It could be that fewer folks will take to the nation's highways and byways to celebrate the Fourth of July this year, of course, but one-tank wonders are out there. Familiar places, such as the Jersey Shore and the Pocono Mountains -- and several other entertaining, engaging spots -- lie not too far from Philadelphia, and are reachable on one tank of gas round-trip. Independence Day and independence by auto go hand-in-hand.
For starters, the shore remains the most popular place for summer travelers from the Philadelphia metropolitan area. From Ventnor to Cape May, people in droves will be on the beaches and boardwalks for fair weather, food, family and fireworks.
Cape May County, which features the towns of Cape May, Ocean City, Sea Isle City, Avalon, Stone Harbor and the Wildwoods (North Wildwood, Wildwood and Wildwood Crest), is among the most visited area at the "shore," the name by which the New Jersey coast is known to most Philadelphians.
"Since the Fourth of July falls on a Wednesday this year, there are really two weekends for it, one before and one after," said Diane Wieland, director of tourism of Cape May County. "Based on the great Memorial Day weekend we had, we expect the Fourth to be as good because, despite the high cost of gasoline, we're finding that as many people as ever are coming since we're just a tank of gas away."
The county, which uses the slogan "more smiles, less miles," is within 300 miles -- the accepted standard for a tankful of gas -- of 30 million people, she added. From Philadelphia proper, it's about 100 miles.
"It's not how much it costs to fill up to go on vacation, but how the costs have affected people all year, how it's impacted their discretionary income," explained Wieland. "We realize the price of gas is a serious concern for travelers, but they're still coming for an average stay of five days -- two days more than the national trend."
Vacationers, who poured out a staggering $4.85 billion in tourism expenditures in 2006, are expected to keep spending this year, too, she said, noting that "people want to get away, no matter the cost."
Cape May County tourism officials, she continued, are "partnering more and more with Atlantic City," since 18 percent of Cape May County visitors want to go to Atlantic City.
Despite higher gas costs, Atlantic City -- the so-called "Queen of Resorts" -- is welcoming more visitors by car these days.
"Many of our tourists, especially 'baby boomers,' drive here, and will use their cars to drive there," said Wieland.
To date, the county's many hotels, motels and B&Bs haven't had to resort to either discounts or cash incentives to encourage people to make reservations, added the tourism expert.
Among holiday activities in the works for Cape May County: the Family Festival Big Beach Movie, July 3-July 4; the Independence Day Parade and Fourth of July fireworks at Pine Avenue and the Boardwalk, 10 p.m., in Wildwood; the Fourth of July celebration in Ocean City; and fireworks in Cape May and Sea Isle City, both at 9 p.m.
There's also a new family waterpark on the Wildwood Boardwalk and a brand-new ghost tour in Cape May.
For more information, call 1-800-227-2297 or visit: www. thejerseycape.com.
The Poconos, Pennsylvania's 2,400-square mile mountain playground spread over four big counties -- Carbon, Monroe, Pike and Wayne -- beckons with hundreds of lakes (150 to be exact), stirring vistas, cooler air, and a world of outdoor and indoor activities.
Robert Uguccioni, executive director of the Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau, Inc., in Stroudsburg, Pa., talked about the upcoming holiday. "This year, the Fourth is a bit difficult because it falls on a Wednesday, so we hope to have good weekends around it. In connection, we're not seeing any reluctance to visit because of high gas prices. The Memorial Day weekend was good, and we're expecting a repeat. Being so close -- Philadelphia is 100 miles away -- to our regional market of 25 million people has helped us," he said.
As everywhere else in the USA, fireworks remain a major attraction. Look for them on July 3 in Honesdale Central Park; on July 4 in Tannersville at Camelback Waterpark and at Lake Wallenpaupack; and then again on July 7 at Shawnee Park, Shawnee on Delaware.
"People also like to shop when they visit, but not many associate us with history," said Uguccioni. "For them, the towns of Milford and Jim Thorpe offer shopping, as well as history, the chance to see various architectural styles, and the small-town atmosphere people want."
For more information, call 1-800-Poconos or visit: www. 800poconos.com.
In Gettysburg, roughly 120 miles southwest of Philadelphia in Adams County, the Civil War is the main attraction and tourism by car is booming, attested Stacy Fox, director of marketing at the Gettysburg Travel Council.
"May was absolutely a great month, and so far, June is turning out to be that way, too. We anticipate that around the period of the Fourth of July we will sell out our hotels, with the rest of the summer expected to be great. And that's because people can still have an affordable vacation here," said Fox.
In connection with Heritage Days, June 29 to July 8, there will be National Park Service Battlewalks, July 1 to 3, leading up the 144th anniversary Civil War Re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 6 to July 8; the Ghostly Images of Gettysburg Trolley Tour; and Yankee-Doodle Days.
For more information, call 1-800-337-5015 or visit: www. gettysburg.travel.
Another popular near-travel destination: Maryland's Eastern Shore, some 150 miles south.
Camila Clark, public-relations and promotions manager at the Maryland Office of Tourism in Baltimore, noted that many travelers from Philadelphia have driven to the Eastern Shore in previous years, and they are expected to continue that tradition this Fourth of July, with trips to Easton for its 18th-century past; colonial Chestertown; tiny Tilghman Island, a waterman's village; and St. Michael's for its Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
Another all-time favorite vacation spot is none other than Ocean City, Md., where fireworks are set for Wednesday, July 4, at 9:30 p.m.
Besides these pyrotechnics, Ocean City visitors may want to see the Lifesaving Station Museum on the boardwalk. And just 15 minutes away is the famous Assateague Island National Seashore and State Park.
For more information, call 1-866-639-3526 or visit: www. mdisfun.org.