Barbecues and firework shows are pinnacles of July 4th, but this year there are plenty of alternative celebrations for history buffs, music lovers, and those looking to escape the crowds. From a traditional parade in a quiet Staten Island community to concerts at a drive-in to tours of abandoned Ellis Island, there are many off-the-beaten-path activities to partake in this year. Here are some of our Untapped picks for alternative ways to celebrate Independence Day!
1. 9/11 Memorial Tour
Thousands of visitors have gone on walking tours of the National September 11th Memorial since it opened in 2011, but few have experienced what this unique 9/11 Memorial tour has to offer. The tour was created by Ed Welter, a licensed NYC sightseeing guide and owner of a construction management company for 34 years. Along with longtime friend Lisa Kleist, he developed the concept of using the original World Trade Center blueprints, and the numbered memorial panels that surround the memorial pools, to identify architectural features and events that took place on September 11th, 2001. Welter has also been heavily involved with supporting the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers, which builds smart homes for catastrophically injured servicemen and women among their many charitable programs. For every ticket sold, $1 will be donated to The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
The tour is co-led by Kleist, a licensed New York City sightseeing guide who has lived in New York City since the 1970s. She witnessed the building of the original World Trade Center and visited both the Observatory and Windows on the World. She has also observed the evolution of the neighborhood around the WTC. She has given tours of the Woolworth Building Lobby and the Samuel Tilden mansion, now the National Arts Club. Get tickets here!
2. Watch fireworks from the Honorable William Wall
The Honorable William Wall (aka the “Willy Wall”) is the floating clubhouse of the Manhattan Yacht Club. Willy Wall is anchored in New York Harbor just near Ellis Island with incredible views of downtown Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. The clubhouse was designed specifically for taking in sailboat races with a viewing platform and barge. The Willy Wall is accessed from the Admiral’s Launch, a United States Coast Guard-certified vintage motorboat from Liberty Harbor Marina in Jersey City. The Honorable William Wall was an entrepreneur who founded the Wall Rope Works, the premium supplier of cordage to the shipping industry. He also served as Mayor of Williamsburg, head of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and a Civil War-era United States Congressman.
The first level of the William Wall is the formal clubhouse, featuring a wood-beamed space outfitted with club chairs and a built-in bar. Some memorabilia of the club’s history and a small library, including a letter from the Yacht Club of Monaco designating the Manhattan Sailing Club as the first ambassador of the Spirit of Tuiga Club, sit on the first level. The open-air top level includes a central bar, that expands the clubhouse capacity to 149 people. Guests are allowed to bring picnic lunches and dinner, though all drinks must be purchased on board. Get tickets here!
3. Attend the Independence Day Celebration at Historic Richmond Town
Before watching fireworks or attending a rooftop party, stop by Historic Richmond Town‘s Independence Day Celebration from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Staten Island celebration will include a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a patriotic pinwheel parade, and home-churned ice cream. At the Guyon-Lake-Tysen farmhouse, costumed interpreters will meet you for a walk around the living history village.
While there, make your own flags and Victorian paper pinwheels, learn about the period tools used to make 18th-century household necessities, visit the Historical Museum, and meet John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Visitors can also sign an oversized Declaration of Independence with a quill and ink and can churn their own ice cream using old-fashioned methods. The Unexcelled Firework Company will also give a demonstration about the Science Behind Fireworks. Tickets will be $15 per person and free for members.
4. Ellis Island Hard Hat Tour
The now-abandoned Ellis Island Hospital complex was once the United States medical care standard for immigrants hoping to settle in America. The hospital was later transformed into a U.S. Coast Guard base and FBI detention center, but it has been left to decay for nearly 60 years. Untapped New York partnered with Save Ellis Island to create an exclusive behind-the-scenes hard hat tour of the abandoned hospital. As they walk in the footsteps of the immigrants who passed through the complex over a century ago, tourists visit the laundry building, contagious disease wards, autopsy rooms, staff house, and many other historic structures. Pasted on the walls are several life-size photographs of immigrants as part of JR’s exhibition “Unframed – Ellis Island.”
The 29-building South Side hospital complex is hidden in plain sight, just to the left of the Great Hall. Looking at its desolate, skeletal frame, it is difficult to imagine its backstory as one of the largest public health undertakings in American history. The tour will be guided by a Save Ellis Island docent. Save Ellis Island is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise the funds needed to rehabilitate and repurpose the historic buildings. Get tickets here!
5. Transit Tours of Grand Central Terminal
Discover the many secrets of Grand Central Terminal, which pulls in nearly a million people a day yet has some odd stories and secrets few know about. On this unique walking tour, you will discover the origins and history of this Beaux-Arts train station. These include a major design flaw in Grand Central‘s atrium, a hidden tennis court, a movie theater, and hidden symbols of the family who built the station.
Whether you pass through it every day on your morning commute or stroll through Grand Central for the first time, you are sure to leave having learned, seen, and experienced something new and extraordinary. Get tickets here!
6. Edge’s City Climb
Adventure seekers have the chance to view July 4th fireworks from a completely unobstructed perspective at Edge’s City Climb, the highest open-air building ascent in the world. At Edge’s 4th of July Celebration, guests can watch the city’s and New Jersey’s fireworks from 1,200 feet above the ground from 7:00 p.m. until midnight.
Each ticket will include two beverages, including champagne for guests 21 years and older, as well as unlimited popcorn. The evening will feature a performance by Latin Grammy-winning trumpeter Spencer Ludwig. The 4th of July Celebration at Edge tickets now cost $185, down from $250 originally.
7. Fireworks and fun at Coney Island
Everyone knows Coney Island on the Fourth of July for its Hot Dog Eating Contest, which has been a landmark New York event for over a century. While you can try to catch a glimpse of the competition, there are plenty of other activities to do on July Fourth on Coney Island. For one, Coney Island offers fireworks presented by the Alliance for Coney Island every Friday night until August 25, as well as on July Fourth. Luna Park will offer top-notch views of the fireworks, as will Deno’s Wonder Wheel. Coney’s Cones, a spot to buy Coney Island custard, has also launched new bubble waffle cones this year, and many shops and dining options will be featuring July Fourth favorites.
In addition, Coney Art Walls will be the site of a day party with live music and performances from 3 p.m. until midnight. A rotation of DJs will be spinning throughout the day, including DJ Spade and DJ Chase B with headliner Meek Mill. The event will be 18+, and tickets begin at $39. While you are there, check out some of Coney Island’s secrets and history (to avoid the likely huge crowds).
8. Parades across the city
This year, take a step back in American history and celebrate Independence Day at a parade in Lower Manhattan similar to those held immediately following the British military’s evacuation in 1783. Several of the oldest and most respected historical and military organizations tied to the neighborhood formed the Lower Manhattan Historical Association in 2014 to revive the patriotic traditions forgotten about since the 1970s, On July 3, 2015, the Association organized and lead its first Lower Manhattan Independence Day Parade revival, which has continued until this year. At 12 p.m., attend the July 4th Parade at Castle Clinton, which stands near where Fort Amsterdam was built in 1626.
Alternatively, attend the 112th annual Fourth of July Parade in Travis on Staten Island, one of the city’s lesser-known but long-standing traditions on the holiday. At Independence Park, join many locals in a walk along Independence Way, which got its name in 2004. During the American Revolution, 9,000 British and Loyalist troops landed on Staten Island, and one contingent of Loyalist troops was camped in Travis. On August 22, 1777, a major skirmish was fought on Staten Island between General George Washington’s Patriots and General William Howe’s Loyalists.
9. Transit Tours of the Subway
Alternatively, explore the world’s largest subway system, the beating heart of the city that never sleeps. On this guided New York underground subway walking tour, you will discover the fascinating beginnings of the New York City subway and explore spaces even the most seasoned commuter might not know about. The tour will discuss the story of the very first subway which was built illegally under the cover of night.
Using the 6 train as our own ten-car time machine, ride through and see abandoned stations that riders unknowingly pass by every day, including the famed City Hall Station. Also learn about the “Subway before the Subway,” Alfred Ely Beach’s Pneumatic Transit System. All the stops on this tour are in stations that are publicly accessible. Buy tickets here!
10. Fourth of July on the Waterfront at Skyline Drive-In
Meraki Presents, Vantage Point Hospitality, and BK Venues have partnered up to create Fourth of July on the Waterfront at Skyline Drive-In. After last year’s inaugural event, this year’s event will include a larger stage with more bars and food options. Food vendors will include Yankee Doodle Dandy, El Toro Rojo, Island Spice Grill, Health Station, Butchery & Beyond, and Mister Softee. The headliner will be GoldFish, with an all-day takeover by Deep Root Records.
The event will feature a carnival-like setup with inflatable furniture and provide viewers with fantastic views of the waterfront fireworks, according to event organizers. The Drive-In is accessible by subway or ferry, and the event will last from 1 p.m. until midnight. While you are there, visit the Greenpoint Terminal Market nearby.
Next, check out 11 Revolutionary War Sites Across NYC!