Nearly every town and city in America has some sort of New Year’s Eve tradition, both long-standing and newly-minted, from free concerts to main street parades. But if you’re itching to hit the road this year, here are 10 of the most unique New Year’s celebrations across the USA.
1. The Big Red Shoe Drop – Key West, FL
Way down south, at the tip of the Sunshine State, on the edge of the Florida Keys, is one of the most unique time drops anywhere in the U.S. on New Year’s Eve. You may have seen coverage from Key West on the cable news channels on New Year’s, but nothing can prepare you for viewing, live and in person, a 50-something drag queen lowered 20 feet to the ground at midnight inside a giant red high heel.
Every year for more than 20 years, the famous drag queen Gary “Sushi” Marion has descended from the balcony at the Bourbon Street Pub in Key West into a massive crowd of New Year’s revelers on Duval Street.
The giant fiberglass high heel, created by an auto mechanic designer, is eight feet long with a four-foot heel. In 2014, Marion got married to his partner Jeff while sitting inside the high heel after midnight.
2. Giant Marshmallow Peep Drop – Bethlehem, PA
In the annals of items dropped at midnight on New Year’s Eve, none may be as tasty as the giant yellow marshmallow Peep lowered down over the stage at SteelStacks, a former steel mill in Bethlehem, Pa., home to the Just Born company, maker of the popular Easter treat.
The Peep Drop is part of the city’s annual Peepfest, which also includes a 5K run, live music in the shadow of the shell of the old steel factory and revelers dressed in Peep hats and Peep costumes chanting “Drop that Peep!” as midnight approaches. Don’t try to take a bite however, because the giant Peep is actually 400 pounds of illuminated fiberglass.
3. Music Note Drop – Nashville, TN
But if guitars and drums are more your speed, head on down to Nashville for the Jack Daniel’s Music City Midnight gala (formerly the Bash on Broadway) featuring some of the biggest names in country, rock and alternative, all for free at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in downtown.
The evening culminates in one of America’s most popular time drops, as a 15-foot-tall red eighth-note known as “The Music Note” is lowered 145 feet onto a neon stanza, which triggers confetti cannons and a musical fireworks show at the stroke of midnight.
4. SnowGlobe Music Festival – Lake Tahoe, CA/NV
If EDM music and bitter freezing temperatures sound good to you, the outdoor SnowGlobe Music Festival in Lake Tahoe along the California/Nevada border is a best bet.
Having featured some of the biggest names in EDM over the years like Travis Scott, Zedd and Diplo, the SnowGlobe festival is a three-day outdoor celebration of electronic dance music that culminates on New Year’s Eve.
The festivities are highlighted by a “countdown party” hosted from the main stage at midnight, fireworks on the mountain and lots of rhythmic music, beat-dropping and good times in the chilly temperatures. And yes, heaters are provided.
5. First Midnight In America, Tumon Bay, Guam
For a New Year’s celebration of a lifetime, why not visit the very first spot in the entire U.S. where the clock strikes midnight? In the U.S. territory of Guam in the Western Pacific, the New Year arrives a full 15 hours before the ball drops in Times Square.
Many popular chain hotels operating along Ypao Beach offer special packages for New Year’s with stunning rooms overlooking the water, perfect for the midnight Tropical Fantasy fireworks display over the beach.
For a time-honored Guamanian start to your year, several locations offer a traditional New Year’s Eve meal of Long Life Noodles, which represent a long, unbroken life in Chinese culture, and a pre-midnight Mochitsuki ceremony, a Japanese New Year’s ritual of rice pounding to make mocha sweet rice cakes for good fortune in the coming year. You don’t even need a passport!
6. The Possum Drop – Tallapoosa, GA
You can keep your Times Square Waterford Crystal ball with its thousands of LED lights. For a more unique and downhome celebration, head to the tiny town of Tallapoosa in northwest Georgia, about 50 miles west of Atlanta on the Alabama border, to see Spencer The Famous Possum dropped at midnight.
Thankfully, Spencer isn’t a living opossum, but rather a stuffed one found deceased in the wild and preserved by a local taxidermist, suspended in a wire ball covered with Christmas lights. Actually, not sure that’s any better.
The titular opossum is available for pictures at ground level until he’s raised atop the (one-story) Cain Law Building and slowly lowered to mark the new year. In 2004, the Possum Drop was featured on the TV show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” so you can be sure it’s a good time.
7. Aboard the Queen Mary – Long Beach, CA
If you prefer to be on the water for New Year’s revelries, celebrate aboard the world-famous cruise ship The Queen Mary, permanently anchored in Long Beach. For a mere $130 per person, you can step on board the luxury liner for a five-hour, international-themed party while docked in Queensway Bay at the mouth of the Los Angeles River.
While on the ship, you’ll have access to a plethora of bars and restaurants, a ton of live music, DJs, burlesque shows, dueling pianos and even a performance from Cirque Berzerk. The evening is capped off with midnight fireworks over the Pacific launched from the stern of the craft.
8. The Great Sardine and Maple Leaf Drop – Eastport, ME
On the other side of America in Eastport, Maine – the easternmost city in the entire United States – you can celebrate mainland North America’s first New Year’s midnight –and then celebrate it again an hour later.
First, Eastport honors New Year’s in the Atlantic Time Zone, which begins just off the town’s waterfront at the Canadian border, with the dropping of a giant red maple leaf and a live brass band rendition of “Oh, Canada.”
Then, 60 minutes later, the village celebrates midnight Eastern Time with the lowering of an 8-foot sardine as the band plays “Auld Lang Syne.” But then the real party starts as townsfolk and visitors line up to kiss the giant sardine full on the lips for good luck.
9. New Year’s in Queen Victoria Park – Niagara Falls, NY/Ontario, Canada
One of the most stunning settings for a New Year’s celebration is along the giant cascading waterways of Niagara Falls, NY and Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Over on the Canadian side of the border, start the party with a giant free concert in Queen Victoria Park featuring an all-Canadian line-up of musicians that, in the past, has included the likes of Walk Off The Earth, Marianas Trench, Simple Plan and The Sam Roberts Band.
Then, give yourself some time to cross back into New York and wander over to Prospect Point or Top of the Falls for the best, and less crowded, views of a spectacular fireworks display over the magnificent falls.
10. Beat the New Year 5K – Salt Lake City, UT
Who says you have to wait until after January 1st to start making good on that New Year’s resolution to exercise more? Get a full day’s head start by running in the Salt Lake City Track Club’s annual Beat the New Year 5K, a Utah tradition for more than 40 years. The goal of the race, which starts on New Year’s Eve at 11:30 p.m., is to finish the five kilometers before the clock strikes midnight.
Runners are encouraged to forsake their traditional running gear and hit the course dressed up (warmly) in any sort of wacky costume. A prize for best costume is awarded at the end of the race. But since it’s New Year’s Eve, drinking is not exactly discouraged.