• Stephen Bogart (left), son of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, chats with movie critic Leonard Maltin aboard the African Queen during a past Humphrey Bogart Film Festival. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)


  • By: Carol Shaughnessy
  • February 8, 2017

In the laid-back Florida Keys, vacationing is an art form. And if you’re seeking cultural experiences to supplement the Keys’ subtropical “fun and sun” vibe, you’ll find arts offerings in just about every genre.

It’s easy to satisfy cultural cravings with unique visual art in galleries from Key Largo to Key West, events and festivals that spotlight the island chain’s rich creative heritage, and performances by talents ranging from local to national.

artist painting Islamorada

An artist works on her canvas during a Morada Way Third Thursday ArtWalk, one of the Upper Keys’ most popular monthly events. (Photo by Julie Botteri, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Actually, the Keys’ cultural offerings are so varied and appealing that it’s hard to single out just a few. But here (in no particular order) are four can’t-miss gems to enjoy and remember.

ONE: Humphrey Bogart Film Festival. In Key Largo, an island that shares its name with the title of a Humphrey Bogart classic (and, FYI, was one of the film’s settings), the actor’s legacy takes center stage on the cultural calendar. Scheduled Oct. 18-22 this year, the festival is typically co-hosted by Bogart’s son Stephen Bogart.

Attendees can enjoy screenings of the late actor’s films and others, parties and gatherings, and the chance to book canal cruises on the restored African Queen — the original boat from John Huston’s 1951 film starring Bogie and the incomparable Katharine Hepburn — which is docked at Key Largo. And the 2017 festival commemorates the 75th anniversary of the iconic film “Casablanca.”

TWO: Morada Way Arts & Cultural District. One of the Upper Keys’ most popular regular arts events is the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District’s Third Thursday ArtWalk in Islamorada. Scheduled the third Thursday evening of each month (as you might guess from its name), it features national and Keys-based artists and art galleries at Morada Way between mile markers 81 and 82 — plus culinary “art” from local eateries and performances by local musicians and entertainers.

Great White Heron Florida Keys

A great white heron rests in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, one of four Keys refuges showcased at Outdoor Fest. (Photo by Mickey Foster)

But the district’s enticing attractions are definitely not limited to art walk evenings. Morada Way’s rich blend of visual artistry, fine crafts and great food can be experienced virtually any time. Special events coming up soon include the March 19 Islamorada Seafood Festival and Art Show staged with the Islamorada Moose Lodge.

THREE: Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Outdoor Fest. Each spring, nature and wildlife enthusiasts, birders, photographers and adventure-oriented families can enjoy an intriguing exploration of four Florida Keys national wildlife refuges: National Key Deer Refuge, Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge and Key West National Wildlife Refuge.

The action-packed family-friendly festival, set for March 11-18 this year, focuses on the amazing diversity and richness of the Keys ecosystem. Activities include guided birding and nature walks and boat trips, nature photography workshops, wildlife fairs, kayak excursions and even Big Pine Key’s Run with Deer 5k.

FOUR: Key West’s Unique Entertainment Experiences. As well as high-quality theater productions and musical performances in the Keys, you can savor three unusual entertainment experiences: performances by Key West Burlesque and showcases at the famed La Te Da cabaret by female impersonators Christopher Peterson and Randy Roberts.

Key West Burlesque

Key West Burlesque is celebrating its 10th anniversary of staging unique theatrical productions.

Key West Burlesque, now in its 10th season, incorporates the art form of burlesque (currently enjoying a worldwide revival) into original full-scale theatrical productions with imaginative story lines, costuming, sets and choreography.

Christopher’s EYECONS shows feature the talented impersonator singing live in breathtaking and sometimes hilarious parodies of icons like Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli — and even Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

In “Randy Roberts Live!, the brilliant Randy offers a live multimedia tribute to some of the world’s most beloved female performers, including audience favorites like Cher and Bette Midler — while portraying them all himself.

Of course, these are only a few of the options that make the Keys’ cultural calendar so entertaining and enticing. Check out the cultural scene here and here, and then plan a getaway to America’s favorite island chain to experience it for yourself.