Travel

Don’t Want to Spend July 4 on the National Mall Now that Trump Has Hijacked the Fireworks? Go to These Small-Town Independence Day Festivals Instead.

Marching bands. Pie-eating contests. Weenie roasts.
Try spending the fourth in Lititz, PA. Photograph courtesy of Lititz Record Express.

You love the all-American Independence Day on the Mall. Or, perhaps, you once did. Now that President Trump seems to be hijacking what was a nonpartisan celebration—even moving the fireworks off the Mall—maybe you’re thinking you’ll get out of town instead.

Consider making a long weekend of it—July 4 falls on a Thursday this year—by going to a small town. Sure, there’s no majestic Capitol backdrop. But there might be weenie roasts. Here are some not-too-far-from-home options.

Lititz, Pennsylvania 

How to improve on a choreographed-to-music fireworks extravaganza? Light up a creek flowing below the pyrotechnics with 5,000-plus candles. This Lancaster County borough’s “Fairyland of Candles”—borrowed from a Moravian Christmas tradition—has been a staple of Independence Day here since 1843. Arrive July 3 for the 6:30 pm parade, live entertainment, and dance party in Lititz Springs Park. Stay for the July 4 celebration, with concerts, a parade of infants and tots, and the Queen of the Candles Pageant.

Distance from DC: Three hours; lititz4thofjuly.com. 

Shepherdstown, West Virginia 

This bucolic burg’s Fourth of July celebration is so let’s-put-on-a-show enthusiastic, it leaves some visitors wondering if it is, in fact, just for show. Nope, local visitor-center director Marianne Davis says. “There is no irony in this celebration. It’s just small-town fun. And it’s real.” So are the local hunt club’s horses and hounds, Civil War reenactors, and school bands parading on German Street starting at 11 am. The action continues with a community picnic, games, and music in Morgan’s Grove Park. A reason to stay over: The acclaimed Contemporary American Theater Festival kicks off July 5.

Distance from DC: 1½ hours; shepherdstown.info. 

Bel Air, Maryland

There’s a parade, of course, at 6 pm and fireworks at 9:30. But that’s just the finale. The party starts early—at 6:45 am—with a flag-raising and pancake breakfast. In between, events include a bicycle rodeo, a watermelon-eating contest, a water-balloon toss, and a patriot-costume competition. Drop by the town’s oldest dwelling, the 1788 Hays House, for a living-history tour and live period music.

Distance from DC: 1½ hours; belairjuly4.org. 

Staunton, Virginia

In 1969, Harold and Don Reid—of Statler Brothers country-music fame—noted the dearth of Fourth of July activities in their hometown. So in 1970, they initiated “Happy Birthday USA,” since renamed “Happy Birthday America.” Now spearheaded by two Reid sons, it’s still going strong almost 50 years later. Daylong activities in downtown’s Gypsy Hill Park begin with a 10 am parade and continue with baseball games, a toy-duck race, and a 7:30 pm country-music concert culminating in fireworks. It’s free, but bring a lawn chair.

Distance from DC: 2½ hours; happybirthdayamerica.org.

Fredericksburg, Virginia

The celebration opens with a Spotsylvania Stars and Stripes Spectacular at 3 pm on June 29 at the Spotsylvania Courthouse complex. There’s music on three stages and kid-pleasing acts on a fourth, plus historic-building tours, a parade at 3:30, and fireworks that night. Free shuttles depart from Courtland High School. On July 4, the action shifts to downtown Fredericksburg for the Heritage Day Festival. Arrive by 9 am for the parade and stay for the crafts market in Riverfront Park. Free shuttles to Ferry Farm, ’s boyhood home, operate from 10 to 4. (Admission to the farm is $1.)

Distance from DC: 1¼ hours; visitfred.com. 

This article appears in the July 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

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