What makes America America? A wide range of things. Celebrate the Fourth of July and the symbolic birth of the U.S. with everything from historic towns to beachfront relaxation weekends. Most celebrations will include fireworks and parades, but your party can be whatever you want it to be.
1. Williamsburg, Virginia
What better place to celebrate the country's birthday than to relive the history of its founding? While the modern city of Williamsburg is also home to Busch Gardens and the waterpark Water Country USA, the main attraction is Colonial Williamsburg and the nearby Jamestown settlement and Yorktown battlefield. In Colonial Williamsburg, you can see daily reenactments, shop at historic stores, and visit original buildings from the 1700s. For the Fourth of July, there will be fireworks and events that include a reading of the Declaration of Independence. Stay in historic lodging in colonial houses or opt for a more luxurious experience at the Williamsburg Inn. Tickets to Colonial Williamsburg are $43.95 for adults and $22 for kids.
2. Mt. Rushmore
The Mt. Rushmore National Memorial is made up of massive sculptures of the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln carved into the rock face. There is also a visitors' center at the national park and the Presidential Trail, which takes you up close to the giant monument. You can even visit the original sculptor's studio. In the evening during the summer, watch the lighting ceremony. The park has no entrance fee; however, there is a parking fee. There are no places to stay at the national memorial, but there are lodges, motels, and camping in the nearby Black Hills National Forest. The closest city is Rapid City, South Dakota.
3. Jackson Square, New Orleans
New Orleans may be known for Mardi Gras, but it's not a bad place to celebrate the Fourth, either. In the French Quarter is Jackson Square, a national historic landmark. Jackson Square was originally called Place d'Armes and was the center of colonial French New Orleans. Though it was renamed when the U.S. took control of the city, it remained a cultural center for local gatherings. Today, it's still a popular place for concerts and tarot readers. The square is also right in the heart of the French Quarter, down the street from the famous Cafe du Monde. Celebrate on the riverfront, where the city has planned an all-out extravaganza.
4. Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is really three waterfalls - Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and American Falls - that straddle the border between New York and Ontario. The Horseshoe Falls are the largest at 173 feet tall and 2,600 feet wide. On the U.S. side, the falls can be viewed from Prospect Point Park. You can also catch the Maid of the Mist boat or walk over to Goat Island and access the Cave of the Winds, which takes you down to a spot behind Bridal Veil Falls. On the Canadian side, Queen Victoria Park has viewing platforms and underground walkways. You can also go up to the observation decks at the Skylon or Minolta towers.
5. Navy Pier, Chicago
Right in downtown Chicago, Navy Pier has hosted soldiers and the World's Fair, and now is a destination for international performers and visitors. The pier has a 15-story Ferris wheel, an IMAX theater, the Chicago Children's Museum, a beer garden, and countless popular restaurants and stores. It's also home to a theater with rotating shows, which currently houses Cirque Shanghai. Although Navy Pier has fireworks throughout the summer, it will have a special display on both July 4 and 5 and is expected to be crowded. Because it's a pier, it can and does reach capacity. When that happens, the gates to the pier are closed to any additional entrants. If you have reservations for cruises leaving from or dinner on the pier, you should arrive early.
6. Martha's Vineyard
South of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard is a 100-square-mile island known as a summer home for affluent families. The year-round population of about 15,000 swells to 100,000 in the summer. The island includes smaller Chappaquiddick Island, which became a separated land mass after a storm in 2007. Martha's Vineyard is accessible only by boat or plane and is served by ferries from Cape Cod. Most people come to relax on the beaches and stay with their families (or multiple families) at vacation homes. But, there are also local wineries and film festivals that attract tourists. For the Fourth of July, the small towns hold annual parades and put on firework displays.
If you head to Boston for the Fourth, you won't be the only person. The city is steeped in history from the time of the country's independence. Walk the Freedom Trail to hit most of the major historical landmarks, including Paul Revere's house, the site of the Boston massacre, and the burial spots of John Hancock and Sam Adams. There'll also be plenty to learn that you never knew. And, since Boston is a major modern city, you'll be able to take breaks to enjoy the shops, theaters, sports, and restaurants. Wander around the North End for the ambience and cobblestones. And, expect the city to go all out with a massive celebration on The Esplanade.
8. Jekyll Island
Off the Georgia coast, Jekyll Island is one of the Golden Isles. Much of the island is a state park with sand dunes, wildlife, and windswept beaches. For over 50 years before 1947, when the state bought the island, the Jekyll Island Club was a private recreational island for elite wealthy families. Since then, the club has been turned into a hotel at the heart of the historic district on the island. You can stay at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, a national historic landmark with its iconic Victorian turret. You can also bike, kayak, golf, visit the nearby waterpark, or look for sea turtles.
9. Johnson Space Center
In Houston, Texas, the Johnson Space Center is NASA's center for spaceflight training and mission control. Because the 1,625-acre site is an actual operational space center, with lots of serious work happening, the public is only allowed to visit certain portions on organized tours. All visitors must come through the nonprofit Space Center Houston, which is next door. The Space Center Houston offers tram tours of the Johnson Space Center and historical exhibits from the space program. You can even have lunch with an astronaut; tickets for lunch are available on a first-come-first serve basis. Tickets for the Space Center Houston are $17.95 for adults and $13.95 for kids, if you buy in advance online.
10. Myrtle Beach
Because of its warm climate and long, expansive beaches, Myrtle Beach attracts 14 million visitors each year. Technically a man-made island and separated from the mainland by a river waterway, Myrtle Beach is part of The Grand Strand - a continuous stretch of beach in northeastern South Carolina. The area is known for its beaches and golf courses, though it also has a number of nightclubs and restaurants. In 2010, the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk opened and now has a 200-foot observation wheel with glass gondolas overlooking the ocean. For the Fourth of July, Myrtle Beach will be home to fireworks, a boat parade, and an evening concert at the waterpark. Rent a beach house, set up your umbrella, and enjoy the sun.