Nothing says “Florida” quite like the Seafood Festival. (Photo: Alamy)
You’re probably familiar with Florida orange juice and Key lime pie, grouper sandwiches and conch fritters, but how about frog legs with grits, or tacos with a side of celebrity swank? Florida’s food festivals offer something for every taste, from country-style gatherings to poolside soirees. The next time you’re in the Sunshine State, save room on your itinerary—and in your belly—for these gastronomic good times.
You could argue that the entire Sunshine State is a celebration of seafood, but the official festivities happen over a weekend in November each year. The festival, which bills itself as “Florida’s oldest maritime event,” brings oyster eating and shucking contests, a 5k run, parade, carnival, fireworks and big-name country music stars to the otherwise sleepy Panhandle town of Apalachicola. In fact, it’s been named among America’s 15 Best Small-Town Festivals by Fodor’s Travel. And that’s no fish story.
The peculiar-looking fruit with the peculiar-sounding name gets recognition each January during this event in historic downtown Dade City. Celebrate the so-called “gold gem” of the citrus family by indulging in all things kumquat, from pies to smoothies to salsa. The day-long festival attracts as many as 40,000 attendees to this small town, about 40 miles northeast of Tampa, who come to enjoy local entertainment, face painting, antique car show and more.
Hop on over to Fellsmere on Florida’s Central Atlantic Coast for some adventurous eating. Held each January, the four-day event features rides, music, arts and crafts and of course its signature frog leg dinners with grits, coleslaw and hushpuppies. Can’t stomach frog legs? There’s also gator tail. Tastes just like chicken!
If you prefer your food with a side of swank, then head to Miami Beach in February. One of the premiere culinary events in the country, the five-day extravaganza offers tastings and seminars for every palate and budget. Past events have ranged from Tacos After Dark to a Cocktail Showdown to Grilled Cheese Happy Hour. And of course, no Miami Beach food festival worth its salt would be complete without a lineup of celebrity chefs. The event’s full name is the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival, so stars like Giada De Laurentiis and Michael Symon are regulars on the scene.
Where to stay: Blue Moon Hotel Miami
Life is sweet when you spend a day noshing on delicacies like strawberry shortcake, strawberry pizza and strawberry burgers (seriously) in Plant City, an agricultural town about 20 miles east of Tampa. Attractions like the Pioneer Village, pig races and appearances by the reigning Strawberry Festival Queen lend timeless charm to the two-week March event, while A-list headline entertainment keeps the festival in step with modern times. Sounds berry good to us!
Where to stay: Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina
This aptly named event celebrates Jacksonville’s burgeoning foodie scene, with an emphasis on local, sustainable eats. Taking place over a full day in March, GastroFest features tastings from local restaurants and breweries, a marketplace, educational talks and more.
Where to stay: Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa
Raise a glass to this November event, which Fodor’s Travel named one of 10 Can’t-Miss Fall Wine Festivals. Wine connoisseurs and newbies alike flock to the charming Panhandle town of Seaside. Four days of reserve wine tastings accompanied by some of the area’s best food and live music – we’ll drink to that.
This story first appeared on The Florida Buzz, a collection of blog posts about all things travel in the Sunshine State, powered by Florida Marriott Resorts.