The Florida Keys & Key West provide year-round entertainment for visitors, from festivals focusing on the area’s colourful history, artistic culture and quirky ambiance to events that celebrate the Keys’ underwater paradise and culinary cuisine. The calendar here lists selected highlights for 2016:
7-16 January: Uncorked … the Key Largo & Islamorada Food & Wine Festival. Key Largo and Islamorada. Enjoy a multi-sensory experience as Key Largo and Islamorada’s culinary experts ‘step up to the plate’ to present food, wine and spirits events. Savour the flavours of the Keys in 10 days of culinary events, cooking demonstrations, themed wine dinners and tastings, food and wine pairing classes, art and wine shows, and the festival finale, ‘A Grand Tasting.’ Visit www.floridakeysuncorked.com.
15-22 January: Florida Keys Paddle Challenge. Enjoy exploring a true island paradise in the azure waters of the Florida Keys, paddling beside sea turtles and railroad visionary Henry Flagler’s ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, the now-preserved Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad. Journey 77 miles beside white sand beaches and mangrove islands, from Long Key State Park to Key West. Register by 1 January 2016. Visit: www.paddleflorida.org.
16-17 January: 11th Annual Florida Keys Seafood Festival. Key West. A family-friendly event with local fresh Keys seafood including Stone Crab Claws, Lobster Bisque and Conch Chowder, drinks, marine-related crafts, youth activities, and live music. Admission is $5 per adult (12 and over). Visit www.fkcfa.org/seafood-festival1.
18-22 January: Quantum Key West Race Week 2016. Key West. The annual race week challenge features world-class competition and yachting teams from more than 12 countries and 24 American states. More than 100 racing yachts typically compete for class championships in this international regatta. To view the action, fans can book seats on spectator boats ranging from excursion catamarans to historic tall ships or from land at Key West’s Atlantic-front restaurants, resorts and beaches. Visit www.keywestraceweek.com.
27-31 January: Key West Food & Wine Festival. Key West. Top chefs and restauranteurs display culinary creativity and the Keys’ indigenous cuisine in a tasty schedule of events for food lovers. Highlights include the lively ‘Duval Uncorked Deconstructed, neighbourhood wine strolls, food and wine pairings, intriguing seminars, an outdoor artisan wine market and a ‘Mile 0’ grand tasting. Visit www.keywestfoodandwinefestival.com.
30 January-10 February: Paddle with the Authors from Key Largo to Key West. Key Largo to Key West. Join Bill and Mary Burnham, authors of the award-winning ‘Florida Keys Paddling Atlas’, on their annual 100-mile kayak expedition from Key Largo to the Southernmost Point in Key West. They act as the sole guides for this epic journey along the Florida Keys Overseas Paddling Trail. Visit www.burnhamguides.com.
8-14 February: 32nd Winter Star Party. Big Pine & the Lower Keys. Approximately 600 astronomers from around the world gather to view southern constellations, comets and stars in the Lower Keys’ clear night skies – virtually the only place in the continental U.S. where they can be viewed. Lectures, programs and workshops round out the event. Visit www.scas.org/winter-star-party.
5 March: Conch Shell Blowing Contest. Key West. An island tradition for more than 50 years, this unique contest celebrates the historic importance of conch in the Keys and features contestants attempting to make ‘music’ with fluted conch shells. Visit www.oirf.org.
12-13 March: The Original Marathon Seafood Festival. Marathon. One of the Middle Keys’ signature family events, the festival features gourmet delicacies from the waters of the Florida Keys, live music, a kids’ play area and an array of vendors. The annual weekend event generally attracts more than 20,000 seafood lovers and families to Marathon Community Park. Visit www.marathonseafoodfestival.com.
9 April: 35th Annual Seven Mile Bridge Run. Marathon. A field of 1,500 runners participate in this annual foot race across what is believed to be the longest segmental bridge in the world. Visit www.7mbrun.com.
9-10 April: Florida Keys Island Fest. Islamorada. The 25th annual event features music, art, food and fun. Island Fest hosts a notable art show with 100 artists and crafters, great live music and a ‘Taste of the Islands’ competition where the best Upper Keys restaurants compete for coveted awards. Visit www.islamoradachamber.com.
TBC April: 34th Annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration. Key West. Parades, bed races, parties and a wacky ‘drag race’ commemorate the founding of the Conch Republic on 23 April, 1982, in response to a U.S. Border Patrol roadblock that halted traffic in and out of the Florida Keys. The 10-day birthday party showcases the independent and eccentric spirit that characterizes the Florida Keys. Visit www.conchrepublic.com.
11-15 May: Kamp Key West. This third annual event is designed for LGBTA outdoor enthusiasts and adventurists who fondly remember all the fun and games of summer camp, with on-the-water subtropical island activities and games for adults. Visit www.kampkeywest.org.
12-15 May: Key Largo’s Original Music Festival. Key Largo. Enjoy the food, entertainment and ambiance of Key Largo during this singer and songwriter event. Multiple ‘on the water’ venues feature songwriters and musicians from around America including hit makers from Nashville together with unique local entertainers. Visit www.keylargooriginalmusicfest.com.
8-12 June: Key West Pride. Key West. The festival honours diversity, openness and freedom in the city that is consistently recognised as one of the world’s top gay and lesbian holiday destinations. Events typically include pool and dance parties, comedy and film, a street fair, contests, a pride parade, drag shows and more. Visit www.keywestpride.org.
2-4 July: Key Lime Festival. Key West. A wacky Miss Key Lime Pageant, pie-eating and cooking contests, and other tasty temptations await Key West visitors during the fourth annual Key Lime Festival celebrating the Florida Keys’ signature dessert. A Key Lime Martini and Margarita Sip and Stroll will kick off the weekend-long event. Visit www.keylimefestival.com.
3-5 July: 4th of July Weekend Super Boat International Offshore Race. Marathon. Super Boat International brings the tradition of July 4 offshore racing back to Marathon, where high-speed powerboats competed for years under and along the famous Seven Mile Bridge. In addition, an extensive July 4 fireworks show is to be produced. Visit www.superboat.com.
9 July: 32nd Annual Underwater Music Festival. Big Pine & the Lower Keys. A quirky concert broadcast underwater for divers, snorkelers and the occasional mermaid emphasizes reef preservation. The submerged songfest is held at Looe Key Reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Visit www.lowerkeyschamber.com.
21-24 July: 36th Annual Hemingway Days. Key West. The 36th annual celebration of the legendary author Ernest Hemingway’s work and lifestyle features literary readings, a short story competition, marlin fishing tournament, Sloppy Joe’s ‘Papa’ Hemingway Look-Alike Contest and more. Hemingway lived and wrote in Key West during the 1930s. Visit www.sloppyjoes.com for look-alike events or www.hemingwaydays.net for all other events.
TBC – August: Anything That Floats Race. Key Largo. Participants grab their oars and anything that floats to compete in this wacky, family-friendly, on-the-water race of vessels crafted from items found around the house. Visit www.keylargoanythingthatfloatsrace.com.
TBC – September: Key West Brewfest. Key West. More than 150 beers and micro-brews are to be on tap at this ‘tasty’ event that benefits the Key West Sunrise Rotary Club of the Conch Republic. Beer tastings, seminars, food, parties, musical rhythms and the Signature Tasting Festival round out the weekend activities. Visit www.keywestbrewfest.com.
23-24 September: Conch Scramble ‘On the Water’ Golf Tournament. Islamorada. This wacky on-the-water charity golf tournament brings together four-person teams to enjoy a game of nine holes by boat. Participants ‘drive’ biodegradable golf balls toward floating greens (without any sand traps) and proceeds benefit Keys charities. Visit www.conchscramble.com.
TBC October: 4th Annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival. Key Largo. The festival celebrates the legendary actor’s life and films on the island setting of his classic ‘Key Largo.’ Events include screenings of Bogie’s classics and other memorable films, a gala ball, tours on the restored African Queen and a panel discussion with the star’s son. Visit www.bogartfilmfestival.com.
21-30 October: 37th Annual Fantasy Fest. Key West. This outrageous 10-day costuming and masking celebration features flamboyant costume competitions including one for pets, promenades, street fairs and a grand parade that stars marching groups, island bands and lavish floats. Visit www.fantasyfest.com.
TBC November: Key Largo Bridge Run. Key Largo. Enjoy the sunrise where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf of Mexico while racing over part of the historic 18-Mile Stretch and the Jewfish Creek Bridge at the gateway to the Keys. The race is an outreach of Key Largo Baptist Church. Visit www.keylargobridgerun.com.
31 December: New Year’s Eve Celebrations. Key West. The Southernmost City typically celebrates with a ‘conch shell drop’ at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, the descent of a super-sized red high-heel shoe carrying drag queen Sushi at the Bourbon St. Pub/New Orleans House complex, the lowering of a pirate wench from atop a tall ship’s mast at the Schooner Wharf Bar, and the ‘splashdown’ of a huge replica Key lime wedge into a giant margarita glass at Ocean Key Resort. Visit www.sloppyjoes.com, www.bourbonstpub.com, www.schoonerwharf.com and www.oceankey.com.
A full schedule of events throughout the Keys can be found at www.fla-keys.com/calendarofevents
For further information on the Florida Keys & Key West, visit: www.fla-keys.co.uk