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Independence Day Getaway

With festivals and attractions, the South celebrates July 4 with a bang.
By Karen Gibson

Squeals of laughter fill the air as children run through sprinklers or splash pads. Neighborhood parades step off with wagons and dogs decked out in red, white, and blue. Cookouts, watermelon, and spectacular fireworks combine to create smiling faces.


Above: Fireworks are launched from two barges during the Go 4th on the River event in New Orleans. Jean-Paul Gisclair photo

Below: Visitors to Mobile, Ala., can tour the USS Alabama battleship. Independence Day fireworks over Mobile Bay take on special meaning when viewed with the decorated World War II ship underneath. ©Jason Norman photo


The Fourth of July is about community and gratitude for living in a land of freedom. Celebrate July Fourth–Southern-style–by participating in one or more of these regional events or by visiting this selection of attractions.


Independence Day in Alabama means it’s time to head to the water. Several coastal communities hold celebrations. In Gulf Shores, start the day by enjoying the sugar-white beaches or fishing from the second-longest pier on the Gulf of Mexico. End the day with a bang as you watch fireworks originating from the Gulf State Park Pier.

Visit Mobile Bay and it’s hard to miss the 44,500-ton USS Alabama battleship, a veteran of World War II, at the USS Alabama Memorial Park. Also known as “The Mighty A,” the battleship earned nine battle stars while avoiding casualties or major damage. In 1964, Alabama’s schoolchildren saved their pennies to raise $100,000 to bring the soon-to-be scrapped USS Alabama home.

Admission to the USS Alabama is $12 for those 12 and older and $6 for children ages 6-11. Show your AAA membership card and get a $2 discount. The USS Drum WWII submarine and several aircraft also are at the park. Fireworks over the bay with the USS Alabama in view take on special significance.

Sometimes it’s true that the best things in life are free. Take the 29th Annual Pops on the River concert, featuring the Arkansas Symphony, on July 4 at Riverfront Park in Little Rock. The evening starts with five finalists in the “Oh, Say, Can You Sing” contest, a vocal competition in which contestants sing the national anthem. The Happy Tymes Jazz Band performs next, followed by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. The symphony later accompanies the pop and sizzle of fireworks with patriotic music. No coolers or pets allowed. Drinks and food will be sold. Limited amphitheater seats are available, so guests are encouraged to bring their chairs or blankets. Purchase tickets to watch the show from the decks of the Arkansas Queen. Family friendly activities will be offered from noon until 5:30 p.m.

Summer in northwest Arkansas often means chilling out on Beaver Lake just east of Rogers. Spend the day fishing, swimming or boating. On July 3, hundreds of boats are expected to tie up to enjoy the 11th annual fireworks show, choreographed to music, from the Ventris Trail’s End Resort in Garfield on the north shore of the lake.


In Lake Charles, the Red, White, Blue & You Festival on July 4 starts with a parade and ends with fireworks over the lake. During the day, enjoy a variety of music–from Zydeco and swamp pop to Cajun–plus food and fun in this southwestern Louisiana city. After the apple pie-eating contest, the Lake Charles Community Band warms up everyone for the main event of fireworks over the lake.

Large crowds gather on July 4 at the riverfront in Baton Rouge for the capital’s Independence Day celebration. Tours of the USS Kidd, a World War II-era destroyer, are popular on the holiday. The day culminates with traditional fireworks.

New Orleans also hosts mock fighting as Dueling Barges duke it out with fireworks while patriotic music is simulcast by area radio stations. The 22nd annual New Orleans Go 4th on the River event should not be missed by fireworks fans. Although there is no bad seat for the display, buying a ticket for a fireworks cruise on the Creole Queen paddle wheeler can be special. However, these cruises sell out quickly.


It’s been 149 years since the Confederates at Vicksburg surrendered to the Union on July 4, marking a turning point in the Civil War. Vicksburg National Military Park, with more than 1,330 monuments, recognizes the Civil War sesquicentennial with events explaining what life was like during that 47-day siege. Admission to the park is $8 per car.

Come to Vicksburg for its history, but great events also are a draw. The Red, White, and Blues Festival, June 29–July 4, pays tribute to the great blues musician, Willie Dixon, with concerts at various locations. The festival ends with fireworks over the Mississippi River.

Coastal communities, including Bay St. Louis, celebrate July 4 with a boat parade followed by fireworks. When the sun goes down on June 30, head to the Diamondhead Marina to watch a parade of boats lavishly decorated with lights preceding the fireworks display. The annual Coast Watchers Convoy on July 4 is a parade of classic military vehicles that begins at the Bay St. Louis Bridge.

Other coastal communities with fireworks include Biloxi, Gulfport, and Pascagoula.

In addition to catching a fireworks display, visitors may reel in the big one at the 64th Annual Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, June 29–July 4, in Long Beach. The family event features fireworks, fishing, vendors, and more.


The Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond will hold the 40th annual LibertyFest from June 23–July 4. One highlight is KiteFest when hundreds of kites decorate the skies in Mitch Park.

Other fun activities include the Road Rally, a scavenger hunt on wheels, and the Taste of Edmond, a smorgasbord of food. After a parade through downtown Edmond on July 4, everyone heads to ParkFest on the University of Central Oklahoma campus for food, music, and entertainment. The festival ends with a spectacular fireworks display.

Music, food, history and, of course, fireworks–the South knows how to celebrate America’s independence. Whether you visit one of these cities or enjoy the holiday at home, remember to celebrate safely.

Karen Gibson is a contributor from Edmond, Okla.

Jul/Aug 2012 Issue


For more Independence Day fun, visit the regional events calendar.

Additional information about these destinations or events is available through:

• Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, or (800) 745-7263

• Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, or (800) 566-2453

• Beaver Lake,

• Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, or (800) 844-4781

• Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau, or (800) 456-7952

• Baton Rouge Convention and Visitors Bureau, or (800) 527-6843

•  New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau,

• Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, or

• Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, or (800) 221-3536

• Edmond Convention and Visitors Bureau, or (405) 341-4344

To visit these cities, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi through the Free Travel Information Card, found online.

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