FLORIDA KEYS — The winter season in the Florida Keys & Key West is as bustling as it is warm and sunny, with an array of events to entertain. From holiday happenings to fine food festivals and beyond, the island chain has an event to serve everyone’s interests.
While this piece lists selected 2011-2012 winter highlights, a comprehensive schedule of events throughout the Keys can be found at www.fla-keys.com/calendarofevents/.
Dec. 2: Florida Keys Holiday Festival. Islamorada. This extravaganza traditionally begins with a tree-lighting ceremony at Founders Park, mile marker (MM) 87. Other attractions typically include a holiday parade featuring Santa, a holiday gift bazaar and a silent auction of ornaments decorated by local artists. Visit www.islamoradachamber.com or call 305-664-4503.
Dec. 3-4: Key West Triathlon (TRIKW). Key West. The second annual Olympic distance and sprint triathlon event is to bring hundreds of top athletes to Key West. The competition is set for Dec. 3 with a post-triathlon running exposition Dec. 4. Visit www.trikw.com or call 305-294-0693.
Dec. 9-10 and 16-17: Holiday Historic Lighted Inn Tours. Key West. Discover the holiday spirit and Key West’s architecture and history by touring five beautifully decorated historic inns each evening. Hosted by the Key West Innkeepers Association, the tours include culinary masterpieces by top island chefs and creative offerings by local artists, writers and performers. Visit www.keywestinns.com or call 305-295-1334.
Dec. 10: Big Pine & the Lower Keys Island Art Festival. Big Pine & the Lower Keys. Highlights of this holiday event include live music by local entertainers, food, exhibits and booths featuring locally produced arts and crafts. Festivities traditionally take place on the grounds of the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce, MM 31 oceanside. Visit www.lowerkeyschamber.com or call 305-872-2411.
Dec. 10 & 11: Lighted Boat Parades. Key Largo, Middle Keys and Key West. Decorated and lighted boats are to cruise through Keys waters Dec. 10 at Key Largo’s Blackwater Sound and Key West Harbor, and Dec. 11 at Key Colony Beach in Marathon. For more information on the Key Largo Holiday Boat Parade visit www.keylargoboatparade.com or call 305-451-4502; for the Key West Lighted Boat Parade visit www.schoonerwharf.com or call 305-292-3302; call 305-743-7214 for the Key Colony Beach Lighted Boat Parade.
Dec. 31: New Year’s Eve Celebrations. Key West and Key Largo. The Southernmost City celebrates with a “conch shell drop” at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, 201 Duval St.; the descent of a 6-foot red high-heel shoe carrying drag queen Sushi at the Bourbon St. Pub/New Orleans House complex, 724 Duval St., and the descent of a pirate wench from the top of the mast of a tall ship in the island city’s Historic Seaport. Visit www.sloppyjoes.com, www.bourbonstpub.com/newyearseve.html and www.schoonerwharf.com, respectively. Key Largo’s back bay is the setting for the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks extravaganza at MM 103-104. Visit www.keylargofireworks.com or call 305-451-4502.
Jan. 5-8: 30th Annual Key West Literary Seminar. Key West. The seminar’s 2012 topic is “Yet Another World: Literature of the Future,” featuring lectures and conversations, readings, panel discussions and receptions with some of contemporary literature’s most compelling, thought-provoking and funniest writers. Writing workshops are scheduled Jan. 8-12 following the seminar. Visit www.kwls.org or call 1-888-293-9291.
Jan. 13-15: NAMSA North American Championship & Tradewinds Midwinter OpenCat Nationals. Islamorada. Daily catamaran races featuring vessels in several classes kick off the annual Harken Buoy Series. Visit www.catsailor.com or call 305-451-3287.
Jan. 15-20: Key West Race Week 2012. Key West. Elite racing yachts compete for class championships in this international midwinter sailboat regatta that celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2012. Visit www.premiere-racing.com or call 781-639-9545.
Jan. 21-22: Big Pine Key Nautical Flea Market. Big Pine & the Lower Keys. All things nautical are to be displayed and sold at the annual event. Other attractions include live music, food and beverages. The seafaring sale takes place on the grounds of the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce, MM 31 oceanside. Visit www.lowerkeyschamber.com or call 305-872-2411.
Jan. 26-29: Key West Food and Wine Festival. Key West. Top chefs and restaurateurs showcase their culinary creativity and the Keys’ indigenous cuisine in a tasty schedule of events for food lovers. Attendees also can participate in food-related adventures during the savory celebration. Visit www.keywestfoodandwinefestival.com or call 800-474-4319.
Jan. 28-29: 27th Annual Key West Craft Show. Key West. Juried artisans and crafters display their talents at a popular show on lower Whitehead Street in historic Old Town Key West. Visit www.keywestartcenter.com/craft.html or call 305-294-1241.
Jan. 28-29: 3rd Annual Key Largo Stone Crab & Seafood Festival. Key Largo. Chock full of fresh stone crabs, conch, local seafood, music, entertainment and fun for the entire family, the festival includes cooking demonstrations, peel-and-eat shrimp eating contest, “little mermaid” contest, kids’ play area, arts and crafts vendors, steel drum band, magic shows, face painters, food, beverages and key lime pie. Visit www.keylargoseafoodfestival.com or call 305-453-0008.
Feb. 11-12: 18th Annual Pigeon Key Art Festival. Marathon. Artists and craftspeople are to exhibit their work at Marathon Community Park, MM 49 oceanside. The event also includes live music and delicious food, and plans call for tours of historic Pigeon Key, a tiny island where Oversea Railway workers lived in the early 1900s. Visit www.pigeonkey.net or call 305-509-0345.
Feb. 20-26: Winter Star Party. Big Pine & the Lower Keys. Approximately 600 astronomers from around the world gather to view southern constellations, comets and stars in the Lower Keys’ clear night skies — virtually the only place in the continental United States where they can be viewed. Lectures, programs and workshops round out the event. Visit www.scas.org for more information.
Feb. 25-26: Upper Keys Gigantic Nautical Flea Market. Islamorada. Hundreds of marine- and water sports–related vendors offer wares to thousands of buyers seeking deals on new and used boats, marine equipment, electronics, fishing tackle, dive gear, nautical arts and crafts, and more. The event is held at Founders Park, MM 87. Visit www.giganticnauticalfleamarket.org.
Feb. 25-26: Old Island Days Art Festival. Key West. The 47th annual juried fine art show is set on lower Whitehead Street in historic Old Town. The highly acclaimed show features oil paintings, watercolors, sculpture, photography and other offerings by artists from around the United States. Visit www.keywestartcenter.com/festival.html or call 305-294-1241.
Florida Keys visitor information: www.fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS