Ah, Boston. The cradle of the American Revolution. The city with so many historic sites we had to create the Freedom Trail just to remember them all. And the place (naturally!) with the most wicked-awesome Fourth of July celebrations in all the land.
The sheer number of events held citywide—and throughout New England, for that matter—on the Fourth is beyond overwhelming, so we’re here to help you exercise your freedom to life, liberty, and the pursuit of the most fun possible. Cue the cannon fire (aka firework-popping), fellow patriots: we’re highlighting the best of the best events this July 4th, all through the lens what we know best, of course—our books! And trust us, the world-famous Pops Fireworks Spectacular is only the beginning.
One if by Land, Two if by Sea
On Boston’s busy Fourth of July, there may be no better place to explore than the harbor islands, which—incidentally—have played a crucial role in the city’s military history and quest for independence. Not only are these islands scattered with former military bases—Georges Island boasts Fort Warren, for example, while Peddocks claims Fort Andrews—a few landmasses bear more intriguing war stories. Picturesque Grape Island, for one, became the site of a lesser-known skirmish during the Revolution when British troops landed on the island’s shores to sup and rest. Upon spotting the soldiers, local Patriots scared off their foes by sounding an alarm and firing at the coast. You can access Grape Island on July 4th by taking a ferry to Georges and then hopping on a shuttle boat.
Want more? Spectacle Island will host a clambake between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. on the Fourth—part of its Thursday/Friday gig throughout the summer. Little Brewster Island welcomes you to its shores on a few different days for tours of Boston Light. Feeling jazzier than clams and lighthouses? Spectacle will also stage a spectacular jazz concert on Sunday, July 7.
If you’d prefer a more low-key island experience, hop on a ferry or navigate on your own to access those harbor islands that may be a bit quieter on the Fourth. (For the record, we think Georges Island, Peddocks Island, and World’s End all seem like great options.) Need help finding your way? There’s an app for that! We’ve put together a lovely list of our most interesting islands and the routes by which you can reach them in order to soak up some rays, take in amazing views of the city, and enjoy our town’s vast military history in the harbor.
For all the landlubbers out there, the legendary annual Boston Harborfest (July 2 – 7, 2013) offers a slew of excellent events—the most beloved of which is probably Chowderfest, a day-long affair during which workers ladle out more than 2,000 gallons of New England’s signature dish at City Hall Plaza. Harborfest also presents Bostonians and sightseers alike with harbor cruises and other island-centric fun. Our favorite? On July 4th at noon, the USS Constitution will salute the nation by firing her 21 guns off the shores of Castle Island; then, from 1:00 p.m. on, Castle’s Fort Independence will be open to the public for touring. With more than 300 events to choose from, Harborfest definitely boasts something for everyone.
Drink like a Patriot
History and drinking buffs, take note! If you haven’t heard of Warren Tavern, we feel obligated to fill you in. Located in Charlestown, this drinking establishment is the oldest in Massachusetts and among the most historic in the nation. George Washington frequented Warren to such an extent that his funeral speech was given here; even Paul Revere considered this watering hole to be one of his top picks. The USS Constitution sets sail from Charlestown before its 21-gun salute on the Fourth, and, also nearby, the Charlestown Navy Yard’s Sunset Parade is set for July 5.
In addition, Harborfest offers historic pubs tours on several different days; these outings are great for those who enjoy learning and sightseeing in conjunction with imbibing. Since Revolutionary taverns and historic pubs are plentiful in Boston, you can go your own way on the Fourth. We’ve got a free smartphone app on hand that hones in on some of the best drinking establishments in town to help you in your noble endeavor.
Celebrate like a Founding Father
The Adams National Historical Park in Quincy is putting on a massive Fourth of July bash in honor of our second and sixth presidents, complete with a mock signing of the “new” Declaration of Independence, a handful of colonial games, and a stage play about Adams and Jefferson’s friendship. (Spoiler alert: Mrs. Adams will be playing a major role.)
Did you know that Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, CT was formerly owned by a man with a bit of a Fourth of July obsession? From 1870 to 1895, newspaper publisher Henry Chandler Bowen threw lavish July 4th parties at the pink cottage; invitees to these galas included Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison. While Roseland Cottage is closed on the Fourth this year, the historic home will play host to a Twilight Lawn Concert on July 5. Guests are encouraged to bring blankets and food for picnicking before settling on the lawn to listen to the sounds of the 94th Army Band.
Feeling particularly adventurous? Make a pilgrimage to Plymouth to check out historic homes and gardens galore (have a list!), not to mention main attraction, Plymouth Rock. Bonus: the town’s annual Fourth of July parade promises tons of American fun.
You can also tour historic homes and gardens on your own this holiday. After all, the Fourth of July is entirely about independence, right? We suggest a pre-fireworks amble through scenic Brookline—first settled in 1638, its architecture is a testament to its long history. (Plus, over the years, they’ve really nailed the garden bit.) Need a handy map? This super useful little chart is dotted with yellow pretend-houses that mark historic buildings. May God Bless America and whoever put our route together.
Declaration of Your Love for Sports
It seems only appropriate to ring in the most American holiday of the year with one of the greatest American pastimes: baseball, of course. The Red Sox will be unveiling caps adorned with stars and stripes this year at their day game, but you already knew that, didn’t you? If you want to hit the seaside, try a Cape Cod Baseball League game. There are five games to choose from on July 4th.
How do you feel about colonial games? We’re not sure either, but we’re willing to give them a shot. On tap July 3 via Harborfest are tabletop ninepins (like bowling, but with a colonial twist) and fox and geese (like checkers, but, as you might imagine, with figurative foxes and geese).
Red, White, Blue…and Green!
As we said, Boston puts on a truly spectacular fireworks show on the Fourth: the aptly named Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. The best spots for setting up shop are on the Mass. Ave and Longfellow bridges as well as along the Esplanade in that vicinity. If you’re dead set on enjoying the concert from the Hatch Shell area, get there early—the morning time!—or good luck getting a spot.
Marching to the beat of your own drum? Try the Boston Public Garden for an enjoyable day filled with swan boats and duck tours. Cross the street to the Boston Common and venture into the Frog Pond Wading Pool, which opens for the season on June 29. (Note that the Carousel on the Common will also run into the early evening.) Top-secret insider information: you can spot fireworks from the highest points on Boston Common, so climb that hill, set down a blanket, and get ready to “ooh” and “aah” in relative peace.
Quirky Cape Cod
The Cape is always a viable option for unique Fourth of July fun. If you love the seaside and its quirks (or if you’d just like to ditch Boston for the day), then the Woods Hole Annual Fourth of July Parade is made for you. It’s one of the most unique—even peculiar—New England-area events, and it serves to celebrate Woods Hole’s maritime authority: the town is home to the Marine Biological Lab (MBL), which organizes the aquatic-themed parade. Prepare yourself for encounters with people dressed as lobsters, octopi, and other sea creatures.
If you want to celebrate the Fourth by appreciating our nation’s natural splendor, pick up a copy of Under Cape Cod Waters to serve as your guide to local near-shore waters, lakes, and wetlands. The book will aid you in quietly appreciating one of the most stunning areas of the good ole U.S. of A.