by The Editors | February 24, 2016

The Tide: Road-Trip-Worthy Events Around the State

Gas up the car and go check out these great things to do


Raise a glass to toast a wonderful food and wine experience in Miramar Beach (photo by Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort)


Sandestin Wine Festival

Miramar Beach, April 14–17

Is there a more serene setting to enjoy a glass (or bottle) of vino than Florida’s Emerald Coast? We think not, nor do the 4,500 oenophiles who descend on Miramar Beach each spring for its annual celebration of the grape. Now in its 30th year, the Sandestin Wine Festival, features more than 500 wines poured by vineyard owners and winemakers from around the globe, as well as gourmet appetizers from a few of the region’s most talented chefs, including Gio Filippone of Vue on 30A in Santa Rosa Beach, and Dan Vargo of Seager’s Prime Steak and Seafood in Miramar Beach. For bubbly aficionados, there’s a Champagne and seafood cruise, yoga and mimosas on the beach, and special guest Tom Tiburzi, senior sparkling winemaker at Domaine Chandon in Napa, Calif. Proceeds from the festival benefit children and military families in need, causes well worth raising a glass.

Interstate Mullet Toss and Gulf Coast’s Greatest Beach Party

Pensacola, April 22–24

Though many fishermen dismiss it as bait, the underappreciated mullet enjoys superstar status in Pensacola. Since 1984, the owners of the Flora-Bama Lounge & Oyster Bar on Perdido Key have hosted the Interstate Mullet Toss. In this spectacular display of ichthyological aerodynamics, visitors grab a mullet carcass, enter a 10-foot wide circle, and chuck the fish as far as they can into Alabama. As its name implies, the bar straddles the state line. The record stands at 189 feet and 8 inches, set by Josh Serotum in 2004. A former Olympic javelin thrower attempted to overthrow him in 2008, but fell short by nearly 20 feet. In recent years, a crowd topping 35,000 has shown up for the annual fish-flinging hootenanny, which also includes live music and cocktails, earning it the nickname “The Gulf Coast’s Greatest Beach Party.” The revelry raises approximately $30,000 a year for local youth charities. Contestants pay $15 to throw and compete by age group, and get a participation T-shirt. Winners receive a wooden plaque and, you guessed it, a free mullet dinner. Sense of humor required.

Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival

Fernandina Beach, April 29–May 1

Hailed as the birthplace of modern shrimping, Fernandina Beach celebrates its roots during the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival. It’s named for the number of national flags that have flown over Fernandina since 1562. The festival began in 1963 with a blessing of the fleet and shrimp boat races and has grown into a weekend-long affair attracting nearly 100,000 people. It kicks off with parades: one by land (featuring papier-mâché crustacean floats), another by sea (starring a pirate ship carrying contestants of the Ms. Shrimp Festival Pageant). Other highlights include children’s games, live music, a juried art show, fireworks and approximately 10,000 pounds of shrimp served a myriad of ways.

The Players Championship

Ponte Vedra Beach, May 10–15

One of the most anticipated tournaments of the PGA Tour, THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass boasts a star-studded field, a coveted purse prize and golf’s most exciting hole. No. 17, a 137-yard par-3 with an intimidating island green, has demolished leads and captivated spectators since 1982. Last year’s champion, 27-year-old Rickie Fowler from Jupiter, trailed by five strokes going into the final six holes and had a spectacular finish (including a birdie on No. 17) to send the competition into overtime. After a three-hole aggregate playoff ended with Fowler and Kevin Kisner tied, they returned to the island green for sudden death. Fowler repeated his clutch birdie, besting Kisner’s par, to clinch the title and $1.8 million prize. Equal parts golf tournament and social event, THE PLAYERS offers big fun off the links for swilling and chilling with course-side wine bars, food truck enclaves and private lounges. Tourney fashion teeters between posh and preposterous (there’s a crazy-pants day). Cooling benches blasting cold air through patrons’ backsides, a trick borrowed from the Jacksonville Jaguars sidelines, provide the perfect respite from the heat. When the sun sets, sponsored parties roll out under the live oaks surrounding the course, with national and regional musicians performing on stages all week.

Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard is just one of the talented headliners at the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City


Florida Strawberry Festival

Plant City, March 3–13

The Florida Strawberry Festival, represents a berry sweet piece of American history, a time when fairs and festivals brought communities together through celebrations of their harvests. Members of the Plant City Lions Club started the event in 1930 to commemorate the area’s most bountiful crop; in 1948, the American Legion Post #26 resurrected the festival after World War II put it on a six-year hiatus. Since then, the Florida Strawberry Festival has blossomed into one of the nation’s largest fairs, drawing a crowd upwards of 500,000 people. Among its many attractions: carnival midway rides, a display of handcrafted items and home-baked goods, pig races, a beauty pageant, a strawberry-shortcake-eating contest and a strawberry production exhibit to demonstrate how these juicy treats grow. This year’s headline entertainers include Martina McBride, Cole Swindell, Cheap Trick, Merle Haggard (pictured above) and The Band Perry.

Florida Blueberry Festival

Brooksville, April 16 and 17

Florida’s Blueberry Festival returns to historic downtown Brooksville, about an hour outside of Tampa. In the shade of the city’s majestic oaks, visitors can devour the fresh fruit as well as various treats that incorporate it, including pies, jams and wine. Of course, it’s not all about snacking. This family-friendly occasion includes live music, a juried art show, jugglers and stilt walkers, and a 1,000-foot slip-and-slide.

Sunnyland Boat Festival

Tavares, March 18–20

In a world inundated with smartphones and tablets, on-demand streaming services, and countless digital distractions, who wouldn’t like to rewind to a time when people interacted face-to-face and enjoyed the great outdoors. At the 29th annual Sunnyland Boat Festival, you can experience just that. The event, the largest of its kind in the Eastern U.S., takes place on picturesque Lake Dora, about an hour from Orlando. More than 200 old-time boats in four categories: historic (built up to and including 1918), antique (built between 1919 and 1942), classic (built between 1943 and 1975) and late classic (built between 1976 and 1989). Visitors marvel at elegant vessels like Chris Craft racing runabouts and Owens sea skiffs. Other activities include rides on seaplanes and the Orange Blossom Cannonball vintage steam train. Make a day of it and pop over to the neighboring town of Mount Dora, situated on the lake and known for its quaint main-street shops and antiques festivals.

Sport Pylon Air Races

DeLand, March 10-12

Sixteen of the nation’s most talented pilots will bring their skills to DeLand for the inaugural Sport Pylon Air Races. Each will be assigned a 600-pound, 125-horsepower sport plane with Lycoming fuel-injected electronic ignition, designed and built by local manufacturer Renegade Light Sport LLC. The planes will travel at speeds of 150 mph through a series of twists and turns in the close-circuit obstacle course. What sets this apart from events like the Red Bull Air Race are the cost, size and speed of the planes. These planes are considered more attainable, as they range in price from $80,000 to $150,000. And because they are smaller and slower than other race planes, there’s a smaller splash zone, meaning the Federal Aviation Administration allows spectators to sit about 500 feet from the course—so you can leave the binoculars at home.

Spring Training

Various cities, February 28-April 2

Each February, 15 Major League Baseball teams, known as “the grapefruit league,” set up camp in various Florida cities to work out the kinks in warm, sunny environs before opening day. During spring training, spectators can watch big hitters and outstanding knuckleballers practice and play in 13 small stadiums throughout the state for a fraction of the price of a regular-season ticket. Given the proximity of practice facilities (the two farthest measure only 146 miles apart), fans have ample opportunity to follow their team and check out several ballparks. Come cheer for the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte and for the Miami Marlins in Jupiter. Don’t forget sunscreen!


You don’t need luck to have fun at the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament and Festival (photo by The Boca Beacon)


World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament and Festival

Boca Grande, May 19 and 20

Boca Grande, on Gasparilla Island, is known as a hot spot for tarpon, and locals intend to keep it that way. The World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament, a catch-and-release event, has promoted conservation, education and sportsmanship since 1982. Forty boats will compete for $80,000 in prize money in this year’s tournament, which coincides with an arts festival so nonanglers can get in on the fun.


Miami International Film Festival

Miami, March 4–13

At the Miami International Film Festival, a launchpad for international and documentary films, movie lovers can mingle alongside more than 400 fresh-from-Hollywood directors, producers and actors. The festival features a robust roster of more than 160 screenings, seminars and parties held in several storied venues, such as the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center, which opened in 1926 as a silent film palace. Plan your red-carpet–ready outfit now.


U.S. Open Polo Championship

Wellington, April 3, 10, 17, 24

The sport of kings takes center stage in Wellington every Sunday afternoon from January to April. The season concludes with the 112th annual U.S. Open Polo Championship, the country’s most prestigious tournament for the world’s most exclusive sport. Though that might sound pretentious, the atmosphere at this four-week competition is surprisingly not stuffy. There’s a grandstand, stadium, and elegant pavilion with lounge seating and gourmet brunch. Many spectators cheer from the sidelines, where they tailgate with friends. Fashions run the gamut from jeans and polos (of course!) to a coat and tie for the guys, while ladies typically don brightly colored Lilly Pulitzer sundresses and wide-brimmed hats.

Tortuga Music Festival

Fort Lauderdale Beach, April 15–17

Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, with its unadulterated views of the Atlantic, is the perfect venue for this multistage fete that benefits marine conservation. This year’s performers include some of the biggest names in country, rock and roots music, such as Blake Shelton, Lynyrd Skynrd and Michael Franti. Between acts, attendees can learn how to make a difference in the conservation village through educational games, exhibits, interactive touch tanks, and cooking demonstrations. Through a partnership with Rock the Ocean, the Tortuga Music Festival contributes to a handful of local and global organizations, including the Florida Fishing Academy, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation and the Bimini Sharklab.


Fresh-caught shrimp and other ocean delights draw crowds to the Marathon Seafood Festival (photo by Mary Beth and Kristen Livengood)


The Original Marathon Seafood Festival

Marathon, March 12 and 13

It started as a small shindig in a parking lot where local fishermen and their families kicked back and enjoyed the fruits of their labor. Forty years later, the Original Marathon Seafood Festival is an annual feast for more than 20,000 visitors hungry for Florida lobster, stone crab, shrimp, conchs and fresh-off-the-boat fish. Live music acts, including local trop-rock duo Tim Dee and Jim Hill and reggae-calypso band I-Land Vibe, maintain a tropical mood. Rounding out the weekend’s festivities: children’s rides and games, art and boat shows, and more than 200 eclectic vendors and artisans.

Key West Songwriter’s Festival

Key West, May 4–8

As the town that inspired Jimmy Buffett to write “Margaritaville” and other Parrot Head favorites, Key West harbors a special affection for lyrics and the playful minds that create them. At the 21st annual Key West Songwriter’s Festival, music lovers will get to know the faces behind some of their favorite melodies and meet a few new ones, as more than 100 songwriters and singers gather.