell. If you haven't been to Chicago in a while, you'll also find some interesting new amusements in the modern Millennium Park, which debuted in July 2004 and borders Grant Park. Check http://www.choosechicago.org for event listings.
Acclaimed as one of the 10 man-made wonders of the world, Mount Rushmore is as grand a tribute to American history as one can get and, not surprisingly, a prime national monument for Independence Day celebrations. The imperial visages of four of the country's most venerated leaders - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt - are etched into the Black Hills of South Dakota, and visible from multiple spots in the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. You can follow the Avenue of Flags from the Concession Building to the Presidential Trail - a half-mile path that'll get you up close to the mountain carvings. You can also head to the Grandview Terrace above the Lincoln Borglum Museum or the memorial's amphitheater. July 3rd is the day to be there, as a slew of commemorative events are scheduled - including a military flyover by day and a firework display that night (at 9pm). There will even be a modern-day Abe Lincoln on hand to liven up the festivities. For more information on Independence Day events, visit http://www.nps.gov/moru.
Where better to celebrate America's independence than in the city of our nation's birth - Philadelphia? The old stomping grounds of the Founding Fathers, this history-rich city lays claim to being the place where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were both drafted. More than 200 years later, Philadelphians are still ready to get all riled up in the name of independence, with a superb week-long celebration. Start off your visit to the city of Brotherly Love by visiting its most iconic symbol of freedom, the Liberty Bell; it, and the historic sites in Independence Mall will have extended viewing hours over the holiday. Once you're done with the history, it's all about music and fun: expect a free concert at Penn's Landing followed by fireworks over the Delaware River; a separate gospel concert; and yet more free performances in front of Independence Hall. The culmination of events is July 4 itself, when top bands perform at the Sweet Sounds of Liberty Concert in anticipation of the city's annual, thunderous, fireworks display that sends flashes and booms into the night sky. See http://www.americasbirthday.com for the city's full event details.
Queen Mary 2
One of the best place to watch fireworks light up the sky on July 4 is from the decks of the illustrious Queen Mary 2, the Cunard line's newest prestige cruise ship. The talk of the cruise world since her debut in 2004, this breathtaking mega-liner is the definition of luxury cruising, and the line's five-day Independence Day Sampler is an excellent excuse to sample her bounty. Departing from New York on July 3, you'll sail up the coast to Boston, where you'll be able to grab a spot on the deck, get a glass of champagne, and have a toast to America's birthday as fireworks light up the sky over the Atlantic. Of course the irony of it all shouldn't be lost - you'll be standing on a ship bearing the name of a Queen of England while simultaneously celebrating America's Independence from the British - at the site of the Boston Tea Party! With the festivities over, you'll sail onto Bar Harbour and Halifax before returning to New York on July 8. For more information on the Queen Mary 2 and to book this particular cruise, visit http://www.cunard.com.
Barbecues, beer, bonfires, and fantastic fireworks - if there's one beach town that packs a party on July 4, it's San Diego. The sprawling shores along Mission and Pacific beaches are crowded with merry sunbathers from dawn 'til dusk - some dedicated holiday celebrants even camp out overnight to ensure a prime spot on the sand. Plenty of oh-so-American activities will keep you occupied both on and around the holiday - like carnivals complete with Ferris wheels, the Freedom Days Parade, and San Diego County Fair on the Del Mar Fairgrounds, to name a few. But the real action starts after dark, when a no-holds-bar pyrotechnics show lights up the sky before fizzling into the ocean. You'll hear the explosions all night long but the largest show (and our favorite) is the Big Bay celebration that starts at 9pm. It'll be hard to miss the rockets' red glare shooting up from barges off Harbor and Shelter Islands, but you'll get the best views from San Diego Bay. For more information on firework shows and events, check out http://www.signonsandiego.com or http://www.sandiego.org.
San Juan Islands
Watching a Bald Eagle fly overhead is bound to get you into a stars-and-stripes state of mind and the San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington State, are one of the few places in the US where such sightings are commonplace. Of the more than 700 islands that make up the chain, your best bet for July 4 is the eponymous San Juan Island, where you'll find the aptly named Fourth of July Beach along Griffin Bay; claim your spot along the sand, and spend your day swimming, playing softball, and roasting marshmallows on bonfires below the tide line. Also don't miss the annual Pig War Picnic, named for the so-called "Pig War" waged on the island between Brits and Americans in 1859. The commemorative picnic takes place on nearby Price Street, following the Fourth of July parade, and serves up equal parts burgers and hot dogs with good old-fashioned fun, like egg tosses, hay scrambles, pony rides, and musical entertainment. For more information on 4th of July events on the islands, check out http://www.guidetosanjuans.com.
US Virgin Islands
St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John are the only American-owned islands in the Caribbean and they pull out all the stops with two celebratory holidays: their own Emancipation Day, on July 3rd (to commemorate the end of the slave trade), and Independence Day, on July 4 (since joining the US in 1917), culminating with a parade on St. John, the tiniest, and, arguably, prettiest, of the islands. Not only is airfare to the isles cheaper in late June and July, but hotel rates are nearly half off their winter highs as well, making a visit here a cultural treat and a bona fide bargain. Imagine celebrating July 4 drinking a rum punch instead of beer and painting the town red, white, and blue at Caribbean-flavored bashes at night. Note that while St. John is the main focal point for Independence Day antics, all three of the islands have something to offer over the holiday. For more information visit http://www.usvitourism.vi.
Of course the nation's capital is going to rank as a top ten place to celebrate the nation's birthday! Several exciting events lead up to the culmination of the July 4th festivities, one of which is the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, where everything American, from food, crafts, concerts, and more, is showcased along the National Mall. Discover all things American at this free festival, which typically lasts for about a week from late June through July 4, and strives to capture the varying customs and cultures found within all fifty United States. Next up is Constitution Avenue, where the massive National Independence Day Parade incorporates a stream of lavish floats, bands, giant balloons, and military groups and makes for an impressive spectacle against the backdrop of imposing national monuments. Finally, as night falls on July 4, the free A Capitol Fourth concert kicks off on the West Lawn of the Capitol Building, with special guest performances accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra. As a grand finale, the concert is followed by one of the nation's largest and most visually-impressive fireworks displays, illuminating the night sky above the Washington Monument. See http://www.washington.org for more information on the capital's July 4th events.