In April 1982, the Florida Keys symbolically “seceded” from the United States and were reborn as the independent Conch Republic. Today the republic is internationally acclaimed as the Keys’ irreverent alter ego — and this month, the 40th annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration commemorates the historic action with a roster of rollicking events.
Key West is gloriously, outrageously abnormal — a place where wild chickens roam the streets and nobody thinks it’s strange to spot grown men dressed like Darth Vader or Marilyn Monroe. In this quirky haven, dogs ride happily in bicycle baskets, creativity and diversity flourish, and “street performer” and “treasure hunter” are legitimate occupations.
In Key West each April, “drag racing” takes on a whole new meaning — as exotic drag queens don quirky sporting attire, lavish wigs and towering high heels to vie for victory in the Conch Republic Drag Race. The offbeat competition is scheduled April 16 on Duval Street (appropriately dubbed Key West’s “main drag”).
Key West’s 40th annual Conch Republic Blue Ribbon Bed Race is scheduled to “blanket” the island’s famed Duval Street April 23. The zany event, billed as “the most fun you can have in bed with your clothes on,” features decorated beds on wheels that are propelled along Duval by teams of costumed runners.
Key West is known as one of the most haunted cities in the United States. Visitors can experience several year-round ghost tours that are delightfully unnerving, including an award-winning trolley tour with a “ghost host” and the exploration of a haunted Civil War–era fort where they encounter the eerie Robert the Doll.
To highlight the best points of interest along the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, “special correspondent” Matty Meltzer — who happens to be both an intrepid traveler and a wisecracking puppet — was commissioned to chronicle memorable sights and activities on a road trip through the Keys. Follow along with Matty on his fun-filled video journey.
Fans and friends of the Florida Keys’ Conch Republic can celebrate the irreverent “nation’s” 39th birthday with activities including a pirate adventure, traditional shrimp boil, sunset boat parade, “wearable art” fashion show, sailing excursions and a gourmet dinner and absinthe tasting. The Conch Republic Independence Celebration is scheduled Friday through Sunday, April 16-25.
In the mid-1990s, Key West was home to a world-class mystery bookstore. Located just off Duval Street, Miss Marbles Parlour was the only bookstore in South Florida devoted entirely to mysteries. And its colorful owner Dilys Winn, a legendary figure in the mystery world, staged interactive crime-solving events three times per week.
Florida Keys holiday traditions center around the one and only Santa Keys — a jolly bearded fellow who brings cheer to those who aren’t lucky enough to live in the Keys, and to the underwater creatures in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. What happens on the night before Christmas? Santa Keys makes his rounds!
Until a few years ago, the Lower Keys were home to a peculiar landmark: a shingled tower rising behind the Sugarloaf Lodge, located at mile marker 17 on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway. Tall and weather-beaten, looming over its surroundings, it was a strange monument to an innovative idea hatched in bygone days.