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My Favorite Fourth of July

Seven Via contributors offer their best bets for the summer holiday.

Via Contributors
Octave Finley in tribal garb, July Fourth, Arlee, Montana, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Donnie Sexton
Photo caption
Octave Finley wears his best tribal garb on July Fourth in Arlee, Mont.

For the annual Independence Day tug-of-war that pits Bolinas, Calif., against neighboring Stinson Beach, a rope was kayaked across the narrow sea channel that divides counterculture Bolinas from a posh, gated Stinson enclave. In the morning, from positions on separate tectonic plates—the channel sits on the San Andreas Fault—competing teams of 30 heaved, grunted, and cursed as the sun burned through the morning overcast. The result was a draw, with Bolinas's men and Stinson's women pulling their opponents into the chilly water. (415) 868-1330, 

By Christopher Hall

When friends invited me up for a long, relaxing weekend on a houseboat on Lake Oroville, Calif., about 75 miles north of Sacramento, I looked forward to a quiet getaway. What I didn't expect was the loveliest fireworks display I've ever seen. Hundreds of boats floated out onto the lake as daylight ebbed. Thousands more visitors gathered along the dam. Against the darkening sky, a trio of rockets streaked upward and burst into constellations of green and red and silver, the glittering lights reflected in shimmering lines on the lake's black surface. Forty-five minutes later, after the last boom had rolled across the water, the night sky itself seemed like a lingering reflection, bursting with a million stars. (530) 538-2542,

By Peter Jaret

Given our history, I wasn't sure how the Fourth would be marked at a powwow. For more than a century, the Flathead Nation has hosted a July Fourth event at Arlee, Mont., drawing tribes such as the Crow, Blackfoot, and Navajo from across the United States and Canada. They love this land with a passion and, in the warrior tradition, have a high rate of military service. For the Grand Entry, the Stars and Stripes was accompanied by tribal songs, chants, and dancing. Some veterans dressed in full tribal regalia, and some wore vests beaded in red, white, and blue. (406) 745-2154,

By Rita Ariyoshi

There's one part of the July Fourth celebration in Ashland, Ore., that Thomas Jefferson would recognize.

After the parade on Main Street, people spread their blankets by the old band shell in Lithia Park to listen to a reading of the Declaration of Independence—robust and maybe even a little melodramatic—sometimes by a seasoned actor from the local Shakespeare festival. The manifesto that sparked a revolution comes across the way that Jefferson intended: as a rabble-rousing call to arms. The fun of it is that we in the audience get to play the rabble, hissing and booing the mention of King George's "repeated injuries and usurpations." (541) 482-3486,

By Michael McRae


I set out my flag and chair early on Main Street for the Mammoth Lakes, Calif., Independence Day parade. Cowboys sporting white Stetsons ride in formation behind a miniature covered wagon; a high school band valiantly plays "America the Beautiful"; Uncle Sam look-alikes on a flatbed wave to tykes eating ice cream cones while perched on their parents' shoulders. The parade starts sometime between 11 and noon, and there's not an Eastern Sierra resident who would even consider missing it. (760) 934-6717,

By David Lansing

There's a fire truck, an old horse, a man clad entirely in tin cans, boys disguised as tree stumps, girls dressed as firecrackers, ancient cars, confused infants in flag-bedecked strollers, kids dashing out into the street for scattered candy, stentorian speeches, patriotic songs during which no one is sure of the second verse, and lots of cheerful dogs, but this is not a parade. It's a walk. Turns out a parade permit is a huge hassle, so there is no parade. Everyone just drifts into Neskowin, Ore., at 10 in the morning and off we go, laughing. It's shaggy, friendly, and it moves me to tears every year.

By Brian Doyle

Ants claimed my chicken bones back on the picnic table at Boettcher Park as I settled on the beach at Montana's Flathead Lake and watched the red, blue, and gold sails flapping on sleek vessels out of Dayton Yacht Harbor. I listened to the whine of motorboats, the liquid sounds of children playing on the city dock, and the pop of errant firecrackers—all celebrating the beginnings of our country and of our summer, when this enchanted glacial lake is finally warm enough to swim in. (406) 883-5969,

By Caroline Patterson

All parades are ragtag, but none more so than the Fourth of July parade in tiny Gustavus, Alaska, near Glacier Bay National Park. Locals line the short bridge across the Salmon River. A fire truck rolls by. Every kid who has a bike, trike, or pony trundles by, to loud cheers. A marching band with all the pomp of a pajama party goes past, then comes a pickup decked out in red fireweed, white cow parsnips, and blue lupines. Someone pushes a wheelbarrow full of cabbages over the bridge. And all trail back again. Later, in the greased pole contest, kids creep onto a springy rail hung sideways over the river and grab for a $50 bill as they slip past. A slow bicycle race (winner finishes last), a spelling bee, dunk the park ranger, and a fried halibut picnic: Everyone goes away happy. (907) 697-2451,

By Sheridan Warrick

This article was first published in July 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.