5 Must-Do Florida Island Festivals
When you cross the bridge from the mainland onto a Florida island, time moves slower, a different, more relaxed set of rules applies, and often the residents boast colorful personalities. Even the festivals boast an extra streak of eccentricity and fun.
Fling a Fish
The mullet, the only fish with a gizzard and said to possess mystical powers, is the headline attraction in Flora-Bama’s Interstate Mullet Toss and Gulf Coast’s Greatest Beach Party. The festival is held annually on the last full weekend in April on Perdido Key, a dreamy sliver of sugar-sand in Florida’s northwest corner.
Considered by many to be a southern rite of passage, the contest involves throwing mullet toward the state line from a 10-foot circle. The event boasts a legendary weekend-long party, activities, music, food, and even “celebrity tossers.”
Cocoa Beach, located on a barrier island nestled against the Atlantic, is widely recognized as the East Coast Capital of Surfing. So you couldn’t find a better location for the Easter Surf Festival, held over Easter weekend at Cocoa Beach's Lori Wilson Park.
The festival includes surfing competitions for amateurs and professionals, a stand-up paddleboard event, a skim boarding event, and a winch tow competition where the goal is to catch the biggest air. And don’t miss the Dog Surfing.
Spectators have a chance to learn surfing and skim boarding, participate in celebrity signings, attend an Easter egg hunt, enjoy live music, evening entertainment, movies, parties, and experience a Sunrise Service.
The Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival sizzles into the historic, charming enclave of Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island every year in late April or early May. This popular event has been an annual tradition for half a century. It features food booths brimming with shrimp – delicious, firm and sweet – prepared every way imaginable, as well as a juried fine arts and crafts show, antiques, live entertainment, kids activities, contests and a pirate parade. Admission is free.
Toot your Own Horn
Try to belt out a tune using a fluted, pink-lined conch shell at the Conch Shell Blowing Contest, held at Key West's Oldest House (322 Duval St.) in early March of each year. Judges evaluate your sounds – to call the squawking, honking, and bleating music is a stretch – on their quality, duration, loudness and novelty. Though you’ll hear an abundance of noises not normally associated with music, prior contestants have produced melodies as sophisticated as the "Flight of the Bumblebee." The conch honk costs zilch to enter or watch. If you don’t own an ‘instrument’ you can purchase conch shells at the event.
Dig the Sand
You can never tell what you might see among the 30-plus sculptures at the American Sand Sculpting Championships on Fort Myers Beach, held each year in November. More than 1,000 tons of sand will be brought to life. You might discover two kings scowling over chess match.
A rather vicious pumpkin may steal the show.
Or a fantasy castle, complete with turrets, arches and windows, may steal your heart.
The festival holds bragging rights as the largest sand sculpting competition in Florida. It features more than 25 Master Sand Sculptors and hundreds of amateurs, in addition to chainsaw art, Quick Sand Speed Sculpting, sand sculpting demonstrations and lessons, and more than 60 vendors.
Photos by Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA