Festivals and Events
There are numerous and varied festivals throughout the year in Florida. The following is a list of some of the premier events throughout the state; for more details on each, as well as a broader listing of each city’s festival events, consult the individual destinations.
Gasparilla Pirate Festival (Tampa, last weekend in Jan.): For more than a century, Tampa has been “invaded” by pirates who sail into the bay and, thankfully, are more into tossing beads and knocking back booze than pillaging the village. This rowdy festival is a bit bacchanalian, so families may prefer the more low-key Gasparilla Extravaganza, held the weekend before.
ZORA! Festival (Eatonville and Orlando, last week in Jan.): Eatonville is one of the oldest African American communities in the United States, and this weekend festival honors the work of its most famous resident, author Zora Neale Hurston.
Edison Festival of Light (Fort Myers, throughout Feb., most activities on the 3rd weekend): The city of Fort Myers honors inventor Thomas Edison with this monthlong celebration that includes live music, craft shows, and a parade.
Daytona 500 (Daytona Beach, 2nd or 3rd Sun. in Feb.): NASCAR’s racing season kicks off with the Daytona 500, which also acts as the culminating event of the Speedweeks events at the Daytona International Speedway.
Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show (West Palm Beach, Presidents Day weekend): The moneyed residents of the Palm Beach area fill the city’s convention center during this weeklong exhibition of high-end artistry.
South Beach Wine & Food Festival (South Beach and Miami, last weekend in Feb.): Although many of the tastings and seminars at this festival are somewhat pricey, gourmets and casual foodies alike can find plenty to indulge in.
Bike Week (Daytona Beach, last week in Feb.): Daytona Beach without Bike Week—a 10-day “gathering of the tribe” that’s all about loud pipes and louder parties—is like Daytona Beach without the Daytona 500.
Old Florida Festival (Naples, 1st weekend in Mar.): Although the Civil War-era reenactments are the most popular events here, this festival takes an interactive look at all phases of Florida’s history.
Sanibel Shell Fair & Show (Sanibel Island, 1st Thurs.–Sat. in Mar.): The beaches of Sanibel Island are renowned for their splendid shell-gathering opportunities—there is a Shell Museum here, after all—and this weekend festival brings collectors and craftspeople together to display their wares.
Calle Ocho (Miami, 2nd weekend in Mar.): Held in Miami in the predominantly Cuban area of Calle Ocho, this festival is something of a pan-Latin event, with food, crafts, and music from across the Latin American spectrum.
Pride Under the Sun (Fort Lauderdale, 3rd weekend in Mar.): This weekend-long celebration is purported to be Florida’s largest gay pride festival, featuring an array of DJs and live music, plus food, drink, and crafts.
Florida Film Festival (Orlando, last week in Mar.): This 10-day festival is one of the premier film festivals in the southeast, and is by far the best film festival in the state, bringing independent and international movies to the picturesque Enzian Theater.
MacDill AirFest (Tampa, last weekend in Mar.): Aerial acrobatics by the Thunderbirds and others draw the crowds to this two-day event, one of the U.S. military’s largest air shows.
Winter Music Conference (Miami, last weekend in Mar.): If Austin’s famous SXSW festival was held in Miami, it would be the Winter Music Conference, a five-day event that combines DJ/electronica showcases and a “spring break” vibe.
Daytona Beach International Festival (Daytona Beach, mid–late Apr.): Anchored by residency performances by the London Symphony Orchestra, this 10-day festival also includes performances by jazz, folk, and international musicians.
Interstate Mullet Toss (Pensacola Beach, last full weekend in Apr.): It’s exactly what you think it is: people tossing fish over the Alabama/Florida state line, for the admiration and applause of the beer-sodden crowds gathered to observe. It’s also an uproariously good time.
SunFest (West Palm Beach, last weekend in Apr.): Many cities host music festivals, but SunFest books talent a notch or two above most similar such concerts.
Key West Songwriters Festival (Key West, 1st weekend in May): You may hear a song or two you know at this festival, but odds are you’ll only hear “Margaritaville” as part of a punchline, as many of the acoustic performers here are established songwriters in their own right.
Siesta Key Sand Sculpture Contest (Sarasota, 1st Sat. in May): The sand here may not be any better or more castle-ready than that found on other Gulf coast beaches, but the sculptures that emerge from this annual contest have made the event quite famous.
Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival (Orlando, mid-May): This 12-day festival is dedicated to challenging and unusual theater pieces, bringing out the best of Orlando’s thespians, as well as shows from throughout the country and beyond.
Gay Days (Orlando, 1st week in June): Gay Days brings thousands of LGBT and LGBT-friendly visitors to Orlando for parties, consumer expos, comedy shows, concerts, and a traditional red-shirted Saturday visit to Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
Hemingway Days Festival (Key West, last full week in July): Although fans of Papa’s writings will find plenty to enjoy in the readings that take place during Hemingway Days, it’s Hemingway’s other pursuits—fishing and drinking—that are most popularly celebrated at this festival.
Key Largo Food & Wine Fest (Key Largo, 1st week in Aug.): This festival features wine-tasting events, progressive wine dinners, cooking demonstrations, and special menus at local restaurants.
Food & Wine Festival (Epcot Center, Walt Disney World Resort, late Sept.–early Nov.): Epcot’s World Showcase offers a wide range of international food and drink throughout the year, but this festival more than doubles the offerings; other food-related events (such as tastings and cooking lessons) also take place.
Destin Seafood Festival (Destin, 1st weekend in Oct.): Almost 30 years old, the Destin Seafood Festival brings out tens of thousands of people to enjoy just about every possible version of fried, baked, grilled, and boiled crustacean, fish, and shellfish imaginable.
Fantasy Fest (Key West, Halloween week): Very much an “adults-only” event, Fantasy Fest celebrates the end of hurricane season with a debauched week of fun that culminates in one of the most eye-poppingly decadent parades this side of Mardi Gras.
Pirates in Paradise Festival (Key West, last weekend in Nov.): As with many other buccaneer-flavored festivals throughout Florida, there are parades, food, and concerts, along with re-created pirate attacks; this particular festival, however, is more PG-rated than some of the adult-oriented swashbuckling that occurs at other festivals.
Art Basel (Miami, 1st weekend in Dec.): Begun as an auxiliary event of the original Art Basel in Switzerland, this early-winter event focuses the art world’s attention on Miami Beach for a weekend of exhibits, premieres, and artist appearances.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition