4th of July is one of my family's favorite holidays. As a military family, we are pretty patriotic to begin with, but throw in warm weather, a break from school, and fireworks, and as far as fun holidays go, the 4th of July can't be beat. We're a social bunch so we love to celebrate holidays with as many of our friends and family as possible so we always host a huge party for all ages on Independence Day. Since some of our guests travel many miles to join us, we like to plan plenty of activities to keep our beloved guests of all ages occupied for several hours. Today I'm sharing some of our favorite 4th of July party activities to help you plan your next Independence Day event.
4th of July Party Activities
When most people think about the 4th of July, they think of fireworks. Knowing this, we always spend the bulk of our party budget on fireworks. We buy a big variety to make sure everyone in our diverse audience (from infants to senior citizens) is entertained. Make sure you know which fireworks are legal in your state if you want to avoid having the police show up in the middle of your party. Even in strict states, you are usually allowed crowd favorites like:
If you're worried about fireworks around young children, you can still make an impact with safer alternatives like:
Sports & Games
What makes a party fun is spending time socializing with others. So, when we get the chance to entertain outdoors, we try to incorporate a lot of team sports that make it easy for our guests to interact with one another. We always set up a volleyball net.
We also set up a badminton net since it's easier for those who want a less rigorous alternative to volleyball.
And since we stocked up on old tires and cement to create our mobile volleyball and badminton nets, we went ahead and created a mobile tetherball pole too (of course, you can always just buy one like this tetherball set). My husband had fond childhood memories of playing tetherball at recess. I scoffed because I remember being horrible at it. Guess what. Decades later, I'm still horrible, but it's a simple game and each person can scale the difficulty of the game by amping their personal effort up or down.
Another favorite game at our parties is KanJam. I honestly thought my husband was pulling my leg when he first explained the game to me, but it really is a game and it's now one of my personal favorites since unlike our other games, it's lightweight.
Other games that work well as a 4th of July party activity (if you have the space) are:
- Flag Football
Sometimes it can be hard to get all of your guests to join in one of the games you've set up. That's why I'm a big fan of hosting a tournament. To make everyone comfortable, we choose a game no one is typically great at (e.g. cornhole).
This isn't a sport that most people practice on a regular basis, so typically there are no “pro” players. The next thing we do is randomly pair teams and prohibit family members from being on the same team. This randomization has two effects: 1) It takes the pressure off of participants since skill, age, stature, etc. have nothing to do with how team members are selected, and 2) It forces our guests to socialize with one another since we pry them away from their family members (i.e. their safety net).
Also, to keep things lighthearted, I provide a prize that is part reward, part humor so that participants understand the low level of competition involved. Here is this year's prize:
Did you get it? It's “corn” (corn cobs and pocorn) and “holes” (donut holes) because it's a “cornhole” tournament prize! I know, it's “corny” but I just couldn't help myself! Okay, okay, I'll stop now.
If you want to offer consolation prizes to the other participants, Organized 31 created these adorable 4th of July treats for kids that using packs of Twizzlers to make firecrackers that I think would work great!
No matter how low-key your events are, you might have a few guests who simply don't want to participate. Find ways for wallflowers to participate in ways that are more comfortable and still facilitate socialization.
- Ask one of them to keep score or keep the tournament bracket updated.
- Consider setting up a gaming table where guests can play card games, dice games, or board games so less active guests can still have fun.
- Set up plenty of spectator seating so those who don't want to play can cheer on participants.
Aside from the sports and games activities, you need to plan some other important details.
Early July is hot and sunny almost everywhere so make sure you have a good shade plan. We installed a huge mesh canopy over our patio.
We also set up canopy tents near the outdoor games so participants could stand in the shade while waiting for their turn.
Pro Tip: Stock up on sunscreen and place it in easily seen areas to remind and encourage guests to reapply throughout the day.
It's not enough to keep guests shaded, on hot summer days you'll also want to make sure guests stay hydrated. I plan for 8 ounces of water per hour per person. You can keep coolers full of bottled water readily accessible or stage 5-gallon cooler/dispenser on table tops with disposable cups.
If you're planning an all day event or a full afternoon and evening, you need to provide plenty of outdoor seating. We always incorporate a barbecue and potluck, so we settled on picnic tables. We made 7 for under $300 but if you don't want to make them yourself, you can buy sturdy 6′ picnic tables for under $200 each – WAY cheaper than patio furniture sets that seat the same number of people.
You can also ask guests to bring their camping chairs or you can rent folding chairs from a local party rental store.
You might have noticed the tin pails on each table in the picture above. Those are citronella candles to help keep mosquitoes from eating my guests while they eat their dinner. If you look closely, you might also see tiki torches lining the patio and our volleyball and badminton courts. I also use a lot of natural insect repellents.
Our bigger problem at our outdoor parties is flies! To keep flies away from the buffet, we hang fly traps from the awning and position an oscillating fan near the food table.
Do yourself, your guests, and your neighbors a favor and make a parking plan before the invitations go out. If there are designated guest parking spots in your community, make sure to communicate their location to your guests on the invitation. Give your neighbors a heads-up so that they will be expecting a lot of cars lining the street on party day. Move your own vehicles a block or two away to free up space in your driveway and to make it easy for you to get out to pick up emergency provisions (if needed) during the party.
No matter how well you prepare your outdoor space, your guests will need to head indoors for a variety of reasons (e.g. to use the bathroom, to cool off, to rinse off a child's sticky hands). If you want to limit indoor access, make sure to close doors to rooms you want to remain off limits. Also, be sure to stock items guests will likely need in obvious places to keep them from wandering the house or opening all your cabinets and drawers in search of things. For example:
- Keep extra rolls of toilet paper stacked neatly in the restroom
- Keep paper towel rolls on the kitchen counter
- Have towels or rags draped over a chair near the door leading in and out of the house
- Keep a first aid kit outside on a table so guests can easily tend to minor cuts or scrapes
If you are hosting a potluck, some guests might bring dishes in slow cookers. Set up a power strip on the food table where they can plug in their crockpots to keep the dishes heated.
If you are setting up fans to help keep flies away from the food and/or to keep guests cool, be sure to position them so that guests won't trip on the power cords.
Also, you'll probably want to set up a stereo, radio or bluetooth speaker system to provide background music. Make sure you've planned a place to position it that not only broadcasts the sound well, but that is also close to a power source and free from the risk of accidental spills or drops.
Speaking of music, I'm a huge fan of using prepared playlists that I can set and forget. Both Pandora and Spotify have “4th of July” playlists full of family-friendly, patriotic tunes.
To free me up to set up all of the activities, for our parties I always provide all of the drinks as well as burgers, hot dogs, buns, and condiments. This way I don't have to do any meal prep ahead of time. I ask my guests to bring their favorite appetizer, side dish, or dessert. Another benefit of going potluck is that clean-up after the event is a breeze since your guests take most of the dirty dishes home with them.
If I make anything, I stick with fruit and veggies so that I know there will be at least one healthy snack available and because I won't feel guilty eating up all the leftovers the next day. This patriotic fruit platter with pineapple fruit dip adds patriotic flair to the buffet table and is a refreshing snack too.
This watermelon pizza is also a fun one for the kids.
More 4th of July Ideas
If you're looking for even more ideas to make Independence Day extra special, you might want to check out some of these 4th of July posts I've shared in the past.
Want to skip the elaborate task of hosting a huge party? Have your friends meet you at a local park for a 4th of July picnic before the fireworks show. I share all of my tips for enjoying an Independence Day picnic in The Essential Guide to a Stress-Free 4th of July Picnic.
Also, check out my favorite 4th of July Family Activities. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the day as a family that are fun for everyone.