Sacramento's Fourth of July celebrations began long before the fireworks lit up the night sky. Families and friends gathered early in parks or took to the river to beat the sweltering heat. Neighbors closed off their streets to mingle and share food and drink. Before the first sparkler was ignited, the smell of grilling meat and smoke from barbecues filled the air.
River Bend Park, Rancho Cordova
Like eager shoppers on Black Friday, Saroeun Proeng and Lex Vang were among the first to arrive around dawn Thursday at this beloved spot along the American River.
Proeng, a 33-year-old father of three from Stockton, was the first to dibs a picnic table around 6 a.m. for family members who would come later.
With its lush overhang of massive oak branches, cool river water nearby and bathrooms with flushing toilets, this is a hands-down Sacramento favorite spot for celebrating the Fourth.
But both Proeng and Vang know from experience you'd better get here early.
By 7:22 a.m., all the tables had been called for, and Vang had placed cartons of water bottles, bags of charcoal and plastic buckets on four tables to discourage interlopers. Nearby, Proeng had pitched a small tent to help mark his family's spot.
"I guess I drew the short straw this year," said Vang, 24, an in-home health care worker from the Laguna area who was joined in the holiday stakeout by his 17-year-old nephew, David Vang.
"It's a special day for the whole family," said Lex Vang, who was expecting at least 40 family members, some from as far away as Fresno.
- Marjie Lundstrom
Along Chase Drive, Rancho Cordova
By Thursday morning, Gregg and Beatrice Sparks' street that leads into Hagan Community Park - ground zero for the two-night fireworks spectacular - had been closed for more than a day.
No matter. The holiday brings out the entrepreneurial spirit in their 9-year-old son, Greggory, who was looking to make a killing with his annual lemonade stand in the Sparks' driveway.
With the nearby parade ready to begin, the couple set up their white E-Z Up and positioned the gigantic hand-painted sign - traditional lemonade or strawberry lemonade, $1 a glass.
This was no small undertaking. Sparks said his son pulled in $150 last year.
"It's definitely, location, location, location," said 52-year-old Gregg Sparks, chuckling.
Fourth of July Parade, Rancho Cordova
Matt Caudle brought his girlfriend, his two dogs and his childhood memories to the intersection of Coloma Road and Chase Drive.
This was prime viewing territory for the annual Fourth of July Parade - a classic for Caudle, who was born and raised here.
With the parade advancing, Caudle kept an eye on 5-year-old Bella, his slightly high-strung yellow Lab with a good heart, while his girlfriend held the leash of Eddy, the mellow 3-year-old basset hound.
"They're like my kids," said Caudle, 31. "I don't have any kids, but I've been coming here since I was a kid. "It's kind of like a hometown thing," he said. "It's really good for the community."
"It's all-American," said his girlfriend, Jenn Hughes, 26.
55th Annual Fourth of July Parade, Carmichael
Pasadena lays claim to the Tournament of Roses Parade, New York City to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Carmichael is the proud home of the Fourth of July Parade, hosted annually by the Carmichael Elks. Even without flower-festooned floats and massive aerial balloons, the parade in this suburban enclave has its own rich traditions and devoted following.
Randy Clover, 60, brought his 94-year-old mother, Anne Clover, to the parade, scoring a lucky parking spot at the beginning of the route at Fair Oaks Boulevard and Marconi Avenue . His family moved to Carmichael in 1952, and the parade - with its mix of cars, tractors, beauty queens, waving politicians and Shriners on go-carts - has been a piece of their lives for decades.
Clover's favorite moment Thursday, though, was seeing former Sacramento Sheriff John McGinness, now a radio talk-show host, who served as this year's grand marshal.
"What a man," said Clover. "He's the most articulate man on this planet."
A few feet away, 9-year-old Ani Nalbandyan had other priorities: collecting candy being tossed to the crowd.
"The next best part of Fourth of July is having ice cream and getting sprayed with water," she said.
But candy rules.
While some celebrated at cookouts or enjoyed the relief of air-conditioning, others toiled outside, on what was predicted to be the last day of Sacramento's heatwave.
Martin Roa and his construction crew started laying the foundation of a townhouse at Tapestri Square near 21st and T streets at 7 a.m. and worked until noon, when the temperature was hovering at 95 degrees.
"It's what we do every day," Roa said, as he and three other workers rested in the shade of an unfinished building. He didn't mind resting on concrete covered with a dusting of wood chips and sawdust, just as he didn't mind working the holiday.
"Doesn't bother me as long as I get paid," he said.
Roa planned to meet up with friends after his shift to enjoy fireworks and a barbecue.
"The same as you," he said.
- Benjamin Mullin
TNT fireworks booth, Watt Avenue and Arden Way, Sacramento
Talk about dedication, grit and a sense of humor.
Gary Sepulveda, 59, is a mortician by day but spent his last seven days "on vacation" - 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. - as one of the chief go-to guys at the TNT booth, benefiting Jesuit High School Boosters.
This is rugged business.
Sepulveda, whose nephew will be a Jesuit senior this year, secured a tiny island of shade in the sprawling Rite Aid parking lot that became his "office" and endured triple-digit heat, managing the books as one of the fundraiser's co-chairs.
He was back on Thursday, the last day of sales, and reckoned he would be busy until at least 11 p.m. wrapping up inventory at the warehouse.
For Sepulveda, the seven-day "vacation" has been well worth it.
"I stress out at work, and this relieves me," he said.
Cesar Chavez Plaza, Sacramento
While others partied, about 130 people gathered to protest government surveillance.
The protest was one of more than 100 "Restore the Fourth" rallies planned across the country, and was organized on social media.
"We believe the government doesn't have the right to our cell phones and our browsing histories," said Steve Macias, vice-president of the California Republican Assembly and an organizer of the rally.
Attendees flew American and Gadsden ("Dont Tread on Me") flags, handed out pocket Constitutions and quoted Ron Paul. Some protesters masked their faces, while other held signs that said things like "taxation is theft" and "don't wiretap me, bro."
"I'm concerned that the NSA has overstepped its bounds," said John Morgan of Davis.
- Jack Newsham
Teneighth Way, Land Park
As the temperature cooled down, so did the residents of Teneighth Way, who sipped cold drinks and stuck their feet into kiddie pools during their annual Fourth of July block party.
The party has been a Teneighth Way tradition since the early '70s, when Sam Wells organized the event for the neighborhood children. This year, Wells saw his children and grandchildren enjoy the event he started, as the youngsters of the neighborhood marched and biked down the street carrying the American flag.
Alex Kaufmann, 6, was entrusted with the responsibility of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before the neighborhood children began the parade, a half-block affair that looked more like a bike race. Dozens of children lined up along one end of the street as Kaufmann recited the pledge, then took off, pedaling in time to marching music blaring from nearby speakers.
"They go nuts for a half hour," Wells said, as the kids raced up and down the street.
His son, Paul, who participated in the parade when he was boy, was amused by the solemnity of the children entrusted with carrying the flag.
"You tell them to march, and they really take it seriously," he said, smiling.
Raley Field, West Sacramento
Carl Porter of Vacaville had already staked out a few spots on the grass at Raley Field in anticipation of the evening fireworks show.
"It's our first time here, so we wanted to get a good spot," said Porter, while drinking a beer.
The late afternoon heat forced the hundreds who turned out here to wait in the shade. The weather, though, didn't seem to dampen the spirits of Barbara Leonard, 68, of south Sacramento.
"I'm prepared," she said, pointing to a large bottle of ice-cold water.
As a wisp of warm air blew across the baseball stadium, Mary Martin of Elk Grove flipped through a copy of The Bee. Watching the fireworks outdoors is a tradition, she said.
"I love the atmosphere," the 62-year-old said, as a band played in the background. "This is about celebrating America's freedom."
When asked about her favorite fireworks venue, Martin said it's a "toss up between Cal Expo and Raley Field."
-- Richard Chang