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Travel Article

Where to Watch Seattle's 4th of July Fireworks

by Anne Maxwell, Author
"An Aussie in America"

In anticipation of 4th of July celebrations, folks in the Pacific Northwest, especially on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, watch the skies with a little more consternation than is usual for most other parts of the US. Fireworks are a big part of American Independence Day celebrations. If cloud cover is low, you will be treated only to the sight of clouds glowing in strange colors. High cloud cover is okay, and clear skies, of course, are ideal.

Strategic planning goes into which fireworks display to watch as two are offered in Seattle and several more can be found throughout the Puget Sound area. You also will want to give attention to the best vantage point from which to see your chosen display. Once you have made your choices you can plan the day's activity around the wealth of daytime festivities that are offered in the area.

Our choice on this 4th of July was to visit Bainbridge Island, a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. The outing provided delightful daytime activity and a memorable nighttime vantage point for watching one of Seattle's two annual fireworks displays. We thought we were rather clever to have noticed a 9:50 p.m. departure from the island on the ferry schedule, a departure that provided unexpected good timing for the 10.00 p.m. fireworks off Seattle's Myrtle Edwards Park. The first sign we were not the only ones to notice such fortuitous timing was when we overheard another couple likewise dallying over their evening meal at a Winslow waterfront cafe. We figured we were leaving ourselves plenty of time to get to the ferry terminal three quarters of an hour early. We were. However, we discovered many others had the same plan. There were dozens of people before us, and many more came in behind by departure time. We heard one woman laughing about the way she had deliberately missed the previous ferry. It was very amusing to see what was no doubt an unusual crowd for a ferry at this time of night. It seemed like half of Bainbridge suddenly had a need to get to Seattle.

The evening was perfect. Only a few scattered clouds, a light breeze and a tolerable temperature for being on deck. Local "appetizer" fireworks set off from private properties along the shore, encouraged the mood of excited anticipation of the coming Seattle fireworks display. When our ferry the "Tacoma" finally pulled from shore, it seemed like we were being given a hearty "bon voyage".

(I must point out that it is illegal in Washington to set off fireworks without a permit, except on Indian reservations, where they are also sold. In the Northwest, so many reservations are in close proximity to urban centers that gun powder explosions are heard from well before sundown all over the place. I had to have a chuckle every time I thought of how national exuberance overfloweth the realm of the law for this one day of the year.)

If you hear that the ferry is not to be used for watching fireworks, I would beg to differ. It can and is, but with the qualification that your viewing might be cut short, as you must disembark in the usual prompt manner upon arrival. An announcement to this effect was made over the address system a number of times. I will quietly point out that the ferry seemed to go a lot slower than usual, once the show began. Our fellow passengers certainly regarded the ferry as a legitimate vantage point. They went without hesitation to hang over the rails on the port (left) side of the ship. The common joke was about how the ferry was listing on this side. Should you choose the port side of the Bainbridge Island ferry for your vantage point, I recommend you have a woolen beanie as the wind is a chill one, although it hardly dampened our excitement. This night, the music and dancing of a Jewish wedding party contributed to the festive atmosphere onboard.

seattle fireworksFifteen minutes into the thirty-minute trip the clock ticked past ten p.m. We began to worry about our timing as the glittering lights of Seattle drew closer without a murmur from Elliot Bay. We could make out dozens of small boats sitting expectantly in the water. Then the show began, and we had a clear view across the water. Our vantage point was too far away to be dazzled by the light and boom, which some folks like, but it drew many "oohs and aahs" from our crowd. The Seattle shoreline is a lovely setting for fireworks, and we could see the colors reflected on skyscrapers. It was fun to watch the waves of twinkling camera flashes along the shoreline that appeared as a like response in light to the main event. We could also see some of the Lake Union fireworks as they appeared over the hill. The Myrtle Edwards fireworks continued for a good fifteen minutes after we were off the ferry. For this reason there might be some advantage to being a foot passenger, and continuing to watch them from the terminal.

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