Dig your toes in the sand and kick up your heels…it’s party time! Seaside festivals are a common occurrence on Florida’s shores, acknowledged to be among the most beautiful in the world.
Whether you rejoice in the rhythmic pounding of Atlantic waves or the placid waters of the Gulf, a stunning sunrise or a dazzling sunset, our sun-swept strands incessantly inspire revelry. And as each beach is unique in character, so is its community, culture and causes for celebration, resulting in some pretty implausible parties any place but here.
Where else but in the quirky Florida Keys can you attend a music festival and art exhibit under the sea? Destin, known as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” holds an actual fishing rodeo and Cocoa Beach, “The Surfing Capital of the East Coast,” hosts the oldest and largest surfing event in the state. Fernandina Beach is credited with being the birthplace of the modern commercial shrimping industry and delightfully denotes this distinction with a juicy shrimp jubilee. Sexy South Beach, home of models and movie stars, struts its stuff at an oceanfront fitness spectacle with competitors from around the world.
Hail sandcastles, shark teeth, mullet and anything but the mundane. Join in the celebrations of and at our bountiful beaches.
SINK YOUR TEETH INTO THIS
Millions of prehistoric shark teeth wash up on the beaches in Venice, “The Shark’s Tooth Capital of the World.” To celebrate its tooth-laden shores, each April the city holds an annual BB&T Venice Sharks Tooth Festival, where visitors voraciously devour three days of food, fossils, arts & crafts, music and fun for the whole family and all proceeds from this festival benefit the Special Olympic athletes of Sarasota County. Held at the Venice Airport Festival grounds, the festival showcases shark teeth, shark jaws, stingray spine fragments, ray teeth, alligator teeth, sea biscuits and more. Artisans sell homemade crafts, jewelry, clothes and other sea-related treasures. Food vendors serve up delicious dishes from seafood to BBQ; live entertainment is non-stop and kids enjoy a game and ride area. A fascinating hands-on exhibit by Mote Marine Laboratory rounds out the fun. Music at the festival is a crowd-pleasing combo of everything from country western to calypso and includes reggae, salsa, rock n’ roll, Cajun and blues.
Something’s fishy at The Flora-Bama Lounge in Perdido Key. Conveniently perched on the Florida-Alabama state line, it hosts the Annual Interstate Mullet Toss, a wacky April tournament where participants heave a dead mullet from Alabama into Florida. They don’t necessarily dislike Alabama; they just know how to have a good time. Bathing suit-clad contestants compete in a number of categories by age groups (ranging from one to 99 years old), including physically challenged, coed and gender-specific. The event has been called Gulf Coast's greatest beach party and has even attracted an Olympic javelin thrower to enter the competition. The owners of the Flora-Bama Lounge have tried for years to have mullet tossing included in the Guinness Book of World Records, but so far, the sheer love of the sport will have to suffice. It’s great fun to watch and offers spectators a reason to eat, drink and be merry; live music, drinks and food accompany this weekend.
Surf’s up! You’ll hear that a lot at Cocoa Beach, “The Surfing Capital of the East Coast.” It’s here that the longest running and most widely attended surfing festival and contests take place. More than 100,000 people attend the annual Easter Surfing Festival held for four days over Easter weekend. The family-oriented event is as thrilling as it is fun, with professional and amateur competitions in shortboard and longboard surfing, skim board and paddle board races. The Longboard Magazine men’s and women’s pro events are part of three surfing competitions in the U.S. that determine the national longboard champions. Sponsored by the “World’s Most Famous” Ron Jon Surf Shop, the festival takes place at both Shepard Park Beach and the Cocoa Beach Pier. Swim, surf, shop and sing along to music by live bands.
WHO YOU CALLIN’ A SHRIMP?
A small island resort community, Amelia’s quaint Victorian seaport of Fernandina Beach holds the famous Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival during the first weekend in May. Why shrimp? It was here, early in the 20th century, that these crustaceans became a commercial commodity, as this is where the modern shrimping industry was born. If you love the plump little palate-pleasers, Fernandina’s festival is the place to be. The party promises tons of shrimp, literally, cooked in a variety of ways. The festival also showcases the creations of 325 award-winning artists and craftspeople from all over the country. You’ll find original works in oils, acrylics and watercolor; pottery, sculpture, photography, crafts, fine antiques and unique jewelry. Musical entertainers perform jazz, pop, rock, beach music, folk, country and big band. A Kids Fun Zone will keep the kids hopping until nightfall when pirates invade and the fireworks begin on Friday night.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST
Whether penning novels in his Whitehead Street studio or fishing for big game in local waters, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway left an enduring legacy in Key West. That legacy is celebrated annually in July at Key West’s Hemingway Days, a 5-day festival of non-stop fun. An unquestioned highlight is the “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest. Each year, nearly 125 stocky, bearded men enter the competition, held at Sloppy Joe’s bar on Duval Street, Hemingway’s regular hangout. The Papa compadres also take part in other festival events, including a Meet the Papas Reception and the offbeat Running of the Bulls. There’s also a street fair, a nationally acclaimed marlin tournament, authors’ readings and occasional book signings. Hemingway Days’ literary highlight is the announcement by Lorian Hemingway, a critically acclaimed author and Ernest’s granddaughter, of the winners of her internationally recognized short story competition.
SINGING WITH THE FISHES
At the Annual Underwater Music Festival off Big Pine Key in July, divers and snorkelers are treated to an underwater concert of water-themed music. It’s a sensory explosion: Neon fish scamper past brain coral and sea grass in multicolored hues. Sea fans tap their fins to broadcast selections ranging from the pop charts to those influenced by sounds from under the sea. Divers and snorkelers pretend to play wacky underwater instruments sculpted by local artist August Powers. They include a "trombonefish" and a "clambourine." The festival is held beneath the sunlit waters of Looe Key Reef about six miles south of Big Pine Key, part of the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, which is known for its colorful diversity of marine life. If you don’t have your own boat to take to Looe Key, dive shops and charter boats throughout the Lower Keys will provide transportation.
The old salt saying goes, “the bluer the water, the bigger the fish.” It’s not just a catchy phrase, and nowhere is it more evident than in Destin, “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” Each October, the Destin Fishing Rodeo reels in more than 30,000 anglers to compete throughout the month for more than $100,000 in cash and prizes Whether you’re trolling inshore for king mackerel, offshore for marlin and sailfish, or fishing the deep bottoms for red snapper and grouper, you’ll be in the running for daily, weekly and overall prizes. Categories include men, women and junior anglers. Virtually every game fish is recognized with awards. The proximity of deep water is the main reason fishing is so good here, with access to 100-foot depths within a quick 10 miles. More than 20 species of edible game fish are always in seasonal runs, and Destin is said to be the billfishing capital of the northern Gulf.
FIT FOR FUN
Founded on the principles of fun, health and not taking life too seriously, The Miami Beach Sport & Fitness Festival is held each year in the heart of South Beach’s Art Deco district, which, for four days, becomes the world’s biggest sports club on the beach. Test your physical abilities, show off your buff (or not so buff) body, participate in the most sought after cardio classes in the world and sample innovative products from leading companies. Highlights include an underwater kiss contest, aerobic classes to live music, a kid’s corner with children’s games, sports massages under the sun, pumping iron with the pros and the opportunity to watch eight international teams compete in challenges of strength, agility and cardio fitness endurance for the title of “The Fittest City in the World.” Whether you are a sports enthusiast, fitness fanatic or just an avid spectator, this exciting gathering is guaranteed to increase your circulation.
MR. SANDMAN, BRING ME A DREAM
Anyone who has attended the American Sandsculpting Championship Festival knows that sand can be transformed into something beautiful, magical or whimsical. But no matter what, it is always amazing; the skillfully carved sculptures that rise up on Fort Myers Beach each November rival realistic works of art seen in the finest museums. Masters of the craft and amateurs alike join to create what is one of the most popular events held in the area. Many of the Masters believe that the sand on Fort Myers Beach is the best in the world for this unique form of artistic expression, and they look forward to returning each year to participate in the four-day event. And year after year, approximately 45,000 spectators continue to be in awe of the creations that are formed simply by combining water and the fine sugar-white sand from this spectacular beach.
GARLIC LOVERS UNITE
The 13th annual Delray Beach Garlic Fest offers garlic fans the opportunity to celebrate the most widely used and loved food in the world… garlic! Live rock & roll permeates the air along with savory aromas during the three-day weekend of fun-filled events in February. Visit Gourmet Alley for a delectable selection of entrees; shop for fresh garlic braids and specialty garlic toppings, dips and delights along with Garlic Fest posters, cookbooks, wine glasses and more. Let the kids learn, play and be entertained in the children’s area while you sample fine wines at The Cloves and Vines Wine Garden or enjoy cocktails and ice cold beer at the Garlic Oasis Bar. Watch pots and pans fly at the Garlic Chef Stadium as competing chefs create garlic-laced appetizers, entrées and desserts. You can even earn a diploma from Home Depot's Garlic University where you’ll learn about garlic’s health benefits, how to grow it and anything else you ever wanted to know about garlic but were afraid to ask.
THE BEAT GOES ON
A curious phenomenon occurs just before sunset on a number of Florida’s beaches. Barefoot locals of all ages gather in a circle, sporting drums, bongos, buckets and pots to bang out primitive, synchronized rhythms as the sun slips beneath the horizon. Children gleefully rock and bounce without inhibition and small crowds form just to watch and listen. The event is family-oriented and anyone is welcome to sit on the fringes or jump right in.
The drum circle is a timeless tradition that brings friends and strangers together in harmony, and occurs all over the world. In Florida, some of the most popular venues are Treasure Island, Clearwater Beach, Gulfport, Dunedin, Siesta Key, Nokomis Beach, Juno Beach, St. Augustine and Jacksonville. Community drum circles are generally non-publicized; however, there are a number of websites that list locations, days and times and other useful information.
A stroll on the beach, a snooze in the sun, a fresh surfside catch… you’ve spent the day in paradise, why not the night? Sleeping under a blanket of stars is as dreamy as it sounds and as refreshing as an ocean breeze. Here are just a few prime places to pitch your tent:
St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach
Bicycle along emerald green waters, hike, bird watch or fish from the pier. Camping facilities are excellent and include a picnic area, grill and restrooms.
Fort De Soto Park, St. Petersburg
Often termed the most scenic campsite in Florida, Fort De Soto offers two fishing piers, discretely nestled picnic areas and bathhouses, and pure, natural beauty.
Bahia Honda State Park,Big Pine Key
Lush palms, sandy beaches and both deep and shallow waters provide exceptional swimming and snorkeling, fishing, boating and hiking. A picnic area and bathhouses complement cabins and campsites.