By Leslie Albrecht, Meredith Hoffman and Patrick Hedlund
MANHATTAN — New Yorkers packed picnics, flocked to the city's parks, and set up camp early along the west side to get a good view of Monday night's fireworks as they soaked up the sun on Independence Day.
Spectators had started to gather along the West Side Highway by Monday afternoon in hopes of snagging a prime viewing spot for the annual fireworks display.
Tony DiPietro, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran from the Bronx, advised tourists about the best spots to watch the patriotic spectacular.
DiPietro told the Hammond family from Ohio that West 34th Street and 12th Avenue was a good location because it's "in the middle."
Macy's 35th annual Fourth of July spectacular will paint the sky over the Hudson River starting at 9:20 p.m. Monday night.
Onlookers can see the fireworks from selected points along Eleventh Avenue from 24th to 57th Streets. But fireworks fans should be warned that NYPD checkpoints will prevent those with large backpacks, lawn chairs, blankets, and coolers from entering the area.
The northbound West Side Highway from 23rd to 57th streets will be closed, starting at 4:30 pm. Monday, as will the southbound West Side Highway from 79th to 23rd streets, police said.
Drivers are advised to ditch the car and take mass transit.
Police will be lighting up the skies as well, as F-15 Eagle jets and NYPD Aviation Unit helicopters will fly over the Hudson River on Monday evening between the Verrazano Bridge and Pier 86, police said.
The entry points along Eleventh Avenue are: 24th Street, 26th Street, 28th, 29th Streets, 33rd, 34th Streets, 40th through 44th Streets, 47th Street, 49th through 52nd Streets, 54th through 57th Streets.
Joel Hammond, 40, said the family thought New York would be an ideal city to visit while celebrating Independence Day. "New York City seems like a very patriotic place, especially after 9/11," Hammond said.
Paulette Kellner, 66, and Arthur Grubbs, 67, of the Upper East Side, spent their July 4th holiday with a trip to the High Line in Chelsea, and a patriotic singalong en route.
"We taught some guy in the subway at 68th Street to sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner,'" said Kellner, who launched into an impromptu demonstration of her singing skills Monday.
Sarah Campbell, 25, headed to the Hudson River early with friends to picnic and get a good spot for Monday night's Macy's fireworks extravaganza.
Campbell said she tried to to see last year's fireworks from the Financial District, but there was such a big crowd she was unable to get a good view.
For some the holiday held special meaning.
Josefina Guerrera, a 65-year-old immigrant from Equador, kissed the ground to demonstrate her love of the United States.
"I'm not rich, but I feel rich here, because I don't lack food," Guerrera said. "I love the United States of America with my whole life and my whole heart. God bless America. Here everybody is equal."
George and Loretta Pizzo, of Queens, said their son had served two tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Navy and just re-enlisted.
“I think people are patriotic, but they don’t really understand how hard it is to have a family member serving,” said George Pizzo, who was wearing a camouflage hat and T-shirt. “It’s made me more patriotic.”
Jim Hawley of Chelsea was planning to attend a boat party on the Hudson River to celebrate the Fourth of July.
He dressed for the occasion in an American flag bandanna, which he said he hoped “would draw less stares than usual.”
The Jones family, from Nashville, Tenn., came to Manhattan for the weekend on their first-ever trip to the city.
"We love it. I'm trying to convince them to sell the house and move up here," said mom Holly Jones, 41, as she, her husband Mickey, 42, and son Carson, 12, headed for Rockefeller Center.
They visited the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Ground Zero and the Empire State Building during their stay, and planned to find a good place to watch the fireworks display Monday night.
"It's been awesome," Holly added. "The food has been fabulous."
Has the heat slowed them down at all?
"This is nothing," added the Southern native, who is originally from Memphis.
One East Village man said he wasn't too excited about the fireworks.
Ad Ty, 34, was painting a bookcase on his day off from work and planned to catch a friend's movie at Anthology Film Archives.
"When asked about fireworks, he said, "I've seen the fireworks year after year. I might look up into the sky and see some of them."