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Celebrate the Fourth of July in California

You’ll have no trouble finding colorful festivities in the cities, on the coast, and in the mountains

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Posted 5 months agoby Katrina Hunt

California’s 4th of July fireworks are arriving just in time this year: With the state’s recent reopening, people are clearly ready to celebrate. Plus, since this year’s holiday falls on a Sunday, many folks can take advantage of a long weekend full of festivities.

Big cities and theme parks around the state are holding traditional displays, such as the show over Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and LEGOLAND California’s annual Red, White & Boom. Independence Day also marks the return of nightly fireworks at Disneyland Resort.

This year you can choose just about any region or town in the Golden State and you’ll find a good party. Some offer century-old traditions, classic parades, or fun themes—such as space exploration, anvil firing, or the upcoming Olympic Games. Others offer pandemic-style drive-in experiences with their own kind of relaxing convenience. Here’s a sampling of some of the many ways to celebrate, listed north to south:

Olympic-Themed Festival, Crescent City

The holiday parade and festival in Del Norte County has an Olympic theme this year, a nod to Crescent City’s sister city in Japan—Rikuzentakata. (The two towns became bonded after a tiny, barnacle-covered boat from tsunami-ravaged Rikuzentakata washed ashore in Crescent City in 2013.) Come for a weekend that includes sandcastle-building contests, a fun run, live music, and a beer garden at Beach Front Park—an excellent spot to watch the North Coast’s largest fireworks display.

Fireworks and Anvil Firing, Weaverville

The Trinity County town exudes all sorts of Americana: the Weaverville Historic District includes a museum, an old blacksmith shop, stamp mill, and sawmill. Celebrate the long weekend here with an axe-throwing contest, barrel racing, a bull riding championship, and fireworks on the 3rd. On the 4th, come for the historic Anvil Firing (a rocket launch–style display involving two anvils and some gun powder) at 6 a.m. followed by a pancake breakfast and a parade. While you’re here, soak up the natural scenery by hiking the Trinity Alps Wilderness.

Fireworks and Auto Races, Lassen County

The Shasta Cascade’s Lassen County celebrates two traditions this holiday weekend: auto races at Susanville’s Lassen County Fairgrounds (July 3–4) and the 40th annual fireworks spectacular afterward. Come back later in the month for the annual Lassen County Fair, running July 21–25.

Parades, Pancakes, and Pyrotechnics, Placer County

In Gold Country, the Placer County town of Colfax is a hotbed for July 3rd fun, with decorated streets, a parade, and an evening fireworks show. Head to Auburn on the 4th for a pancake breakfast in Old Town, followed by a parade, evening music, and fireworks at the fairgrounds. The Placer County towns of Roseville and Lincoln have their own displays, too.

Three Fireworks Shows, Lake County

Northern California’s Lake County is home to Clear Lake, California’s largest freshwater lake, which provides a backdrop for a few different celebrations. On July 3rd, enjoy the carnival, live music, and fireworks at the town of Clearlake’s Austin Park. On the 4th, head to Lakeport for a street fair and fireworks show, or to Konocti Vista Casino and Resort, where the Summer Music Festival features its own pyrotechnic display.

Food Trucks and Fireworks, Vacaville

The Solano County town of Vacaville is throwing its annual party at Andrews Park. Starting at 6:30 p.m., choose from food trucks, let kids play on the hilltop Great Wonders playground, and listen to music from a “top secret band” before the fireworks begin at sundown.

159th 4th of July Celebration, Bridgeport

The Mono County town of Bridgeport has been throwing Independence Day parties for a long time—every year since 1862. Festivities include a parade that showcases the local culture: the Bridgeport Paiute Tribe, staff from nearby ghost-town preservation site Bodie State Historic Park, and mules from a local pack station. At night, the fireworks reflect off the Bridgeport Reservoir and the High Sierra mountains.

Mother Lode Fair, Sonora

Start the holiday early in Gold Country’s Tuolumne County at the Mother Lode Fair (July 1–4 ) with exhibits, music, carnival rides, junior livestock auctions, and classic fair food. On the 4th itself, historic Jamestown will host a free block party with face painting, food, and live music from 4 to 9 p.m.

Drive-In Fireworks, Concord

The East Bay town of Concord is hosting a drive-in style fireworks show at the Concord Pavilion, set to music and produced by the award-winning Pyro Spectaculars. Admission is $25 per car.

Freedom Fest, Morgan Hill

The Freedom Festival in this Silicon Valley town goes back to 1876, and has longstanding features such as the “Patriotic Sing" at the downtown amphitheater, a fun run, a family-friendly street dance festival, and a Cruise and Car Show. The showstoppers, though, will be the town’s 146th July 4th parade and its Fireworks on the Green.

Fireworks and Elephant Garlic, Gilroy

July is high season in Gilroy, the Central Coast town famous for the Gilroy Garlic Festival (July 23–August 1). On July 4th, the annual fireworks go off over the town’s southwestern hills and Gilroy High School. The holiday weekend is also Elephant Garlic Weekend at local theme park Gilroy Gardens, when children’s author Ken Christopher will do readings of his book Elephant Garlic.

Baseball and National Icons, Visalia

The Central Valley town of Visalia makes a convenient launching pad for exploring Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, home of both the General Sherman Tree and the Crystal Cave. Add some holiday festivities by going to the July 3rd baseball game and fireworks hosted by the minor league team Visalia Rawhide (a low-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks). Staying in Visalia offers good deals, too—like a free $50 gas card or free annual parks pass that come with a three-night stay at some area hotels.

Fireworks Over the Pier, Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach will celebrate the holiday with local food vendors, live music, craft exhibitors, and a big fireworks display over its pier. A great perch for enjoying it: Vespera Resort, which has mostly ocean-view rooms along with a big beachfront deck, firepits, and a post-fireworks soundtrack of crashing waves.

Drive-In Fireworks, Camarillo

Watch the fireworks from your car in Ventura County: Park at the Camarillo Premium Outlets, browse the sidewalk sales and pick up some dinner from the food trucks before the fireworks show starts at 9 p.m.

Fireworks On and Above the Water, Big Bear Lake

Water and mountain peaks provide the setting for a fireworks display that goes off over Big Bear Lake. A cool way to see it: Take the gondola to the top of Snow Summit for the Above the Boom party with live music.

95th AmericaFest, Pasadena

The theme of the 2021 AmericaFest at the Rose Bowl—“Celebrating America’s Perseverance”—rings true on a few levels. For one thing, this is one of the nation’s largest and longest running July 4th celebrations, and this year’s festivities include a salute to NASA’s Perseverance Rover, created by Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This year’s lineup also includes an hour-long concert by singer Mendelyev, (a contender from The Voice) and a 30-minute show by TNT Freestyle Motocross.

American Flag Ferris Wheel, Santa Monica

Undoubtedly, the Ferris wheel at Pacific Park is Santa Monica’s most recognizable landmark. This year, the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel will light up with red, white, and blue colors, patterns, and transitions. Keep an eye out for one distinctive pattern—a 130-foot-tall, animated waving American flag.

Fireworks, Hot Air Balloon Rides, and Dining Deals, Greater Palm Springs

A variety of events dot the Greater Palm Springs area all weekend, including fireworks displays in Palm Desert, Palm Springs, and Rancho Mirage. On July 3, the entertainment complex Coachella Crossroads offers live music and hot air balloon rides, too. The long weekend is also a great time to download the free Summer Eats Pass, which includes special prix fixe menus and deals in the area (and each time you use it, you get a chance at winning a $50 gift card).

Golf Cart and Dinghy Parades, Catalina Island

The mostly car-less Catalina Island observes Independence Day with its own unique personality: a golf cart parade on Casino Way, a dinghy parade on the harbor, live music on the Wrigley Stage, and then fireworks at both Avalon Bay and at Two Harbors on 3rd St.

Fireworks Over the Pacific, Dana Point

Throughout the year, Dana Point’s Doheny State Beach is a great spot for whale watching, but it’s also the prime spot for watching fireworks on the 4th. Other good vantage points include Dana Point Harbor or the cliffs of Lantern Bay Park. For a different view, book a cruise with Dana Wharf Sportsfishing & Whale Watching or Captain Dave's Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari to see the show from the water.

Lawn Party at the Four Seasons, Carlsbad

The Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara in Carlsbad is throwing its own party with barbecue, peach cobbler, and big-screen movies on the lawn. Kids can take part in a water balloon toss, bingo, watermelon eating contest, and mini golf, and the night caps off with fireworks and patriotic music. Villas at the resort—a short drive from LEGOLAND California—come with a living room, dining room, kitchen, and fireplace, and have views of the adjacent golf course or Batiquitos Lagoon.

Rooftop View of Fireworks, Downtown San Diego

Staying downtown offers a great seat for San Diego’s Big Bay Boom fireworks that light up the sky over the USS Midway. At the Intercontinental San Diego, you can watch the show from your suite, or from one of the hotel’s three dining options, including the rooftop restaurant that offers an Italian spin on 4th of July cuisine.

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