Independence Day has always been a popular travel holiday. With it falling on Saturday, it’s expected to draw out slightly more folks in search of relaxation, fun in the sun and dazzling fireworks displays.

The Automobile Club of Southern California projects more than 2.98 million Southland residents will leave town for the long weekend, a half-percent higher than last year’s holiday and the most since 2007. Seventy-nine percent of those holiday travelers will go by car to take advantage of lower gas prices, about 60 cents below last year.

Day trip or overnight getaway, Southern California residents will have no trouble finding Fourth of July diversions in seaside towns, mountain lakeside resorts, big cities and even amusement parks, says Carolyn Graham, features editor of the Auto Club’s Westways magazine.

“We’re fortunate that we have such a variety of places that we can go,” she says. “It’s literally all over the map. It’s up to you or the family the type of getaway you might be looking for.”

The beach

If you happen to settle on the picturesque town of Santa Barbara, you’re in luck.

“Spending the day is always an option, but since the fireworks are at night, an overnighter is probably the best way to have a more leisurely experience,” says Karna Hughes, director of communications for Visit Santa Barbara, adding bookings are still available at different price points.

This bougainvillea-strewn bright spot on the coast hosts a variety of old-fashioned celebrations to suit different tastes. Festivities include a special Independence Day edition of the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show, which is typically held only on Sundays along Cabrillo Boulevard, the street bordering downtown beaches. Out-of-towners can meander the stalls of local artisans for Santa Barbara landscape paintings, handcrafted toys and one-of-a-kind jewelry from 10 a.m. to dusk.

At 1 p.m., folks can watch floats, high school marching bands, dance troupes and more travel along State Street between Micheltorena and Cota streets for the 53rd annual Fourth of July Parade. Later, at 5 p.m., the West Coast Symphony Orchestra performs a free concert of patriotic music on the green of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Sunken Gardens.

Santa Barbara’s West Beach waterfront hosts festivities including a live music showcase and food vendors starting at 3 p.m. The events are capped off at 9 p.m. with a big fireworks finale, which can be viewed from a variety of vantage points downtown.

Of course, nothing tops standing in the thick of it, says Gabe Saglie, senior editor of Travelzoo.

The “sparkle in the sky reflects beautifully in the waters below,” generating lots of oohs and aahs, he notes.

The mountains

For those who prefer an escape to the mountains, Big Bear Lake is close, accessible and not too pricey.

Throw in a July 4 fireworks show, and hotels, cabins and campgrounds start to fill up. But folks can still book last-minute lodging in the area to make a weekend of it, says Dan McKernan, director of marketing and public relations for the Big Bear Visitors Bureau.

“It is a little tricky,” he admits, adding the best source is the central reservation system (800-424-4232) for the largest inventory of lodgings. “Keep in mind, it’s likely everything is going to be at a two- or three-night minimum stay.”

Settle in for the day by grabbing a bite at the Himalayan Restaurant in Big Bear Lake Village, renting a kayak to explore the lake, fishing, hitting the trails or maybe strolling the gardens at the Big Bear Discovery Center. While you’re at it, don’t forget to purchase tickets to the annual Rotary Club Big Bear Lake Fourth of July Lakefront Fireworks and Barbecue at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets are available online and in person at the Big Bear Visitors Center while supplies last.

The event offers food fresh off the grill, a beer and wine garden for visitors 21 and older, a carnival midway of games, crafts and live entertainment, plus a prime spot from which to view the nighttime bursts of light and color at 8:45 p.m.

Organizers have stepped up their game this year with “bigger and brighter fireworks,” says Jim Miller, president of the Rotary Club.

The fireworks are shot off from barges on the lake.

While the best spot is at water level, the show can be viewed from various locations throughout the Big Bear area. Consider taking a boat for an even closer view.

The city

San Diego County’s largest fireworks celebration is “Big Bay Boom.” It’s as spectacular as it sounds.

At 9 p.m., a riot of pyrotechnics are fired from four barges around San Diego Bay — near Shelter Island, Harbor Island, the North Embarcadero and Seaport Village area, and Coronado Ferry Landing.

“There’s a pretty good chance if you’re along that stretch of San Diego of seeing some sort of display,” says Graham, adding the city is a perennial favorite travel destination among Westways readers.

For the best views and a unique experience, spectators can book a Hornblower or Flagship dinner cruise on the bay during the show and watch it from the deck. A number of bayside restaurants offer special viewing reservations.

Visitors can park for free at special lots set up by the Port of San Diego and take the shuttle service to Harbor Island and Shelter Island. There’s also expanded San Diego Trolley service to several stops in the fireworks viewing area; free parking is available at Qualcomm Stadium with a San Diego Trolley ticket.

Theme park

“Our theme park offerings here in Southern California, of course, are always very memorable and over-the-top, and the most notable at the moment is Disneyland, which just turned 60,” Graham says.

For the Disneyland Resort Diamond Celebration, the park recently launched three nighttime spectaculars.

They include the immersive “Disneyland Forever” fireworks spectacular and “Paint the Night” electrical parade at Disneyland and “World of Color — Celebrate! The Wonderful World of Walt Disney” at Disney California Adventure.

“Disneyland Forever” is the theme park’s biggest endeavor to date. It brings the world of Disney stories — “Peter Pan,” “The Lion King,” “Frozen,” “Winnie the Pooh” and more — to life through a combination of dazzling visual projections and familiar music throughout the park at 9:30 p.m.

See chimney sweeps dance on the rooftops of Main Street, USA, Nemo swim above Sleeping Beauty Castle and the Matterhorn transform into Elsa’s ice palace.

“You can be in the center of all that amazing technology that they’ve incorporated and then, of course, the fireworks are crazy-amazing as well,” Graham says. “They bring it for the Fourth as well.”

A special patriotic fireworks finale caps off “Disneyland Forever” on Independence Day, which is one of the park’s busiest days of the year. Folks are encouraged to arrive early to catch special performances by military acts — a tradition started by Walt Disney on Disneyland’s opening day.

Final suggestions

“If you’re looking for a place that might be a little less crowded or just offer something a little different, you can always think of those little towns that people don’t normally associate with big fireworks shows,” Graham says, suggesting Temecula wine country or Catalina Island.

“Once you get there, you’re there. You don’t have to worry about parking. You just go and find a good spot to sit and watch the fireworks.”


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