Travel

The Best Places to Spend a Blowout Fourth of July This Year

May your weekend be filled with beer, BBQ, apple pie, fireworks, and Lee Greenwood.

Kickstand/e+/getty images
Kickstand/e+/getty images
Kickstand/e+/getty images

Well, everybody, here we are again: celebrating our highly functional nation and its positively superb government for the 245th year in a row! Let us drink and barbecue and be one with nature as fireworks illuminate the skies and beer cans of our American brethren.

Many of the nation’s most spectacular Fourth of July events are in the big coastal cities-and since you already kind of expect those to be good, here are a few other firework displays around the country you might not have considered. So undercook some burgers, salute some explosions, and celebrate that we each got a whopping $3,200 max for a year and a half of hell. 

Kindly note that Massachusetts has outlawed consumer fireworks in all forms and that a few of other states have restrictions of some kind or other, so if you’re planning to DIY your show this year just, y’know, check the laws first.

Visit Addison
Visit Addison
Visit Addison

Addison, Texas

Just a few minutes north of Dallas, Addison has fully cornered the “random town known for this one specific thing” market. Around Independence Day, its population mushrooms from under 15,000 to something like 500,000 for Kaboom Town! -during which they set off about 3,500 pounds of fireworks. Note that the fireworks here go off July 3, not the 4, AND you’ll need to make reservations this year because of Covid, so make a note lest you screw yourself over. The display lasts almost a half-hour, which makes sense given that it’s a midsize sedan’s weight in fireworks. There’ll be live music and vendors from 5pm, the Freedom Flyover (featuring cool old planes!) at 7:30 pm, and a fireworks display at 9:30pm sharp.

NurPhoto/getty images
NurPhoto/getty images
NurPhoto/getty images

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Declaration of Independence was signed here, and the good people of Philadelphia see that as a reason to really go off on Independence Day. The WaWa Welcome America is a two-week-long party that begins on Juneteenth and runs through the 4th. It’s packed with free museum days, film screenings, block parties, and a lot of (unfortunately, not-free) drinking. On July 4, there’ll be vendors, guest speakers, a concert (featuring the musical stylings of the greatest American of us all, Flo Rida), and a parade that sets off at 11am, leaving you plenty of time to get good and buzzy before the 9:30pm fireworks display.

Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau
Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau
Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Mackinac Island, Michigan

We’re feeling pretty good about Michigan this summer. And Mackinac Island is a tourist favorite, but for good reason: If it’s that idealized, apple pie image of American life you’re after (instead of the absolute maelstrom it’s been of late), here is a place to find just that. Car-free, lined with pastel-colored historic homes and shops, and fond of quaint annual events like Independence Day stone-skipping contests, Mackinac feels like it’s lost in a simpler time. The island’s fireworks begin at 10 pm on the Fourth, so grab an evening waffle cone from Scoops and let freedom ring.

stevedunleavy.com/moment/getty images
stevedunleavy.com/moment/getty images
stevedunleavy.com/moment/getty images

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

The ideal July 4 involves a lake town somewhere in the West, and ideally, that lake town is Lake Tahoe. There’s a whole lineup of firework displays in the area, but long-time fav Lights on the Lake in South Lake Tahoe is consistently deemed one of the best displays in the country. Stake out a picnic table along the shoreline of Nevada Beach State Park and do your thing (BBQing and BYOBing) while tuning in to KRLT-FM 93.9 or KOWL-AM 1490 for patriotic jams. The nearby Bijou Community Park is a good alternative if you’d like your fun a little more pre-assembled. The 25-minute fireworks show begins at 9:45pm. Admire one of the cleanest lakes in the country, and use any spare time to donate to the National Resources Defense Council.

Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
Gatlinburg SkyLift Park

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg is the OG Fourth of July destination, since it was the site of the nation’s very first Independence Day parade. Remarkably, while we’d have forgiven it for peaking early, the city has kept things sexy for 43 years with its Midnight Parade, which sets off each year at 12:01am on July 4. Later that day, there’s the River Raft Regatta, in which contestants send uncrewed floatables of their own creation down the Little Pigeon River and… hope for the best I guess, since they can’t steer them. Prizes are awarded to the most creative and the fastest floats. For a dollar, you can even rent and enter your very own rubber ducky. Lest we forget, there’s also the (often-crowded) fireworks display at 10pm on the 4th, best seen from the city’s famous Skybridge.

Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images/moment/getty images
Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images/moment/getty images
Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images/moment/getty images

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Fourth of July is an ideal time to see what all the Jackson Hole fuss is about. Things kick off with the giant annual pancake breakfast in town square, which costs just $10 for adults (and $5 or free for kids, depending on their age). Then there’s a 10k and a parade, then live music, then a shootout reenactment show in the town square, and finally-after a quick rodeo-fireworks around 10pm. If you can, spend a few extra days here to go camping at Shadow Mountain, tubing down Snake River, or jumping off the appropriately named “jumping rock” at Phelps Lake. And if you’re still in town on Tuesday night, you must go dancing at the Silver Dollar.

Romiana Lee/Shutterstock
Romiana Lee/Shutterstock
Romiana Lee/Shutterstock

Bar Harbor, Maine

If blaring country tracks and brazenly drunk antics aren’t what you see in your Fourth of July future, there’s hardly any place more laid-back-now or honestly anytime-than Bar Harbor, Maine, just a few hours from Portland. With similar vibes to Mackinac-at some point, you’ll definitely find yourself eating homemade fudge or ice cream from a mom-and-pop shop while strolling along an eternally calm beach-you can expect a full schedule of wholesome Independence Day activities: there’s a town-wide scavenger hunt (which sounds more like lobster hide and seek of some sort?), a craft fair and marketplace, and a parade during the day, plus a fireworks show over Frenchman Bay in the evening around 9:15pm. And in the in-between time, allow us to recommend hiking through nearby Acadia National Park or straight-up gorging yourself on seafood.

BG thunderfest
BG thunderfest
BG thunderfest

Bowling Green, Kentucky

By the end of most Fourth of July weekends, you probably find yourself sunburned to high hell and begging to go home and slather your sad body in aloe. But not in Bowling Green. This swath of southern Kentucky is capillaried with caves, which are both cool-looking and, at 57 degrees year-round, quite literally cooler than anywhere else in the South ‘til Halloween. Book a trip to explore Mammoth Cave National Park or Lost River Cave during the day, then emerge Batman-like to check out the fireworks and festivities: On the 3rd, the National Corvette Museum hosts Thunderfest, which’ll have live music, food trucks, and more. Or catch Fourth of July weekend fireworks every night after Bowling Green Hot Rods baseball games, which is a very, very American sentence.Happy Independence Day, everybody!Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Kastalia Medrano and Tiana Attride contributed reporting to this article.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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