The weather is turning hot. The swimming pools are filling up. The barbecue grills are firing up. The U.S. flags are flying all over the place. This can only mean one thing: Happy Birthday to the United States of America.
- Cape Cod, Massachusetts
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Washington, D.C.
- Outer Banks, North Carolina
- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Traverse City, Michigan
- Black Hills, South Dakota
- Steamboat Springs, Colorado
- Santa Fe, New Mexico
- Bend, Oregon
- Laguna Beach, California
- Tips for Staying Safe and Sane During Summer Travels
With the Fourth of July rapidly approaching, here are some great options to celebrate America’s birthday. From the scenic streets of the East Coast’s most historic cities to the sizzling sands of California’s beaches, we’re taking a tour of America’s best spots to enjoy the nation’s favorite summer holiday.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
We totally understand the desire to find a great stretch of sand to relax by the sea. Fortunately for us, Cape Cod has plenty of magnificent beaches and scenic beach towns. Though LGBTQ+ Pride Month may be wrapping up, Provincetown continues to celebrate all summer long with beach parties, pub crawls, and so much more.
If you’re in the mood for somewhere quieter, head to Nantucket to clear your head while enjoying the serene scenery. If you’re feeling more presidential, sail on over to Martha’s Vineyard and Hyannis Port to see where presidents past and present have ventured to escape the sweltering D.C. summer heat.
With several of the nation’s first European colonial settlements, New England is rich in American history. While nearby cities like Boston and Providence offer boatloads of U.S. history, there’s also plenty to learn and explore out here. One of our favorite spots is the Aquinnah Cultural Center and Aquinnah Wampanoag Indian Museum, where you can learn more about the indigenous tribal communities who called this land and this seashore home centuries before the pilgrims landed in Massachusetts in 1620.
It’s hard to imagine a more quintessentially American experience than entering “The Room Where It Happened,” and then witnessing one of the epicenters of where this country’s evolution continues to happen. In Philadelphia, you can see it all:
- Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed
- The busiest port of British Colonial era North America, Elfreth’s Alley — the nation’s oldest continually occupied residential street
- Mother Bethel AME Church — the founding church of the historically Black-led African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church
- Major stops for the Underground Railroad where thousands of African Americans escaped slavery
- Some of the nation’s oldest immigrant-established communities
More recently, Philadelphia has reemerged as an economic powerhouse. This “City of Brotherly Love” also offers a whole lot of brews and bites that your tummy will love, and Philly’s vibrant diversity makes it a shining “City on a Hill” that continues to point to the promise of a brighter future for this country.
This may feel very cliché, but no list of all-American Fourth of July destinations feels complete without including our nation’s capital. It should go without saying that Washington, D.C., has so much to offer: the rooms where our government continues to happen at the U.S. Capitol, living history on display at The White House, a remarkable journey through all kinds of American history at the museums of the Smithsonian, and so much more to explore up and down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Even if you’re not a huge history buff, political animal, or museum fan, there’s still plenty for you to enjoy across “The DMV” (as in, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia). In the city, you will find a large collection of gorgeous parks and nature preserves, a jaw-dropping number of Michelin Guide-featured restaurants, and perhaps the best Independence Day fireworks show in the entire country.
Beyond “The District,” you can discover exciting wineries and craft breweries in Loudoun County (Virginia), a growing number of entertainment options in National Harbor (Maryland), and plenty more waterfront activities at Chesapeake Bay.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
As we pointed out during our tour of America’s best Spring Break coastal destinations, North Carolina’s Outer Banks have a lot to offer. This long chain of narrow islands features some of the East Coast’s best surf spots, charming seaside towns that have unique personalities of their own, and a glimpse into the beginning of American aviation.
If you need something adventurous, try hang gliding over the East Coast’s largest living sand dune at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. If catching waves is more your vibe, Nags Head and Hatteras Island should quench your thirst for surf. If you consider yourself a history buff and/or a lover of air travel, you have to see where it all began at the Wright Brothers National Memorial near Kill Devil Hills. And if you simply want to see the beach that’s one of Dr. Beach’s favorites, go to Lighthouse Beach in Buxton for a uniquely scenic experience.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Traverse City, Michigan
Don’t sleep on this idyllic corner of Michigan’s Great Lakes lakeshore. With 35 miles of beaches along Lake Michigan and dunes that rise as high as 450 feet above the shore, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore looks and feels like the ultimate dreamscape. Here you can try your hand at climbing the dunes, take a dip in the stunningly beautiful water, hike through the forest for some serene solitude, and tour the Manitou Islands off the mainland coast.
The park is named in honor of the Ojibwe tribal legend of the sleeping bear: When a family of bears tried to escape a great fire on Lake Michigan’s western shore, the two cubs drowned in the lake. The Great Spirit of the Manitou Islands is in the cubs’ honor as the mother bear was buried under the sands of the dunes, where she waited for her cubs.
If you need a little more excitement during your stay here for the Fourth of July holiday, pop over to Traverse City to tour some of the Midwest’s best wineries, taste what’s happening at the microbreweries, and try out the most dynamic farm-to-table dining scene this side of the Rocky Mountains.
Black Hills, South Dakota
While this region is best known for Mount Rushmore, there’s plenty more to see and do across the Black Hills. To the east of Rushmore, you can discover some remarkably colorful and rugged terrain amid the otherwise gently fertile Great Plains at Badlands National Park. To the south, you can visit one of our favorite caves and explore 147 miles of intricate caverns at Wind Cave National Park and admire the amazing landscape at Custer State Park. To the north, you can cruise through the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway and step back into history in the storied “Old West” outpost of Deadwood. To the west and across the Wyoming state line, you can see for yourself the otherworldly landscape of Devils Tower National Monument.
While the U.S. government took control over the Black Hills in 1876, Lakota Native American tribal authorities have never recognized the legitimacy of U.S. annexation of the region. More recently, tribal leaders have embarked on an ambitious mission to clap back at Rushmore with their own Crazy Horse Memorial. It’s still under construction as of June 2022, but you can currently see the sculpted face of the famed Lakota warrior, and you can learn more about the local culture at the Indian Museum of North America.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
In the heart of America’s Centennial State (and not that far of a drive from Denver), “Ski Town, USA” becomes a prime outdoor destination during the summer season. It’s easy to understand why Steamboat Springs makes for a great year-round and July Fourth destination with these things to do:
- Fantastic fly-fishing at the Yampa River
- Three 18-hole golf courses with stunning mountain views
- Multiple scenic hiking trails — including a 280-foot waterfall at Fish Creek Falls
- The very remarkable local marker of the Continental Divide at Rabbit Ears Pass
- A collection of historically soothing hot springs
- And so much more
While certain other Colorado ski towns boast of their designer label boutiques and hotspots for celebrity sightings, Steamboat Springs still feels like a fun combination of old-school “Wild West,” contemporary artsy hippie town joie de vivre, and spectacular outdoor scenery that’s ideal for all sorts of adventures. It’s hard to think of a better way to celebrate this country’s wealth in natural beauty.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
As America’s oldest state capital, Santa Fe packs plenty of historical and cultural punch. The Palace of the Governors was first built in 1610, and it served as New Mexico’s seat of government for over two centuries under two national flags. The Santa Fe Plaza was first established in 1821, and it now functions as a cultural crossroads to explore how Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. cultures have all shaped the rich heritage of New Mexico.
As one of America’s oldest and most established art colonies, Santa Fe has plenty of museums, such as the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and a plethora of art galleries in and around town to enjoy. Jumping to more recent art history, you can even visit the House of Eternal Return to discover how and where Meow Wolf began.
If you prefer outdoor adventures, Santa Fe also has you covered. Stay close to town and check out the Dale Ball Trails and the Atalaya Mountain Trail — both are about 3 miles from Downtown Santa Fe and offer a convenient escape into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and a spectacular Southwestern landscape that will help you understand why this city provides so much artistic inspiration.
If you’re up for a longer road trip, Bandelier National Monument features remains of ancient Pueblo settlements that date back to 1150 CE, and it includes about a mile’s worth of elevation change — from the Rio Grande River at around 5,000 feet above sea level, to the peak of Cerro Grande at 10, 207 feet above sea level. In addition, the Santa Fe area features many more public lands that provide ample hiking and biking opportunities.
Welcome to the “Craft Beer Capital of the West.” If you love craft beer, you will be blown away by the Bend Ale Trail and its 30 breweries, as well as plenty of “diversions” that include wineries and distilleries for folks who want to try other types of booze.
If you prefer outdoor adventures, Bend offers a ton of prime hiking and biking opportunities, including wild volcanic views at Newberry National Volcanic Monument and panoramic regional views at Pilot Butte State Park. In addition, this is the perfect time to try your hand at kayaking, tubing, or simply floating your way along the Deschutes River.
If you manage to make it here by July Fourth, you’re really in for a treat. Drake Park in Downtown hosts a day-long party featuring Hula-Hoop contests, gunny sack races, live music, local food, and even a pet parade. Come for the daylight shenanigans and stay for the great views of the nighttime fireworks show from Pilot Butte.
Laguna Beach, California
We can’t talk about Independence Day weekend trips without mentioning the West Coast’s most uniquely patriotic destination. From its beginnings as a remote artists’ colony to its more recent reality TV fame, Orange County’s Laguna Beach has continually served as America’s take on a classic Mediterranean Riviera resort town. Here, it’s no big deal to see TV camera crews, Instagram model photo shoots, surfers riding epic waves, dolphins swimming close to shore, and artists creating new masterpieces — all in one day.
Summer is definitely the ideal time to visit Laguna, as it’s the high season for the local arts community. When the Sawdust Art Festival, Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters, and Laguna Art-A-Fair Festival are all open, Laguna Canyon Road becomes the ultimate address for art — Festival of Arts feels more like a traditional and sophisticated art show (complete with the evening Pageant of the Masters performance), while Sawdust is a funkier blend of avant-garde artisan offerings and folksy fun.
For more artsy fun outside, hike up through Heisler Park near Downtown for an impressive public art collection, and head down to Treasure Island Park by the Montage Resort to watch plein air painters work their magic.
Tips for Staying Safe and Sane During Summer Travels
If you’re keeping close watch on the nation’s regularly fluctuating COVID-19 numbers, we totally understand your concerns. To best minimize your own risk and the risk of loved ones developing life-threatening illness and/or long-term health complications, take these simple steps:
- Don’t travel if you’re feeling ill
- Take advantage of federal government’s free at-home rapid test kits to get yourself tested
- Get boosted to beef up your vaccine’s efficacy
- Stock up on high-quality masks — preferably, KN95 or N95 grade — to wear when you enter crowded and/or indoor spaces
If you’re planning on a beach holiday for the Fourth of July, check with environmental community leaders like the Surfrider Foundation and Heal the Bay (primarily for California) on your destination’s water quality and beach safety.
With gas prices this high, we understand the extra frustration that comes with driving these days, but please don’t drive while intoxicated. If you’d rather not worry about driving while partaking in holiday celebrations, you have better options:
- A designated driver if you’re traveling in a group
- Mass transit if you’re traveling to an urban area with a robust public transportation system
- A shuttle that your hotel or your preferred attraction may provide
- Uber or Lyft when all else fails
We hope you’ve enjoyed this trek through 10 of our favorite all-American Fourth of July weekend destinations. If you want more classically American travel content, check out our favorite destinations to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride, our guide to discovering environmentally responsible new urbanism, and our 12 favorite U.S. road trip journeys. Good day, and cheers to safe and happy travels!