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Although some argue that summer begins on Memorial Day weekend, the Fourth of July truly signals what summer in America is all about -- fireworks, funnel cake (and other regional street foods of choice), festivals, music, barbecues (although most of us grill, technically), beer drinking, and time off from work. With the airlines raising airfares for the sixth time this year already, it's getting increasingly tricky to find good deals, but we found some airfare, hotel, and other packages running through this long weekend, with a special focus on three cities of particular historic importance, complete with fireworks information where applicable.

If you stay three nights at any of participating hotel owned by Kimpton (tel. 800/546-7866; www.kimptonhotels.com) between Thursday, June 29 and Tuesday July 4, you'll get the "4th" for free (www.kimptonhotels.com/promo_4thofjuly_2006.aspx). Properties included in this offer include Caleo Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona; Summit Lodge and Spa in Whistler, British Columbia; a handful of properties in San Francisco, Hotel Monaco in Denver, Hotel Allegro in Chicago, Nine Zero and Onyx Hotels in Boston and Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge; 70 Park Avenue Hotel in New York; Salt Lake City Utah's Hotel Monaco; three hotels in Seattle and a half dozen choices in Washington, D.C.

For travelers interested in revolutionary war stomping grounds-related travel, hotels in Boston are on sale from $156 through Gulliver's Travel Service (tel. 877-285-5835; www.gtahotels.com), although a quick search for 4th of July weekend (July 1-4) revealed lower prices for a hotel on the outskirts of Boston (http://boston-ma.gtahotels.com). The least expensive, Jurys Boston, an Irish-owned hotel company with several U.S. properties, is priced at $168 per night; the Lenox Hill Hotel in Back Bay is offered at $230 per night.

Other good resources for the holiday weekend include Boston Harborfest 2006 (tel. 617/227-1528; www.bostonharborfest.com), a weeklong festival (June 28-July 4) that celebrates the city's history with special events including concerts, Children's Day, and Chowderfest. Fireworks are launched on Tuesday night on the Charles River Esplanade and the celebration includes the Boston Pops Orchestra (www.july4th.org). (The site notes that the best view of fireworks is on the Cambridge side of the river.) Accommodations packages and other incentives can be found by perusing the site for The Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.bostonusa.com).

History buffs might enjoy the Fourth of July Harbor Cruise, presented by The U.S.S. Constitution Museum (tel. 617/426-1812 ext 112; www.ussconstitutionmuseum.org) from 11am-1pm, complete with a 21-gun salute. Lunch is provided and tickets cost $60 for adults, $35 for children under 12.

The birthplace of the Constitution, Philadelphia, seems like another suitable place to visit during the 4th of July weekend. The official visitor's site for the Greater Philadelphia area (tel. 800/537-7676; www.gophila.com) has brought back its "Philly Overnight Hotel package", just in time for Fourth of July. Starting June 23 and running through September 4, you get two overnight accommodations at one rate that also includes free parking, a gift and a coupon book upon check-in. The Best Western at Independence Park is priced at $299 for July 1-3. (Don't be fooled by its chain association; this hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places.) The Holiday Inn Stadium, located in South Philly near, among other places, the new Phillies stadium, is priced at $179 for two nights. If you arrive Saturday, July 1 you'll be just in time for fireworks at Penn's Landing.

While we're on this nationalistic train of thought, Washington D.C.'s Convention and Tourism Corporation (tel. 800/422-8644; www.washington.org) has "Summer FREEdom Savings" with hotel rates starting at $109 for the Beacon Hotel in its "American Originals" (www.washington.org/americanoriginals/) promotion. It's tailored around the July 1 reopening of the Smithsonian' American Art Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. A search for availability July 1-4 revealed plenty of affordable open rooms. The nation's capital puts on an Independence Day parade (www.july4thparade.com), which starts at noon and takes place on Constitution Avenue NW between 7th and 17th Sts. NW. The fireworks display generally starts between 9 and 9:30pm over the Washington Monument grounds and attracts around 500,000 people.

Expedia (tel. 800/397-3342; www.expedia.com) has rounded up some last minute 4th of July travel deals, including hotels from $52 per night in Orlando's Grand Hotel Suites to $150 San Diego for Comfort Inn and Suites near Sea World. Packages for four nights in London including round-trip airfare are priced from $1212, and air plus four nights to Paris from $1,757. Actual prices may be lower or higher depending on travel dates and, in the case of deals with airfare, city of departure. Prices advertised reflect travel June 30-July 4 and include taxes and fees for air travel.

Orbitz (tel. 888/656-4546; www.orbitz.com) is offering "Big City Deals" this summer, with savings advertised up to 20 percent off flights and three nights' hotels. Featured properties include Wellington Hotel in New York City, priced from $330 based on travel from Washington. D.C. on Monday, July 3. San Diego's Rancho Bernardo Inn and Golf Spa resort is priced from $665 for travel from Dallas/Ft.Worth. Miami's Newport Beachside Resort is priced from a low $333 based on departures from Atlanta, and Washington D.C.'s Phoenix Park Hotel is fetching $438 including airfare from Boston. If you want to get out of the country for the holiday weekend, Orbitz also put together specials to Paris and London.

Travelocity (tel. 888/872-8356; www.travelocity.com) is running a fare sale to select cities across the country called "Oh The Places You Can Go", with many round-trip fares available for $199 or less. Sample round-trip airfares include Hartford-Orlando $163, Los Angeles to Las Vegas $83, New York City to West Palm Beach, $143 and more.

United Airlines (tel. 800/864-8331; www.united.com) is offering a few last minute e-fares specials for this long weekend, including Washington D.C. to Boston from $117 and D.C. to Chicago from $136. Other routes on sale include D.C. to New York (and vice versa) for a mere $91, St. Louis to D.C. for $150, and Los Angeles to San Francisco for $106. The purchase deadline for these round-trip fares is midnight, June 23 for travel outbound July 2-3, returning July 3-6. Plenty of other routes are included in the special, too, so please don't feel limited by what we've mentioned here.

Finally, Discover Boating (www.discoverboating.com), a public awareness campaign managed by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, has compiled a list of fireworks displays that are best viewed from a boat. Boston is included, along with other large cities located on water: Chicago (July 3), Milwaukee (July 3), New Orleans (July 4), New York City (July 4), and Seattle (July 4). Less obvious choices include Houston's Freedom Over Texas Festival, with fireworks held July 4, visible from Eleanor Tinsley Park or on the White Oak and Buffalo Bayous, via boat, and Kodiak, Alaska, on Chiniak Bay, July 3 at midnight. For the complete list, with start times and the specific recommended viewing locations, click on the "resource" menu, and then "articles" on Discover Boating's website.

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