Top Fourth of July fireworks spots across the US

Here are ten of the biggest and best (as well as some smaller and more regionally or otherwise distinctive) fireworks displays to anticipate this Fourth of July across the United States. And even if you can’t be in ten places across a continent in a single day (you can’t? weird!) these spots might just provide a good reference list for your next decade of Fourth of July vacation planning.

1. South Lake Tahoe, California.

The largest synchronized fireworks display west of the Mississippi will kick off on the southern end of South Lake Tahoe, starting around 9:45 pm. Lake Tahoe provides a mesmerizing surface for reflected pyrotechnics.

2. Seward, Alaska.

Seward, south of Anchorage, is flooded with tourists on July 4. The town’s festivities get off to an early start with Seward’s waterfront fireworks, which begin at 12:01 am on the morning of July 4.

3. Washington, DC.

A display over the Washington Monument is one of the country’s most distinctive. Fireworks are set off from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool after 9:00 pm.

4. New York City, New York.

The Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks show, set along the Hudson River, will kick off at 9 pm with Justin Bieber tasked with the job of getting the patriotism flowing. (How’s that for Canadian-American cross-border good will?) This year’s display is graced with a score titled “American Harmony,” performed by the New York Pops and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

5. Amarillo, Texas.

The largest fireworks display in the Texas panhandle gets started at 9:30 pm at John Stiff Memorial Park. 10,000 people are expected this year.

6. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Jordan Park, on the arty west side of Salt Lake City, hosts a 10 pm fireworks display.

7. Ala Moana Center, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Hawaii’s biggest fireworks display kicks off at 8:30 pm at the Ala Moana Center shopping mall in Honolulu, following several hours of musical entertainment.

8. Tacoma, Washington.

Tacoma’s fireworks will get going at 10 pm on the city’s Commencement Bay, the grand finale of Tacoma’s annual Freedom Fair. The bay provides a glorious expanse for the fireworks display.

9. St. Louis, Missouri.

At 9:15 pm, a fireworks display will close out 2010’s Fair Saint Louis at Gateway Arch. The St. Louis display is regarded to be one of the best in the country by hardcore fireworks fans.

10. New Orleans. Louisiana.

The Big Easy’s Dueling Barges Fireworks Extravaganza makes for an especially vibrant and exciting fireworks display.

Don’t see your city listed? More great destinations

[Image: Flickr/Clearly Ambiguous]

Seward, Alaska: This is where I live

There are many adjectives that I could use to describe Seward: mountainous, picturesque, cute, quiet, industrial, and in the summer, touristy. I could show you photos, and you’d probably exclaim “how beautiful!” And it is — but there are times during the winter when Seward is … a little bit difficult, particularly when the wind is blowing, it’s close to zero degrees, my lips are so chapped and cracked they’re bleeding, and my clothes are so full of static you can see sparks when I take off my parka ( I like to call my knee-length down jacket a parka, because it sounds so much more dramatic).

The following video isn’t super exciting; the first half is mostly shorebirds. But it does an excellent job of showing what winter in Seward is often like, much better than a photograph could. What I want you to notice is the greyness, and the incessant wind. Try opening your car door without it blowing off in that wind. Better yet, try closing it. Sure, there’s lovely snow, but the wind blows all the pretty powder off the trees so we’re left with dead bare branches hanging around without any pretty clothes on.

And don’t let the later shots of a serene, sunny boat harbor fool you. It’s no spring day. And the final shot is of the coffee shop I go to every day, and what you see there is the most crowded it will get all winter. But at least everybody knows my name.

Thanks to Russell Stigall (whom I saw with all his equipment in the coffee shop this morning when that clip was filmed) for the video from Seward City News.

Life at Latitude 59: On Top of Mt. Alice

There are many wonderful things about living in Seward, Alaska. Besides the astounding natural beauty, there’s the small-town camaraderie, the pride residents have in being one of the few that stay for the winter, and the All-American feel of the old downtown. It’s what I consider an authentic town, meaning it’s cute in an unpolished way. Sometimes the wind blows the smell of the fish processing plant downtown, and other times coal dust from rail cars transporting coal to waiting ships blankets the town. It’s not just a tourist town; it’s industrial, and a little bit gritty. Seward is a 2-hour drive south of Anchorage, which is far enough to feel separate from the big city, but close enough that if you need to head to Anchorage for just a day, you can. Cruise ships stop here, and the touristy Alaska Railroad carts tourists to and from Anchorage. But it’s easy to escape the hordes.

Probably my favorite part about being in Seward is its proximity to phenomenal trails. Within a 15-minute drive is the trailhead to Exit Glacier and the Harding Ice Field, the famous Mt. Marathon (hosting an infamous 4th of July race), and the 15-mile Lost Lake traverse. It’s a rare evening when I don’t run or hike a trail. We Sewardites even get on the trails during the winter.

It’s rainy here, so perfect hiking days can be rare. My husband Lael and I took advantage of one such sunny day last week and climbed up Mt. Alice, the tallest mountain in Seward.

The trail up Alice is not maintained and is a bit of a local secret. There’s no trailhead, just an inconspicuous turn-off. As you start your hike, you’re in a forest of mossy Hemlocks, with blueberries scattered around.

The climb is steep, gaining 3000 feet from sea level to the end of the trail, and you emerge from the forest in an alpine meadow with only half of your climb behind you. From there, you follow a sharp ridge sometimes balancing on the edge of the cliff — or so it seems. Dall sheep wander the hillside and leave their wool in tufts on the rocks.

The trail ends when the meadows do, and you’re left to clamber over boulders and snow patches. You can’t get to the actual top of Alice as it becomes too technical for a mere hike. But you do get quite close; you can see the ridges and cracks in the small glaciers below her face.

We found a tarn hidden amongst the rocks; Lael took a quick swim, and I waded to my waist and eventually dunked my head. It was surprisingly cold for being so small, but tiny snow patches still dripped into the water so I guess it doesn’t get as much sun as it seem to on that bright day.

After the swim, with our shorts wet and bodies cooled off, we descended the mountain. We had blisters and sore thighs, but we also saw about 4 people on the mountain the whole day so it was a worthwhile journey. Even though it’s only August, fall is rapidly approaching and there’s a general feeling of “seize the sunny day” around town. Suddenly, it’s dark at night and you have to turn your car headlights on as early as 10p.m. I know that in the dead of winter I’ll cling to this bright day, because it’s so hard to imagine Alice without snow 8 months out of the year.