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Travel-Worthy Fourth of July Celebrations

As American traditions go, this one might just be even more American than Apple Pie. The custom dates back to 1778 when the Continental Congress decided to honor the nation’s third birthday – and to do so boldly with a grand display of fireworks. More than two centuries later, the tradition continues with communities around the country celebrating America’s independence with a bang, and maybe a bite or two of Apple Pie.

When the rockets red glare this July 4, where will you be celebrating? Travelocity editors compiled this list of fireworks spectaculars, revealing some of the country’s best displays for 2006.

Aspen, Colo.
Known mostly for its snowcapped mountains and winter sports, Aspen also knows a thing or two about summer. And there’s nothing more reminiscent of summer than parades, ice cream and, of course, the Fourth of July. Enjoy Aspen’s Old Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration this year. With a fireworks display over Aspen Mountain, it seems as though this summertime mountain resort knows how to throw one heck of a birthday party. For the full old fashioned experience, enjoy the parade, community street dance and concert.

So good there couldn’t just be one show, Chicago visitors can enjoy two nights of fireworks. The Macy’s Independence Eve Fireworks Spectacular on July 3 features The Grant Park Orchestra’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, and the Navy Pier Fourth of July show celebrates independence with first-rate colors and sound. Both shows can be seen from Dock Street at Navy Pier. While you’re there, enjoy music from local bands and the playground that is Navy Pier, a Chicago landmark since 1916.

You know what they say; everything in Texas is big, which is why Houston’s Freedom over Texas Festival aims to please Texans and their super-sized expectations. Relax on the grassy knoll in downtown’s Eleanor Tinsley Park as the city’s biggest annual fireworks display illuminates Buffalo Bayou. Los Lonely Boys and the Village People light up their own stage with a performance honoring our nation’s 229th birthday. Four stages of live music promise to entertain, while military exhibits, a crafts market, beer garden, sand volleyball court and a kids’ zone with rides and games add to the fun.

South Lake Tahoe, CA
To experience the largest synchronized fireworks display west of the Mississippi, head to South Lake Tahoe, just over the California state line. A trademark event, Lights on the Lake combines music and lights, giving the pyromusical its reputation of excellence. Bring a picnic and a blanket for a shore side view, or sit center stage aboard one of South Shore’s Mississippi paddle wheelers. Both the Tahoe Queen’s Dinner Dance Cruise and the M.S. Dixie II’s Fireworks Cruise offer stunning views from the water. No matter your spot, viewing pleasure is certainly guaranteed.

New Orleans
New Orleans salutes America’s independence with its 16th Annual Go 4th on the River celebration, featuring the Dueling Barges Fireworks Extravaganza. Launched from barges on the Mighty Mississippi, this must see symphony in the sky unites timeless fireworks with patriotic classics. And don’t miss out on other riverfront attractions including a two hour cruise down the Mississippi on the Steamboat Natchez or the shops and eateries at the Riverwalk Marketplace.

New York City
“Ooh” and “Aah” as the nation’s largest fireworks display paints the Manhattan sky. A 30 year tradition, the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks spectacular outdoes itself each year with a show that’s bigger and better than the last. More than 120,000 bursts of color climb 1,000 feet into the air to light up the East River as New York Pops patriotic soundtrack serenades onlookers. Catch the show from various points in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens.

San Francisco
A coordinated effort among Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf attractions, the Fourth of July Waterfront Festival is more than just a run-of-the-mill July 4 celebration. It’s a patriotic event that brings throngs of locals and tourists to the bay, hoping to take home a memory or two as souvenirs. Mimes, jugglers and artists entertain from the sidewalk, while barges docked at Pier 39 and Pier 45 shoot fireworks into the night sky. Hint: Don’t expect warm weather in these parts during July. You’ll find that you might want to snuggle up with a cup of hot cocoa as you sit along the wharf for the show.

Sea Island, Ga.
Launched from Sea Island Beach, the Fabulous 4th Fireworks Spectacular is a pyrotechnic mastery that entertains onlookers along the coast of Georgia with customized, one-of-a-kind fireworks. With neighboring Jekyll Island’s show in the distance, this double-feature presentation is twice the fun, lighting up the Georgia sky for miles. Once you see it, you’ll know why they call it “fabulous.”

St. Petersburg, Fla.
A trip to St. Pete just isn’t the same without visiting The Pier, this seaside town’s requisite summer play land. Further proof of its fun-filled reputation, The Pier’s Annual July 4th Celebration is the place for Independence Day festivities. An outdoor stage features live music; family activities entertain kids (and kids-at-heart); and, of course, can’t miss fireworks light up the sky above Spa Beach.

Washington D.C.
With Washington Monument as a backdrop, the nation’s capital sets a patriotically appropriate scene for America’s 2006 Independence Day Parade. The festivities officially begin at 11:45 a.m. with marching bands, floats, military units, drill teams, celebrity participants and more parading down Constitution Avenue, followed by live entertainment and a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra. Fireworks over the National Mall cap off the evening with a visually-stunning tribute that would make even George Washington proud.


My name: Jennifer Gaines, but my friends call me Gaines, Jenni-Dallas or just plain Jenn.

(Find me on Twitter @jenngaines)

Travel ambitions: It's my mission to visit each of the New 7 Wonders and to step foot on every continent before my next milestone birthday.

Greatest travel lesson learned: Find the local hangouts to experience the real, true culture of a place. During a trip to Europe, my friends and I spent several days with a French family in the small town of Vichy. We had a private party in their family-run creperie, feasting on cheese-stuffed crepes and sampling wine that we picked up in the Bordeaux region a few days earlier. Their English wasn’t much better than my French, which is limited to a few well-known phrases from Moulin Rouge and the question: Parlez-vous anglais? (I'm proud to say that I can spout this question off in several different languages, and luckily most Europeans do indeed speak English!) After a few bottles of wine, the language barrier was hardly noticeable (slurring actually sounds the same in French!), and we managed to swap stories about life in other places. What a slice of local flavor!

My most beloved place in the whole world is: My grandparents place in Texas. It’s a 10-acre oasis in between two sprawling cities: Dallas and Fort Worth. A creek runs through their enormous backyard, where Granddad built a deck over the water. The entire place is shrouded with all types of trees (mainly pecan), blocking the Texas sun in the summer. Dusk is the best time to sit on the deck, drink a glass of ice tea and watch baby raccoons from the spring litter surround their back porch as Gram feeds them bread (no lie!). There will be dozens of raccoons eating on any given night. In the fall, my family gathers in the courtyard in front of their house for an annual “weenie roast.” Granddad lights the bonfire, and we roast dogs and s'mores. Yes, y’all, we’re from Texas!

Favorite way to get around: Well, I’m not much of a driver. I get lost easily and my tires have never come across a curb they didn’t want to get to know a little better. But, I do enjoy cruising around and listening to music. That said, I much rather explore a place by foot (with my iPod in tow) for a more intimate encounter.

View that took my breath away: Coming from Texas (where the view is wide but there’s not much to see), scenes from my new home of San Francisco never fail to amaze me. The city is a pedestrian’s dream, but don’t forget to turn around and look behind you as you meander through its neighborhoods. You won’t realize it, but you’ll be at the tip-top of a hill and the ocean will suddenly seem to be at eye level. Take a drive through the Presidio and over the Golden Gate Bridge where even more stunning views await!

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