Want to be part of the once-in-a-lifetime commemoration of the Florida Keys’ 200th birthday? You can — by taking part in a sunset celebration on the Middle Keys’ Old Seven Mile Bridge, a gala sea-to-table dinner in Islamorada, a family-style waterfront picnic in Key Largo, and Lower Keys festivities and fireworks featuring the creation of the world’s largest Key lime pie (yes, really!).
The four events salute the 200th anniversary of the Florida Territorial Legislature’s founding of Monroe County (which contains the entire Florida Keys) on July 3, 1823. And in addition to recognizing the historic bicentennial, they spotlight unique aspects of the Keys’ colorful two-century history.
Commemorative activities begin Friday, May 19, with a 6 p.m. gathering on the Old Seven Mile Bridge — the same bridge that was the centerpiece of the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad during its 1912-1935 operation. The enjoyable sunset happening will include live music and dancing, local artists painting on-site, catered tidbits by the Marathon High School culinary class, and a sunset toast with vodka distilled from breadfruit grown at the Lower Keys’ Grimal Grove. Plus, past and present leaders who helped guide Monroe County will be honored during the evening. If you’re planning to attend, park at Marathon’s 7 Mile Marina property at 1090 Overseas Highway — because trolley service to the bridge will be provided by the Pigeon Key Foundation.
Next on the bicentennial schedule is a culinary event that showcases Florida Keys seafood, the talents of celebrity and local chefs, and the region’s longstanding fishing industry and captains. Set for Saturday, June 10, the Sea to Table Dinner will take place at Bud N’ Mary’s Marina at 79851 Overseas Highway in Islamorada. A rooftop sunset reception starts at 6:30 p.m., while the dinner is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the property’s spacious Boat Barn — with local fishing captains hosting each table. As well as fabulous cuisine, attendees can discover Keys artists’ work, historic photos and the remarkable coral nursery at Bud N’ Mary’s. Naturally, seating is limited and reservations are required. To make yours, call the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce at 305-664-4503.
The following Saturday, June 17, brings a picnic beginning at 6 p.m. at Rowell’s Waterfront Park, located at 104550 Overseas Highway in Key Largo. The evening will feature live music by the Mangrove Swamp Band and others, fireworks reflecting the Keys’ exuberant spirit, traditional picnic fare and mini-cupcakes, and family-fun activities and entertainment options. Plans also call for face-painting, bounce houses and more for kids.
Bicentennial celebrations will culminate July 3 — 200 years to the day after Monroe County’s 1823 establishment — with a 5-10 p.m. family-friendly get-together at Big Pine Community Park, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico at the end of Sands Road. The fun will be highlighted by the creation of the world’s largest Key lime pie — expected to measure a whopping 13.14 feet in diameter (!) and be prepared with a traditional graham-cracker crust and whipped cream topping. After its creation, the super-sized version of the Florida Keys’ signature dessert will be certified by Monroe County leaders and served to pie-loving attendees.
The high-energy community event, presented by the Lower Keys Rotary Club and Monroe County, will also include live music by Brian Roberts and the Prime Movers — plus former American Idol finalist (and Keys resident) Kristen McNamara. Also planned are a bounce house, slide and games for kids, food trucks, beverages for sale, and a glittering fireworks and laser light show from a barge on the Gulf.
Even if you can’t be in the Keys for these one-of-a-kind occasions, there are still chances to catch a bicentennial happening. Throughout 2023, museum exhibits and festivals are being themed to commemorate the anniversary and the island chain’s extraordinary two-century heritage.