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Spectacular Fourth of July Celebrations

Lanana / Flickr [more photos]

On a summer's day back in 1776, the men of the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. And just like that, the Fourth of July was forever etched in U.S. history. Just think: a single sheet of parchment (followed by some intense battling) and a democracy was born. For patriots on both sides of the aisle, this story remains a rallying force.

Still, perhaps it's a little strange that we remember our hard-fought battle for freedom from the British and emulate the "rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air" with our own blasting fireworks. But, heck, we're Americans, and we like a big show! Here's our list of the best places to celebrate the Fourth of July.

[See photos of the Most Spectacular Fourth of July Fireworks]

Washington, D.C.

After the sun goes down each Independence Day, Washington, D.C.'s fireworks blast into the sky. And as with many of the District's activities, witnessing this display is absolutely free. Typically, Fourth of July revelers scatter blankets across the National Mall and shift their eyes toward the Washington Monument to behold the fiery splendor behind it. If you've got an "in," the rooftops of buildings in the Capitol Hill neighborhood are also superb for taking in the sight. To get to the Mall, take the metro's orange or blue line to the Smithsonian stop. But bring along your patience; crowds will be heavy.

Should you want to light the night yourself, keep in mind that "firecrackers of any kind of description" are illegal in D.C. That includes bottle rockets, buzz bombs and roman candles. Still, have all the fun you want with sparklers (less than 20 inches in length) and snakes (the non-poisonous variety).

Chicago, Ill.

In respect to fireworks, Chi-town seems to adhere to the adage "quantity over quality." Instead of one big, blowout show, there are several smaller ones held on the Fourth to cut costs and give more people the opportunity to see bursting fireworks. Still, if you find yourself in Chicago, you're sure to have a good time. Navy Pier -- which shoots up fireworks all summer -- will also do so on July 4. But some Chicagoans are none too pleased, remembering the July 3 fireworks spectacular that up until this year took place in Grant Park.

Should you want to light the night yourself, you'll have a few choices. But still, firecrackers, torpedoes, skyrockets, roman candles and buzz bombs are a no-no.

Boston, Mass.

Beverly & Pack / Flickr [more photos]

Head to the banks of the Charles River to partake in Boston's July 4 revelry. With a history that includes the start of the American Revolution and the first (and some would say, the most civilized) Tea Party, Boston has a courageous spirit that is still seen in its wicked fireworks display and its Independence Day crowd of 500,000 strong. Free concerts on both July 3 and 4 accompany the festivities, also held along the Charles between Longfellow and Massachusetts Avenue bridges. To contend with fewer crowds, you might want to enjoy Beantown's Independence Day on the Cambridge side of the river.

Should you want to light the night yourself, that's just too bad. Massachusetts is very strict on the consumer use of fireworks. So don't even think about brandishing sparklers, igniting skyrockets or letting loose serpents. They're all prohibited.

San Diego, Calif.

This SoCal city's main fireworks display takes place over top the San Diego Bay -- and it's fittingly called The Big Bay Boom. The fireworks are launched from barges near Shelter Island, Harbor Island, North Embarcadero and Chula Vista, creating a stunning display over the water. Some say that a spot on the sands of Mission or Pacific beaches are best for enjoying the view: But be sure to get there early to stake out your place. Days before the 9 p.m. blast off on Independence Day, the Greater San Diego area fills with county carnivals -- complete with Ferris wheels, parades and cotton candy. And one more incentive to visit San Diego over the Fourth: According to Hotwire, hotel rates are down by 5 percent from their average price.

Should you want to light the night yourself, you'll have a few options at your disposal. Fireworks like sparkling devices, cone fountains and illuminating torches, among others, are sold from June 28 through July 6. Only those that are age 16 years and older can purchase them.

New York City, N.Y.

Jeffrey Tastes / Flickr [more photos]

One of the nation's most spectacular Independence Day fireworks displays took place in New York City in 1986 on the centennial anniversary of Lady Liberty. The city launched about 22,000 fireworks from more than 30 barges and with munitions from more than 10 different countries. Today, Macy's hosts an annual fireworks showcase, with rockets launched from just six barges in the Hudson River. But those barges will manage to blast more than 40,000 fireworks into the air. And if that wasn't enough, this year's event is going to be headlined by R&B artist Beyoncé and country music crooner Brad Paisley. Out-of-towners could score a hotel deal for about 10 percent less than the usual holiday weekend rate, according to Hotwire. And there's even more reason to come: Earlier in the day, you can head out to Coney Island for Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest. Nothing says "America" like competitive eating, right?

Should you want to light the night yourself, you're out of luck. New York takes no chances and declares that everything from firecrackers to skyrockets and sparklers to torpedoes are against the law.

Lake Tahoe, Calif. and Nev.

This resort town, straddling the border between California and Nevada, is one of the nation's best places to watch fireworks. The large, alpine lake makes a perfect platform for the bright blasts of color during the Lights on the Lake event. And the Sierra Nevada mountain range creates a breathtaking backdrop. If you have your own boat you can view the fireworks display from the water; but if not, the surrounding shoreline -- especially Nevada, Edgewood, Lakeside, Regan and El Dorado beaches -- make great vantage points. But perhaps some of the best reasons to choose Lake Tahoe to ring in Independence Day are the prices on area accommodations: According to Hotwire, rates drop by about 24 percent from the last Fourth holiday.

Should you want to light the night yourself, you'll have to pay close attention to where you are. Nevada's law is very vague -- certain consumer fireworks are allowed in specific areas only. In California, the law is more specific, but firecrackers, skyrockets and roman candles are prohibited.

Philadelphia, Pa.

derekskey / Flickr [more photos]

Philadelphia played a big part in the American Revolution and even served as the nation’s capital for a while. Today, this city hosts a rollicking Fourth of July celebration. And one of the biggest notes about the 2011 Wawa Welcome America! Festival is that hip hop/soul band, the Roots, is headlining it. Held from June 24 through July 4, Philly's celebration includes live performances, a parade, a Taste of Philadelphia and three fireworks displays. But the most spectacular display will, of course, bring the extravaganza to a close on the evening of July 4. Find your seat among the masses in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. If you're an out-of-towner, beware hotel prices are hiked up by an average of 12 percent during this celebration, according to Hotwire.

Should you want to light the night yourself, you're free to get your inner pyromaniac on, "Ground and hand-held sparkling devices" as well as "toy caps" are allowed in the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

New Orleans, La.

The Big Easy doesn't miss any excuse to party, so you'll find that N'ahleans' Independence festivities are pretty rambunctious. And there's more than one party to choose from across the Greater New Orleans area: Go 4th on the River takes place in Woldenberg Park and features fireworks from dueling barges; the Uncle Sam Jam takes place in Lafreniere Park and features kids' activities; and the Mandeville Seafood Festival, held in Fontainebleau State Park (about a 40-minute drive from New Orleans), is a big hit year after year. The only downside is the price of a hotel -- rates are up 20 percent from last year's rates at this time -- Hotwire reports.

Should you want to light the night yourself, you're in the right place. Although cherry bombs, tubular salutes and aerial bombs are not allowed, many other kinds of fireworks are. You can play with helicopter aerial spinners, pyrotechnic wheel devices and missile-type rockets, among others -- but you have to be at least 15 years old to purchase them.

[Pictures of The Most Spectacular Fourth of July Fireworks]

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