Military Events in Florida
By Lauren Tjaden
Florida is home to unique, military-themed annual events that you can’t find anywhere else. Put some of these events on your must-do list to make your Sunshine State experience shine. Please check individual websites for more details.
BATTLE OF OLUSTEE REENACTMENT AND ANNUAL OLUSTEE FESTIVAL
The Festival & Craft Show promises to keep the whole gang entertained, with arts and crafts, food, entertainment, plus a kids’ area featuring bounce houses, pony rides, rock climbing walls, train rides and more. Don’t miss the battle; it’s the largest, annual Civil War event in the southeastern United States, with over 1,700 Civil War reenactors, plus Civil War authors, historical exhibitors and almost continuous presentations.
Where: Olustee Battlefield State Park (reenactment), downtown Lake City (festival)
Web: battleofolustee.org (reenactment), olusteefestival.com/ (festival)
CASTILLO DE SAN MARCOS NATIONAL MONUMENT COLONIAL WEAPONS DEMONSTRATION
See reenactors wearing Colonial Spanish uniforms fire historic weapons, including real cannons, at the Castillo De San Marcos. The fort holds the distinction of being the oldest stone and mortar fort in the United States, with its construction beginning in 1672, while Florida was still part of the Spanish Empire. The fort has been under the control of Great Britain, the Confederate States, and the United States as well as Spain.
Where: Castillo De San Marcos National Monument, St. Augustine
When: Year round on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at scheduled times throughout the day.
Web: Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
BLUE ANGELS PRACTICES
Watch the world-famous pilots practice for free, demonstrating air maneuvers that include the jets flying a mere 18 inches apart, barrel rolls, formation loops, and more. Each practice session is an hour long. The pilots sign autographs and answers questions after most Wednesday sessions in the Blue Angels Atrium at the National Naval Aviation Museum.
Where: Naval Air Station Pensacola
When: March through early November
Sacking, burning and pillaging: Drake's Raid involves them all in this popular annual event recreating the historic 1586 raid, when 2,000 Englishmen in 23 ships attacked the Spanish settlement of San Agustín, ending at the Plaza de la Constitución. During the day, the Colonial Quarter showcases a recreated 16th-century-style military encampment, featuring drills, weapons demonstrations and living history interpretations.
Where: Fountain of Youth Park, St. Augustine
STARS & STRIPES AT SEASIDE
Independence Day in South Walton is celebrated with a day of patriotic activities, beginning with the annual July 4th parade along State Road 30A and ending with a concert and fireworks under the starry night sky.
Where: State Road 30A and the Seaside Amphitheater, Seaside
When: July 4
RED, WHITE AND BLUES WEEK FEATURING THE PENSACOLA BEACH AIR SHOW
This humdinger of an airshow stars Pensacola’s hometown heroes — the Blue Angels — the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron. The Angels will thrill crowds with several performances right off the beach. A veterans flight, Skip Stewart and other exhibitions round out the aerial adventures.
Where: Pensacola Beach
JACKSONVILLE SEA AND SKY SPECTACULAR
Enjoy this free event with your toes in the sand and your eyes to the sky. The famed United States Navy Blue Angels take center-stage in the exciting over-the-ocean show, but it also features other military and civilian flight teams. On-the-ground action includes live entertainment, a street festival featuring static displays of aircraft and military vehicles, simulators, recruitment booths, a kids area and much more
Where: Jacksonville Beach
HONOR THE SOLDIER AND SAILOR
Veterans Day Parades and celebrations across northern Florida remember and honor the sacrifices of veterans and their families. Check out these ceremonies, some complete with marching bands, vintage military aircraft and vehicles and more—and don’t forget to thank a vet. If you don’t see a Veterans Day Event in your area listed here, please check with the area’s visitors services for offerings that haven’t been included.
· Clay County Veterans Appreciation Day Event – Held in Orange Park, Clay County extends a thank-you to veterans with fun and services that include everything from a climbing wall and face-painting to flu-shots and haircuts. claycountygov.com/veterans-appreciation
· Honoring Veterans: Past, Present and Future – Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Santa Rosa Beach hails Veterans Day with programs, exhibits and activities commemorating the bond between the park, the Florida panhandle and the local military. A flag ceremony kicks off the day, followed by Breakfast with a Ranger. Bring your troops; a Kids Korner will ensure your little ones have fun. This event is free, and park admission is free during the event. floridastateparks.org/veterans-past-present-and-future
· History of the Soldier – Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach remembers all of our country’s major armed conflicts from 1775 to today with reenactments. The stories come alive with uniforms, guns and action. The cost is one canned food item per person. floridastateparks.org/history-soldier
· Alachua County Veterans Day Celebration – Held at Veterans Memorial Park in Gainesville, this celebration will demand your attention with skydivers, veteran, military and organizational tents, live music, helicopter displays, the UF Drill Team demonstration, and multiple patriotic ceremonies. alachuacounty.us/Veterans-Day-Celebration
· A Musical Salute: Veterans Day Concert – This emotional event, held at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Gainesville is highlighted by the Buchholz High School Band & Aviance performing patriotic songs. Admission is free with one non-perishable food item for the Food4 Kids Backpack Program of North Florida. visitgainesville.com/musical-salute-veterans-day
· St. Augustine Beach Veterans Day Memorial – Held at Lakeside Park Veterans in St. Augustine Beach, this annual Veterans Day commemoration includes a vocalist, an honor guard and bagpipers, along with special guest speakers and veterans groups.
BLUE ANGELS HOMECOMING SHOW
Inspiring. Unbelievable. Incredible. That’s how folks describe the Blue Angels airshows-- and the words don’t do them justice. The pilots of the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron are American air show favorites, thrilling audiences across the nation with their precision, speed and aerobatics. This show is traditionally their last performance of the year before they return to their winter training facility in California.
Where: Naval Air Station Pensacola
ANNUAL PAL DAY IN ST. AUGUSTINE
America’s first city honors our troops and their families with free admission to many of its attractions, including Alligator Farm Zoological Park, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum and Fountain of Youth. The Elks Lodge also serves free lunches to these families; the city tops off the freebies with complimentary parking downtown.
Where: various venues, St. Augustine
THE DADE MASSACRE
See history come to life at this reenactment, staged on the original site at the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park. In 1835, a column of 107 soldiers led by Major Dade were ambushed by 180 Seminole warriors, resisting the government’s efforts to remove their people to a reservation. Only three U.S. soldiers survived, and only three Seminole warriors were killed. The battle brought about the Second Seminole War.
Where: Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, Bushnell
When: First full weekend in January
THE BROOKSVILLE RAID
Cannons roar! Horses gallop! Guns fire! With bragging rights as one of the largest Civil War reenactments in Florida, the Raid features more than 1,500 reenactors as well as their families. While you’re there, tour the authentic confederate and union camps for a view of what life was like for armies in the field. Vendors, fry bread, and even pony rides round out the fun.
Where: Sand Hill Scout Reservation, Brooksville
When: Third Weekend in January
THE FORT FOSTER RENDEZVOUS
Fort Foster State Historic Site, home to a reproduction of the fort built by Colonel William S. Foster and his troops in 1836, hosts this annual reenactment. Historical reenactors don their uniforms and recreate skirmishes from the Second Seminole War, complete with firing demonstrations of 19th century weapons. Besides the battles, enjoy demonstrations showing how people of that time lived and worked, and explore camps showing the living conditions of the troops while they were stationed at Fort Foster.
When: January or February
Where: Fort Foster State Historic Site, Thonotosassa (by Zephyrhills)
TICO WARBIRD AIRSHOW
Keep your eyes glued to the clouds in this three-day event showcasing restored military aircraft from World War I through Desert Storm. Dogfights, strafing, bombing, skydiving and military jets are bound to thrill, along with top-notch aerobatic and military shows. Make sure to check out the aircraft pit area and the flea/fly market for some air-worthy memorabilia.
Where: Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum, Titusville
When: March (the show has been postponed in 2020 but will return in 2021)
SUN 'N FUN INTERNATIONAL FLY-IN & EXPO
This six-day celebration of aviation is recognized as the second largest event of its kind in the world-- and it has something for everyone, from picnicking families to hard-core adrenaline addicts, for the young and the only young-at-heart, for history-lovers and innovation-lovers alike. If it flies, you can see or learn about it here, whether it’s a hot air balloon, a hang glider, a jet or vintage aircraft.
When: Late March or early April
Scads of Veterans Day Parades and celebrations honor the sacrifices of veterans and their families at these central Florida ceremonies, featuring combat veterans, military vehicles and aircraft, special memorials and more. If you don’t see a Veterans Day Event in your area listed here, please check with the area’s visitors services for offerings that haven’t been included.
· Orlando Veterans Day Parade – Marching bands, ROTC units, active duty military troops, decorative floats and veterans groups from all military branches come together to honor the brave men and women who’ve served our country. orlando.gov/Veterans-Day-Parade
· Veterans Day Weekend Open House – Active and retired military are invited to the Valiant Air Command in Titusville to enjoy fly-bys, meet veteran combat veterans, and browse the collection of over 50 historic combat aircraft and memorabilia. facebook.com/open-house
· Veterans Day Parade, Ruskin –Besides a parade resplendent with floats and military vehicles, this event includes a free, after-parade community cookout and awards ceremony at Ruskin Memorial VFW Post 6287. facebook.com/events/ruskin
· Haines City Veterans Day Ceremony – Celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of our United States Veterans at Railroad Park in Downtown Haines City. facebook.com/pg/hainescity
· Volusia County Veterans Day Parade – This parade kicks off in high-flying style with a vintage military aircraft flyover. Veterans take center stage at the parade, a moving tribute to of all branches of the service that includes military vehicles, marching bands and patriotic floats. The celebration continues throughout the day in historic Downtown DeLand. mainstreetdeland.org
· The Town N Country Community Veterans Day Parade – One of the largest parades in Florida honoring veterans, this procession salutes our service men and women with over 60 marching and rolling units. Tampa Bay citizens support the troops with a turnout estimated at over 20,000. hveteransparade.org
· Polk County Veterans Council Veterans Day Ceremony – Held at Veterans Memorial Park in Lakeland, this event starts with a ceremony followed by a parade. polkveteranscouncil.com
· Citrus County’s Veterans Appreciation Week – A Dragon Boat Festival, a parade, a Veterans Fair, and even a flea market – this collection of 17 events celebrating veterans has everything! The events are held at varied locations around Citrus County. visitinvernessfl.com
THE BATTLE OF BOWLEGS CREEK HERITAGE FESTIVAL
This annual reenactment is staged almost like a round theater, so observers can easily navigate the perimeter of the battlefield to see the conflict from different angles, complete with booming cannons. It commemorates Polk County’s only Civil War battle.
Where: Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area, also known as Peace River Park
CIVIL WARS DAYS HERITAGE FESTIVAL
During Civil War Heritage Days, Fort Zachary Taylor and the surrounding areas transform into a lively 1861 community comprised of Union and Confederate soldiers, craftsmen and townspeople. The excitement includes a Duval Street parade, weapons demos, reenactments and is complete with a sea battle and blockade-runner’s trial
Where: Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park in Key West
BIG CYPRESS SHOOTOUT
Through the longest and most expensive Indian War in U.S. history, the Seminole people remained unconquered. In this chilling reenactment from the Second Seminole War, Seminole warriors and U. S. soldiers go to battle, circa 1835-42. A concert, Native American food, live music, alligator wrestling, vendors and more complete the attractions.
WARRIORS ON THE WATER
This free event invites local veterans to enjoy guided interpretive walks through the pine flatwoods, guided kayak trips through the pristine Savannas basin marsh, hayrides, plus a free lunch and a chance to visit the Savannas Education Center.
Where: Savannas Preserve State Park, Port. St. Lucie
FLEET WEEK PORT EVERGLADES
Feel the excitement and spirit of the military at Fleet Week Port Everglades, with more than 1,200 members of the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard descending on Fort Lauderdale. Fleet Week promises a Pearl Harbor Memorial, a concert and a chance for visitors to tour active Navy and Coast Guard ships—but don’t delay if you want to tour the ships, reservations are needed and available spots fill quickly.
Where: Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL AIR SHOW
Family and fan-friendly, this three-day festival features superstar performers like the USAF Thunderbirds, the SOCOM Para–Commandos and Patty Wagstaff. The event also includes aircraft displays, interactive exhibitions and a finale fireworks show.
Where: Punta Gorda Airport, Punta Gorda
NEVER FORGET THE VET
Parades! Vintage military aircraft and vehicles! Marching bands! Patriotic floats! Heartwarming ceremonies! Honor the sacrifices of veterans and their families at these southern Florida Veterans Day Parades and celebrations. If you don’t see a Veterans Day Event in your area listed here, please check with the area’s visitors services for offerings that haven’t been included.
· Town of Miami Lakes Veterans Day Parade – For over thirty years, Miami-Dade County has saluted Veterans with this block-buster parade. The parade can be viewed from multiple locations along Ludlam Road from Bull Run Road to Eagles Nest. You’re urged to demonstrate your support by wearing red, white and blue, and by waving flags as the parade participants pass by. facebook.com/townofmiamilakes
· City of Wilton Manors Veterans Day Ceremony – Pay tribute to the men and women that made our freedom possible, listening to moving stories and letters home from soldiers in each of the U.S. wars. wiltonmanors.com/Veterans-Day-Ceremony
· Veterans Day Parade in Lake Park – This lively parade is followed by the Annual Veterans Day Car Show at Kelsey Park. lakeparkflorida.gov
· Downtown Fort Myers Veterans Parade – Downtown Fort Myers’ River District comes alive with this parade that begins on Jackson Street at the American Legion and proceeds through Jackson, Main and First Street, ending with a commemorative program in front of the SBDAC. .fortmyersriverdistrictalliance.com
STUART AUDI AIR SHOW
This show boasts it has ‘the most planes in the air and on the ground ever,’ and that’s hardly an overstatement. The demonstrations are unique, like a flight that features modern U.S. Navy fighters formation-flying with warbirds from the Navy's past. You can step into the action, too, with a flight on a rare, historical aircraft, including a C-47, B-17, UH-1 Huey Helicopter, and more. The offerings continue with static aircraft, a classic and vintage car show, STEAM World, and more.
Where: Witham Field, Stuart
Resources for More Military Events
The Florida Military Vehicle Preservation Association invites everyone to join their group, and lists a near-constant flow of military events all over the state: flmvpa.org