The Freedom Fair on the Tacoma Waterfront is the best place to be on the 4th of July if you are in or near Tacoma. This event goes beyond fireworks in the evening—it’s an all-day extravaganza filled with entertainment, an airshow, military displays, a car show, kids activities, food and more. The street next to the Waterfront, Ruston Way, is closed to traffic all day and instead filled with one big party.
Freedom Fair takes place every year on July 4th all along the Ruston Way Waterfront.
The Tacoma Freedom Fair does not have an enforced admission fee, but operates solely on donations. Without donations each year, it is always possible the following year will have an admission cost. Donations are $1 for 18 and younger, $5 for 18 and older, and $10 for families.
Food and Vendors
You can’t (or at least you shouldn't) go to the Freedom Fair without sampling some fair food. Just about every type of food or snack imaginable is available, including the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers. Vendor booths of all kinds line Ruston Way and in between checking out the events of the day, checking out these booths can be a lot of fun. Expect everything from jewelry to woodwork to local businesses and food trucks. Each year, there are over 100 vendor booths.
One of the biggest and best events to check out, this airshow normally takes place in the afternoon and is visible from points up and down Ruston Way. If there’s a patch of grass between McCarver (just a block down from Old Town) and the end of the Waterfront, it will have a fine view of the show. The airshow features all kinds of planes and jets, including F-16s, C-17s, a Fouga jet and old WWII-era aircraft. Some aircraft perform fly-by maneuvers while others twist and tumble through the sky. Be aware—some of the jets are very loud so you may want to bring ear plugs, especially for children.
There are always a variety of bands, from country to rock to jazz. Stages are located up and down Ruston Way usually in or near the parks, including Jack Hyde Park, Dickman Mill Park and near the RAM restaurant. Performances take place throughout the day.
This event is usually held in the parking lot in front of Duke’s and shows off a number of classic cars. Hot rods, street rods, muscle cars and more are all on display from early in the day until the fireworks go off. In the evening, there is a trophy presentation for the best in show.
The Freedom Fair fireworks are hands-down the best fireworks you will find in Tacoma and the entire South Sound, whether on July 4th or any other day. A barge located just off the center of the Waterfront festival area fires off the firework shells, meaning that you can have a good view of the fireworks just about anywhere up or down Ruston Way. Fireworks chosen range in shell size from three to ten inches, and some reach a height of about a quarter of a mile into the air before exploding! This display is second only to Seattle's Gas Works Park fireworks, but the ability to view the show anywhere along the Waterfront or even on surrounding neighborhood streets (since the surrounding neighborhood is on a hill) offers tons of great places to see. The display is colorful and amazing and starts at 10:10 p.m.
Getting to the Freedom Fair
Walking: Walking to the Freedom Fair is perhaps the easiest way to go, if you live in North Tacoma or the Stadium District. Pedestrian entrances are located at Ruston Way and McCarver (which is a good Uber or Lyft drop-off point); Ruston Way and Alder (no public vehicle access); via going through the town of Ruston on Ruston Way; and via N. Ferdinand Street, which is also where the only public parking is located.
Driving: Public parking is located at Ruston Way and N. Ferdinand Street and costs $20 per car. To get to this lot, go to N. 46th Street, turn on Ferdinand, and follow Ferdinand down the hill to Ruston Way. Ruston Way is closed to all car traffic for the entire day, so keep this in mind when planning your way around.
Rideshare: If you're taking Uber, Lyft or another rideshare, your best bet is to be dropped off near N. 30th and McCarver in Old Town, which is also where the shuttle buses drop people off.
Bus: If you don’t live nearby or don’t want to pay for parking, the bus is possibly the best option. You can catch Express shuttle buses (meaning their only purpose is to go straight to the Freedom Fair) from Tacoma Dome Station and Tacoma Community College, both of which offer parking nearby. Buses run every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. and then start up again after the fireworks. You can purchase an all-day pass at either of the stations or on the bus or just buy a one-way ticket. You will need cash or you can pre-buy bus tickets online. ORCA cards with a July monthly pass and Summer Youth Passes both work for the bus fare to Freedom Fair.