America's Best St. Patrick's Day Parades

U.S. News & World Report

America's Best St. Patrick's Day Parades

Of all the holidays that we celebrate, St. Patrick's Day may be one of the most unusual. Think about it: we're celebrating the patron saint of Ireland who we really don’t know all that much about. And stranger still, we honor this mysterious Saint Patrick by wearing green and consuming vast quantities of beer. And somewhere along the line, someone decided that people not wearing green should receive swift punishment in the form of pinches?

When you put it all together, it's a bizarre holiday tradition. But this may be exactly why Americans have embraced it since the beginning. Actually, to be more accurate, since before the beginning. The first St. Patrick's Day celebrations held on American soil actually predate the Declaration of Independence.

We've compiled the 10 best places to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in the United States. It is by no means a complete list -- virtually every American city with a bar throws some semblance of a party around March 17. However, all of our picks take the celebration to the next level with parades and unique time-honored traditions. Consider it a badge of honor if you can survive them with your health (and dignity) intact.

Kansas City knows how to do St. Patrick's Day right and has been doing so since 1873. A Gaelic Mass starts the day, followed by the famous St. Patrick's Day parade which is led by the Lone Bagpiper (a.k.a. Jody Watson). Throughout the afternoon, the streets fill with floats, bands and other performers. The grand-prize winner of the best parade float gets two airplane tickets to Ireland, so you definitely see people going all-out. After the parade, tradition dictates that you head over to the historic district of Westport for some brews. You can also get into the saintly spirit by making donations to the annual "Go for the Green" food drive.

Yes, this is the very same Scranton that is home to The Office's Dunder Mifflin paper company. And it may not be the most obvious St. Patrick's Day choice, but the city draws more than 150,000 attendees to its celebration, which is known as "Scranton's version of Mardi Gras." Festivities begin with a special St. Patrick's Day mass at St. Peter's Cathedral. Afterward, Scrantonites take to the streets to enjoy a procession lined with bagpipers, dancers and local musicians. The parade has been going strong here for quite some time, with the first official St. Patrick parade being held back in 1862. Take note that Scranton's parade is on March 12, the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day.

While this city has the youngest St. Patrick's Day parade on this list, Hot Springs has been routinely given the distinction as the strangest since its inception in 2004. Recent participants include the Irish Elvises and the San Diego Chicken, among others. It also receives the title of the shortest procession of note, with a route on Bridge Street that is only 98 feet long. Featuring bagpipers, floats and appearances from the Parade King and Queen, the Hot Springs parade is presided over by a celebrity Grand Marshal, who keeps the crowd on their toes throughout the event. Previous Grand Marshals include Mario Lopez and Pauly Shore. We are not making this up.

Philadelphia is home to one of the longest-running St. Patrick's Day parades, with the first documented one taking place back in 1771. Organized by the St. Patrick’s Observance Association, the parade sees more than 500,000 attendees ever year. Afterward, people spill into bars across town to continue celebrating. Bars in South Philly are particularly popular, but people also crowd the downtown watering holes; places like the Fadó Irish Pub are sure to be packed. The parade in Philadelphia is on March 13, the Sunday before St. Patrick's Day.

Indeed, there is a Dublin in Ohio. Actually, there are 10 cities with the name in the States, but this is the one that embraces its Irish legacy with the most fervor. One of the initial founders of the city, John Shields, is given credit for the naming it after his birthplace in Ireland. Today, Dublin, Ohio celebrates its Irish heritage with a mile-long parade made up of approximately 100 floats, bands and bagpipers, not to mention the Grand Leprechaun. With a population of a less than 40,000 people, it is a much smaller affair than most of the cities that make up this list. Still, with more than 20,000 visitors, size is all relative. The occasion is held on March 12, a few days ahead of St. Patrick's Day.

San Francisco doesn't really need an excuse to celebrate, but will gladly jump on any holiday that encourages partying. With a St. Patrick's parade that dates back to 1852, San Francisco is the best place to celebrate the holiday on the West Coast. When the parade itself is done, the celebration is just getting going -- pick any bar that suits you (bonus points for Irish pubs like Durty Nelly's and Blarney Stone, of course) and get your green beer on. San Francisco holds the parade on March 12.

While it may come as a surprise to most, Savannah makes it into our top five. The genteelest of genteel cities has been celebrating St. Patrick's since 1813 and likes to do it big, with an attendance exceeding 400,000. The three-hour parade goes through the Historic Park District, where you'll find fountains that have been dyed green. Participants include a number of bands and U.S. military divisions.

New York has the largest St. Patrick's Day parade in terms of attendance, with an estimated two million attendees every year. And New York also has the longest continuously running St. Patrick's Day parade in the world. It was organized by Irish soldiers in the British army in 1762 and has been going strong ever since. The parade begins at 44th Street and proceeds up Fifth Avenue, past the beautiful St. Patrick's Cathedral at 50th Street. The parade finishes roughly five to six hours later on 86th Street. Afterward, many people like to keep things going by hitting any one (or two or three) of the many Irish-themed bars that are scattered throughout the city.

Chicago hosts one of the largest St. Patrick’s celebrations in the country – you might have even seen the surreal images of the Chicago River dyed green for the occasion. The first St. Patrick’s parade took place in 1843, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the city added the tradition of staining its river green beforehand. The parade, which is held on Saturday, March 12 this year, is a massive collection of Irish-inspired floats and dancers. It starts at noon at the corner of Columbus and Balbo drives, but it’s highly recommended that you get there early.

While Chicago comes close to matching Boston with sheer over-the-topness, Beantown comes out ahead for historic significance alone. Its South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade is the world’s first recorded parade for the holiday, first hosted by the Irish Society of Boston in 1737 (actually beating Dublin, Ireland by almost two centuries). According to the 2009 U.S. Census, 23.9 percent of the population in Massachusetts is of Irish descent, making it the most Irish state in America by percentage of population. As you'd imagine, the parade is quite the spectacle, with floats, bagpipers, marching bands and more than 850,000 attendees. The event is held a few days after St. Patrick's Day, on Sunday, March 20.

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