The 5 Best Independence Day Celebrations

Enjoy everything from parades and fireworks to golf tournaments and Old West shootouts at these 4th of July destinations.

Children dressed in red, white and blue cheering at fourth of July celebration

by NEA Member Benefits

1. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Where better to celebrate July 4th than the city in which the Declaration of Independence was signed? The declaration was adopted in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776; the city celebrates centuries later with a full day of festivities, beginning with a Celebration of Freedom ceremony and a parade of decorated floats, marching bands and more than 5,000 participants through the historic city. The evening includes a huge free concert and a fireworks show over the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  

Philadelphia is one of the nation’s richest cities when it comes to American history. Before—or after—the 4th, plan to visit U.S. landmarks such as Independence Hall, where the declaration was signed; the Liberty Bell Center, now home to the original bell; the Betsy Ross House, birthplace of the American flag; and Valley Forge, where the Continental Army camped in the winter of 1777–1778.

2. Bristol, Rhode Island

Photo credit: Nat Squatrito

If you’re looking for a traditional 4th of July, head for Bristol, Rhode Island. Bristol is home to the oldest continuous July 4th celebration in the United States. The town’s first “Patriotic Exercises” were conducted in 1785 by Revolutionary War veteran Rev. Henry Wight. The 234st Fourth of July Celebration will be held July 4, 2019, with a fireworks display on July 3 at 9:30 p.m., and the 2.5-mile Military, Civic and Fireman’s Parade begins at 10:30 a.m. on July 4, featuring bands, drum corps and a float competition. 

Bristol’s annual festivities officially start on Flag Day, June 14, and include a concert series in Independence Park, the “Spirit of America” golf tournament, the Independence Rhode Race half marathon, the Drum & Bugle Corps Competition and more. Every year since the early 1900s, the U.S. Navy has sent a visiting ship to spend a week in Bristol during the celebration.

3. Black Hills, South Dakota

In the Black Hills, you can celebrate Independence Day under the watchful gaze of 4 of this country’s most revered leaders: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. The July 3, 2017, events at Mount Rushmore will include musical performances, educational and cultural programs, and professional presidential reenactors. The renactors’ schedule will include a Presidential Press Conference starting at 9:30 a.m. 

The small towns near Mount Rushmore in western South Dakota are a goldmine of regional history dating back to the days of the Wild West and the Black Hills Gold Rush. The entire city of Deadwood is on the National Historic Register, and just outside of town is Mount Moriah Cemetery, where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried. Custer, Belle Fourche, Rapid City and other communities in the Black Hills offer 4th of July parades, Old West shootouts—and some have fireworks.

4. St. Louis, Missouri 

Photo credit: Fair Saint Louis

Lewis and Clark began their Louisiana Purchase Expedition in St. Louis in 1803. In 2019, you can begin your Independence Day celebration here on July 4, when Fair Saint Louis kicks off in Gateway Arch National Park. Festivities continue for three days and include family entertainment, air shows, concerts (2019 headliners are to be announced) and more—plus fireworks every night. The Veiled Prophet Parade, which began in 1878 and was originally modeled after New Orleans’s Mardi Gras, features artist-designed floats, high school marching bands and more than 300 performers.  

Complete your star-spangled holiday with some classic American pastimes. Journey to the top of the 630-foot-high Gateway Arch, built as a monument to Thomas Jefferson and St. Louis’s role in the country’s westward expansion. Cruise the mighty Mississippi River on a replica 19th-century paddle wheeler.

5. Bend, Oregon

Photo credit: Bend Parks & Recreation District

The Old Fashioned July 4th Festival in Bend, Oregon, is a low-key, family-oriented holiday in the high desert, including small-town pleasures like a pancake breakfast, free games for kids, a watermelon-eating contest, sack races and the 1.5-mile Pet Parade. The parade dates back to the 1930s and now draws about 8,000 spectators in addition to a wide array of critters from dogs to chickens to llamas, many in costume. The parade starts at 10 a.m., but the decorating party begins at 9, and it’s open to anyone who wants to join the parade.  

Located along the Deschutes River, Bend offers a wealth of outdoor attractions, from fly-fishing, paddleboarding and white-water rafting to hiking, golf and rock climbing. The deepest lake in the United States is about a 2-hour drive south of Bend at Crater Lake National Park. Brilliant blue Crater Lake is 1,949 feet deep and was formed by the collapse of Mount Mazama about 7,700 years ago.

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