It’s fireworks over the water, a Parade of Lights on the river celebrating red, white, and blue.. We love how this event is a highlight of the year on this playful waterfront towns with an all-day celebration of all things fun.
We love to celebrate Independence Day, do you? Of course, there has to be fireworks – and maybe a picnic.
If you’re looking for a good way to celebrate and get out of town (even if you don’t go very far), all you have to do is open your mind.
If you live in California, you probably already know this, but just in case you don’t: San Francisco can be cold and foggy on July 4. So foggy that the fireworks just like colorful flashes in the clouds and frigid that we have ended up layering three sweatshirts just to keep warm. You may not believe us – many people don’t – but you can’t say we didn’t tell you when you’re shivering in your shorts.
Our favorite thing to do in summer is a good outdoor concert, or hanging on the beach but these are more events that are fun, too:
Garlic Festival, Gilroy: This town smells like garlic and can smell this town from miles away. Most of the foods are famous for tasty garlic dishes but some of the foods they serve sound a bit bizarre like (garlic ice cream?), but it draws a big crowd nevertheless.
Pageant of the Masters, Laguna Beach: It’s an eye-popping, nearly indescribable thing, the way they use real, three-dimensional sets and makes them look like two-dimensional master artworks.
Farms+ Flowers (formerly Tour des Fleurs), Half Moon Bay: You probably didn’t know how much interesting agriculture goes on around Half Moon Bay, but you can spend an enjoyable day finding out during Tour Des Fleurs. You can visit organic farms, flower growers, and other fun spots.
In Los Angeles, the Hollywood Bowl’s summer concert series is unique in its ambiance and beauty.
California Rodeo, Salinas: California Rodeo competitions take place over four days, but the celebrations go on for a full week, with cowboy poetry readings, concerts and the Miss California Rodeo competition.
Fillmore Street Jazz Festival, San Francisco: A big, busy and fun street fair with lots of great music.
Kite Festival, Berkeley: It’s colorful, and you can’t imagine how creative some of the kites are. You can even learn how to make one yourself.
Orange County Fair, Costa Mesa: One of the state’s biggest and most popular county fairs.
San Francisco Marathon: This one is good to know about even if you aren’t going to run – city streets are closed for the event.
Dine Downtown, San Jose: A great opportunity to sample some of the city’s best restaurants at reduced prices.
One of San Diego’s biggest conventions of the year is Comic-Con, which is held in July. If you’re a fan, it’s best to plan ahead. Tickets sell out in January or in February and with so many people attending, hotels fill up fast.
Summer holiday season starts in June and continues through July and August. It’s the busiest tourist season and some parts of the state get almost unbearably hot, but it’s a great time for mountain hiking and surfing out in the ocean.
4th of July in San Francisco
San Francisco sets off twin 4th of July fireworks displays: They’re launched from Aquatic Pier just below Ghirardelli Square and from a barge near Pier 39. To see fireworks all around the Bay, try Treasure Island. Or go up into the Marin Headlands north of the Golden Gate Bridge for a bird’s eye view. For both of locations, you need to get there early. These prime spots fill up hours in advance.
During the day, head to the East Bay town of Alameda, which holds one of the country’s biggest Fourth of July parades, so big that locals joke that half the 80,000 residents turn out to watch the other half marching past.
There’s nothing more American than baseball. Check out the San Francisco Giants or the Oakland Athletics are playing at home. Independence Day evening games often include a fireworks show, giving you two-for-one entertainment.
Fourth of July at Lake Tahoe
The big celebration at Lake Tahoe is Lights on the Lake. It’s the largest synchronized fireworks display in the western United States. The fireworks are launched from barges just off the South Shore at the town of Stateline, NV.
Incline Village also has an Independence celebration, the Red, White and Tahoe Blue Festival and includes a parade, fireworks and duck races – featuring an adorable bunch of rubber duckies floating down the stream toward the lake.
In a rare year with lots of late snow, you might have a hard time deciding whether to pack the water skis or the snow skis for Tahoe on the Fourth, with skiing still going on at some of the area’s bigger, higher-elevated resorts like Squaw Valley.
Fourth of July in Northern California
Fun activities for a change of pace.
Napa County Fair: The annual county fair often ends with a fireworks show.
Sacramento: The state capitol’s July 4th Pyro Fireworks Celebration is held at CalExpo, the state fairgrounds.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom: Up in Vallejo, you can see a fireworks show, all in the same place.
Lake Oroville: A nice fireworks show over the lake in the beautiful Sierra Nevada foothills.
Ski Mammoth: It may not happen very often, but every once in a while, snow lingers so late in the Eastern Sierra that you can ski at Mammoth Mountain on July 4.
Old-Fashioned Fourth of July in Gold Country: The Gold Rush town of Columbia puts on a very old-fashioned Fourth of July Celebration, with a parade anyone can march in. After that, there’s a concert, street dance and lots of traditional activities to enjoy.
Fourth of July in Los Angeles
Disneyland: It’s like 4th of July every day when the fireworks go off at Disneyland, but on Independence Day, it is even more of a grand celebration.
Hollywood Bowl: As part of its summer series, the Hollywood Bowl offers 4th of July concerts featuring a headline act and patriotic music performed by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
Marina del Rey: Los Angeles’ big public fireworks display happens at Marina Del Rey, just south of Santa Monica.
Newport Beach: Southern California’s largest fireworks display goes off at Newport Dunes.
Rose Bowl, Pasadena: Americafest at the Rose Bowl has been going on for more than 80 years. It’s an all-day 4th of July celebration, with reasonably priced tickets, a concert and fireworks display.
A Grand Party: All four blocks of Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles turn into a 4th of July Block Party.
You’ll find lots of fun ways to celebrate Independence Day in the LA area and all of California. Stay safe and have a blast!