Visitors easily enjoy watersports and energetic eco-adventures, unparalleled offshore diving and organized sporting challenges for endurance-sports enthusiasts, but also enjoy a little wackiness while they’re at it. Put one or all of these “Only in the Keys” events on your bucket list.
Each April, a nearly 40-year-old foot race over the convergence of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico temporarily closes the world-famous Seven Mile Bridge, the longest of 42 spans on the Florida Keys' Overseas Highway. Slow runners in the iconic race risk being collected by the sweep bus, which picks up racers who don’t keep a steady pace, creating a lighthearted “beat the bus” approach to the unique, community-minded Seven Mile Bridge Run.
Attractions for paddleboard and self-propelled watercraft fans include the 12-mile Key West Paddle Classic, a race around the United States' southernmost island that usually takes place in May.
Key West Island Swim: FKCC Swim Around Key West, held each June, is a 12.5-mile swim clockwise around the entire island of Key West. Individual swimmers and relay teams can compete. The route takes swimmers through the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, ending where they began at Smathers Beach.
Islamorada's 8-mile Swim for Alligator Light, generally held each September, raises awareness about the need to preserve the Keys' aging offshore lighthouses, while offering challengers a unique fast-paced swim in open ocean waters.
Every July, the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival entertains divers and snorkelers during a one-of-a-kind underwater concert to promote reef protection. Staged the first Saturday following the July 4 holiday, the intriguing event takes place at Looe Key Reef, an area of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary approximately 6 miles south of Big Pine Key. The sanctuary protects the waters surrounding the entire Florida Keys island chain including the world's third-largest living coral barrier reef.
An offbeat festival that commemorates the Florida Keys’ symbolic secession from the United States is celebrated in April. The Conch Republic Independence Celebration recognizes the republic, which was born following a 1982 U.S. Border Patrol blockade of the island chain. In protest, citizens organized the secession, declared war on the mother country, surrendered 60 seconds later and demanded $1 billion in foreign aid. The anniversary of the secession is marked each year with a roster of eccentric events.
Attendees of Fantasy Fest, Key West’s annual 10-day calendar of renowned revelry each October, can anticipate creative costuming, offbeat artistry and a blend of colorful new events and longtime favorites for masked and costumed revelers. The themed festival features several dozen masquerade balls, costume contests, exotic parties and showcases for quirky creativity, all climaxing in the lavish Fantasy Fest Parade.
In a list of the “best of the United States” by TripAdvisor, Key West’s nightly Sunset Celebration has been named America’s best free attraction. For nearly 40 years, the daily fête at Mallory Square has drawn large nightly crowds to applaud the talents of colorful street performers, view local artisans’ handmade wares and watch the sun sink beneath the horizon beyond Key West Harbor.
A tightrope walker, jugglers, mimes, fortunetellers and musicians are among the attractions. Sunset celebrants also can browse and buy from local artists selling items ranging from jewelry and hand painted T-shirts to photography and paintings.
Florida Keys calendar of events: fla-keys.com/calendar/
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
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