The Fourth of July is a time-honored celebration filled with burgers, hot dogs, popsicles, and lemonade. It’s all about parades, sparklers, cookouts, and of course, fireworks. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA), more than 16,000 firework displays across the country marked America’s birthday last year.
Major cities like New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., are well known for magnificent displays. In fact, the spectacular fireworks in our nation’s capital are so phenomenal that they can be seen live coast to coast on PBS as part of the annual “A Capitol Fourth”
Watching the fireworks from the grounds of the U.S. Capitol is unquestionably a bucket list experience. It’s also one that can involve staking out a spot in the morning and waiting all day for the explosive celebration to begin, which, let’s be honest, can be kind of a drag. Kids can get hot and antsy (read: grumpy) when there’s not much to do but wait. There are no parades or festivals. No cotton candy or corn dogs.
With this in mind, we pulled together four of our favorite Fourth of July destinations other than our nation’s capital that are fun, festive, and family-friendly.
For starters, the average temperature in Seattle in July is 74 degrees. That alone may be enough to make this seaport city a winner on the Fourth of July. Camp out at Gas Works Park for an incredible fireworks show set to a musical score created specifically for the celebration.
Families will be entertained all day long by live music acts and interactive exhibits, as well as games just for kids like sack races and pie-eating contests. Food trucks will be on the scene too with plenty to munch on while waiting for the show. As a bonus, Gas Works Park is one of the most popular parks in town, so there’s plenty of green space to run and play.
Where to Stay: Book a room at Hyatt House Seattle Downtown or Embassy Suites by Hilton Seattle Downtown Pioneer Square. Both are a short taxi ride from Gas Works Park. Even better, both hotels offer free breakfast. What’s not to love about free omelets?
While in town, make a stop at bustling Pike Place Market for fresh fish, flowers, crafts, and produce of all kinds. Then, take a spin on the Seattle Great Wheel at Pier 57, then go to the top of the newly refurbished Space Needle for unmatched views of Mount Rainier on a clear day. The colorful glass sculptures at Chihuly Garden and Glass are a must-see for kids, too.
St. Louis, Missouri
It seems St. Louis is on everyone’s list these days thanks in large part to the grand opening of the Gateway Arch as a national park last July. The $380 million redevelopment project opened up a massive green space and connected the iconic Gateway Arch with downtown by way of miles of walkable and bikeable paths. Now, this is the place to be for the Fourth of July.
The re-imagined Museum at the Gateway Arch (formerly the Museum of Westward Expansion) is a must-see for kids and families. It’s hard to get more American than learning about the journey west to explore our great nation. Even better, kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge when they complete an activity book at the park and museum.
Enjoy a morning parade, then spend the day celebrating our country on the Arch grounds at Fair Saint Louis, also known as America’s Biggest Birthday Party. Enjoy musical acts, face painting, a high-flying dog show and hands-on learning activities, including a STEAM Expo which focuses on educational opportunities for kids in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Then, of course, sit back and look up for an awesome fireworks display in the evening.
Where to Stay: Make it a long weekend with a stay at the Marriott St. Louis Grand or Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch, both of which are a short walk from Gateway Arch National Park. While in town, take the kids to the über-popular City Museum, which wows with a 10-story twisty slide, a 30-foot rooftop Ferris wheel, and a ball pit for the ages. We promise: the City Museum will keep adults entertained just as much as the kids.
Gatlinburg is home to the first Independence Day Parade in the nation, a distinction the town has held for more than 40 years. Yes, you can watch marching bands, floats, and fancy cars parade the streets starting at 12:01 a.m. on July 4—if you can keep the kids awake, that is. But you won’t be alone; the streets are lined with enthusiastic parade-goers even at that late hour.
In nearby Pigeon Forge, the annual Patriot Festival is not to be missed with live music, plenty of food vendors, and a children’s carnival. Be awed by the spectacular fireworks extravaganza from Patriot Park or from atop of the 200-foot tall Ferris wheel at the Island at Pigeon Forge.
Where to Stay: Book rooms at the Hampton Inn Gatlinburg or Baymont by Wyndham Gatlinburg On the River which both keep you close to natural wonders like Great Smoky Mountains National Park and top attractions like Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, one of the most popular aquariums in the country. Kids will also love engaging their brains at WonderWorks.
At nearby Dollywood, kids will be eager to spend the whole day twisting and turning on roller coasters. Next door, Dollywood’s Splash Country is the place to go to cool down on water slides, a lazy river, and a massive 25,000-square-foot wave pool.
South Lake Tahoe, California
The fireworks celebration in South Lake Tahoe is so spectacular that it’s even been recognized as one of the very best by the APA. As the trade association for the fireworks industry, they know their stuff, so that’s a huge honor to bestow on this small town in Northern California.
The annual Lights on the Lake event is impressive. Even better, the show can be seen from nearly anywhere in town, though of course, the best spot is in a boat on sparkling Lake Tahoe. Another option is to book a spot aboard the M.S. Dixie II with Lake Tahoe Cruises. Book early since the 7 p.m. Dinner & Dance Cruise on July 4 is sure to sell out ahead of time.
Where to Stay: Enjoy the weekend in a suite at the Marriott Grand Residence Club, Lake Tahoe, or in-town in a cozy room at the Stardust Lodge. Spend the day splashing around in the hotel pool or rent a kayak at Emerald Bay State Park. Hiking the Rubicon Trail is another top activity for highly scenic views. It’s hard to beat South Lake Tahoe for enjoying nature and the outdoors as a family.
No matter where you to choose to celebrate America’s birthday this year, we can help you find our partner hotels in the area. Visit roomkey.com to compare rates from more than 45,000 hotels around the world and when you’re ready to book, we’ll take you directly to the hotel’s website to safely secure your room, rate, and loyalty points, too.