"It's amazing on TV," said Marcos Jimenez, a golf caddie who joined thousands of others lining the riverfront for a prime view of the show. "I figured seeing it live would be even better."
Budget cuts forced some communities to pull the plug on the pyrotechnics, but the gigantic Macy's fireworks show went on as planned on Manhattan's West Side, where it moved in 2009 after eight years on the East River.
Ten-year-old Nathan Felde of Folsom, Calif., watched with his parents and 6-year-old brother, Elijah, who screamed at the sight of a glowing red circle with a blue ring around it.
"Look Nathan, it's Saturn!" Elijah said.
The show began just before 9:30 p.m. with huge fireballs exploding in the night sky to the strains of patriotic tunes like "Stars and Stripes Forever" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Austin Noon, 12, of Ontario, Canada, said his favorite firework was one that looked like a face, with a red circle, two dots for eyes and a smile.
His mother, Janet Noon, said the family often comes to the United States for the Fourth of July. "It's so festive, we had a lot of fun," Noon said. "We like to crash birthday parties."
The shimmering fireworks that streaked across the night sky replaced a blazing sun that broiled nearly everywhere east of the Mississippi with temperatures in the 90s.
In Washington, thousands gathered on the National Mall were treated to 17 minutes of fireworks, shot off behind the Washington Monument. Thousands of visitors sat on the steps of the U.S. Capitol for the July 4 concert, featuring David Archuleta, Reba McEntire and the National Symphony Orchestra.
The Obama family celebrated the holiday by hosting members of the military and their families for a barbecue, concert and a view of fireworks on the South Lawn of the White House.
"Michelle and I couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate America's birthday than with America's extraordinary men and women in uniform and their families," President Barack Obama told the guests.
Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Iraq on Saturday evening for the holiday weekend, his second visit there this year, and attended a citizenship ceremony at one of Saddam Hussein's former hunting lodges.
Festivities in Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, will conclude Monday after 11 days of parades and concerts. The Goo Goo Dolls headlined a free concert on Sunday night, followed by a fireworks show.
There were more than 40 firework displays in Los Angeles. One of the largest in the area was held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Fire crews spread fire retardant on the nearby hillsides to prevent sparks from igniting brush fires.
Chicago traditionally celebrated a day early on July 3 with a fireworks display that drew more than 1 million people, but the show was canceled this year to save at least $500,000. The city held three smaller shows on Sunday.