Regardless of political affiliation (and let’s be honest, I think everyone has already had enough exposure to the inner workings of our government this year to last a lifetime), when July rolls around each year everyone’s always on board to throw America a birthday party. To be fair, Key West never turns down an opportunity to celebrate (see, e.g., Fantasy Fest, New Year’s Eve, any given Tuesday).
But the Fourth of July is always a special time on our little island. Sandwiched smack in the middle of Gay Pride Week in early June and Hemingway Days in late July, Independence Day gives us a way to justify our insatiable need to party by encouraging us to light off explosives, eat too much of Aunt Doris’ macaroni salad and get misty-eyed over Old Glory. If you’re lucky enough to be in Key West for the Fourth, there are plenty of things to do to that, thankfully, do not involve singeing off your eyebrows with a sparkler.
For a truly Key West Fourth of July, you’ll want to head on over to the Key Lime Festival, which wraps up its four-day celebration of the tiny green citrus on Tuesday the Fourth. They’ve saved the best event for last: the “Mile High Key Lime Pie Eatin’ Contest.” This year, the contest will take place at 10 a.m. at Sunset Pier at Ocean Key Resort & Spa. Hungry contestants with a desire to prove its voracious eating skills are invited to register for the pie-eating contest, which is free to watch, at keylimefestival.com. Competitors’ tickets are $20 and the price of entry earns you bragging rights, party swag and a 9-inch pie that you need to eat faster than anyone else to win — with your hands tied behind your back, of course. Crowned in 2016, the current record holder for Fastest Pie Eater is Elliot Zeller of Sunrise, who demolished his pie in a blazing 62 seconds. If scarfing down an obscene amount of food in mere seconds doesn’t scream “America,” I don’t know what does. The Key Lime Festival, which bills itself as a celebration of “citrus, eccentrics, people & pie,” is a quintessentially oddball Key West event and has been featured on “Good Morning America,” “CBS Miami,” the Miami Herald and more. Come take part in this wacky celebration of one tiny little lime and the people who worship it.
It wouldn’t be July Fourth without fireworks, so for the main event you’ll want to head over to the Casa Marina for its annual fireworks show and picnic, sponsored by the Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of the Florida Keys. This longstanding Key West tradition has been the island’s favorite way to celebrate Independence Day for 33 years running. Locals and visitors from near and far flock to the Casa’s majestic grounds, where they can relax by the pool or spread out on the beach to enjoy food, live local music, the largest silent auction in the Keys and a dazzling fireworks show. Of course, since the picnic is also a fundraiser for the Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of the Florida Keys, you can feel great about eating that third hamburger or that second helping of potato salad knowing the proceeds will benefit a great cause. Families with young children will be happy to know there’s a veritable carnival of kid’s activities, including a bounce house, face painting, games and family-friendly contests. The party starts at 5 p.m. and runs until the grand fireworks finale. Tickets are available online, but beware: Best Seats on the Beach tickets can sell out, so if you want to secure a prime sandy spot to view the show, don’t wait until it’s too late. For more information, call 305- 320-0676 or visit www.vnahospicekeys.org/fourth-of-july-picnic.aspx.
Key West watersports titan Fury is known for its impressive fleet of catamarans, parasail boats and glass-bottomed cruisers, which ferry thousands of people out to sea each week for snorkeling, dolphin watching, diving, jet-skiing, sunset cruises, dancing and even rock climbing (they own an inflatable floating rock wall, because sometimes you just need to summit a plastic pyramid in the middle of the ocean and yell “I’m the king of the world!” at the top of your lungs). But the company really shines on the Fourth of July, when they host a variety of boat trips, some with live music, others with tours of the reef and all of which will make sure you’re floating in a prime viewing spot come sundown. They even supply 3-D glasses to customers to enhance the fireworks show. What better way to appreciate the birth of our nation than with a glass-bottom boat tour that ends in a sunset cruise, upscale picnic dinner and colorful 3-D explosive display? Tickets for its Fourth of July cruises usually sell out long before the Fourth, so book early. Its website, www.furycat.com, has a full list of activities and ticket prices, while any of the Fury booths around town can also help with information and ticket purchases.
If you’re looking to watch the fireworks show but don’t mind a lack of amenities (read: no champagne or lawn games), then Higgs Beach and Smathers Beach both offer great views of the spectacle. It’s a more laid-back approach to celebrating the Fourth than dancing to a live band on a party catamaran in the middle of the ocean or shoving so much ice cream into your mouth that you get a crippling brain freeze, but hey, it takes all kinds.
For those willing to travel, the July Fourth Beach Party & Fireworks Show in Marathon will host one of the largest and longest fireworks displays throughout South Florida. Crowds begin to gather at 10:30 a.m. for a parade, after which participants are invited to join in an all-day beach party at Sombrero Beach with games, food and drinks, ending in a spectacular fireworks show at 9 p.m.(ish). It’s a bit of a hike (Marathon’s Sombrero Beach is about an hour’s drive from Key West) but admission is free and the show is certainly worth the trip.
No matter how you choose to celebrate it this year, the Fourth is a great time to experience the legendary inclusivity and celebratory spirit of Key West. Though the last six months have been a divisive time for many people of this great nation, July Fourth is always a fantastic opportunity to focus on those things that truly unite us as a people: a face covered in ketchup, a sky full of colorful explosions and the company of like-minded friends happy to unwind with a beer on the beach. ¦