While St. Patrick's Day has its roots in Ireland (duh), you might be surprised to learn the holiday itself is pretty American. The U.S. started throwing parades to celebrate March 17 nearly 150 years before Ireland boarded the green party train in 1903. While there are now plenty of celebrations for the patron saint of the Emerald Isle in the old country, nobody does a Saint Paddy's Day parade like the good old U.S. of A. The best cities for St Patrick's Day are right here in your backyard.
Cities and towns all over the country celebrate March 17. And, while parades in such major metropolitan areas as Chicago and New York are well known, many smaller municipalities know how to get their green on. Many of these parades have been dormant for two years, thanks to COVID-19. But many are coming back with a green vengeance this year, so these celebrations should be better than ever.
These are the best cities and parades for those looking to raise a glass to the Irish this St. Patrick's Day. (Apologies to Pittsburgh, Scranton, and Cleveland, by the way.)
Best Cities for St Patrick's Day
12. San Francisco, California
The famous California gold rush of the late 1840s attracted thousands of Irish immigrants to "The City by the Bay.". Hence, it's no wonder San Francisco hosts the largest St. Patrick's Day parade west of the Mississippi. The parade draws more than 100,000 people and runs down Market Street from 2nd Street to the Civic Center Plaza. It features local Irish dance companies, live marching bands, first responders, and local politicians.
Though the festivities are more toned down this year than pre-Covid, the city still hosts several large block parties and pub crawls. For an authentic experience, head to one of San Francisco's biggest Irish pubs, such as Schroeder's or Maggie McGarry's.
11. O'Neill, Nebraska
Few people would be able to find the tiny city of O'Neill, Nebraska, on the map. Yet, O'Neill is home to one of the country's more interesting St. Paddy's Day parades. The town has the most giant shamrock in the world, which sits smack dab in the middle of town at the intersection of Route 281 and Highway 20. This town of just 4,000, which doubles to 8,000 every St. Paddy's Day, is named for a native Irishman who helped promote Irish immigration to the Cornhusker state. O'Neill was proclaimed the Irish capital of the state by the governor back in 1969.
The town's giant shamrock, which gets a new paint job each year, fittingly serves as the focal point of its Saint Patrick's Day celebration and its parade. O'Neil's celebration includes a traditional parade and more eclectic events, including green eggs and ham breakfast and live pro wrestling.
10. New London, Wisconsin
The St. Patrick's Day festivities in this small town of just 7,000 began when mischievous residents dressed as leprechauns changed the town's highway signs from New London to New Dublin. This oddball celebration of St. Paddy's Day ensues with a parade that includes the traditional marching bands and floats and a few unexpected attractions, including a tongue-in-cheek reenactment of an Irish wake named after famous Irish author James Joyce's Finnegans Wake that involves a green hearse.
The event is the best-known St. Patricks' Day celebration in the state, drawing some 30,000 people to the festivities. In addition to the parade, the festival also includes a giant heated tent under which there's live Celtic music and plenty of Irish fare. You'll also find corned beef and cabbage on the menus of New London...er...New Dublin restaurants throughout the month.
9. St. Augustine, Florida
Think the first St. Patrick's Day parade was in New York or even Boston? Northeast Floridians would say you're wrong on both counts. The first St. Paddy's Day parade in the entire world was in St. Augustine, Florida, more than six hundred years ago.
Spanish documents, oddly enough, describe a feast day of San Patricio in this once Spanish settlement in the year 1600. That 17th-century bash was followed by a procession in March 1601 of the city's citizens through the streets to honor the Irish saint, who they credited with protecting the city's maize fields. St. Augustine's parade is part of a week-long Celtic Music and Heritage Festival. It features pipes, drum bands, floats, military units, and community groups.
8. Savannah, Georgia
For those in the know, this beautiful Southern city may be the very best city to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. According to many of the pipers from New York City's parade pick Savannah as their favorite destination when marching in another cities parade. Savannah has a long history of St. Paddy's Day parades, hosting one for more than two hundred years. It is one of the largest such parades for the Emerald Isle in the country.
The city's celebration covers the better part of March. It includes such events as greening the city's famous Forsyth Park fountain and eight other fountains. The Parade winds through its picturesque historic districts. It includes marching bands, members of the military, and first responders with notable highlights that include a ceremony honoring Jasper Green, a Revolutionary War hero whose parents hailed from Ireland and the world's largest St. Patrick's Day rugby tournament.
7. Quad Cities
This St. Patrick's Day celebration, which takes place in the Quad Cities area of Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa, is the only one that crosses state lines. Before hitting the parade, stop first at Harrington's Pub for your complimentary corned beef and cabbage.
The parade, which includes a collection of floats, Irish dancers, and Irish clans, begins in Rock Island, Illinois, before traveling through the downtown and across the Mississippi River via the 3/4-mile-long Talbot Centennial Bridge to Davenport, Iowa, where the post-parade celebration begins in earnest with a bash at Davenport's River Center.
There are plenty of places to celebrate on both sides of the bridge, including a party at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport and Kavanaugh's Hilltop in Rock Island.
6. New Orleans, Louisiana
Sure, New Orleans might still be recovering from Mardi Gras when March 17 rolls around. Still, the Big Easy certainly isn't going to miss any chance to celebrate. You'd think St. Patrick's Day would be tame compared to the pagan celebration of spring and fertility. It isn't.
The Big Easy throws multiple St. Patrick's Day parades over three weeks, complete with massive floats (of course). For the authentic Irish experience, visit New Orleans's Irish Channel neighborhood, which was settled by Irish immigrants seeking freedom from religious persecution in the 1800s. The community hosts a block party and a parade, which involves throwing beads along with Irish-themed projectiles that include potatoes, cabbages, and carrots.
5. Dublin, Ohio
Is it really such a surprise that a city named after the capital of Ireland is on this list? Dublin honors its namesake with a parade that features marching bands, giant balloons, equestrian performers, and floats. The celebration isn't the weekend-long block party it was before the coronavirus pandemic. However, it's still one of the best in small-town America.
The day kicks off with a pancake breakfast before the parade, including floats, giant balloons, marching bands, and performers. And, thanks to the city's DORA (Designated Outdoor Refreshments) zone, you can legally sip a Guinness as you stroll through town and enjoy the day's events.
4. Hot Springs, Arkansas
This small town in Arkansas, famous for those looking to bathe in its refreshing hot waters, has also made a name by putting on one of the quirkiest St. Paddy's Day parades in the country. This wee parade fit for a leprechaun travels a mere ninety-eight feet on the city's Bridge Street, named the shortest functioning street in the world by Ripley's Believe It or Not! in the 1940s.
The parade is just a small part (pun intended) of the day's festivities, including a Blarney Stone kissing contest and the World's Biggest Potato on Wheels. Hot Springs, home to historic bathhouses, has gained national attention for its silly take on St. Patty's Day, attracting such celebrities as Kevin Bacon, Bo Derek, and Karate Kid Ralph Macchio, all of whom have served as grand marshals. Keeping with its off-kilter sense of humor, Cheech Marin of the legendary Cheech & Chong duo will oversee this year's parade.
3. New York City, New York
The oldest of all the St. Paddy's Day parades, New York's started in 1762 by homesick Irish soldiers serving with the British Army in New York. If floats are your thing, this isn't the St. Paddy's Day parade for you. New York's parade is a more modest celebration of Irish culture that also honors the city's first responders, thousands of whom are of Irish descent, and march in the parade. Though there are no floats, there's still plenty to take in with many musicians, marching bands, bagpipers and dancers.
If you want to see the action in person, you'll need to get yourself there early as open spots at the front are harder to find than a four-leaf clover. Less diehard St. Paddy's Day parade fans should hit the bars that run along 2nd Avenue and catch the parade action on T.V. John Graney, a piper in the Inis Fada Gaelic Pipe band shared a great time with us: "Lots of people pack the bars along the parades route in midtown, but the best place to party after the parade is in the bars near the end of the route, which are full of pipers, first responders, and other marchers, all ripping it up."
2. Boston, Massachusetts
Given that a quarter of its population hails from the verdant shores of Hibernia, Boston's St. Paddy's Day parade is undoubtedly the one to go to if you want to get your Irish on. The city's St. Patrick's Day celebrations run for the entire week. March 17 is an official holiday in Boston. It also celebrates the ousting of the British from Boston during the Revolutionary War, with schools and government buildings closed throughout the city.
The parade itself takes place on the weekend, starting in Andrew's square in the working-class Irish Catholic community of Southie (South Boston) before moving along Broadway, the best place to watch the parade. To get the whole experience, join the thousands who take part in the Get Lucky Pub crawl the day before the parade. Make sure to include Amrhein's, the oldest bar in Southie, on your tour.
1. Chicago, Illinois
Without including the Windy City, one can hardly have a list of the best St. Paddy's Day parades. Chicago has been dyeing the Chicago River bright emerald green the morning of its St. Patrick's Day Parade for 60 years (oddly enough, the tradition began when sewer workers got the idea while dying the river green to check for sewer discharge).
While Chicago may not have an exceptionally high Irish population, it makes up for it with the sheer size of its festivities, attracting some 2 million spectators each year while hosting not one but three parades: the famous downtown one that begins at noon on St. Patrick's Day followed by the Northwest Side Irish parade and South Side Irish parade. Climb aboard one of Chicago's popular boat tours to genuinely enjoy the brilliant green waters before viewing the parade with a Black' N Black or Bailey's in hand.
Did we miss your favorite St. Paddy's Day city? Share with us on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!
Enjoy reading about the open road?
Don't miss a story! Sign up for daily stories delivered to your inbox.