City’s Fourth of July event among the best

Somebody at Travel + Leisure magazine really loves Sonoma.

Last February, the well-known travel magazine listed the little burg as the eighth most romantic city in America. Now, with the Fourth of July a few days away, it’s calling Sonoma the eighth best town for celebrating America’s birthday.

“This wine-country town also made the top 10 for town squares,” the magazine wrote, “and its adobe-lined Plaza is where you’ll find Sonoma’s 4th of July parade with marching bands – followed by a carnival and topped off with fireworks.”

So good are the festivities, according to the magazine, that they’ve put Sonoma in the company of Flagstaff, Bend, Newtown and Boulder (numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5, respectively). Chapel Hill trails behind in a three-way tie for 10th place.

The honor makes perfect sense to Mary Catherine Cutcliffe, an event manager with the Sonoma Community Center who is a key organizer of the city’s July 4 celebrations.

“How exciting is that? One of the best Fourth of Julys in the country,” she said.

“I think it’s reflective of our community,” Cutcliffe said of the ranking. “I think the Fourth of July celebration is reflective of our diversity, and also the colorful characters that come together in our community.”

The Plaza itself provides a perfect setting for the Fourth of July, she said, with food, musical acts, nonprofit booths and other attractions encircled by the city’s famous parade.

“This year, we will see the Hot Diggity Dogs, they are making a return,” said Cutcliffe, referring to the spectacle of dachshunds wearing costumes. The Hometown Band will perform, and the parade itself will include entries from the entire Sonoma Valley community.

So good is the celebration, Cutcliffe said, that she herself “fell in love with the town of Sonoma on the Fourth of July” nine years ago.

The Sonoma Community Center has organized the event for 51 years. This is Cutcliffe’s second year helping to direct it.

The magazine’s readers (ostensibly the list is “approved by T+L readers”) evaluated the July 4 bona fides of cities in all 50 states as part of its “America’s Favorite Towns” survey, looking at “founding-father-friendly categories like charming main streets, parades and feeling patriotic.”

“While most offer festivities like watermelon-eating contests, dog parades, or fireworks, other winners just exude enough star-spangled pomp to feel like a trip back in time,” the magazine wrote.

But with towns in Arizona, Oregon and Hawaii topping others in Pennsylvania, it seems that high-quality fanfare and fireworks tended to beat out authentic Revolutionary history, at least with the Travel + Leisure crowd. And that’s a specialty of Joe Boldt, who has organized and choreographed Sonoma’s fireworks display for 27 years.

“What I try to do is throw in a few surprises, to kind of mix it up a bit,” said Boldt, a full-time fire mechanic and volunteer captain with the Sonoma Fire Department. “This year I’m going to throw in a little surprise before the show begins,” he added.

Despite the town’s smaller budget – all donation-based – and the fact that it does not have musical accompaniment, “I think we do a pretty good job,” he said.

Boldt said he hoped that all who come to see the colorful lights over Gen. Vallejo’s home next Friday night enjoy themselves to the fullest – and that they pick up all of their trash afterward.