Hard to believe it's almost the Fourth of July. And here are my favorite places to spend this happy holiday...some with "fireworks" all weekend, and others with a relaxed, laid-back vibe that just invites you to let go of all your cares...
#5 - ACE ADVENTURE RESORT, WEST VIRGINIA - ACE Adventure Resort is considered one of the best adventure outfitters in America...and they can provide a Fourth of July adventure like few other places. Encompassing 1,500 acres of lake and forest, it's the East Coast's largest mountain hideaway exclusively focused on world-class whitewater rafting (on the thunderous rapids of the New River and the Gauley River). In addition, the resort also offers guided adventures, outdoor sports and activities, lodging, camping and other amenities. It's located in Minden, West Virginia, adjacent to the New River Gorge National River, often called "Grand Canyon of the East." Needless to say, the views - from pretty much anywhere you stand - are spectacular. Lodging choices range from rustic to deluxe. And the resort just finished a dramatic upgrade of the facilities.
#4 - FREDERICKSBURG, TEXAS - What better place to spend the quintessential American holiday than a place which exemplified the quintessential emigrant tradition? Fredericksburg, in the beautiful Texas Hill County, was settled by German emigrants in the mid-1800's, and the street names, store-names, architecture and restaurants here still reflect the German tradition. Walking into the unique shops is like walking back in time. There are attractions such as President Lyndon Johnson's home; Street Dreams Texas, filled with classic cars you can take home(!); award-winning wineries such as Pedernales Cellars; first-class museums and galleries; and a cave from which 3,000,000 bats fly out every night at sunset, darkening the skies, and creating wind with their flapping wings. And this town knows how to do the Fourth of July, with events such as Art Walks, outdoor theater performances, concerts, special ceremonies at historic sites, and wine tastings.
#3 - SEA ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA - If you enjoy a taste of quiet island luxury in a serene hideaway, Sea Island is your spot! Its different resorts are among the biggest award-winners in America. Spots such as The Cloister at Sea Island, The Lodge at Sea Island, The Cottages at Sea Island, and The Spa at Sea Island are surrounded by a beautiful natural wonderland, offering an abundance of recreational experiences. The Georgian Room restaurant is one of the best in the South. Located on the southeastern coast of Georgia, Sea Island features five miles of private beach, a Beach Club, tennis and squash centers, Yacht Club, Shooting School, and Camp Cloister. Sea Island is known as a family resort...so much so that there are some families whose different generations have been coming here since 1928. But it's also among the great golf resorts in the country, with three championship courses, including Seaside and Plantation, home of the PGA Tour's RSM Classic, as well as a standout Golf Performance Center.
#2 - WESTERN PLEASURE GUEST RANCH, SANDPOINT, IDAHO - Tucked into a corner of northern Idaho, only 40 miles from the Canadian border, is the beautiful little town of Sandpoint, and, right outside of it, a piece of the Old West that still lives. Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, now with the fifth generation of the founding family living on it, is a family place where everyone gets to play cowboy or cowgirl. Janice Schoonover, whose grandfather founded the ranch in the 1940's, runs it with her husband Rollie. And, to the Schoonovers, their guests are family. Your horseback rides, guided by real wranglers, will take you on trails through the scenic Selkirk Mountains, looking across into Montana's Cabinet range. There's a small herd of cattle here, and you might be able to see them...or even herd them! There are six rooms in the Grand Lodge, which has one of the most beautiful Great Rooms you'll see in the West, and four authentic cabins with spectacular views and genuine artifacts. And there's a good chance that, while you're here, the Schoonovers will light up a firepit and a grill outside and serve up some real cowboy food, and then get out the guitars and harmonicas and have a foot-stompin' sing-along.
And now, my No. 1 choice for where to spend this year's Fourth of July...
#1 - NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE! - In "Music City," they know how to throw a pretty good party any time of year. But this vibrant, colorful, eclectic city really throws a blowout on the Fourth! Nashville's "Let Freedom Ring" celebration takes the party - which happens pretty much every night along Broadway and the colorful honky-tonks lining it, anyway - to a new level. This is one of America's biggest Independence Day parties, with music (of course!), food, fireworks and fun. And it's all free. The party actually starts the night before, with Country-Music star Brandy Clark headlining the festivities, which will also include well-known performers and a night-before fireworks preview. The live music concerts will be performed all through the Fourth, at Ascend Amphitheater's Jack Daniel's Stage and The Green at Riverfront Park's Music City Stage. Sheryl Crow - one of a galaxy of stars who call Nashville home - will be headlining, and there will also be performances by musical acts ranging from classic Country to the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. The festivities will culminate in a "seriously over-the-top fireworks show," along with a soundtrack of an original medley of songs performed by the Grammy-Award-winning Nashville Symphony and synchronized to the fireworks. And the younger set will be entertained throughout the day at The McDonald's Family Fun Zone, with giant inflatables, games and live music. Even for Nashville...this will be a GREAT party!
Well, those are my picks for the Top 5 places to spend the Fourth of July this year. What are yours? We'd love to hear some of your favorites!