Spotlight on the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are home to a number of unexpected activities. Here are some of our favorites.

Free Festivals
Festivals are a frequent occurrence on all of the Keys, with themes ranging from fishing and food, to music and the arts, to sailing and scuba diving. 

Conch Republic Days
Celebrating the mock secession in mid-April 1982 due to a border patrol roadblock, the tongue-in-cheek festival features a drag (queen) race and a bed race, a tall ship battle, a pirates’ ball and pig roast, and the World’s Longest Parade down Key West’s Duval Street from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico.

Hemingway Days
For a week in late July, Key West celebrates all things Hemingway with a literary competition, memorabilia, marlin fishing contest, and ungulate-free running of the bulls, culminating in the lookalike contest at Sloppy Joe’s Bar.

Key West Songwriters' Festival 
Now in its 16th year, this early May festival features more than 100 diverse singer-songwriters, cherry-picked by major performing rights organizations. More than 20 free shows are part of the lineup.

Key West Lobsterfest
During the first week in August, there is a very short pre-season lobster fishing window. A few days later, Duval Street is shut down and taken over by all things lobster, from traditional claws to lobster tempura on a stick.

Key Largo Stone Crab & Seafood Festival
The new-comer to the Keys’ seafood festivals, Key Largo's late-January fiesta offers fireworks and live music, tuna nachos and conch ceviche, and plenty of delectable stone crab claws.

Marathon Seafood Festival
A favorite since its beginnings in 1976 as a party for Marathon and Middle Keys commercial fishermen and their families, this early March festival still features plenty of fresh-caught Keys seafood and live entertainment.


Shipwrecked!

Located at the crossroads of numerous trade routes, the Florida Keys are home to a number of shipwrecks. Shipwreck Trail consists of nine notable wrecks:

- Built in 1863, the Adelaide Baker was bound for Savannah, GA, when it wrecked on “Coffin Patches” Reef in 1889.

- Locally known as Alexander’s Wreck, the Amesbury was built as a U.S. Naval destroyer escort in 1943. While being towed to deep water to be sunk as an artificial reef, the vessel grounded and broke up in a storm.

- The Benwood sunk in 1942 after colliding with another ship that was completely blacked out due to the threat of German U-boats in the area. 

- The San Pedro is a member of the 1733 Spanish treasure fleet caught by a hurricane and is the oldest wreck on the trail. 

- Before being artificially sunk in 1986, the Thunderbolt was used for research on the electrical energy in lightening strikes. 

- What is purported to be the wreck of the North America, which was lost in 1842 on its way to Alabama.

- In July 1917, the City of Washington ran aground and sunk within minutes while being towed by a tugboat off the coast of Key Largo.

- Both the Duane and the Eagle were artificially sunk in the 1980s as part of a ship-to-reef project that ended in 2009. 


Historic Hot Spots: Literary Beacons

During the last century, Key West has been a home and an inspiration to some of the most influential authors in the United States. 

Initially residing at Casa Antigua in 1928, Ernest Hemingway was the first author to make Key West his home. Delayed on the island because an expected automobile was not delivered, he worked on A Farewell to Arms in the apartments above the dealership. He lived in a Spanish colonial villa on Whitehead Street through December 1939 and wrote many of his classic works in the adjoining second-story studio. The house is now a National Historic Landmark and is still home to a colony of six-toed felines, supposedly descendant from the original cats owned by Hemingway. 

Robert Frost first visited Key West in 1934 and wrote one of his best-know poems, The Gift Outright, on the island. Subsequent visits every winter from 1945 to 1960 were spent in a small cottage behind the home of local hostess and preservationist Jessie Porter. The cottage has since been named a National Literary Landmark and is privately owned and no longer open to the public. 

Playwright Tennessee Williams arrived in Key West in 1941 and in 1949 purchased a house on Duncan Street where he would write Night of the Iguana and other works.  The red-shuttered house is privately owned and not open to the public.