The Best Places to Travel for Fourth of July
The best Fourths of July fall on a Tuesday or Thursday, all but requiring you to take a four-day weekend. So thanks, 2019, for coming through on that front. To celebrate the holiday itself, and—fingers crossed!—your extra day off, head to one of these Fourth of July hot spots.
As befits America’s birthplace, Philly stretches Independence Day to nearly a week in the form of the Wawa Welcome America Festival. Kicking off on June 29 with everything from competitive ice cream eating to waterfront fireworks, the festival includes more than 50 events with free admission. Independence Day proper begins with a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence at Independence Hall (the steepled building above), where the document was debated and signed—and ends with Grammy winners Jennifer Hudson and Meghan Trainor in concert with the Philly Pops Big Band. The show’s grand finale: More pyrotechnics set to music by the United States Army Field Band.
Though the festival serves up plenty of food, allow for at least one detour to the newly minted Best Restaurant in America, per last month’s James Beard Awards: Chef Michael Solomonov’s modern Israeli Zahav, where the hummus and laffa alone are with the trip to Philly. For more traditionally local flavor(s), head to the Reading Terminal Market, where DiNic’s roast pork on a roll won the Travel Channel’s Best Sandwich in America championship and Bassetts Ice Cream has won over visitors since the market opened in 1892 (try the delightfully salty Peanut Butter Swirl).
Another can’t-miss stop, especially if you’ve got kids in tow: The Franklin Institute, the science and technology museum where the crowd favorite Marvel Universe of Super Heroes exhibit is on through September 2. Check out the artifacts from the sets—as well as the series’ humble comic-book beginnings—before snapping a holiday-appropriate family selfie in front of Captain America’s costume from the Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Stay: In the spirit of the City of Brotherly Love, stay in a place that's spacious enough to prevent sibling squabbles. Downtown's Windsor Suites Hotel has sleek, modern apartment-style suites that start at 450 square feet, and—if you want—will even stock your fridge with everyone's Trader Joe's favorites.
Colonial Williamsburg, VA
If you’re looking for some good old-fashioned fun—we mean, like, 18th-century fun—spend the Fourth amongst the townsfolk of Colonial Williamsburg, who‘ll make you feel as if America’s quest for independence is happening right now. Start the day over breakfast with Thomas Jefferson at Shields Tavern, and from there, follow him to the Capitol, where he'll read some of his finest work: The Declaration of Independence. You'll also want to hit the Capitol again later that day for a midday session of Resolved, An American Experiment, when you’ll experience more drama than an episode of Real Housewives of the Revolution as you (in the role of, say, Patrick Henry) debate Virginia’s independence from the Brits. As for where to head that evening, just follow the torches, fifes, and drums. They'll lead you right to the fireworks display over the Governor’s Palace.
Stay: After a day in the 1700s, 21st-century amenities are probably looking really good. So drive 15 minutes to the Kingsmill Resort, where you can book anything from a lovely guest room to the The Estate at Kingsmill. Go for the latter if you happened to play a prominent landowner during that immersive theater session and haven't quite shaken your character yet. This newly redone, 7,000-square-foot private spread used to belong to the Busch (as in Budweiser) family, and now offers an infinity pool, private chef, two SUVs, customized golf carts, and pretty much anything else you might want in addition to the larger resort's amenities (golf, pools, tennis, spa, kids club and marina).
There's plenty to do in Newport itself on the Fourth: Hear the Declaration of Independence exactly where locals first heard it in 1776; check out a 21-gun salute that involves some of Paul Revere's original cannons—or just catch the kickoff of the 50th anniversary of the Newport Music Festival. But whatever you do, make the quick trip (15 miles) to Bristol—scene of the nation's oldest 4th of July parade. By way of a backstory: A Revolutionary War veteran (and Harvard grad, as his mother would no doubt want us to tell you) named Henry Wright moved to Bristol to lead the First Congregational Church, and felt strongly that the town should observe patriotic exercises on July 4th. According to the New England Historical Society, the resulting 1785 ceremonies were the first of their kind, giving Bristol "its claim as birthplace of the Fourth of July celebration."
Of course, this neck of the woods is much better known for its exploits a century later, when Newport became the Gilded Age summer it town. So don't leave without touring the "cottages"—turn-of-the-century seaside mansions built by the likes of the Vanderbilts and Astors. Come back down to earth at a little joint so delicious, reentry won't make you sad: Flo's Clam Shack, where the most popular item on the menu—Flo’s World Famous Clamcakes—will set you back $5.50-10, depending on how hungry you are.
Stay: Get an immersive taste of the Gilded Age at the Chanler at Cliff Walk, built in the 1870s as a summer retreat for New York congressman John Winthrop Chanler and his wife, the heiress Margaret Astor Ward. Now a hotel with 20 uniquely furnished guest rooms, gorgeous grounds, and the Atlantic Ocean just outside, the place makes for a spectacularly swanky crash pad. If you can pull yourself away from the views, the house car will take you into downtown Newport. But arguably the best perk of staying here? You can book a private tour of The Breakers, the jaw-droppingly opulent former summer home of one of the aforementioned Vanderbilts (Cornelius, to be exact).
For the most meta of Independence Days, spend yours in Independence—a town named for the Declaration, according to the State Historical Society of Missouri. Best known as the beloved hometown of a certain Harry S. Truman, this Kansas City burb invites you to tour his old stomping grounds on the Fourth (and, okay, every Thursday from now through October). A major highlight of the Harry S. Truman National Historic Landmark District is the Truman Home (above), originally built by Bess Truman's grandfather in 1867, now filled with artifacts from her decades there with Harry.
Once you've had some time to explore Independence on your own, head into KC for another patriotic pursuit: America’s favorite pastime. The Kansas City Royals are playing the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium on the Fourth. And you can round out your experience off the field at the city’s Negro League Baseball Museum, where you'll learn about the parallel league that operated from 1920 to through the early 1960s—and some of the greats you have, and maybe haven’t, heard of before. That night, check out the fireworks in Kansas City while downing some of the best dry-rubbed, hickory-smoked burnt ends your mouth has ever met: Snag a table at Fiorella’s Jack Stack at their Country Club Plaza location.
Stay: Check into a new hotel that's buzzing with local history. The handsome Crossroads was fashioned out of the 1911 Pabst Brewing Depot plus the building next door, where KC political boss Tom Pendergast reportedly bootlegged booze during Prohibition. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bar is a big draw here: It's a rooftop beer garden that also serves up stellar cocktails and stunning views. Then there are the DJ'd parties, bocce, yoga—and all kinds of other things that make you forget you should leave the hotel from time to time.
For Independence Day street cred, Boston's hard to beat (Tea Party, Siege, Massacre). Go all in and take a walking tour of the Freedom Trail with guides in period costume. Then head to the Old North Church where any kids in your travel party can hear the “one if by land, two if by sea” story while they craft their own signal lanterns. That night, hit the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade to hear the Boston Pops and Queen Latifah (we may have ditched the monarchy, but we still have a queen!), then take in the mind-blowing fireworks.
Stay: Hotel Commonwealth is literally across the street from Fenway Park, the nation's oldest ballpark, where you should book the hourlong tour to layer more Americana onto your long weekend. Or just book the hotel's Fenway Park Suite, where you'll find the Green Monster's #6 that was originally bequeathed to a retiring Johnny Pesky, plus a coffee table signed by various Red Sox legends, a baseball glove, and much more.
Of course, the ultimate Fourth of July pilgrimage site is our nation’s capital, home to the biggest Independence Day Parade in the land (along Constitution Avenue, no less) epic fireworks (watch them from a river cruise or rooftop bar to avoid the crowds), the free A Capitol Fourth concert (with everyone from Carole King to Angelica Hale this year) and endless ways to get into the spirit of the day (top pick: Check out original copies of the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives).
But while you’re here, take advantage of some of the other goings-on about town: The city is celebrating the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment (the one that granted women the right to vote) with various exhibits. One you shouldn’t miss: “Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence” at the National Portrait Gallery, with striking images and biographies of these activists. And hey, while you’re celebrating the accomplishments of women, go to CityCenterDC to check out the newest offering from James Beard favorite Amy Brandwein: Piccolina, where as of July 1, she’ll be serving up wood-fired scaccia, omelets, and other deliciousness.
Sure, France celebrates its own independence on July 14. But the nation's contributions during the American Revolutionary War—without which we’d likely be called West England—deserve a celebration of their own. And saying merci to Paris is totally doable over a four-day weekend.
Follow in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Jay, Thomas Paine and John Paul Jones on the Paris, Birthplace of the USA tour; have a meal at the new Franco-Japanese restaurant that occupies the Marquis de Lafayette's old house; then—skipping ahead a couple of centuries in French-American relations—hit the Louvre, and consider the Mona Lisa in a new light: She was once a diplomatic envoy.
At the time that President Kennedy described himself as "the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris," France was smitten with the First Lady, who—beyond being devastatingly chic—spoke fluent French and had studied at the Sorbonne. Only she—people said—could have convinced the French government to send the Mona Lisa to Washington for an exhibition, as she did in 1962. “Never before had a work of art directly and expressly been lent to a president and his wife," wrote art historian Frank Zöllner. "Never before had the organization of an exhibition ever been an official matter for the White House, never before and never again did a president of the United States personally inaugurate an art exhibition, much less give an inaugural speech for it.” In fact just last year, the White House Historical Association released a new edition of the award-winning Mona Lisa in Camelot: How Jacqueline Kennedy and da Vinci's Masterpiece Charmed and Captivated a Nation (you could do worse for reading material as you wait among the masses in ML's corner of the Louvre).
Stay: The new Fauchon L’Hotel Paris, in the posh 8th arrondissement, is an ode to French indulgence—something Jefferson was famously fond of. Fauchon—long known for its gourmet foods, wines, and desserts—has now turned its talents to hospitality. The hotel has 54 unique rooms and suites, and a minibar to write home about. You choose how you want your pink armoire stocked for your arrival: with salty, sweet, or healthy Fauchon snacks (or a combination of all three). They're all complimentary, and you’re encouraged to take home any treats you don’t finish.