Special Events & Activities on Florida's Beaches
By Carrie McLaren
Florida is always good for a relaxing lounge in the sun in the water and on the sand. But what if you want even more?
The Sunshine State's 825 miles of beaches offer a diversity of activities and to suit every taste.
There's the comforting stuff you might expect -- think beach volleyball tournaments and surfing contests. And then there's the wildly unexpected -- ever been to a “mullet toss”?
Here’s a roundup of some of the most interesting special events in Florida and fun Florida beach activities that you can see and do here.
Special Events in Northwest Florida
In March, gather the family for the Perdido Key Mardi Gras Celebration, featuring a boat parade, a Cajun cook-off, live music, and a fantastic fireworks display over the waterfront. The annual Interstate Mullet Toss, held every April, features live music, food, and contestants competing to see who can throw fish the farthest across the state line.
In Destin, the two-month long World Championship Cobia Tournament attracts more than 15,000 competitors. On shore, the Destin 50 Beach Ultra Marathon is a February weekend of running -- from five miles to 50 -- and benefits the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. St. Joe Beach hosts the Beach Blast Sprint Triathlon & Duathlon twice a year, in late April and mid-September.
On Fort Walton Beach, Burning Up the Beaches is a May weekend fundraiser of cars, cruising and parties. In the Gulf, and on Choctawhatchee Bay, the first-person adrenaline rushes include parasailing, pontooning, waterskiing, sailing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, and jet skiing. Visit emeraldcoastfl.com.
Finally, the Florida Lighthouse Challenge, invites energetic history buffs to visit and or climb four lighthouses in northwest Florida over two days: Cape St. George Lighthouse on St. George Island; Crooked River Lighthouse in Carrabelle; St. Marks Lighthouse in St. Marks; and Cape San Blas Lighthouse on Cape San Blas.
Special Events in Florida's Gulf Coast
On Clearwater Beach, don’t miss the nightly sunset festival at Pier 60 with arts/crafts vendors, food, live music, and a spectacular sunset along the waterfront.
At the TradeWinds Island Resort on St. Pete Beach, guests and visitors can play a game of cornhole, horseshoes, or bocce ball on the beach, or gather a group for volleyball. Beachgoers can also cruise the coastline in a WaveRunner, or see dolphins playing on a Dolphin Watch cruise.
Fort De Soto Beach, touted as one of America’s best beaches, has seven miles of waterfront at Fort De Soto Park, including almost three miles of white sandy beach and waterside sites for camping. The park also features has a dog beach for four-legged friends.
On Anna Maria Island and the Bradenton area, in addition to kayaking, parasailing, and Segway tours, you’ll find a less conventional way of enjoying the waterfront: ride a horse on the beach. Riders can trot along the shores of Palma Sola Bay before taking their horses into the saltwater for a swim.
Born from a spontaneous event that started with a few locals banging on bongos, the community drum circle at Siesta Key Beach gathers every Sunday about an hour before sunset, just south of the main pavilion on Siesta Public Beach. Cyclers can rent a beach cruiser from Siesta Sports Rentals to explore the coastline.
Thought to be one of the best shelling beaches in the world, Sanibel Island and Captiva islands’ host the Shellabration festival in March. Be sure to also visit the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum for an education on these beautiful treasures.
Special Events in South Florida
Greater Fort Lauderdale has 23 miles of coastline, including six award-winning beaches that were certified as Blue Wave Beaches by the Clean Beaches Council of Washington D.C.
Thanks to a $25-million renovation project launched in the 1990s, Fort Lauderdale Beach has been transformed from a spring break hangout into a bustling resort of open-air shops, seaside cafe,s decadent spas, and high-end accommodations.
Only swaying palms and sea grass separate the sands of Hollywood from its 2.5-mile brick-paved promenade the Broadwalk, which creates a car-free fun zone for all ages. The retro-cool beach is not only a popular spot for biking and rollerblading, but it also has an abundance of open-air cafes, an organic market and a kid-friendly park.
Four-legged family members can frolic off-leash at the Dog Beach of Hollywood between Pershing and Custer streets. It's near the spot where Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, and a team of Labradors filmed the 2008 big-screen hit Marley and Me.
A natural, wildlife-rich oasis, Dania Beach combines scenic sea oat-lined dunes with the mangrove-lined tidal waterway of Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent at the park, carrying visitors close to wading birds and possibly even an endangered manatee in the Whiskey Creek sanctuary.
Special Events in Miami-Dade County
You can’t visit Miami's beaches without stopping at Lummus Park along Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, from Fifth to 14th streets. This is where the beautiful people meet for volleyball, rollerblading, jogging, and people-watching. The park runs parallel to the ocean, sandwiched between dozens of sidewalk cafes, restaurants and the sea.
In the northern part of the county, there’s Haulover Beach Park, a 1.4-mile beach that even has a designated “clothing optional” area. Tucked between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, it has shaded picnic facilities sand dunes and concession stands. It’s a great spot for surfing.
The park at the southernmost tip of Key Biscayne is the home of a historic lighthouse built in 1825 -- the oldest-standing structure in Miami-Dade County. Bikes, hydrobikes, and kayaks can be rented while anglers throw their lines from the seawall along Biscayne Bay.
Also away from South Beach are Homestead Bayfront Park in the south and Oleta River State Park in the north, which both offer sandy beaches on Biscayne Bay. Oleta is popular for kayaking and even has sleepover cabins.
Special Events in the Florida Keys
Experts rank the Fort Jefferson beaches at the Dry Tortugas National Park the “best thing to do in Key West.” The day-long snorkel trip is 90 miles away by ferry and includes breakfast, lunch, and a tour of the historic fort.
Back on the mainland, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is the locals’ favorite. The 87-acre state park has a pre-Civil War fort and gorgeous sunsets. With its mix of sand and coral rock the beach is rockier than most, so bring your sand shoes. Lots of shade and picnic tables make it a good spot for lunch.
Smathers Beach is where you’ll find most of the bikini-wearing, volleyball-playing flocks that come to enjoy tanning and beach sport rentals like parasailing and jet skiing. This half-mile stretch along the island’s southern shore has ample parking, volleyball nets, and food trucks.
About 35 miles north of Key West is Bahia Honda State Park, a public beach that the Travel Channel rated one of the 10 best beaches in the country. This park is known for its near-shore snorkeling and extensive campgrounds. Part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, it is home to wonderful opportunities for bird-watching.
Special Events on Florida's East Coast
Daytona Beach feels like a playground with parasailing, banana boat rides, and scooters and bicycles available for rent -- right from the sand. Cars are allowed on some stretches of beaches, although with limits of 10 mph, this isn’t Daytona International Speedway.
Cocoa Beach - Farther south, the Ron Jon Easter Surfing Festival includes competitions for men, women, and children as young as six. The April event draws hundreds of thousands, yet both parking and admission are free.
Horseback riding on the beach is a bit of a rarity in Florida, but you can saddle up in St. Lucie County’s Hutchinson Island, where the parks department offers horseback tours of the beach on Sundays.
Special Events in Northeast Florida
In Jacksonville Beach, Blues performers and barbecue combine to make Springing the Blues at the Sea Walk Pavilion a nationally recognized music festival in April. The Great Atlantic Festival is the only oceanfront seafood festival in the Southeast. In February, Jacksonville Beach hosts the 26.2 with Donna Marathon, benefitting breast cancer research with a portion of the marathon taking place on the beach itself.
At St. Augustine Beach Pier Pavilion, weekly evening concerts are provided on Wednesdays through September. A local restaurant also offers a meal at the event for under $10.
In historic Fernandina Beach, don’t miss the Great Southern Tailgate Cookoff, sancitioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Association. It lures professional teams as well as amateurs who cook up their best barbecue at the Main Beach on Amelia Island.