Celebrating America with Simple Small Town U.S.A. Pleasures

Major cities across the United States, from Washington, D.C. and Boston to Chicago and San Francisco, mastered the art of “blowout July 4th” weekends, from massive waterfront fireworks displays to public concerts and music festivals to food festivals demonstrating how much of a melting pot our cities and country have become.

On the other hand, if your family prefers a simple, wholesome picnic lunch over a full-on buffet with a few hundred or thousand of your closest friends (especially when small children and grandparents are coming to the party), consider a road trip to Small Town U.S.A., where time-honored Independence Day traditions are alive and relevant.

Portsmouth, N.H.

As one of the original 13 colonies and “the state that made us a nation,” it’s probably no surprise it is home to one of the largest collections of sites and monuments dedicated to those who impacted the young United States. However, as it is also a heralded, family-friendly Eastern Seaboard beach destination, An American Celebration, the Strawbery Banke Museum’s annual extravaganza, provides one-stop shopping for all things historic, cultural and fun in conjunction with the founding of the nation. The weekend’s events, kicking off July 1, run the gamut from maritime art exhibits to a 1940s-style swing dance party to historic home tours and costumed role-players reenacting major events from the 1600s through the 1900s. There is also a rare opportunity to witness a U.S. Naturalization Ceremony welcoming the newest Americans home.

Portsmouth NH - July 4th; David J Murray, Clear Eye Photo

Portsmouth N.H., July 4th © David J Murray, Clear Eye Photo

Alexandria, Va.

While Alexandria is regarded as a Washington, D.C., suburb, small-town life from the Colonial Era is well preserved, from George Washington’s beloved Mount Vernon estate to tours highlighting its role during the French and Indian War and American Revolution. Patriotism is turned up several notches with a fireworks display over the Potomac, military reenactments, free birthday cake and a visit from our founding father himself. The National Concert Band will serenade guests with its Red, White and Blue concert. To keep the celebrations going the weekend after the 4th, Alexandria hosts its own birthday bash July 7 to celebrate the birth of the city and the nation. Live music, food vendors, birthday cake and a dazzling fireworks display over the river are all on the agenda.

Williamsburg, Va.

In addition to the famous and fabled Colonial era reenactments, the other Capital-adjacent community features three major fireworks displays within Colonial Williamsburg, Historic Yorktown and the Busch Gardens theme park. Notable hotels with upscale amenities and small-town charm include Williamsburg Lodge, Autograph Collection; SpringHill Suites Williamsburg; Courtyard Williamsburg Busch Gardens Area; and Marriott’s Manor Club at Ford’s Colony.

Hamilton, Ohio

This small community, founded in 1791, is just 33 miles outside of Cincinnati, and packed with period buildings as well as modern dining and shopping thanks to a recent revitalization. Unlike other suburbs that came after it, it celebrates its roots annually with its Fourth of July parade, as well as fireworks over the Great Miami River (a great outdoor recreation spot by day). A notable tour worth checking out is the Donut Trail, highlighting small, family-run donut shops throughout Butler County. Participating donut shops (including two in Hamilton) along the trail represent a combined 227 years of donut making.

Cabarrus County, N.C.

This area, a short drive from Charlotte, offers several Fourth of July events encompassing some of America’s favorite past times. Take yourself out to a ballgame, when the Kannapolis Intimidators face off against the Hickory Crawdads. Baseball fans can cheer for the Class A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox in the hometown of Dale Earnhardt Sr., and stay for fireworks following the game. Bojangles’ Summer Shootout:2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the Bojangles’ Summer Shootout, providing many thrills for auto-racing fans. Round five takes place Tuesday, July 3, and includes thrilling races under the lights on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s front stretch quarter-mile oval and fireworks display. Harrisburg’s July 4th Celebration is built upon the old-fashioned joys of a parade, food, live music, amusement park rides and two nights of fireworks.

Asheville, N.C.

Festivities include the Downtown Asheville Independence Day Celebration 2018, South Asheville Fireworks and a Tourist Baseball Game July 4.

Destin & Leesburg, Fla.:

The “Let Freedom Ring: An All-American Tribute” in Destin celebrates the nation’s birthday with a WWII Vintage Airshow, live music and fireworks over Destin Harbor, followed by Just Add Fire, a memorable fire spinning performance. Leesburg’s small-town, family-focused celebration at Venetian Gardens features a day-long schedule with swimming, face painting, games, BBQ, snow cones, stilt walkers, balloon artists, free ice cream, live bands and, of course, elaborate fireworks.

South Lake Tahoe, Nev.

Lake Tahoe Fireworks © Aramark

Lake Tahoe Fireworks © Aramark

Zephyr Cove Resort and Marina gives the holiday weekend — and much of the summer — an Old West feel with its fleet of log cabins nestled among the forest, as well as “glamping” opportunities with three new Airstreams onsite available for rent this summer and access to water activities at the full-service marina. Guests during the holiday have the opportunity to enjoy a special Independence Day Fireworks Cruise aboard the intimate 82-foot Tahoe Paradise yacht, bringing them up close to the fireworks barge for a one-of-a-kind way to view the spectacular fireworks display over Lake Tahoe.

Flagstaff, Ariz.

Celebrate an Independence Day holiday through America’s Southwestern traditions and culture, with events that include the 84th Annual Hopi Festival of Arts & Culture, 11th Annual Flagstaff Art in the Park, the Northern Arizona Taco Fest, the 21st Annual Greater Flagstaff Chamber 4th of July Parade and the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra’s A Flag Fourth concert.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.

The Pacific Coast beach town hosts a free, old-fashioned, family-style celebration in Devendorf Park across from Carmel Plaza on Ocean Avenue from noon to 4 p.m. Food options include hot dogs, cold drinks, chips, ice cream, watermelon and cookies, and will be provided by local service clubs and groups such as Carmel Host Lions, Mission Trail Lions, Yes for Carmel! Carmel Heritage, Carmel Woman’s Club and Carmel Chamber.