1. Get there early. Real early. The parade may start at 10:30am, but Fourth fanatics know to mark their spot before the sun comes up. You can officially put your blankets, tents and chairs down as early as 5am. With road detours starting at 7am, your best bet is to get caffeinated and embrace your inner early bird. Just imagine it’s a majestic bald eagle.
2. Or be free and go late. They say freedom lies in being bold, but in this case you’re not just being audacious, you’re being strategic. The 2.5-mile parade takes about 90 minutes to wind its way to the end, which is by the Town Common on High Street. That means you can arrive after 10:30am, head to the finish line, politely squeeze yourself in to the crowded viewing area and not miss a grand ol’ thing.
3. Park the American way. Open-to-the-public parking lots are fair game (think supermarket and strip mall lots). If you can’t find a spot in a free lot, check the residential side roads. On-street parking is legit, as long as you’re not blocking a driveway or fire hydrant, or otherwise parking unlawfully. USA! USA! USA!
4. Wear all the right colors. Parade-goers proudly sport their best red, white and blue, and they do it from head to toe. From spray-painted hair and face paint to artistically manicured toes that would make Betsy Ross blush, there’s no such thing as too much patriotic flair today.
5. Pack a cooler. Then pack another. Depending on where you sit, the parade can run three or more hours. You’re going to need a ton of water, refreshments and food to keep you hydrated and fueled. All of the everyday rules apply about open container drinking today too, so Uncle Sam insists you keep it classy.
6. Bring your own shade. Bristol is known for its tree-lined streets, so you might get lucky with a shady seat. If not, be prepared with wide hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, an umbrella, a tent or any creative way to beat the sun’s heat. Bonus points if your gear has stars and stripes on it.
7. Leave your dogs at home. If you’ve read the first six tips, then you know it’s going to be a long, hot and exhausting day. Yet totally worth it! But not for your pets. The loud noises from cannons, shotguns and marching bands might frighten your four-legged companions. Do your duty and leave them in a cooled home.
8. Ditto for bikes. You are prohibited to ride a bike alongside the parade, which year after year leads to cyclists awkwardly walking their bikes down the route. And let’s be honest here, rudely blocking the glorious view for sidewalk spectators. Instead of raining on the parade, find a safe place to lock your bike up if you pedaled to Bristol from the East Bay Bike Path.
9. Bring cash... or pay the price. As prepared as you’ll be, there’s going to be something that catches your fancy along the route that you’ll want to purchase. Maybe it’s the cherry lemonade or the oversized Dora the Explorer inflatable on a stick. It will most certainly be the hot dogs. Street vendors deal only with cash, so a stop at the ATM is critical if you’re going to do any impulse buying.
10. Have a Yankee Doodle Dandy of a time. Getting to and staying at the parade is clearly a lot of work, but it pales in comparison to what the truly brave have done for our country. Let’s stand united and salute the people that have come before us and those that continue to fight for our independence. May the Fourth be with you today, and everyday!