America's best 4th of July fireworks shows

These 5 cities go extra mile for Inde­pendence Day

The Fourth of July without fireworks is like a birthday party without cake and ice cream.

After all, Independence Day is America's birthday and as President John Adams once said, the holiday should be celebrated with "illuminations from one end of this continent to the other."

What better illuminations to celebrate with than fireworks?

These days many cities -- from big to small -- mark July 4 with big fireworks displays. Some shows are so big they're known nationwide, from New York City's with the skyline and Lady Liberty as a backdrop to the display over Independence Hall in America's birthplace, Philadelphia.

Those fireworks displays make those cities among the best places in the nation to celebrate the Fourth of July, but they don't quite rank with our choices for the best five fireworks shows in America.

No. 5: Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California - Lights On The Lake

Claiming to be the largest fireworks show west of the Mississippi River, the Lights on the Lake show fills the air above Lake Tahoe every Fourth of July.

And the fireworks above the alpine lake along the California-Nevada border are nothing short of spectacular. Fireworks are shot from a barge on the water and can been from almost anywhere on the lake.

You can watch the show from the shore or even venture out onto the water yourself. Rent a paddleboat or climb aboard one of two paddle wheelers that set sail from South Lake Tahoe for dinner cruise to go along with the show.

And the show is something special, featuring whimsical shapes such as jellyfish, stars, butterflies and smiley faces.

More than 100,000 people take in the fireworks each year, which are choreographed to music broadcast by local radio stations.

While one fireworks barge is impressive, our next destination sees Tahoe's barge and raises it.

No. 4: New Orleans - Go 4th On The River

New Orleans sure knows how to throw a party and -- aside from Mardi Gras -- there's no Big Easy party quite like Go 4th on the River, the city's Fourth of July celebration.

The festival's one-of-a-kind fireworks show features dueling barges shooting off fireworks along the New Orleans riverfront in front of 150,000 to 200,000 spectators.

The show is ranked fifth "must-see" fireworks display in the U.S. by the American Pyrotechnic Association, and for good reason. You've never seen a fireworks show until you've seen two barges trying to one-up the other.

Like the Lake Tahoe display, this one can also be viewed from the shore or from the water itself, with the paddle wheeler Creole Queen and the steamboat Natchez both offering fireworks cruises.

And while the fireworks themselves are amazing, that's not all the festival has to offer. Go 4th on the River also features concerts, a Mardi Gras-style party, food and door prizes.

No. 3: Seattle - Family 4th Fireworks

Perhaps all that needs to be said about Seattle's Family 4th celebration is that when it looked like it was going to die in 2010, the community stepped up and did something about it.

After word came that the festival would be canceled without a title sponsor, Seattle businesses and residents stepped up and raised $500,000 in less than 24 hours to ensure the show would go on. They raised the same amount this year to guarantee the celebration would take place for yet another summer.

That outpouring of support is no surprise given the beauty of the fireworks show, which are set against the natural amphitheater of Lake Union and synchronized to an inspiring score of traditional anthems and popular favorites.

The show is nationally acknowledged as one of the best in the country and features innovative and technologically advanced fireworks, everything from Italian electrical storms to shells suspended by parachutes.

No. 2: Boston - Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular

You might say Boston takes its annual fireworks extravaganza pretty seriously.

After all, some 20 city, state and federal agencies collaborate to oversee the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, which features four barges launching more than 10,000 firework devices in a 21-minute show.

Boston Harborfest, which kicks off in late June and continues through the Independence Day holiday, features more than 200 events besides the fireworks. You can expect concerts, kids' days, a chowder cook-off, cruises, tours and more.

But it's the fireworks that are the main event, with 400,000 to 700,000 spectators lining the Esplanade on the Charles River for the free show featuring live music from the Boston Pops Orchestra.

While the best seats for the concert won't give you a view of the fireworks, 30 sound towers will ensure every spectator on both the Cambridge and Boston sides of the river can have their concert and enjoy the fireworks too.

No. 1: Washington DC - A Capitol Fourth

Thomas Jefferson hosted the first official Independence Day celebration on the lawn of his mansion more than 200 years ago.

Today that tradition lives on with the free A Capitol Fourth concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol Building.

The concert, featuring special guest performances accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra, is followed by one of the nation's largest and most visually-impressive fireworks displays, lighting up the sky over the National Mall and the Washington Monument.

If you can't make it to D.C. for the Fourth of July, don't worry, the concert and fireworks is broadcast live every year by PBS and National Public Radio

And the fireworks are only one part of the festivities. Visitors to D.C. around Independence Day can also take in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, where everything American, from food, crafts, concerts and more, is showcased along the National Mall, or the National Independence Day Parade down Constitution Avenue.


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