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The best Southern California Fourth of July fun – how we saw fireworks for three hours

In many parts of Southern California, fireworks are illegal. When I was a kid I remember us playing with fireworks in the street for hours at our grandparents' houses after shopping at the Red Devil fireworks booths on every corner of town. When we moved to the High Desert, no one was really selling fireworks and we had a dirt road, not a street. Everyone in town would pay to attend the fireworks show at our local high school. Some years we'd just set up lawn chairs in our front yard and watch the fireworks since the school was only two miles from our house, and uphill, so it was easy to see everything from our front yard, literally. Since fireworks were made illegal in our area due to high fire danger, we started to accept that Fourth of July meant going to someone else's house in an area where fireworks were allowed or paying to go to a fireworks show in a  stadium or other sports venue. This fireworks tradition always kind of bummed me out because my kids didn't have the same kind of fond 4th of July memories I had while growing up. Little did we know that this year we would be having the best Southern California Fourth of July ever with a three hour fireworks show. A new 4th of July tradition has been born.

On Friday I got the bright idea to go to the beach on the Fourth of July. I don't like crowds, I don't like traffic, I like to get places early, and I don't like the heat so this idea was kind of doomed from the start as we left the house at noon on the Fourth of July. I went online to look at beaches that had fireworks and the results were disappointing. Redondo Beach was supposed to have the best fireworks show but online sales ended at 11am and I was looking at the site at 11:05 plus they had multiple ominous warnings about the tricky parking situation on their site. I didn't want to go to a beach that was too easy to get to because everyone else would be there too. Every beach was going to be over a 2 hour drive with traffic.  We decided on Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades, a beach I have never been to, at the end of the 10 freeway and north a bit on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). I figured we could work our way north if the beach was too crowded and work our way south if we wanted a beach with more amenities or fireworks.

The drive down was really pleasant and fun – all the kids were laughing in the car, we listened to music, and there wasn't much traffic. We finally hit traffic at the very end of the 10 freeway where it merges into PCH. Buckle up and prepare to drive slow, be cut off, and just exercise the patience of a saint while on PCH. We made a bathroom break at a gas station and Taco Bell across the street at Gladstone's and then headed down to park. Because PCH is so congested, the easiest way to get in the parking lot for Gladstone's was to turn right (east) onto Sunset Blvd off PCH, make a U-turn and then cross PCH into the Gladstone's parking lot.

Will Rogers State Beach

The Will Rogers State Beach extends north and south of the Gladstone's restaurant along the west side of PCH. You can park at the official State beach parking lot south of Gladstone's for $14 for the day or to the north of Gladstone's and use a pay machine to pay (I didn't see how much it was). We parked at Gladstone's, which offers valet parking for $7 if you eat at the restaurant or $11 for the day if you go to the beach. This was the way to go! We pulled to the curb, unloaded our stuff right at the beach, and then the valet took our car and parked it. It took only about 3 minutes to get our car at the end of the day. With tip, it did cost us $14 but it was nice to get the valet service.

4th of July Will Rogers State Beach JPriest Sitting on Beach

The weather was amazing! It was about 80° F with a nice breeze. The sand was broiling hot as we took our stuff down to the beach but once we got set up and in the water, it was great! The beach had a lot of people on it but since the distance between the water and PCH was maybe 30 feet, everyone was relatively close to the water. There was a mix of families and all ages of people there. A wedding party of about 50 people was next to us and they asked me to take their photo. They kinda lucked out because I kind of know how to take photos, just a little bit. They offered me vodka as payment but I was driving so I took a pass. While my whole family was in the water, I read my ebook, sat on the cooler, and got snacks for the kids as they went back and forth from the blankets to the water. My niece and Xaver built sand castles while Katie, Matt, and my nephew played in the water. The kids tried to bury Xaver in the sand. Later in the day, my niece took a nap under the umbrella we brought.

Living the life: beach + sand castles + burying your uncle. What's your fave beach thing to do: build sand castles or bury each other in the sand? #beach #malibu #familytime

After about 3.5 hours on the beach, we packed up to look for a new place to go and maybe see some fireworks. There are public bathrooms with outdoor showers at the north and south ends of the beach. We walked to the bathroom at the north end of the beach to get changed and rinse the sand from our feet. Xaver brought baby powder which also helps remove the sand from your body but only if you are not soaking wet. This beach had some unsavory characters hanging out by bathrooms. I would definitely recommend an adult take the kids to the bathroom and stay with them for safety reasons. There were also several tents set up in the ice plant at the edge of the beach and PCH where homeless were living. The homeless people behind us were taking the plastic bottles and cans from the trash and were quiet and polite. Just know going in that there will be homeless at this beach but for the most part, they really kept to themselves.

4th of July Will Rogers State Beach JPriest

We decided against eating at Gladstone's because the Yelp reviews were all over the place and the menu items were all pretty pricey, about $17 per entree. We also were super sandy from the beach and there were ladies with fancy hats going inside so we were definitely under-dressed. We drove back down PCH into Santa Monica and got lunch/dinner at Urth Caffe, a yummy eatery along Main Street. We thought about going to the Santa Monica pier to watch the fireworks but from PCH we could see that it was insanely crowded and overloaded. We decided to head back home.

Free fireworks, provided by the residents of Southern California

By the time we reached East Los Angeles, people had started setting off fireworks. These are all illegal fireworks brought up from Mexico or out of state as none of the in-state fireworks for sale are the kind that shoot up into the air. We have a really bad drought and high fire danger so you need a special permit to use fireworks that shoot into the sky and I am 99% sure none of these people had permits. That said, it was really fun to look for the fireworks going off all around us as we went from valley to valley on the way home. Some of the fireworks were in the hills, some next to the freeway, some directly overhead. Some shot up way high in the sky and others were low, just above rooftops. About an hour later, all of the stadium and city fireworks shows started. At some point on the freeway, the view across the Inland Empire was incredible as fireworks were going off as far to the left and as far to the right as you could see.

Fireworks in Fontana

We stopped in Fontana for a bathroom break and to get a snack and the fireworks continued, all around us. It's really hard to photograph fireworks but I did catch this one in Fontana, over the Taco Bell. There was no fireworks action at all in the Cajon Pass which I am thankful for since a fire in the Pass is really bad news. Once we got over the summit, the fireworks continued in the Victor Valley and Apply valley, but not to the degree that they were going “down the hill” in Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire. I think people up here understand the fire danger for the most and refrain from bringing too many illegal fireworks. Someone down the street started setting off illegal fireworks and we all sat outside and watched them – partially for the fireworks and partially to make sure they did not set the desert behind our houses on fire.  The fireworks we saw went on for over three hours!

We formed a new tradition for Fourth of July. Spend the day at the beach, get a nice bite to eat, then drive home after 7:30 pm and watch the fireworks all the way back. It was really fun! This is how traditions are made – try and try and try things until something sticks.

What is your Fourth of July holiday tradition?

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Jennifer Signature Block-JUST JP May 2015

Please note: I know this isn't a traditional fireworks show with permits and safety precautions. Ideally, I would love if people did not put themselves and others at risk by setting off illegal fireworks. The fire danger is so great and so severe that it makes for a tough time to celebrate 4th of July here in California. However, my watching or not watching doesn't affect the people setting off the illegal fireworks – they are going to do it anyways. There are so many going off at a time, there is no way that the police or fire departments could keep up with policing it. In spite of the illegal fireworks, we could see the fireworks shows from the Quakes stadium, the local cities, Maverick's Stadium, Spring Valley Lake, the Town of Apple Valley, San Bernardino, and more while driving just as well. The roads were not crowded at all and we felt really safe and relaxed during our drive home, much safer than if I were leaving some stadium at 9:30pm with potentially drunk drivers. I don't want to get into a debate about fire danger or anything like that in this post but I do want you to know that I am aware of the dangers of illegal fireworks and wish that people would refrain from using them.


About the Author

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Jennifer Priest is a 20+ year designer in the arts & crafts industry and home DIYer with a passion for creativity. An Army veteran raised on a ranch, from her experience, she shares smart DIY projects that save money and fun craft ideas that anyone can make. Besides blogging, Jennifer is a Master Practitioner and Trainer of NLP, Hypnosis, and MER, and coaches other online entrepreneurs on money mindset, business, and living an intentional life. When not blogging, Jennifer is having adventures in the wilderness, on road trips, playing with her cats, and making paleo food.

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  1. That sounds like a nice day and a great start to a new tradition! We don’t typically have a tradition as sometimes we are on vacation in NC on the 4th. If we are in town, we will watch the local fireworks show the city puts on the 3rd. I found out that it is less expensive for the city ($25K) but they get more bang for the buck as it is not a holiday. The same family run company has been doing it for many years. Our show is free, and I have never paid to see fireworks in Florida (except in Disney World with park admission). This year we watched from our friend’s dock, right on the lake. The show was beautiful! There was a breeze coming off the lake and I had a jacket on in JULY in Florida! Last year we went to a friend’s house south of Daytona Beach and saw fireworks shows for 6 different cities from his boat house deck up above the Intracoastal Waterway. It was spectacular!
    I look forward to hearing about your 4th of July next year!

    1. That sounds wonderful Gina! Some of our local cities don’t charge but the shows are really small.

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