Where to Celebrate the Red, White and Blue on a July 4th Weekend GetawayBy Sophia Dembling
Planning a long weekend getaway to coincide with America’s birthday (and, perhaps, your PTO)? These favorite places offer plenty of options for an extended, activity-filled Fourth of July weekend getaway — and of course, fireworks to celebrate the big day.
Keep with the weekend’s theme and pay your respects to our nation’s immigrant past at Lady Liberty and Ellis Island. Reserve in advance to avoid long (really long) lines. If you just want to capture an Instagram-worthy moment, the Circle Line offers a variety of cruises, including a one-hour ride past the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks.
And since summer is a great time to be outdoors in the city, head to Central Park for people watching in Sheep’s Meadow or a stroll through the bramble; then stay for the music at a SummerStage concert.
Fireworks: Take in the big show over the East River against a spectacular Manhattan-skyline backdrop at Gantry Plaza State Park on the waterfront in Long Island City. Arrive early (take the 7 train to Vernon-Jackson Boulevard); the park gets packed.
Naturally, America’s birthplace is throwing one of the country’s biggest parties — six days of star-spangled activities that culminates in four impressive fireworks shows. The events include free concerts, parades, patriotic ceremonies and the Philadelphia Historic District Block Party.
Fireworks: For those seeking riverfront views, The Freedom Festival Fireworks light up over the Delaware River Waterfront at 9:30 p.m., on July 4, with the SugarHouse Casino and One Liberty Observation Deck serving as official viewing areas. The Wawa Welcome America July 4th Fireworks will take revelers on a 240-year journey from July 4, 1776 to July 4, 2016, backed by a booming soundtrack. The skies light up over the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, also at 9:30 p.m.
Spend your long weekend exploring Chicago’s must-see and lesser-known sights. Head up to the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) Skydeck for unparalleled city views. You’ll find yourself on the “ledge,” a glass-enclosed box suspended 1,353 feet above ground. At the Chicago Cultural Center, pay a visit to the Tiffany Dome, thought to be the largest Tiffany-glass dome in existence.
Finally, cap off your day with a pre-Prohibition cocktail at The Violet Hour, a James Beard Award–winning speakeasy-style bar.
Clear your schedule early on July Fourth to watch a free, open rehearsal, starting at 11 a.m., of the evening’s Independence Day Salute concert of patriotic music in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. (Of course, you can also buy tickets for the evening concert.)
Fireworks: Get to Navy Pier early enough to stake out a spot for the night’s fireworks.
Orlando is a hodgepodge of whimsical worlds, lands and kingdoms. Start your trip at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the Universal Studios theme park. Fill up on Butterbeer and hop aboard the Hogwarts Express for an unforgettable ride.
While you’re feeling magical, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is a classic, of course; or you might commune with the (somewhat) natural world at Animal Kingdom. Looking for a thrill? Ride a zip line over Gatorland. If you’ve got little ones in tow, visit LEGOLAND, which has extended hours weekends in July.
Fireworks: All the major theme parks have fireworks on the Fourth, just pick your world.
The National World War II Museum, often rated a top NOLA attraction, harks back to a particularly patriotic time in American history. Or plot out a more lighthearted afternoon at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World for a behind-the-scenes look at the intensive work behind building Mardi Gras floats.
Sure it’s touristy, but plan a quick walk down Bourbon Street to witness the ever-present shenanigans along this bar-filled stretch. When darkness falls, head to Frenchman Street to listen to live jazz, blues and funk tunes, and kick up your heels at The Spotted Cat Music Club.
Fireworks: Find a spot on the banks of the Mississippi to watch dueling barges shoot off fireworks for the Go 4th on the River celebration.
The California Tower in Balboa Park was closed to the public for 80 years but reopened 2016; climb to the top for a long view of San Diego. Spend time enjoying the coastal state’s beauty on a hike at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and visit the historic Gaslamp Quarter for art, shopping, dining and nightlife.
Head further afield to the beaches of Coronado Island, some of Southern California’s prettiest stretches of shore. Relax on the sand, fish off the pier or stretch your muscles on a kayak or bike tour.
Fireworks: Catch a free shuttle to Harbor or Shelter islands and have a beach day that stretches into evening for the huge Big Bay Boom fireworks.
After you’ve had your fill of lounging on the beach in San Juan’s Condado neighborhood, clean off the sand and head to the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and the Museo de Arts Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico. The two are located just a few blocks apart in the increasingly hip Santurce neighborhood.
For a history fix, you’ll certainly want to visit El Moro Fort, which dates to 1539. Afterward, explore the shops and restaurants that line the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan.
Fireworks: Your best bet for viewing fireworks is by the Condado Lagoon in San Juan.