When I lived in Miami I used to visit the Florida Keys all the time. Camping there is such a different experience than what I was used to in the woods of the more northern parts of the United States. I love the beauty and chill atmosphere of the Keys so much that since moving away from Florida, I now go back yearly to enjoy a relaxing getaway in one of my favorite places.
The Keys have so much to offer, I could do dozens of posts. There’s nature and boating and watersports galore. Many waterfront restaurants, like Hog Heaven in Islamorada, even have boat slips for those who want to come off the water for a snack.
And the fish. I’ve written before about the delish grouper and mahi mahi that are abundant in Florida… but it’s worth mentioning again. The blackened “fish fingers” at Hog Heaven are just what the doctor ordered.
But this post focuses on the westernmost end of the keys — Key West — because that’s where I spend a lot of time during my visits. More specifically, the focus is the amazing Lobsterfest that takes place one August weekend every year. Yum.
Florida lobsters aren’t the same as the cold water lobsters famous in the Northeast U.S. The warm water spiny lobsters have different colorations, and more importantly, do not have claws. I’m going to say something that may sound sacrilegious to many Caribbean seafood lovers, but I don’t think spiny lobsters taste quiiiiiiite as good as those in the cold water. Still delicious, but they are different. Maybe that’s a trade-off for being so much easier to catch due to the lack of claws. Now you can see why it’s a little silly to spot a Lobsterfest visitor every now and then wearing a hat with big, foam lobster claws that they must have picked up in the Northeast. Know your audience.
Lobster mini season in Florida runs the last Wednesday and Thursday in July, and divers can head underwater to bag the “bugs.” The crustaceans tend to like covered, well-hidden spaces that they can back into so their feelers can stick out and sense danger coming. But the poor things aren’t necessarily super smart; hunters use “tickle sticks” to trick the lobsters. Get your mind out of the gutter… the long, thin tickle sticks are used to stealthily reach behind the lobsters and tap their behind. The lobsters get scared because they think something dangerous is behind them in their hiding spot so they scoot out, right into the hands of the hunter. The regular 8-month lobster season — when bona fide anglers head out in boats and use traps — always begins August 6 and runs through March 31.
Lobsterfest consists of many events throughout the weekend, including a lobster boil and a brunch. But my favorite is the street festival that shuts down Duval Street, the main drag in Old Town Key West. Dozens of vendors line the street with their goods, many of them handmade.
Be sure to come hungry because there are dozens of food vendors as well. Oh, the lobster! There are numerous different lobster dishes like risotto, tacos and fritters.
But my favorite — and apparently a crowd favorite, based on what I saw — is the grilled lobster. Booth after booth had huge grills overflowing with the grilled crustaceans.
If I still can’t convince you that Lobsterfest is one of the best reasons to go to Key West, then think of this: it’s low season for tourism so even taking the festival into consideration, there are fewer people milling around. That means you can do and see everything the island offers without constantly tripping over other tourists like during high season. And if you simply don’t like lobster? Well, my friend, then there’s nothing I can do for you. Just visit Key West for its fabulousness and eat something else.