Finding New Ways to Celebrate the Fourth of July

Sometimes, the anticipation is the best part.

It was this way for us as we'd get ready to celebrate July Fourth in Evanston, IL. The day before the big parade, we'd go with the kids to stake out our spot, leaving lawn chairs behind. We'd decorate their bikes if they were marching in the parade with their soccer or Little League teams, and we would always bring flags to wave and plenty of water. It didn't matter that it was hot. There was always ice cream to cool us off.

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Maybe this July Fourth you'll be home marching or watching a local parade. Maybe you'll be visiting the relatives and cheering on nieces and nephews as they march. Or maybe you'll be celebrating somewhere new, joining in special and unique celebrations.

How about a pirate cruise to watch the fireworks in San Diego or a party with Shrek at the Gaylord National Hotel in National Harbor, MD? Or you can watch the fireworks from your NYC hotel room at The Westin New York at Times Square. (Call 866-837-4183 and request a western-facing room.) 

And while there are special fireworks on July Fourth at SeaWorld San Diego, you can see fireworks all summer long during Summer Nights at SeaWorld; these nighttime excursions feature special animal shows during extended hours.

Wherever you are you this year, you have a chance to create a new family tradition while celebrating the nation's birthday, whether it's running in a midnight mountain race in Seward, Alaska, indulging in a patriotic pancake breakfast in Jackson Hole, WY, or, of course, watching fireworks. (And yes, there were years when the kids were scared, but we went anyway, sometimes leaving early.)

Not into the fireworks? Have your kids ever entered a watermelon-rolling contest? They can as part of the festivities in the North Carolina Brunswick Islands. Or if they're feeling more historical than athletic, march along with the fife and drums at Colonial Williamsburg, where you might just bump into Thomas Jefferson.

But if fireworks are your top pick, here's your chance to see the spectacle in "the Fireworks Capital of America," New Castle, PA, where Zambelli Fireworks Internationale and Pyrotecnico got their start in the 1800s. This region was once the largest producer of fireworks in the world; today, the festival in downtown New Castle promises a terrific display, along with music, entertainment, and more.

For foodie adventures, join the pie-eating contest in Park City, UT, or watch the lobster races in Bar Harbor, ME, where you can chow down at a seafood festival.

You might meet up with Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, Long Island, where the free Fourth of July celebration also includes a visit and speech from "Teddy."

Abe Lincoln and Uncle Sam will be on hand in Denver at the Four Mile Historic Park's Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration.

Many Independence Day festivities last a lot longer than just one day. Here are seven that are guaranteed to please:

  1. Got any Civil War buffs in the family? The Gettysburg 149th National Civil War Battle Reenactment goes on from Friday, July 6, through Sunday, July 8, with battles, field demonstrations, live mortar-fire demonstrations, living-history programs and more.
  2. You've got an entire week to celebrate at the 31st Annual Boston Harborfest, the celebration of Boston's colonial and maritime heritage. This year Harborfest honors the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 with the USS Constitution and a Parade of Ships on Saturday, June 30. Here's your chance to have a scavenger hunt where the Boston Tea Party began or to hear the reading of the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the Old State House as it was read on July 18, 1776.
  3. Philadelphia's WaWa Welcome America is said to be the nation's largest free July Fourth festival, lasting from June 25 to July 4. It comes complete with a huge concert, games, and a three-day Taste of Philadelphia tour, which is part of the Go 4th and Learn series that offers free educational programs.
  4. The 93rd Annual Cody Stampede and Rodeo starts June 30 with some of the world's top bull riders competing. It also offers a dance-arts-and-crafts festival and the July Fourth Stampede Parade. Cody, of course, is considered a gateway to Yellowstone National Park.
  5. Steamboat Springs, CO, hosts a weeklong celebration that includes Cowboys' Roundup Days, the Pioneer Days Block Party, evening rodeos and, of course, fireworks. On July 7 Steamboat introduces its first-ever muddy adventure race, during which competitors crawl and climb over obstacles on Mt. Werner, while the weekend features a Hot-Air Balloon Rodeo.
  6. Head to the nation's capital where, in addition to the fireworks and the parade, the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival promises to draw more than one million people from June 27 to July 1. From July 4 to 8 go to the National Mall to watch exhibits and performances highlighting grassroots culture, entitled "Campus and Community, Citified, and Creativity and Crisis." Attend a "mini-university" class on astronomy, paleontology, sustainable energy, and many other topics, or try a wide variety of 4-H family activities, from gardening with heirloom seeds to robotics competitions.
  7. Shop till you drop during Stowe, VT's annual Seven Miles of Sales from July 4 to 8. You'll find bargains from more than 70 stores all along the Stowe Mountain Road (everything from art, jewelry, nationally recognized crafts, handcrafted furniture, award-winning Vermont specialty foods, clothing and sports equipment).

Got those American flags ready?

For more Taking the Kids, visit Eileen Ogintz's Taking the Kids website. Also follow "Taking the Kids" Twitter, where she welcomes your questions and comments.

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