The Fourth of July without fireworks is like a birthday party without cake and ice cream.

After all, Independence Day is America's birthday and as President John Adams once said, the holiday should be celebrated with "illuminations from one end of this continent to the other."

What better illuminations to celebrate with than fireworks?

These days many cities -- from big to small -- mark July 4 with big fireworks displays. Some shows are so big they're known nationwide, from New York City's with the skyline and Lady Liberty as a backdrop to the display over Independence Hall in America's birthplace, Philadelphia.

Those fireworks displays make those cities among the best places in the nation to celebrate the Fourth of July, but they don't quite rank with our choices for the best five fireworks shows in America.

Lake Tahoe Fourth of July fireworks

No. 5: Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California - Lights On The Lake

Claiming to be the largest fireworks show west of the Mississippi River, the Lights on the Lake show fills the air above Lake Tahoe every Fourth of July.

And the fireworks above the alpine lake along the California-Nevada border are nothing short of spectacular. Fireworks are shot from a barge on the water and can been from almost anywhere on the lake.

You can watch the show from the shore or even venture out onto the water yourself. Rent a paddleboat or climb aboard one of two paddle wheelers that set sail from South Lake Tahoe for dinner cruise to go along with the show.

And the show is something special, featuring whimsical shapes such as jellyfish, stars, butterflies and smiley faces.

More than 100,000 people take in the fireworks each year, which are choreographed to music broadcast by local radio stations.

While one fireworks barge is impressive, our next destination sees Tahoe's barge and raises it.

New Orleans Fourth of July fireworks

No. 4: New Orleans - Go 4th On The River

New Orleans sure knows how to throw a party and -- aside from Mardi Gras -- there's no Big Easy party quite like Go 4th on the River, the city's Fourth of July celebration.

The festival's one-of-a-kind fireworks show features dueling barges shooting off fireworks along the New Orleans riverfront in front of 150,000 to 200,000 spectators.

The show is ranked fifth "must-see" fireworks display in the U.S. by the American Pyrotechnic Association, and for good reason. You've never seen a fireworks show until you've seen two barges trying to one-up the other.

Like the Lake Tahoe display, this one can also be viewed from the shore or from the water itself, with the paddle wheeler Creole Queen and the steamboat Natchez both offering fireworks cruises.

And while the fireworks themselves are amazing, that's not all the festival has to offer. Go 4th on the River also features concerts, a Mardi Gras-style party, food and door prizes.

Seattle Fourth of July fireworks

No. 3: Seattle - Family 4th Fireworks

Perhaps all that needs to be said about Seattle's Family 4th celebration is that when it looked like it was going to die in 2010, the community stepped up and did something about it.

After word came that the festival would be canceled without a title sponsor, Seattle businesses and residents stepped up and raised $500,000 in less than 24 hours to ensure the show would go on. They raised the same amount this year to guarantee the celebration would take place for yet another summer.

That outpouring of support is no surprise given the beauty of the fireworks show, which are set against the natural amphitheater of Lake Union and synchronized to an inspiring score of traditional anthems and popular favorites.