LATELY, THERE’S BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT making America great again — and a lot of arguing over what that should mean, exactly. Tempers get lost, things get heated, and suddenly Uncle John and Cousin Daenerys aren’t speaking to one another. It’s enough to make you want to move to Canada (or at least threaten to do so while drunk). Thankfully, there’s one day each year where our party affiliations are mercifully shortened to just one single party; everyone’s invited and, regardless of whether you’re with her, you feel the Bern, or you’re of the opinion that the White House needs a dose of Trump fever, everyone’s on board to throw America a birthday party by lighting off explosives, eating too much potato salad and getting misty-eyed over the Declaration of Independence. That’s right: It’s the Fourth of July, and if you’re in Key West, there are plenty of things to do to that, mercifully, do not involve singeing off your eyebrows with a sparkler.
It wouldn’t be July Fourth without fireworks, so for the main event, you’ll want to head over to the Casa Marina for the annual fireworks show and picnic, sponsored by the Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of the Florida Keys. This long-standing Key West tradition has been the island’s favorite way to celebrate Independence Day for 32 years running. Locals and visitors from near and far flock to the Casa’s beautiful grounds, where they can relax by the pool or spread out on the beach to enjoy food, 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 hot dog, knowing the proceeds will benefit a great cause. Families with young children will be happy to know there’s a veritable carnival of kids’ activities, including giant Twister, a bounce house, face painting, games and family-friendly contests. The party starts at 5 p.m. and runs until the fireworks grand 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 the appropriately named 4thofjulykeywest.com.
Key West watersports titan Fury is known for its impressive fleet of catamarans, parasail boats and glass-bottomed cruisers that ferry thousands of people out to sea each week for snorkeling, dolphin watching, diving, jet-skiing, sunset cruises, dancing and even rock climbing (He owns an inflatable floating rock wall, because sometimes you just need to summit a plastic pyramid in the middle of the ocean). But the company really shines on the Fourth of July, when it hosts a variety of boat trips, some with live music, others with tours of the reef, and all of which will all make sure you’re floating in a prime viewing spot come sundown. Fury even supplies 3-D glasses to customers to enhance the fireworks show. What better way to appreciate the birth of a nation than with a glass-bottom boat tour that ends in a sunset cruise, upscale picnic dinner and colorful 3-D explosives? Tickets for the Fourth of July cruises usually sell out long before the holiday, so book early. The website, 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.
For a truly Key West Fourth of July, you’ll want to head on over to the Key Lime Festival, which wraps up its three-day celebration of the tiny green citrus on the fourth. They’ve saved the best events for last: the “Mile High Key Lime Pie Eatin’ Contest” and a brewery tour and tasting of Key lime WitNess beer, which won a gold medal for beers brewed with fruit in Florida. Hungry contestants with a thirst to prove themselves are invited to register for the pie-eating contest, which is free to watch, at keylimefestival.com. Competitor’s tickets are $20 and earn 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. The Key Lime Festival, which bills itself as a celebration of “citrus, eccentrics, people and 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.
If you’re looking to watch the show but don’t mind a lack of amenities (read: no champagne or bounce houses) then Higgs Beach and Smathers Beach both offer great views of the fireworks. 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 pie into your mouth that you can’t breathe, but hey — it takes all kinds.
For those willing to travel, the July 4th Beach Party 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 with games, food, drinks, and — at 9 p.m.(ish), a spectacular fireworks show. It’s a bit of a hike (Marathon 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. With a controversial election on the horizon that has neighbors fighting over front lawn political flags, and a press cycle that seems determined to amplify discord and hysteria, it’s no small feat for Americans to take one day to celebrate what is truly great about America right now: a face full of pie, sky full of colorful explosions and always, afterward, the smell of gunpowder in the wind. ¦