The Best & Worst Cities for July 4th Celebrations

FireworksFourth of July spending is expected to be significantly higher in 2013 than in years past.  Americans, including those who are not planning overnight trips, are expected to spend an average of $300 on Independence Day celebrations this year – 58% more than the $190 we shelled out last year.

That’s unsurprising given the economic recovery, but with rising credit card debt levels painting a worrisome picture of what the future could hold for many people’s personal finances, savings opportunities should be welcomed whenever they present themselves.

With cost-effective festivities in mind, CardHub compared the 30 largest metropolitan areas in the United States – always popular vacation destinations – based on how well they balance cost and fun.  We did so using eight different metrics – ranging from the weather forecast to hotel prices – which you can read about in further detail in the Methodology section at the bottom of the page.

The following can also be found below:


Overall Results

RANK City Hotel Prices Walk Score # of Arts Estb. # of Bars Temp vs. 75 °F Chance of Rain Traffic Cong.
1 Los Angeles, CA $63 65.9 13071 25008 6 °F 0% 33%
2 Chicago, Ill. $69 74.3 3197 18501 3 °F 20% 22%
3 San Francisco, CA $65 84.9 1822 10879 6 °F 0% 29%
4 New York, NY $92 85.3 10689 43604 6 °F 60% 22%
5 Minneapolis, MN $74 69.3 1550 5901 3 °F 10% 15%
6 Boston, MA $90 79.2 2162 10841 8 °F 40% 20%
7 San Diego, CA $93 55.7 1086 6211 2 °F 0% 20%
8 Detroit, MI $75 49.9 1181 7719 6 °F 20% 14%
8 Portland, OR $55 66.3 885 5252 3 °F 10% 22%
10 Seattle, WA $99 73.7 1456 8217 3 °F 10% 26%
11 Atlanta, GA $55 52.9 1690 9702 7 °F 10% 20%
12 Miami, FL $49 72.5 2572 10150 13 °F 20% 23%
13 Philadelphia, PA $78 74.1 2042 12438 8 °F 60% 19%
14 Washington, DC $79 73.2 1920 10955 9 °F 40% 25%
15 St. Louis, MO $93 61.4 1032 5506 8 °F 20% 14%
16 Phoenix, AZ $44 45.4 1118 6625 30 °F 10% 13%
17 Denver, CO $73 60.4 980 5261 2 °F 60% 20%
18 Dallas, TX $54 46.9 1592 11005 16 °F 30% 16%
19 Las Vegas, NV $35 49.2 887 3632 32 °F 0% 19%
20 Cleveland, OH $72 58.3 726 4231 5 °F 20% 11%
21 Cincinnati, OH $64 58.9 710 3856 9 °F 10% 14%
22 Riverside, CA $64 46.7 814 5744 23 °F 0% 15%
23 Houston, TX $55 49.8 1328 9754 15 °F 30% 22%
24 San Antonio, TX $55 40.8 525 3825 17 °F 10% 15%
25 Sacramento, CA $45 49.3 589 3786 25 °F 0% 17%
26 Pittsburgh, PA $100 64.1 950 5086 7 °F 20% 20%
27 Tampa, FL $43 51.1 974 4633 15 °F 30% 22%
27 Orlando, FL $51 47.1 878 3827 13 °F 60% 20%
29 Baltimore, MD $82 63.9 988 5143 12 °F 60% 16%
30 Kansas City, MO $70 38.1 625 3623 7 °F 60% 10%

Other Main Findings

  • Half of the 10 Best Cities for 4th of July Celebrations are in the West, largely due to more temperate weather and varied restaurant, bar, and entertainment options.
  • Detroit is the only major U.S. city that allows the sale and use of aerial fireworks, following a recent change by the Michigan legislature.  However, the law enables local governments to impose their own restrictions, so this might not be the case for long.
  • Many cities have further restricted the use of fireworks in recent years due to drought and the threat of wildfire.
  • Las Vegas, Tampa, and Phoenix offer the cheapest hotel rates (most likely due to the high summer temperatures in those areas), while hotels in St. Louis, San Diego, Seattle, and Pittsburgh charge the most.
  • New York City, San Francisco, and Boston are the most walkable 4th of July destinations, while Phoenix, San Antonio, and Kansas City are the least walkable.
  • New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have the most bars, restaurants, and entertainment options, while Kansas City, Sacramento, and Portland have the least.
  • San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco boast the best 4th of July weather forecasts (in terms of expected high temperatures and chance of rain), while Houston, Tampa, and Baltimore have the worst.

Commentary for Selected Metropolitan Areas

  1. Los Angeles:  It’s only right that a city known for its stars is the best place to look to the heavens as the fireworks go off this Independence Day.  Speaking of fireworks, West Coasters looking for an excuse to pay Los Angeles a visit have a number of displays to choose from – including shows at The Coliseum in nearby Pasadena and the famed Hollywood Bowl.  From checking out Hollywood and doing some shopping on Rodeo Drive to hiking, golf, and enjoying the beach in mid-70s temperatures with a 0% chance of rain, there’s obviously plenty else to do in LA as well!
  2. Chicago:  Like other popular July 4th destinations, Chicago has a multi-faceted appeal for summer travelers.  Not only is it one of the most walkable major cities in the U.S., but Chicago also ranks in the top 5 nationally in terms of the number of bars, restaurants, and entertainment options and offers a Lake Michigan beach scene to go along with an urban “summer in the city” vibe.  The forecast for a high temperature of 78° F with only a 20% chance of rain should make for beautiful weather in which to watch the fireworks go off over the water.
  3. San Francisco:  In San Francisco, Californians have a northern option to go along with Los Angeles to the south.  A forecast for 69° temperatures with no chance of rain should make for a great Independence Day spent traversing the famed Filbert Steps, checking out the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts, and even taking a break for a ride on the cable cars in what is actually America’s second most-walkable city.  Fireworks shows with the Golden Gate, Alcatraz, and Angel Island as backdrops don’t hurt either.
  4. New York:  The “it” spot to celebrate New Year’s Eve, New York has a lot to offer for Uncle Sam’s big day as well.  As you might expect, the most walkable city in the country also offers the most bars and restaurants as well as the second most “Arts, Entertainment & Recreation” establishments.  The Big Apple also boasts a number of scenic spots to check out fireworks and a projected high temperature of 81° is a bit cooler than you might think, but a 60% chance of rain is kind of a bummer.
  5. Minneapolis:  A forecast for near-perfect weather, top 10 rankings in terms of both walkability and traffic congestion, and more than enough watering holes and entertainment options to keep you busy helped the Minneapolis area crack the top 5 Best Cities for 4th of July Celebrations in 2013.  A smattering of lakeside beaches offers many attractive vantage points from which to watch the fireworks too.

5 Tips for July 4th Savings & Safety

  1. Comparison Shop & Book Packages:  Consumers have a wealth of pricing information at their immediate disposal these days, so in addition to checking out CardHub’s Best & Worst Cities report, it makes sense to hunt around for attractive deals online.  Booking hotel and transportation accommodations together is often an easy way to save.
  2. Declare Financial Independence:  Too many folks are dependent on debt these days, as evidenced by rising credit card debt levels.  So, in the spirit of the holiday, you might want to leverage attractive credit card offers like the Slate from Chase – which offers 0% on balance transfers for 15 months with no balance transfer or annual fees – in order to free yourself from your financial burden at the lowest possible cost.
  3. Budget:  The best way to keep 4th of July spending under control is to figure out how much you can afford to spend and then plot out exactly how you wish to allocate these funds.  This will give you the foresight necessary to prioritize your expenses as well as to search for low-cost substitutes for certain buys that you may now be questioning.
  4. Arrange Public Transportation:  For some reason, many people seem to believe the best way to celebrate Independence Day is to drink, get behind the wheel of a car, and then trade in their freedom for a jail cell.  For your own sake and that of the general public, look into the availability of public transportation and maybe even factor cab fare into your budget.
  5. Use Common Sense with Fireworks:  Whether legal or not, it would be naive to think that people will refrain from shooting off celebratory fireworks this 4th of July.  If you are among them, you should consider how much you want to spend as well as what steps you can take to ensure your own safety as well as that of neighbors and surrounding property.

    CardHub recently caught up with Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, for tips on how to do so.  In addition to advising that people be careful when mixing sparklers and young children (particularly since they burn at high temperatures and stay hot for quite a long time), Heckman offered the following cautions and best practices when it comes to using fireworks.

    First and foremost, you need to know what’s permissible where you live and to obey the local laws.  You should also plan your activity so that you consider an area that’s free from dry grass and shrubs.  It makes sense to water down the area with a garden hose in advance and have a bucket of water ready just in case.  You should always use your fireworks outdoors in a safe, flat, and non-wooded area,” she said.  “You should always have a sober adult in charge of all fireworks activities.  Light only one at a time; you don’t want too much going on because then people will get hurt.  You should never touch, throw, or combine fireworks.  It’s a big problem when people try to manipulate the devices.  If the fuse does not ignite, you do not want to relight the firework.  You want to let it sit for at least 15 minutes and then you should just douse it in water.


Methodology
CardHub evaluated and ultimately ranked the Best & Worst Cities for 4th of July Celebrations based on the following factors:

  • 4th of July Popularity:  Certain cities are known for putting on great Independence Day celebrations – including parades, fireworks shows, and other festive activities – so CardHub credited areas with a reputation for throwing Uncle Sam a particularly great birthday bash.  Holidays are always more fun when people are particularly spirited, after all.
  • Weather:  Using Weather.com’s 10-day forecasts, CardHub evaluated the meteorological outlook in each city.  Those with an expectation for temperatures around 75° F and a low chance of rain were given preference.  Forecasts are as of 6/24.
  • Price of a 3-Star Hotel:  The cities were also ranked in terms of the lowest-cost three-star hotel rate available in each for July 4, based on Kayak.com data.  The majority of people planning to travel over the holiday are likely interested in balancing price and comfort, especially since the 4th falls on a Thursday this year, making extended trips less likely.
  • Number of Bars & Restaurants:  Travelers love options and hate both overcrowding and cooking for themselves, so cities with the most bars and restaurants were viewed favorably.

  • Number of Arts, Entertainment & Recreation Establishments:  Summer, especially July 4, is about getting outside, having fun, and finally exploring interests that were neglected during perhaps busier times of the year.  We therefore ranked each cities based on the number of businesses tailored to leisure-time activities it boasts, based on U.S. Census data.

  • Walkability:  Not only does the 4th of July tend to be rather crowded in popular vacation spots, but it’s also the most dangerous time of the year in terms of drunk drivers.  Independence Day has boasted the most alcohol-related car crashes in nearly all of the 25 years that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been tracking data, which makes cities that are friendly to foot traffic the best bet for most families.
  • Traffic Congestion:  If you’ve ever traveled for the 4th of July, you know how common and frustrating the traffic jams associated with large numbers of people using the same roads to get to the same places at the same time can be.  Cities with bad traffic, according to the TomTom North American Congestion Index, were therefore viewed unfavorably for this study.

  • Legality of Fireworks:  Fireworks are synonymous with the 4th of July, and while most cities hold large-scale celebrations, many people like to add a little independence to the day by setting off their own.  The problem is fireworks are illegal in most major cities, and laws concerning them are both localized and constantly changing.  CardHub therefore analyzed how local fireworks laws in each of the 30 largest metropolitan areas in the United States treat aerial and explosive fireworks like bottle rockets (you know, the fun ones).  Areas that require a permit to use fireworks or that sell them yet consider their use to be illegal were not given credit.

Sources:  Data is courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau, state and local governments, WalkScore, Weather.com, TomTom, and Kayak.com.

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