5 Cultural Celebrations to Experience Only in the Florida Keys

While the Florida Keys & Key West are widely known for their vibrant natural beauty, easygoing atmosphere and year-round warmth, they also entice scores of visitors to enjoy cultural events that can be experienced only in the Keys.

Showcasing the island chain’s heritage as a haven for creative spirits, they range from celebrations of resident artists’ and writers’ legacies to an annual tribute to a cinematic legend.

That legend is Humphrey Bogart, whose life and films are celebrated each October in the setting of one of his most famous movies. The Humphrey Bogart Film Festival takes place in Key Largo, where the cinema classic “Key Largo” was partially filmedThe festival is hosted by Stephen Bogart, son of Bogie and actress Lauren Bacall, and it’s the only event of its kind to be backed by the Bogart Estate.

Florida Keys BogartBogart, who appeared in 75 movies during his 50-year career, was named “America’s greatest male screen legend” by the American Film Institute — and the festival offers attendees an immersion in the late actor’s work.

Visitors can enjoy screenings of Bogart films and others, parties and gatherings with cinema personalities and experts, and even book canal cruises on the restored African Queen — the actual vessel from John Huston’s 1951 film starring Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, which is home-ported in Key Largo. Visit bogartfilmfestival.com.

An offbeat Key Largo folk artist is saluted each May during Key West’s annual Papio Kinetic Sculpture & Art Bike Parade. The late Stanley Papio, who opened a Key Largo welding business in 1949, was famed for his offbeat recycled creations crafted out of discarded car parts, pipes and other machine scraps.

Florida Keys PapioToday Papio’s pieces, acclaimed for their inventiveness and humor, are recognized as culturally important American artwork — and more than 100 of his sculptures are displayed at Key West’s Fort East Martello Museum. The rebel metal sculptor’s legacy inspired the Key West Art & Historical Society to establish a yearly people-powered parade of sculptural floats, fantastically decorated bicycles and other mobile masterpieces crafted in the spirit of Papio’s creations. The 2018 parade is scheduled May 5; visit papiokineticparade.com.

Visual art festivals take place throughout the Florida Keys, but one in particular is unique to the island chain. At Marathon’s popular Pigeon Key Art Festival, as well as fine art and crafts by nationally recognized talents, attendees can discover the history of the Over-Sea Railroad that connected the Keys and Key West to mainland Florida for the first time in 1912.

Florida Keys Pigeon KeyHeld each February, the two-day show benefits the tiny island of Pigeon Key, a former railroad workers’ camp that lies beneath the Old Seven Mile Bridge west of Marathon. Festival attendees can view and acquire pottery, painting, glass, sculpture, photography, jewelry and more. Other attractions typically include historical reenactments, artist demonstrations and period entertainment — and festival tickets are good for half-price admission to Pigeon Key by boat during the following week. Visit pigeonkeyartfestival.com.

Key West’s creative heritage centers on its literary legacy. Playwright Tennessee Williams lived on the island from 1949 until his death, and Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote there for most of the 1930s. So it’s not surprising that both are honored with annual festivals.

For Williams fans, there’s the multiweek Tennessee Williams Birthday Celebration each spring. Highlights typically include a March 26 reception recognizing the anniversary of Williams’ birth, screenings of films adapted from his plays, stage performances, contests for writers and artists, and curator-led tours of Key West’s Tennessee Williams Museum. Visit twkw.org/events.html.

Since 1981, Hemingway Days has taken place during the author’s birthday week each July, attracting Ernest Hemingway look-alikes, writers, anglers and fans of the late author’s work.

Florida Keys HemingwayScores of stocky, bearded men resembling Ernest compete in the annual Hemingway Look-Alike Contest at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a frequent hangout for the legendary writer during his Key West years. Other festival events include prose and poetry readings, the wacky “Running of the Bulls,” symposium presentations on Hemingway and his influence, a commemoration of his July 21 birthday, a street fair, a 5k run and a three-day marlin tournament recalling his passion for deep-sea angling. The 2018 festival is scheduled July 17-22; visit hemingwaydays.net.

Of course, these are just a few of the only-in-the-Keys events that celebrate the island chain’s rich cultural heritage and lively creative community. For a full and frequently updated event listing, visit fla-keys.com/calendar.