This year, America turns 242 — and she's asking for a little more than just dinner and a movie. Luckily, Philadelphia knows how to throw a party. And you're on the guest list.
Wawa Welcome America has partnered with local vendors and historic sites to put together a week packed with free Independence Day activities for all age groups, leading up to the Fourth of July. Because it's unlikely you'll have time for all of them — although by all means, prove me wrong — here's a condensed list of the celebrations you absolutely can't miss. For more, visit welcomeamerica.com.
>> READ MORE: Where to find free food in Philly for July Fourth
Wawa Hoagie Day: Let me translate – free Wawa hoagies! This event will take place on the lawn of Independence Mall & the National Constitution Center (525 Arch St.) from noon to 2 p.m. and will feature a seven-ton Wawa hoagie. Guests can eat a slice while watching Philadelphia firefighters, police officers, and members of the Air and Army National Guard compete in a "Hoagies for Heroes" hoagie-eating contest. Come hungry, and leave your wallets at home.
Sand Sculpture Spectacular: This exhibit will take place in the Rotunda at the Shops at Liberty from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and feature a 40-ton, hand-carved sandcastle display to commemorate Parkway 100 – to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which officially opened to traffic in 1918. Beware, however: This exhibit is for look, not play. Make sure to warn your little ones before they start up a game of "bulldozer" on a sculpted replica of City Hall. And don't forget your cameras.
Free Museum Day at Penn Museum: No money, no problem — because free museum day grants you entrance to the Penn Museum (3260 South St.) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for absolutely no cost. View fantastic artifacts such as Penn Museum's 13-ton Sphinx and experience history hands-on. What's more: Free museum days are popping up throughout the Wawa Welcome America festival. Other free museum days include the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Sunday & Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and the Mutter Museum.
Schmidt's Commons Beer-BQ (followed by the movie E.T.): From 5 to 7 p.m. the Piazza at Schmidt's Commons (1001 N. Second St.) will be transformed into a family-friendly food-truck and craft-beer extravaganza. Then, from 7 to 11 p.m., E.T. the Extra Terrestrial will play on a big screen as part of the Philly @ the Movies series popping up around the city. Other free movies around the city include SING (5 to 7 p.m., Saturday, Convention Center, 1101 Arch St.) and Pitch Perfect (5 to 8 p.m., Monday, Xfinity Live!, 1100 Pattison Ave.). Click for free ticket download.
The Philly Ice Cream Scoop: Reading Terminal Market hosts from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., featuring 13 Philly ice cream vendors, ice cream-related games, and competitions throughout the day. Highlights include ice cream-eating contests, ice cream demos in the City Kitchen, live music, and special prices for select purchases.
"Pershing's Own" Concert and Fireworks: The U.S. Army Band, "Pershing's Own," will perform at Penn's Landing (101 S. Columbus Blvd.) from 8 to 9 p.m. Fireworks on the Delaware River waterfront will follow the music from 9:30 to 10 p.m. Watch from multiple viewing locations in the city, including Blue Cross RiverRink and One Liberty Observation Deck.
Orangetheory Freedom Fit Fest (and brunch!): If you're trying to shed a few pounds for the summer or to work up an appetite for a Fourth of July BBQ, head over to the Philadelphia Museum Art. This free, daylong boot camp is supported by the Army and runs from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The day begins with a Freedom 5K or a one-mile walk hosted by Philadelphia Runner and is followed by multiple fitness classes, yoga, dance fitness, and U.S. Army Boot Camp through the evening. Intimidated? Don't worry, you don't have to participate in every activity. Register for the classes and duck out for brunch on the Art Museum steps when you get tired.
Watch Rocky with Rocky: Philly @ the Movies will play Rocky at the Art Museum steps (2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway) from 7 to 11 p.m., beside the Rocky statue. The screening is free and outdoors – just bring your own blanket. Big Rocky fan? You can also participate in a Rocky look-a-like contest for a chance to win two up-front tickets to the Wawa Welcome America fireworks and concert on the Fourth of July. Professional boxers will judge contestants on costume, impression, and best Rocky quotes. Register on-site by 7 p.m. and sign an Agreement of Release Form.
PECO's Go 4th & Learn at Uncle Bobbie's Coffee and Books: Uncle Bobbie's Coffee and Books, a Germantown coffee shop owned by author, BET News host, and Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill, will hold kid-friendly educational programming from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lessons center on American history, literacy, fitness, health, and the arts and are structured for children between 6 and 12 – though all ages are invited to participate.
Red, White, and Blue Happy Hours: You can thank old Benjamin Franklin for this cheers-ing opportunity. Franklin is quoted saying, "Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy," and multiple bars and restaurants in the Philadelphia area will be offering happy hour specials from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sunday and Monday in his honor.
Kimmel Center's Broadway on Independence: Cast members from forthcoming Broadway Philadelphia productions will perform at Independence Hall (520 Chestnut St.) from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Performers come from the musicals Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Miss Saigon, Fiddler on the Roof, Cats, Anastasia, Love Never Dies, and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Block Party in Philadelphia's Historic District: Independence Mall's block party (Fifth & Sixth Streets between Chestnut & Market) will celebrate the reopening of the Bourse (111 S. Independence Mall E.) — an indoor marketplace with historic roots — from noon to 7 p.m. Food trucks will line Fifth and Sixth Streets and musicians will perform on the We the People Love Music Stage. Child-friendly educational activities— such as Revolutionary soldier dress-up — will be in a designated Kids Zone.
The United States of America's Independence Day Parade: The Independence Day parade will process around Independence Hall. Look out for floats, musical groups, veterans, and special features including the Wawa milk truck, a children's circus, a giant American flag, and an appearance from Miss Pennsylvania. The route will begin at Ninth and Chestnut Streets at 11:15 a.m. and end at Front and Chestnut around 12:45 p.m. Pro tip: Watch from the north side of Chestnut Street (between Fifth and Sixth) if you want to be on TV.
Seventh Annual Birthday Party at Independence Visitor Center: It's America's 242nd birthday, and Betsy Ross is bringing a five-tier cake, complemented by 2,500 American flag-decorated cupcakes. Visitors can join Betsy and representatives from Termini Bros. Bakery at Independence Visitor Center (599 Market St.) in singing "Happy Birthday" and try a free slice of the star-spangled dessert from 1 to 2 p.m. It has not been confirmed if the cake will or will not be topped with 242 candles – although it seems unlikely if the building is to be reused next year.
Party on the Parkway: Starting at noon on the Fourth, free food, festivities, and fireworks will light up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Live music – namely, Philadelphia's largest free concert featuring headliner Pitbull and Broadway star Heather Headley and the Philly Pops Big Band— craft-beer gardens, food trucks, and a zip line are included in this year's attractions. A kids' zone in Aviator Park will entertain young partygoers with music, arts, and cultural performances on the Culture Celebration Stage from noon to 6 p.m. A fireworks show – reportedly the biggest one in a decade – will light up the sky after the concert is over.
See below for full listings of Free Museum Days and Philly @ the Movies.