Fourth of July celebrations are arguably the best part of Summer. They involve hot dogs, fireworks, ice cream, swimming, and picnics, so really, what’s not to love? And figuring out exactly where to celebrate the holiday is crucial. Big city celebrations are great and all (also crowded), but some events are better enjoyed on a smaller scale. Small town the USA means charming traditions, quaint streets, friendly people, and lots of space to spread out and enjoy. The events almost always include a main street parade and fireworks, but most of these spots offer unique events that only a smaller town could pull off. Whether you’re looking to celebrate an old-fashioned way or do something with a more modern twist, there’s something for everyone this Independence Day. So, get your patriotic pants on and check out one of these small town USA spots to party.
The historic village of Manassas, Virginia is basically the capital of patriotic contests on the Fourth of July. Located about an hour outside of D.C., Manassas is competition central with activities like watermelon eating and bicycle decorating contests. Previous years have also included a “Celebrate America Photo Contest” and bubble blowing. And yes, there are trophies.
Deemed as “America’s Most West Freedom Fest,” Kekaha, Hawaii is cool just because of its location. But that’s not the only reason to celebrate the Fourth of July here. The live music on the beach, delicious food trucks (including the famous shave ice), and fireworks will do the convincing. Did we mention the beach?
The town of Choteau in Montana gets down and dirty for their patriotic fete. Their Got Grit? obstacle race challenges participants with a 3-mile course that’ll definitely call for ice cream at the finish line. And with an entire lineup of events spread out over a few days, they certainly know how to keep the party going. A beer garden, duck races on the local creek, and a Bluegrass festival are just some of the highlights.
As if the pristine mountain backdrop wasn’t enough, the town of Telluride brings Summer barbecuing to a new level on the Fourth of July. The annual Firemen’s BBQ is a famous event in Colorado, bringing the community together in the local park. This is, of course, after the Rundola, a very uphill race to the top of the ridge. Fireworks are a roll of the dice though, dependent on wildfire danger levels; a fair trade for that ridiculous scenery.
Alexander City, Alabama
Alexander City, Alabama is host to an annual boat parade for their Fourth of July celebrations and well, we’re already packing our swimsuits. About an hour northeast of Montgomery, and an hour and a half southeast of Birmingham, this southern hamlet (OK, small city) is easily reached. The festivities take place on the actual Fourth, with decorated boats parading on Lake Martin donning oodles of patriotic fanfare. Registered boaters compete for top place in various categories like “largest flag” and “most creative”.
Northern Iowa likes to celebrate freedom on the water. In the small town of Okoboji, the Fourth of July is party central on West Okoboji Lake for a popular event aptly named Lake Effect. An old barge is placed in the water for a live band to jam hard on for the boats and floats to enjoy. The celebration continues all week with free concerts and an amusement park right on the water’s edge. Um, sign us up.
Less than an hour outside of Philadelphia is a town that holds the title of Longest Running Fourth of July Parade — no big deal. Glenside, PA’s patriotic efforts have been dubbed “glorious” and “grand,” and well, that’s reason enough to check out why it’s been going the distance for a cool 115 years. When the sun goes down, they are after dark festivities include a large fireworks show as well. Boom.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
For a quintessential New England Independence Day experience, head to Portsmouth, where all the classic American goodness comes out to play on the Fourth of July. From historical re-enactments by costumed players to an old-fashioned field day, there is no shortage of events. Can’t forget the basket weaving and hearth cooking, too. Butter churning anyone?
Manlius, New York
Upstate New York’s Manlius, which is just outside of Syracuse, is host to an exceptionally unique Fourth of July celebration . . . in the form of chair racing. Home to the Stickley Furniture factory, it only seems appropriate to create a race involving their chairs. Racers decorate mobile chairs to compete, and the wackier the better. To add to the festivity level, a parade, carnival, live music, and a giant firework show are all part of the day’s happenings.
What says freedom more than a demolition derby? The town of Forks, Washington may have been made famous by the popular Twilight series, but the Fourth of July festivities definitely don’t include any vampires. There are, however, window decorating contests for local businesses, a parade, a dodgeball competition, a salmon bake, and the demolition derby. A well-rounded celebration with a bonus of smashing things. Awesome.
Well known for the annual Mount Marathon footrace, Seward, Alaska does it up big for the Fourth of July. The streets are turned into a lively festival, with abundant food and music. And, being in the land of the midnight sun, the fireworks go off at, you guessed it, midnight.
For a true wild west Fourth of July fete, head to Oakley, Utah for their annual rodeo. About an hour east of Salt Lake City, you’ll find four shows capped off with fireworks each night. There’s also a 5k fun run and a parade. Yeehaw!
Pie lovers, this one’s for you. The town of Cambria is home to Linn’s Restaurant and her famous pies, and you can stuff your face with them (literally) on the Fourth of July. In addition to this pie-fest, there’s a unique relay race that requires skills in balancing restaurant serving trays. And if you get too full, tour the local Piedras Blancas lighthouse, participate in the Fourth of July Eve storytelling session, or picnic it up in the park while waiting for the evening’s firework show.
For an old-fashioned Texas celebration of America, head to Granbury. The town dishes up some hearty fun as well as chili. (Previous years have included a chili cook-off.) The celebrations start with a classic hot rod show on the eve of the 4th and continue with a decorated bike contest, parade, and bull riding. Oh, and fireworks of course.
Tap into the days of the old west in Hailey, Idaho, because every Fourth of July celebration should start with a pancake breakfast at the town hall. The festivities also feature an antique market, themed parade, and river fest. Oh, and did we mention the fireworks show synced to music that’s been deemed an “extravaganza?” Yeah, game on.
Bath Heritage Days in Maine stretch the patriotic party for six full days. With 30 live bands, there’s sure to be a solid soundtrack for your Fourth of July festivities. The waterfront sports a full carnival and a large parade takes place on the day of, followed by many other highlights including a 5k, a chili-chowder fest, and a strawberry shortcake social. If that wasn’t enough, it all kicks off with a chicken barbecue, so what we’ve learned here is to come hungry. Noted.
Custer, South Dakota
Go big and ring in the Fourth of July in the shadow of Mount Rushmore. The town of Custer, South Dakota puts on an “Old Time Country” Fourth of July complete with a parade, family activities, and fireworks that are heavy on the country vibes. In between patriotic activities, explore the surrounding southern Black Hills region for some outdoor adventure time.
Rockaway Beach, Oregon
For some wholesome American coastal fun in the Pacific Northwest, check out Rockaway Beach’s Fourth of July bash. There are a parade and fireworks, as well as a plant and bake sale. Adding to the usual fun, this seaside Oregon town throws in a dachshund race for good measure, which is bound to be hilarious.
What’s better than one parade? Two, obviously. The New England town of Stowe does it up double, with two parades. What makes it extra special is the first parade only allows participants to put their float together the morning of and spend $10 or less. The afternoon festival is bursting with patriotic ambiance and the evening gifts farm fireworks. Classic Vermont.
Perhaps the most unique parade tradition in the bunch, Gatlinburg’s Fourth of July march begins right as the day of America starts . . . at 12 a.m. The midnight parading has been a thing for 44 years and has given the small city in the Smokies some major recognition. Also on the Fourth is the River Rafting Regatta, a creative race for small handmade floats on the Little Pigeon River. Rubber duckies are also thrown into the mix, and the winner for “most creative” definitely gets a trophy.