A sun-splashed holiday season comes alive in the Florida Keys & Key West with warmth and cheer throughout the 125-mile-long island chain. From Key Largo to Key West, the 2016 holidays are sprinkled with only-in-the-Keys events, packed with spirited activities and festooned with decorated boats and bicycles.
Holiday offerings — many to light up the land and sea during subtropical Keys evenings — are highlighted here:
Nov. 23: Lighting of the Key West “Harbor Walk of Lights.” Key West. The eagerly awaited pre-Thanksgiving event is to take place at 6 p.m. at Greene and Elizabeth streets, with the lighting of a holiday tree made from plastic foam trap floats, a fresh pine nautically decorated Christmas tree and a lobster trap tree along the Key West Historic Seaport’s Harbor Walk. The Harbor Walk is lit nightly through New Year’s Eve. Visit keywestchristmas.org.
Nov. 26: Big Pine & Lower Keys Island Art Festival. Big Pine Key. Held outdoors in a relaxed natural setting, the event features a creative range of holiday and Keys crafts. The art fair takes place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the grounds of the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce at mile marker 31 oceanside under a canopy of royal poinciana and mahogany trees. Visit lowerkeyschamber.com or call 305-872-2411.
Nov. 26 – Dec. 3: Zonta’s Festival of Trees. Marathon. The annual Festival of Trees is to take place at the Florida Keys Country Club. Holiday trees are festively decorated by members of the Zonta Club of Marathon, a humanitarian service club, and displayed at the country club. Visitors and residents can bid to purchase the decorated trees. Visit zontaclubofmarathon.com or call 305-809-7210.
Dec. 2: Florida Keys Holiday Festival. Islamorada. Mitten-clad children eagerly await annual frolicking fun in a 30-ton mountain of snow at Founders Park at mile marker 87. The 4-10 p.m. extravaganza is themed “Rockin’ Around the Florida Bay” and includes a ceremony to light a 35-foot-tall tree. There’s a holiday parade with Santa Claus, food and drink, activity booths for kids and music by the Coral Shores Marching Band. Dogs and owners can compete in a Santa Paws competition for the best doggone holiday attire. Visit islamoradachamber.com or call 305-664-4503.
Dec. 2-3, 9-10 and 16-17: Hot Pink Holidays. Key West. These merry LGBT holiday weekends, sponsored by the Key West Business Guild, are full of festive activities as well as special retail opportunities on the island. Events include a Conch Train holiday lights tour and caroling. Holiday revelers also can celebrate with “Sandy Claws” at happy hours. Visit hotpinkholidays.org or call 305-294-4603.
Dec. 3: Key West City Hometown Holiday Parade. Key West. Charming holiday spirit abounds in this annual parade in the southernmost city in the continental U.S. Local flavor prevails with marching bands, school groups, motorized and non-motorized floats and lively community participation. Catching the tossed candy is a highlight for kids. The route begins at Bayview Park and the best viewing spots are along Duval Street and Truman Avenue. Call 305-809-3881.
Dec. 3-31: Key West Holiday Fest. Key West. Each year during the month of December, a wide range of seasonal celebrations takes place throughout Key West. Highlights include the lighting of the Harbor Walk of Lights, the Holiday Historic Inn Tour and a lighted boat parade. For event details and updates, visit keywestholidayfest.com.
Dec. 4, 7 and 10: Lighted Bike Rides. In Marathon (Dec. 4), Key West (Dec. 7) and Key Largo (Dec. 10). Three lighted bike rides are held in the Keys to benefit Wesley House, a family service organization, and its toy drive. Families and individuals decorate and light their bikes for the evening rides. Registration is one new unwrapped toy for the local Holiday Store organized by Holiday Helpers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 305-809-5000.
Dec. 7: 5th Annual POSH Event. Key West. The Paws Often Steal Hearts, or POSH, party is to be held at the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens, 205 Whitehead St., to benefit the Florida Keys Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Attendees are encouraged to wear island-style formal attire and ”fascinator” hats. General admission tickets are $40 prepurchased and $45 at the door, per person. Visit fkspca.org or call 305-304-1232.
Dec. 9: Pet Pictures with Santa, hosted by All Animal Clinic of Key West. Key West. Santa is to pose for photos with pets from 6-8 p.m. at the nautical Christmas tree at the foot of William Street on the Harbor Walk of Lights. Sales of photos, priced from $20, are to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Keys Area Inc. Email email@example.com or call 305-294-5255.
Dec. 9 and 16: Holiday Historic Inn Tours. Key West. Two evenings of tours include trolley transportation between several participating inns, each decorated for the holidays. Treats and libations are offered at each inn. Event-goers also can provide their own transportation or bicycle to the inns. Contact the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West to purchase tickets, priced at $30 per person. Visit keywestholidayfest.com or call 305-296-4959.
Dec. 10: Pops in the Park Holiday Suites Concert. Islamorada. The family-friendly holiday concert, themed “Holiday Suites,” offers traditional and pops music performed by the Keys Community Concert Band. Admission is free. Participants are encouraged to bring chairs and blankets to the 4 p.m. outdoor concert at Founders Park’s ICE amphitheater at mile marker 87 bayside. Visit keyscommunityconcertband.org or call 305-451-4530.
Dec. 10: Parade of Paws and Holiday Bazaar. Key West. The third annual pet parade at Higgs Beach Dog Park supports the Florida Keys SPCA’s animal care fund. To participate, pets’ humans gather funding pledges from family and friends. Top earners win bragging rights for titles of the 2016 Parade of Paws king, queen, prince, princess, duke or duchess for their treasured companions. Four-legged creatures and owners can take photos with Santa, enjoy entertainment, food and crafts, and mingle with animal and human friends from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visit fkspca.org or call 305-294-4857.
Dec. 10, 11 and 17: Lighted Boat Parades. Throughout the Keys. Decorated and lighted boats are to cruise Florida Keys waters on Dec. 10, 11 and 17. For details on the Schooner Wharf Lighted Boat Parade, a Dec. 10 procession that travels around Key West’s Historic Seaport and harbor areas, visit schoonerwharf.com. For the Dec. 10 Boot Key Harbor Lighted Boat Parade in the Middle Keys, visit bootkeyharbor.com. For the Middle Keys’ Dec. 11 Key Colony Beach Lighted Boat Parade, to begin at the 7th Street Canal, visit kcbca.org. For the Dec. 17 Key Largo Boat Parade on Blackwater Sound around mile marker 104, visit keylargoboatparade.com. For the Dec. 17 Lower Keys Lighted Boat Parade, to cruise through the Pine Channel Causeway and feature Santa and Mrs. Claus, call 305-923-5730.
Dec. 10-18: Nutcracker Key West. Key West. Florida Keys children, adults and community leaders appear with a nationally cast corps de ballet in this stunning production with a Florida Keys theme, an adaptation of the beloved holiday classic. Executive producer and artistic director Joyce Stahl, a Key West resident, performed with New Jersey’s American Repertory Ballet for more than 35 years. Performances featuring tropically colored and specially created costumes are to be held Dec. 10-11 and 14-18 at the Tennessee Williams Theatre. Visit nutcrackerkeywest.com.
Dec. 11: Christmas on the Sheriff’s Animal Farm. Stock Island. Children and adults can visit the furry, fluffy and feathered residents of the animal farm and petting zoo and get a photo taken with Santa. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm is located at the county’s detention center just northeast of Key West at 5501 College Road. It’s open on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Call 305-293-7300.
Dec. 21: Custom House Holiday Concert & Bazaar. Key West. The Key West Art & Historical Society is to host this inaugural event at the historic Custom House Museum. Highlights of the evening gathering are to include performances by musicians and choirs, local artisans showcasing their wares, a light show and “selfies” with Santa. Visit kwahs.org or call 305-295-6616.
Dec. 27-28: Key West House Tours. Key West. Annual self-guided tours of unique Key West homes and gardens, festively dressed for the holidays, are to be presented by the Old Island Restoration Foundation. Tickets are $30 per person in advance and $35 on tour days. Proceeds benefit the foundation’s museum, collection and programs. Visit oirf.org or call 305-294-9501.
Dec. 31: Annual Key West Dachshund Walk. Key West. Spectators can meet and greet as many as 200 dachshunds, many of them costumed, during a noontime “wiener wonderland” stroll beginning on Fleming Street between Whitehead and Duval streets. Canines and their people meander through the island’s picturesque downtown during this beloved, much photographed walk. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dec. 31: New Year’s Eve Celebrations in the Southernmost City. Key West. The Southernmost City typically celebrates with a “conch shell drop” at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, 201 Duval St.; the descent of a super-sized red high-heel shoe carrying drag queen Sushi at the Bourbon St. Pub/New Orleans House complex, 724 Duval St.; the lowering of a pirate wench from atop a tall ship’s mast at the Schooner Wharf Bar, 202 William St.; and at the Ocean Key Resort & Spa, at 0 Duval St., plans call for a huge replica of a Key lime wedge to splash down into a larger-than-life margarita glass on the property’s Sunset Pier. For more information on the respective events, visit sloppyjoes.com, bourbonstpub.com or schoonerwharf.com or call Ocean Key Resort at 305-296-7701.
Dec. 31: New Year’s Eve Fireworks. Key Largo and Islamorada. Spectacular waterfront fireworks are to ring in 2017 on the backcountry bay of Blackwater Sound around mile marker 104 in Key Largo. It’s best viewed at Sundowners, Senior Frijoles, Cactus Jack’s, the Marriott Key Largo Beach Resort, the Caribbean Club or Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill. Visit keylargofireworks.com. In Islamorada, Cheeca Lodge & Spa at mile marker 82 hosts oceanfront fireworks, a gourmet dinner from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., live music and dancing on the beach. For advance reservations, visit cheeca.com or call 305-517-4447.