Fringed with beautiful beaches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, Florida’s a place where many visitors spend entire vacations lounging on the sand and splashing in the waves. But the Sunshine State’s other enticements include events that refresh the senses.
Whatever your pleasure, from art to nature to the need for speed, you can peg a vacation to it. Here are some suggestions to get minds and motors racing.
DAYTONA 500 RACE WEEK (Daytona Beach, Feb. 10-18)
The 60th running of the Daytona 500 (daytonainternationalspeedway.com) supercharges Presidents Day weekend — opening the NASCAR Cup season with daredevilry on the 31-degree banked turns of Daytona International Speedway’s 2.5-mile track. Superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. will preside as the Great American Race’s grand marshal. Arrive in Daytona by Feb. 10 for the weeklong Back to the Roots (backtotherootsdaytona.com) celebration by the beach where drivers raced on the sand before tracks were built. Free Roots events include the Legends Beach Parade, Main Street Station’s Racing Social where legends tell stories and sign autographs, and a memorabilia auction.
TAMPA BAY BEER WEEK (Tampa, March 2-11)
This brew extravaganza (tampabaybeerweek.com) gives you a taste-tour of Tampa, which has become one of America’s biggest craft beer destinations. At the March 2 Ultimate Brewer competition, odd combinations of ingredients — such as garlic, turnip and wasabi — are assigned to 30 local breweries. The winner gets to host next year’s festival and brew its 2019 official beer. TBBW’s 2018 official beer, brewed by Brew Bus, is a Belgian-inspired Witbier accented with Florida tangerine peels. For bragging rights on March 10, spring for tickets for Hunahpu’s Day, a connoisseur’s phenomenon so big it takes place in a stadium.
FLORIDA’S BIRDING & PHOTO FEST (Ponte Vedra Beach, April 18-22)
World-class wildlife photographers and birding experts lead field workshops on foot, in kayaks and by boat. Timed to wading birds’ nesting season, the festival (floridasbirdingandphotofest.com) features tours, seminars, a photo contest and exhibitors with photographic equipment you can try out. Many attendees come year after year. Home base for the event is Guana Tolomato Matanzas Research Reserve (gtmnerr.org), which protects 73,000 acres of Florida’s northeast coast. Its entrance and education center is in Ponte Vedra Beach, near Jacksonville. There’s a $25 registration fee.
WANEE MUSIC FESTIVAL (Live Oak, April 19-21)
Local fans have long tred to keep this annual jamband party (waneefestival.com) a secret. The setting: The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park — where ancient oaks drip with Spanish moss — in a lovely town bounded by the Suwannee River and Santa Fe River. The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park is a year-round concert venue and campground. The festival, inspired by Woodstock, was founded in 2005 by members of the Allman Brothers Band. Acts will include Widespread Panic, Phil Lesh and the Terrapin Family Band, Dark Star Orchestra and the Marcus King Band, led by a 21-year-old wunderkind who mixes blues with psychedelic Southern. Pack swimsuits to go tubing in this oasis of rivers and 100 springs (springsrus.com). An all-event ticket includes three nights of camping.
PIER 60 SUGAR SAND FESTIVAL (Clearwater Beach, April 13-22)
Under a 21,000-square-foot tent (sugarsandfestival.com), 11 world-class sculptors will turn a thousand tons of powdery white sand into artworks keyed to the theme “Sea America: A Celebration of America’s Treasures.” On the Gulf of Mexico, Clearwater Beach (visitstpeteclearwater.com) has earned awards for its beaches, making it ideal for this sculpture summit. Audience-participation attractions include The Giant Sandbox and sand-sculpting workshops with carving tools supplied. Free shows include bands such as Soul Circus Cowboys and fireworks. Tent admission: $10 adults, $6 ages 6-17, $8 ages 55 and older.
MEGACON (Orlando, May 24-27)
One of the largest gatherings dedicated to comics, movies, cosplay and pop culture, MegaCon attracts 100,000 fans with 500 exhibitors displaying costumes, props, comic books, DVDs, toys and bespoke geekdom accessories. Celebrity appearances, autographs, photo ops and insights from creator, character and industry panelists are part of the spectacle.
ARTREPUBLIC (Jacksonville, Nov. 1-10)
This avant-garde street art experience (artrepublicglobal.com) brings top muralists and interactive-digital virtuosi to downtown Jacksonville (visitjacksonville.com). Most events are free, and live outdoor mural painting happens day and night. The November 10 finale will sizzle with contemporary digital art, fashion and music. ArtRepublic 2017 standouts included Okuda San Miguel (geometric figures), Bik Ismo (stunning metallic forms) and digital pioneer Miguel Chevalier.
THE RIGHT WHALE FESTIVAL (Jacksonville Beach, Nov. 3)
Celebrate the annual return of endangered North Atlantic right whales to the warm coastal waters off northeast Florida and Georgia, where they give birth to their young. Environmentally responsible activities pack the oceanfront SeaWalk Pavilion. The festival (rightwhalefestival.com) features live bands, marine art exhibits, food trucks and water recreation.
HEMINGWAY DAYS (Key West, July 17-22)
Hemingway Days (hemingwaydays.net) spoofs “The Running of the Bulls” with a parade of dozens of white-bearded Ernest Hemingway look-alikes who are competing in, or former winners of, the popular “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest. Key West (fla-keys.com) has bounced back from last fall’s hurricane, and will put out the stops for its annual July festival honoring the Pulitzer Prize winner who lived and wrote here in the 1930s. Festival events include author readings, a symposium, exhibits of Hemingway memorabilia, a fishing tournament and a celebration of his July 21 birthday.
NIGHTS OF LIGHTS (St. Augustine, Nov. 17-Jan. 31, 2019)
The nation’s oldest city has become a holiday-light mecca. Tour the Nights of Lights (floridashistoriccoast.com/nights-lights) on foot, bike, pedicab, trolley, Ripley’s Red Train, biplane or schooner as homes, businesses, inns, the Bridge of Lions, Bayfront and the city park glow with millions of white lights. The illuminated Spanish Colonial architecture is spectacular. On St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum’s free Luminary Night, the tower and grounds are decorated in Victorian-era style. Other attractions: the Colonial Nightwatch celebration, the Regatta of Lights watercraft parade, and the torch-lit Posadas of Old St. Augustine re-enactment of the 400-year-old tradition.
MIAMI ART WEEK (Miami, Dec. 4-9)
Come ogle fine art and its fashionable fans. Fairs include Art Basel (Dec. 6-9, artbasel.com/miami-beach), a showcase of paintings, sculptures, photographs, films and installations from 250 galleries worldwide. Outdoor artworks, film screenings and performances take over Collins Park and SoundScape Park. Art Miami (Dec. 4-9, artmiami.com) draws collectors to its new Biscayne Bay-side setting filled with cutting-edge, contemporary and modern art. Design Miami (Dec. 5-9, designmiami.com) overflows with fascinating, functional objects from playful lamps to robotic furniture.