Head to Mount Vernon, Va., George Washington’s home for the annual American Celebration

Head to Mount Vernon, Va., George Washington’s home for the annual American Celebration

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

Skip the fireworks!

No, I’m not crazy. I know fireworks are synonymous with Independence Day celebrations with cities trying to outdo each other with bigger and better displays, but, especially if you have young kids, they may be frightened by the noise, the dark and the crowds. I remember more than one July 4th where we made an early exit because my youngest was bawling.

That said, there are plenty of ways to celebrate, starting with your local parade. When my kids were small and we lived in Evanston, Illinois, that parade was a highlight of the summer — decorating their bikes, staking out a seat the day before, watching them proudly march with their scout troops, Little League or soccer teams.

These local celebrations can also be a way for vacationing families to become part of the community they are visiting — for a little while anyway. You might find a deal at a big-city hotel as locals head out for the holiday weekend. Another plus: You can reinforce the kids’ American history lessons with costumed interpreters and historic musical performances. Consider places slightly off the tourist track or focus on the special-for-kids programming.

  1. NYC. “Liberty: A Monumental New Musical,” opening July 4th off-Broadway, tells the story of the Statue of Liberty coming to America. Starring 16-year-old Abigail Shapiro as Liberty, this is a fast-paced 80-minute production. You can also head to Coney Island for Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, as well as the rides.
  2. DENVER. Let the kids burn off some energy at the Kid’s Fun Liberty Run in Washington Park and then join the spectators at a neighborhood parade, or head to Keystone Resort, a little more than an hour west, for the annual 4th of July Bike Parade. (All ages welcome! Come for the bike decoration party first at 10:30 a.m. There will be an early-morning fish derby for kids, afternoon bluegrass concert and the chance to tube on snow at the top of the mountain or take a mountain bike lesson.

    Inside the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia

    Inside the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia

  3. SAN DIEGO. Kids will see how early San Diego residents celebrated Independence Day through 19th-century games (ever try cow-chip throwing?) music and a Contra Dance at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Join the all-day celebration at the San Diego County Fair or the Red, White and Boom! Party at LEGOLAND California which will offer special musical performances, games and even a LEGO hamburger relay.
  4. NEAR NIAGARA FALLS. Old Fort Niagara, 20 minutes away, is especially famous for the 1759 Siege of Fort Niagara, which took place during the French and Indian War. This July 4th weekend, you can time-travel back and take part in three days of battle demonstrations and living history camps as hundreds of French, British and Native re-enactors depict the events of that long ago July during the 19-day siege.
  5. PHILADELPHIA. Kids can help animal puppets search for the missing Declaration of Independence July 2 at the new Historic Philadelphia Colonial Kids’ Quest Puppet Show. At the Betsy Ross House, they can join Betsy’s Independence Day Bash for kids with special activities, a children’s naturalization ceremony and the chance to meet “Phillis,” a free African-American woman born into slavery. Take a ride outside Philly to Valley Forge National Historical Park where the kids can join the Continental Army, watch a patriotic play and join in “revolutionary” games. Listen as one of the “founding fathers” reads the Declaration of Independence and then signs a copy.
  6. SAN FRANCISCO. Join the crowds watching the sea lions at the Sea Lion Center on Pier 39 where the kids and you can rock out at the July 4th concert, then take the ferry to Sausalito and join the fun at the parade and all-day music festival. There is also dancing, family games (the egg toss, apparently, is a long-time local tradition here) and food for picnics that you can buy from local nonprofits. There’s also the All-American 4th of July Fair in Napa County with a parade through downtown Calistoga, old-fashioned games, music, picnic and the chance for the kids to make their own take-home art project, among other family activities.
  7. WASHINGTON, D.C. Head to the National Archives building, home of the Declaration of Independence, where the kids can listen as “Abigail and John Adams, Ben Franklin, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington,” among others read the Declaration of Independence and then join the hands-on family activities. (Are you ready to make a colonial wig or write with a quill pen? Head to Mount Vernon, Va., George Washington’s home for the annual American Celebration that includes a special naturalization ceremony for 100 new citizens, military re-enactments, a “Red White and Blue” concert by the National Concert Band and, of course, a visit and photo op with “General and Mrs. Washington.” Just 30 miles from D.C., and a short drive from the Blue Ridge Mountains, Old Town Manassas, Va., celebrates America with a street party that includes kiddie rides, bike decorating and watermelon eating contests.
  8. CHICAGO. The Chicago History Museum’s Fourth of July Celebration (10 a.m. to 12 p.m.) is a city tradition dating back 57 years with the chance to complete patriotic crafts, watch a juggler, get your face painted and join a children’s parade led by the World’s Tallest Uncle Sam.

The kids will be so pooped after all the fun, they won’t even want to stay up for the fireworks.

(For more Taking the Kids, visit ttk-old.o2dev.net and also follow “taking the kids” on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)