Best Fourth of July Celebrations in California

Fourth of July Fireworks Over Bay Bridge and San Francisco Skyline viewed from Alameda Island, California, USA
kylewolfe / Getty Images

Regardless of where you are in California on the Fourth of July, you shouldn't be too far away from a summer festival and fireworks show. Events are going on all over the state to celebrate America's birthday, whether you're in a major city or a bit farther out. If you want to see fireworks over the ocean, over skyscrapers, or over the mountains, all of those options are within just a few hours of driving distance, at most.

Because of California's stay-at-home order, virtually all of the listed events have either been canceled, postponed, or altered in some way for July 4, 2020. Always check the official event webpage to confirm information and get the latest updates.

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San Francisco

The City by the Bay is one of the best places to see fireworks in Northern California, as San Francisco puts on not one set of fireworks but two simultaneous and synchronized shows. The dual show starts at 9:30 p.m. each year and lasts for about 30 minutes, but you'll have to arrive early to get a good viewing spot.

The best place to see fireworks—and most crowded—is near Fisherman's Wharf and Aquatic Park, but you should arrive around midday or early afternoon. Thankfully, there are Fourth of July festivities happening around the area all day long to keep you entertained. The hills around Chrissy Field also give great views and have some more breathing room, or you can cross the Bay and watch them from Sausalito.

If your budget allows it, watching the show from the water is the most memorable way to spend July 4. Several bay cruises host special holiday voyages so spectators can enjoy a front-row experience. If you want to be on the water without paying for a cruise ticket, head early in the day to Treasure Island to reserve a spot and enjoy the show from there, which is accessible by car from the Bay Bridge.

Many visitors head to the Golden Gate Bridge during the day to wait for the evening show, only to be shooed away at 9 p.m. when the bridge closes to pedestrians. Don't make that mistake.

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East Bay

Alameda's Fourth of July parade has been canceled for 2020.

The city of Alameda—across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco and adjacent to Oakland—claims to host the longest Fourth of July parade in the country. The 3.3-mile route covers a large part of this small waterfront town, but it brings out over 2,500 participants and more than 60,000 spectators (significant considering Alameda's population is only 80,000 people). The parade starts at 10 a.m. and has an authentic hometown feel, with marching bands; classic cars; floats; dance groups; and lots of red, white, and blue.

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Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe's Fourth of July events have been canceled for 2020. Check the official websites for more information.

The big celebration at Lake Tahoe is Lights on the Lake, the largest synchronized fireworks display in the western United States. The fireworks are launched from barges just off the South Shore in the town of Stateline, right at the border of California and Nevada.

Incline Village on the North Shore also has an Independence Day celebration, the Red, White and Tahoe Blue Festival. It includes a parade, fireworks, and duck races, featuring an adorable bunch of rubber duckies floating down the stream toward the lake.

In a rare year with lots of late snow, you might have a hard time deciding whether to pack the water skis or the snow skis for Tahoe on the Fourth, with skiing still going on at some of the area's bigger, higher-elevated resorts like Squaw Valley.

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Sacramento

The Sacramento and Davis Fourth of July events are canceled for 2020.

Celebrating Independence Day around the state capital isn't difficult with all of the options around Sacramento. The biggest fireworks event in the city is the July 4th Festival at Cal Expo, home of the state fair. It's free to attend if you don't mind bringing a blanket or lawn chair and sitting on the ground, although grandstand seat reservations are available for purchase. Don't forget a picnic basket to enjoy snacks and drinks while you watch the choreographed show above.

If you want to escape the city for the day for a more local celebration, several nearby suburbs also throw their own Fourth of July festivals and fireworks shows, such as Davis and Elk Grove.

The Elk Grove fireworks show is confirmed for July 4, 2020, but without a centralized viewing area. Spectators are encouraged to watch the show from their front yard or an open area while maintaining the recommended social distance.

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Lake Oroville

About an hour and a half north of Sacramento, the small town of Oroville and the nearby lake host a gorgeous fireworks display over the water in the scenic foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.

The July 4, 2020, event starts at 9 p.m., but without a designated viewing area. The fireworks will be launched from the Oroville Airport on the west side of town in 2020, so it will be easier for residents to view the show from their front yards. Viewing is also possible from higher elevation points in the city or around Forebay or Afterbay, all while maintaining social distance from other spectators.

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California Gold Country

The Gold Rush town of Columbia puts on a very old-fashioned Fourth of July Celebration, with a community parade that anyone can march in. After that, there's live music performances, street dancing, and a delicious barbecue. Activities throughout the day include quintessential festival games, such as a watermelon eating contest, a five-way tug of war, greased pole climbing, and a nail pounding contest. You can also enjoy the year-round activities of the state park such as panning for gold or exploring the local shops.

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Hollywood

The Hollywood Bowl Fourth of July event is canceled for 2020.

The Hollywood Bowl is a massive outdoor amphitheater and consistently voted as one of the best music venues in the entire U.S. If you're in town for the Fourth of July, it's one of the best places to celebrate America's birthday in all of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra is joined every year by a different headlining act, creating a dramatic show that ends with a fireworks show perfectly timed with the accompanying music. The fireworks are so close to the stage that you'll need to crane your neck just to see them.

Like in all parts of Los Angeles, parking at the Hollywood Bowl is extremely limited and traffic on a holiday will be especially bad. Hire a ridesharing service to avoid the hassle, or use the Metro Red Line to the Hollywood/Highland stop. From there, you can jump on the Hollywood Bowl Express Bus or walk to the amphitheater in 20 minutes.

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Downtown Los Angeles

The downtown block party at Grand Park is a free event that fills with revelers every single year, but for 2020 it will all be held online. The typical festivities have been put on hold, including the fireworks show over downtown Los Angeles. The details are still in the works, but continue to check out the official webpage for updates on what to expect and how you can tune in.

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Marina del Rey & Venice Beach

Being a coastal city, many people seek out Fourth of July fireworks in Los Angeles that go off over the water. In that case, the Marina del Rey show is the one for you. This is the largest public show in the city and it's free to enjoy for all, meaning it also gets crowded quickly. Marina del Rey is near the ocean right between Santa Monica and LAX Airport, so you get views of the fireworks and the Pacific Ocean.

The show can be viewed from anywhere along Marina del Rey, Venice Pier, Playa Vista, and Dockweiler Beach, but because of the number of people who attend it's recommended to arrive by 1 p.m. and spend the afternoon in the area. Parking is extremely limited and roads around the Marina are shut down by late afternoon, so plan to arrive early if you're coming in a vehicle—even if it's an Uber or Lyft.

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Pasadena

AmericaFest is canceled for 2020.

AmericaFest at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena is a massive event just outside of Los Angeles. This all-day event begins with a tailgate party in front of the stadium and culminates with a fireworks show overhead, with plenty of festival activities and music in between them to fill up the day. Paid admission is required to enter, so buy tickets early to get into this popular Southern California event.

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Disneyland

Disney parks in California are closed until mid-July for 2020.

It can feel like the Independence Day all year long at Disneyland in Anaheim with their nightly fireworks extravaganza, but the July 4 show is an extra special one to commemorate the holiday. Red, white, and blue explode over Sleeping Beauty's Castle all while synced to the sound of patriotic tunes.

Summer is already a busy time at Disneyland, but coupled with the holiday weekend means the park is especially packed—sometimes to the point of cutting off the entrance to new visitors. Arrive early, stay for the day, and find a spot to sit and enjoy the show before it gets dark.

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San Diego

The Big Bay Boom is the event to attend for Independence Day festivities in San Diego, but for 2020 it will have to be enjoyed from home. The typical fireworks spectacular is canceled and, in its place, San Diego and Southern California residents can tune into local news programming to watch highlights from past Fourth of July celebrations. The show starts at 8 p.m. local time and can be viewed on Fox 5 in San Diego or KTLA 5 in Los Angeles.

Firework shows in nearby Coronado and Imperial Beach are also canceled for 2020.

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Catalina Island

The Catalina Island festival is tentatively canceled for 2020. Check the official event webpage for the latest updates.

The town of Avalon on Catalina Island hosts one of the quirkiest Independence Day events that you'll see: a Fourth of July golf cart parade (golf carts outnumber residents on the island). Later, head to the Catalina Casino—which is a venue on the island, not a gambling casino—for a barbecue, live music, and other patriotic festivities. In the evening, fireworks shoot off over the island with the California mainland in the background.

Get to Catalina Island by hopping on one of the ferries from the docks at San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach, or Dana Point. Some boats travel to Two Harbors and others to Avalon, so make sure you choose the Avalon option.

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Pomona

KABOOM is canceled for 2020.

The KABOOM celebration on July 4 at the Pomona Fairplex includes a fireworks show, but that's not even the most exciting part of this thrilling event. KABOOM begins with a wild show of monster truck brawls, motocross stunts, and quad wars, where teams of quad drivers perform tricks on their vehicles to beat the other team. This can't-miss event is made for those who want to add even more excitement to their holiday plans, and it's only 30 minutes east of downtown Los Angeles.

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Simi Valley

The Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley offers a fun look into American politics and the presidency, including a real Air Force One airplane on display. On Independence Day, they provide patriotic concerts and family entertainment, with free admission to outdoor activities.

The 2020 celebration will be a little different, with all of the activities taking place online. There is a virtual program including a performance of the National Anthem, monologues by past presidents, and an interactive lesson about Betsy Ross and the creation of the American flag.

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