Conch shell blowing, a time-honored tradition, is Key West’s most indigenous form of musical expression. Every March, the island’s Conch Shell Blowing Contest draws dozens of entrants who demonstrate their “pucker power” by blowing through the conch’s fluted, pink-lined shell. The 2023 contest is set for March 4 at the Oldest House Museum.
“The Florida Keys: 200 Years of Paradise," a 60-minute television program that explores the culture and history of the island chain from the early 1800s to the present, debuts this spring on PBS channels across the United States. Meanwhile, three special events in Key West showcase aspects of the Keys’ two-century cultural heritage.
Help celebrate the 20th “birthday” of the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory Saturday, Jan. 21, with a family fun day and free admission to the renowned attraction. But if you can’t be there in January, don’t worry — the conservatory is open year-round for daily explorations, guided twilight tours and small-group “flamingle” encounters.
Ever since the Florida Keys were settled two centuries ago, the island chain has been known for its residents’ adventurous seafaring spirit. Today, that spirit remains among the Keys’ most appealing attributes. And contemporary visitors can find it in museums and attractions, tales of sunken treasure and dive trips to famed shipwreck sites.
Attention, watersports enthusiasts: boating, fishing and nautical merchandise galore will be available at the 19th annual Big Pine & Lower Keys Nautical Expo, an eclectic market set for Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 14-15. But that’s far from the only attraction in the area — other must-see spots include the Blue Hole and Grimal Grove.
From Key Largo to Key West, the calendar is packed with events designed to spread seasonal cheer — including a traditional Islamorada favorite that features actual snow. Yes, despite the Keys’ typically balmy winter temperatures, grownups and kids of all ages can delight in snow Friday, Dec. 2, during Islamorada’s Florida Keys Holiday Fest.
The continental United States’ only contiguous living coral barrier reef, which parallels the Florida Keys, hosts huge populations of tropical fish and other sea creatures. The warm, clear water makes a long dive in the Keys comfortable and enjoyable. And around Halloween each year, divers can immerse themselves while actually carving pumpkins underwater!
Revelers can express their creativity by donning dazzling costumes during Key West’s Fantasy Fest, set for Oct. 21-30 and themed “Cult Classics & Cartoon Chaos.” The fabulous festival features masquerade parties, costume contests, music and theater shows, themed events — and a lavish grand parade of massive motorized floats and elaborately garbed marching groups.
The community of Marathon boasts a warm family-friendly flair and a variety of cozy inns, waterfront resorts, marinas and casual dining emporiums. The Middle Keys area also features plentiful creative spaces, natural attractions, scenic parks, trails, sightseeing spots and historic sites that make for an appealing blend of heritage, culture and nature.
Shipwreck fans, treasure seekers, history buffs and those who enjoy real-life adventure tales should be in Key West Sept. 2-6. Why? To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the sinking of the Spanish treasure galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha — with members of Mel Fisher’s family and “golden crew” who discovered the wreck in 1985.