Braving the Southern California coast on the Fourth of July holiday can be madness, with hundreds of thousands of beachgoers flocking to the sand.
Traffic leading into coastal communities will be jam-packed, parking will be tough and crowds on the beach will be huge.
But by the end of the night, as you watch the sky illuminate over the reflection of the dark ocean – it all will be worth it.
Hopefully, we can make your holiday a bit easier with some tips on navigating the trip; ideas on the best places to watch from the sand and piers; suggestions for viewing from boats; and other helpful information such as parking tips and the best places to party.
Note that most fireworks shows start at, or around, 9 p.m.
Leave early, bring extra cash
Expect to spend more cash than on regular beach days for holiday rates at some parking structures and at State Beaches, where the normal $15-a-day pass spikes to $25 for some beachfront lots. Parking at Newport Dunes is a whopping $50 for the day, $100 to reserve a spot for a big bash being thrown there.
Some lots, such as those at Huntington City Beach, will open up at 5 a.m. for the early-risers hoping to score prime spots. And even at sunrise, those get gobbled up fast. Wait until mid-day to hit the coast and you’ll be stuck in long lines of drivers hoping for people to leave their spaces — though most won’t, of course. They’ll be hanging around all day for the fireworks shows.
You could always try to snag a meter, so bring quarters because not all meters accept cards. And be aware of time limits.
Bonus tip: If your coastal community offers a shuttle to the beach, take it. It will be cheaper and you can avoid the headache of trying to find a spot. Or consider taking an Uber or Lyft that can drop you off near your destination.
Wild and mild parties
Where’s the best place to party on the Fourth?
Historically, Hermosa Beach and West Newport have drawn the wilder revelers, who enjoy bar hopping and strolling around the people-watching scenes. Of course, as more alcohol flows, the crazier it can get.
Be warned that Newport Beach fines triple for violations in West Newport, a way the city has tried to curb naughty behavior in the last decade.
Enjoy a full day leading up to the Redondo Beach fireworks at Seaside Lagoon with a more family-friendly community event. Tickets are $25 adults, $15 children. Seating is first-come, first-served — so arrive early with your beach blankets, chairs and small umbrellas. You can spend the day swimming and doing arts and crafts. There will be a special menu available from Ruby’s Diner, though you could bring your own food and beverages. No booze allowed, however.
Huntington Beach’s annual parade, in its 115th year, likewise is a fun gathering for the family. The theme this year is “Sweet Land of Liberty.” The parade steps off from Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway and heads north to Yorktown Avenue and Main Street. It starts at 10 a.m. and wraps up by noon.
You might as well get a workout in while you wait. Join the Surf City 5K Run and Sports Expo that kicks off at 7 a.m. from Worthy Park at 17th and Main streets. Then, you’ve earned your pancake breakfast at nearby Lake Park, 11th and Main streets, hosted by Kiwanis from 7 to 10 a.m.
While the afternoon gets wild in West Newport, the city — in an attempt to curb the perception it’s the place to party on the Fourth — a few years back started the Newport Peninsula Bike Parade and Community Festival. It begins at 9 a.m. There’s also the American Legion’s Old Glory Boat Parade at 1 p.m. on the water.
Newport Dunes has an all-day event that’s a bit off the ocean called “Independence Day on the Bay” that starts at 2 p.m. and runs until 10:30 p.m. There are tribute bands and a DJ, food trucks, a full bar, carnival rides and two water inflatables. Tickets are $60 for VIP seating, but also consider the increased parking fee mentioned above. The fireworks show is free to watch.
The Queen Mary in Long Beach has a fun gathering planned with its “All-American Summer,” with live entertainment, family games, arts and crafts, historic tours, carnival games and more on the decks of the ship. This year, Cunard Line’s namesake Queen Elizabeth will greet the Queen Mary in the harbor for a “Royal Rendezvous” before the fireworks show at 9 p.m. This reunion will mark the third time the sister ships have crossed paths since 1967.
The event sells out, so make sure you get tickets in advance. It starts at 3 p.m. and goes until 10 p.m. Children 3 and younger are free.
Shows from the sand
Fireworks can be seen all along the Southern California coast – but be warned that heavy marine layer can dampen the show if the fog rolls in.
But assuming the sky is clear the expansive view of fireworks over the sea — the vibrant colors reflecting off the ocean’s surface — more than makes up for the traffic, parking fee increases, and crowds.
For those in the Santa Monica Bay, Marina del Ray has a stellar show that can be seen by those on the north end of the South Bay.
A show in Redondo Beach from off a barge outside of King Harbor promises to be bigger and better than last year’s, after the city’s show on July 1, 2018 turned out to be a dud.
Huntington Beach has tons of sand space to throw down a towel, though you could nab a prime seat on the pier at 7 p.m. for $10.
Laguna Beach’s show is from Monument Point at Heisler Park by the ocean. Doheny State Beach is a prime spot to watch the show in Dana Point, and San Clemente Pier further south has its own show visible from the sand.
Watch aboard a boat
If you own a boat, you’re set. But if you don’t, there’s plenty of ways to watch from the water.
Dana Pride in the Dana Point Harbor will have a dinner cruise from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. that will serve up buffet-style dinner with smoked tri-tip, chicken breast, mac and cheese and more, with a cash bar. Cost is $89 for adults, $45 for children 5 to 12 and $10 for kids 4 and younger. You could skip the meal for a cheaper ride on various boats in the Harbor.
The Athena Yacht in Newport Harbor is throwing a “top-tier patriotic party cruise aboard one of the classiest vessels around,” its website reads. There will be a DJ, an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, and a bar on the boat. Tickets are $129.
Don’t forget to clean up
One of the biggest beach bummers after all the revelers have gone home is the mess left behind.
At Doheny State Beach, items ranging from shoes to entire barbecues traditionally can be found in the morning hours of July 5. While some volunteers come out to help, remember that if you’re headed to the beach, make sure to take away everything you brought in and even pick up a few more items you come across and toss them in the trash.
Surfrider Foundation and sandal maker REEF formed the Better Beach Alliance, and this week launched a social media campaign urging beachgoers to #RestoreYourShore by posting images of trash on July 5.
They have a set of trash art that beachgoers can recreate, post and for every entry REEF will donate $5 to Surfrider Foundation.
“When we beach recklessly, life in and out of the ocean suffers. Historically, July 5th has been known as the dirtiest beach day of the year in the United States, following Independence Day celebrations,” reads a Surfrider announcement.
“Here at the Surfrider Foundation, this day has long been known as ‘The Morning After,’ when volunteers remove incredible amounts of red and blue single-use plastic cups, food packaging waste, abandoned toys and clothing, fireworks and cigarette butts from beaches nationwide.”