July 4th Getaways: Old School, New Ways

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Fourth of July festivities usually lead travelers down two routes: the obvious and the obscure. This is a good year for both.

With major cities like Chicago cutting back on Fourth of July fireworks displays and Detroit and corporate partner Target ( TGT) holding fireworks any day but the fourth, holiday travelers are torn.

Do they attend big-budget blowouts sponsored by Macy's ( M), Liberty Mutual or Bank of America ( BAC) with millions of their closest friends or smaller events that enjoy steady, if not always substantial or even stateside, support?

With the patience of a station-wagon driver who's endured nearly 1,776 recitations of "are we there yet?" TheStreet has put together a list of familiar and far-flung festivities. Here are 10 Independence Day destinations that range from the nation's biggest birthday party to a friendly little picnic:

1. Washington, D.C.

OK, so this one is fairly obvious and with more than 500,000 people packed on the Capitol lawn, countless others lining the mall between clear to the Lincoln Memorial and everybody basting in midsummer mid-Atlantic humidity -- it can be equally oppressive.

If travelers can resist the lure of overcrowded museums and monuments and keep their eyes on the prize, however, "A Capitol Fourth" can be a great event. This year's event is hosted by Jimmy Smits and includes performances by 2010 National Artistic Achievement Award winner Reba McIntyre, Gladys Knight, Darius Rucker (don't call him "Hootie"), classical pianist Lang Lang and the National Symphony. The latter are the folks who'll be playing while the fireworks are going off.

2. New York

Forget the hot dogs and fireworks -- the best part about the Fourth of July in New York is the tourists' reactions to just how far Coney Island is from the center of Manhattan. Give them credit, though, as packing into a meat-scented sauna in Brooklyn with thousands of other people to watch the world's worst display of binge eating still has some merit.

The Nathan's ( NATH) Hot Dog Eating Contest -- which American Joey Chestnut has won three years straight after Japanese competitors dominated the preceding decade -- is over by 1 p.m., which gives visitors plenty of time to ride the Cyclone or Wonder Wheel, go back to Manhattan and check out Alexander Hamilton's gravesite at Trinity Church, the first U.S. capitol building at Federal Hall on Wall Street or brave the perma-full ferries to Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty.

If you're going to cross the Hudson River, however, do so just before the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks, as some of the best views are from the pier parks in Hoboken and Weehawken and from Liberty State Park in Jersey City.

3. Boston

The howitzer blasts, the church bells ring, the Boston Pops launch into Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," Toby Keith puts a boot into an uncomfortable part of another person's anatomy -- such is July 4 in Boston, as presented by Liberty Mutual.

Fireworks over the Charles River and Pops conductor Keith Lockhart's take on cherished classics are great and all, but the best way to do the Fourth of July in Boston is to take in the concert portion and host Craig Ferguson's gaffes during the dress rehearsal on July 3 and then get as far away from the Esplanade as possible on July 4, when the fireworks will be visible from far more comfortable vantage points in Cambridge and as far up the Charles as the Boston University campus near Fenway Park.

4. Philadelphia

Philly's Welcome America celebration kicked off last week with a Taste of Philadelphia, fireworks on the Delaware and a concert by Prince's Purple Rain nemeses Morris Day and the Time, but today's Wawa Hoagie Day (where revelers eat a portion of a mile-long sandwich before watching "Rocky" near the "Rocky steps" of the Philadelphia Museum of Art) tells you all you need to know about Independence Day in the City of Brotherly Love.

If travelers can even identify a Wawa (a beloved Philly-area convenience-store chain) or a hoagie (a sandwich better known as a sub, grinder, hero, wedge, torpedo or bocadillo anywhere beyond Southeast Pennsylvania), they're well on their way toward enjoying this hyper-local celebration of a national holiday. Highlights include a free screening of "Avatar" on July 1, a free hot dog picnic on July 2 and the Independence Day parade, fireworks and concert featuring the Goo Goo Dolls and Philly's own The Roots.

Considering there's almost no chance of beating Sunday traffic, stick around until Thursday for the reading of the Declaration of Independence at Independence Hall.

5. Atlanta

The mere thought of running a 10-kilometer road race in Atlanta in July induces perspiration, but watching the Peachtree Road Race's competitors from the sidelines is actually a pretty cool experience.

While 55,000 competitors have made the run each July 4 since 1970 -- some in full Statue of Liberty and Uncle Sam costumes -- you can perform your patriotic duty by handing some poor soul a cup of water, yelling words of encouragement along mile 4's "Cardiac Hill" or paying a street vendor for a knockoff version of the coveted T-shirts runners have trained months to earn.

6. Rebild, Denmark

We're not the only ones who celebrate the Fourth of July, you know. In the early 1900s, Danish-Americans raised to buy nearly 191 acres of land in Denmark where they and their relatives could meet each year.

The Danish-American National Park opened on July 4, 1912, and each year on that date, the Rebild Festival is held there with Americans including Walt Disney, Walter Cronkite, Garrison Keillor and former Attorney General Janet Reno providing the keynote address. Now known as the Rebild National Park, the venue also hosts musical performances and fireworks from Friday through Monday.

7. Singapore

It's saying something about the state of Fourth of July festivities at home when even Singapore is putting U.S. celebrations to shame. The absolute darkness American Association of Singapore may not choose the best venues in the world -- nothing says "Welcome Americans" more than a facility called the Terror Club -- but with partners like Harley Davidson ( HOG) and Fortune Brands' ( FO) Jim Beam bourbon and Makers Mark whiskey, boy can they throw a party.

On Saturday, July 3, the association is providing music, fireworks, photo booths, giant inflatable obstacle courses and dunk tanks stocked with U.S. Navy personnel. Presumably for expats and their families, this event still features a ton of booze from the aforementioned distillers and local microbreweries and restaurants in the most American of settings -- a cash bar. Because free booze and an open bar is just Socialist.

8. Austin, Texas

If a tax-dodging, weed-smoking, long-haired musician were throwing a Fourth of July picnic with a bunch of his friends, would you go?

With the host being Willie Nelson, those friends including Kris Kristofferson and David Allan Coe and the venue in Austin, damned right you would. For $55, you get 23 performances on July 4 that last from noon until well after the last rocket's given off its red glare and punctuated by a set with Willie and his family.

Where's the picnic, you ask? In fairness, Willie's known more for being on the road than for settling down to a nice home-cooked meal, so take the weekend to scope out a good taco cart, the white queso dip at Kerby Lane Cafe, the meat combo at Salt Lick BBQ or a late-night post-bar burger at Casino El Camino.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.

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