Favorite Florida holiday events include festive boat parades, Christmas lights, Santa visits, and fun ways to kick off the new year. Dream of a white Christmas with your bare feet in the luscious soft sugar sand of the Florida Gulf Coast.
Santa’s cheeks may be red from too much sunshine from his rounds of golf but at Christmas Eve midnight look up in the sky to see his sleigh pulled by eight magic manatees. Or maybe gators. Or perhaps flamingoes. Not sure which Florida Gulf Coast magical animals Santa will recruit this year. Let me know what you see.
Florida Holiday Events on the Gulf Coast: Seasonal Festivals in Southwest Florida
The holiday period typically starts after Thanksgiving and ends by mid-January, including Christmas and New Year’s Eve
Florida Gulf Coast Holiday Festivals
This collection of Florida holiday events extends from Key West in the south, through Naples, Ft Myers, and Sarasota, finally up to Tampa and St Pete. These popular Florida Gulf Coast holiday activities feature fun tropical Christmas decorations like palm trees decorated with Christmas lights, holiday boat parades, and quirky New Year’s Eve events.
Florida Keys Holiday Events
Schooner Wharf Bar Lighted Boat Parade, Key West, Dec 12
Calling themselves the “last little piece of Old Key West,” Schooner Wharf Bar hosts an Old Florida traditional Christmas boat parade.
Boot Key Harbor Christmas Boat Parade, Marathon (TBD)
Ride in or view the 24th annual boat parade anywhere along the three mile route throughout Marathon.
Key West New Year’s Eve, Dec 31
Sushi and the Red High Heel Drop at midnight is the most famous new year’s eve event in Key West, broadcast on CNN each year. But there are several other Key West new year’s eve celebrations to ring in the new year. Look for the lowering of the pirate wench, the conch shell drop, and much more. One year, I had a late dinner at a Key West restaurant and it was mayhem approaching midnight.
>>> Plan your Florida Keys visit with our guide: 8 Great Key West Tips For Your Next South Florida Vacation
Marco Island and Naples Holiday Events
Naples, Marco Island, and Everglades comprise the Paradise Coast. Christmas is paradise sounds nice, right?
Night Lights in the Garden, Naples Botanical Garden, Nov 27 – Jan 3
Stroll pathways adorned with millions of lights while listening to live holiday music and savoring festive beverages.
47th Annual Christmas Walk and Tree Lighting, December 4
The main street in Naples Florida closes for this two day spectacular holiday event—featuring a living nativity, cooking demos, al fresco dining, and a skating rink.
Christmas Boat Parade on Naples Bay, December 12
Join a boat and be in the parade or watch the festive flotilla from a cozy spot on land (our choice would be the rail at Pinchers Tin City with two dozen stone crabs).
43rd Annual Christmas on Third, Naples
Head over to the other Naples main street for a week-long celebration.
New Year’s Eve Fireworks at Naples Pier, December 31 (cancelled for 2020)
Christmas Island Style events in Marco Island include
- Canine Pet Parade, December 1
- Boat Parade on December 12
- House Decorating Contest, December 14-18
- Marco Christmas with Santa and Mrs Claus, December 19
>>> Try our favorite Naples FL restaurants: 8 Great Places to Eat in Naples, Florida
Fort Myers Events
If I were Santa, find me on Dec 26 relaxing somewhere on the 2.5 miles of brilliant beach of South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island. To get there from the Florida mainland, drive through Fort Myers and Sanibel.
Festival of Trees, Davis Art Center, Ft Myers, Dec 3 – 6
View Christmas trees decorated by local businesses and organizations, while supporting local charities.
The 32nd annual Fort Myers Beach Christmas Boat Parade is a local favorite.
Holiday Nights at Edison and Ford Winter Estates, Nov 24 – Jan 3
Downtown Cape Coral is blocked off for this Christmas festival featuring games, fun, food, piles of snow (not local!), and acts on three stages.
Santa is hiding on an island and this cruise will try to find him and save Christmas!
>>> Plan your Ft Myers visit with our guide: Fun Things to Do in Fort Myers Beach on a Southwest Florida Vacation
Punta Gorda Holiday Events
Translated from Spanish, Punta Gorda means “fat point.” Something Santa and I have in common.
Festival of Lights, Fishermen’s Village, Nov 15 – Dec 30
The Fishermen’s Village comes alive with over 1 million Christmas lights along with live music, Christmas decorations, and so much more.
Renaissance Christmas Carols, Military Heritage Museum. Dec 17
The local GO Divas, an ensemble of six classically trained female vocalists, perform 16th century Christmas carols.
Punta Gorda Boat Parade, Dec 19
Also called “Saturday Night Before Christmas Eve Boat Parade” so that you can always remember the date. Four mile lighted boat parade with no commercial or political entries. YES!
Christmas Light Canal Cruises, Dec 1 – 30
View Christmas decorations on Homes, boats, Seawalls, and docks from a Punta Gorda canal cruise.
>>> Plan your Punta Gorda visit with our guide: 15 Fun Things to Do in Punta Gorda Florida
Sarasota Holiday Events
Do the Siesta Key Drum Circle participants wear Santa hats in December? If you visit Sarasota County around Christmas, skip on over there and let me know.
Holiday Tour of Lights trolley tour, Sarasota, Dec 4-30
Ride an open air trolley through Sarasota’s best and brightest neighborhoods.
The Güt Life Christmas Musical, Nov 10- Dec 8
Live Yuletide comedy production at Carlisle Inn features a clash of cultures and collision of traditions.
Lights in Bloom at Selby Gardens, Sarasota, Dec 18 – 30
Visit Santa’s Workshop and Toyland overlooking Sarasota Bay and topical holiday decorations.
>>> Plan your Sarasota visit with our guide: 15 Cool Things to Do in Sarasota Florida
Anna Maria Island and Bradenton Holiday Events
Bradenton and the Gulf Islands (Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key) are in Manatee County and my Christmas wish is have eight sea cows pull my kayak and lead me from Palma Sola Bay to Beer Can Island while I sip egg nog. With rum of course!
Hunsader Farms County Christmas, Bradenton, Dec 11 – 20
Enjoy a country Christmas with over 300,000 Christmas lights, campfires, petting zoo, hayrides, train rides, and Christmas movies, music, and treats.
Holiday Lights in the Gardens, Florida Botanical Gardens (cancelled for 2020)
Witness the party with a purpose, the Privateer’s Crewe festive march through AMI.
Manatee River Holiday Boat Parade (cancelled for 2020)
Christmas on Bridge Street, Anna Maria Island, Dec 17
>>> Plan your visit with our guide: Cool Things To Do in Anna Maria Island Florida
Tampa Holiday Events
Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Park, Nov 20 – Jan 3
Visit Tampa’s only outdoor ice skating rink, buy holiday gifts from local artisans, ride the Curtis Hixon Park choo choo through the Winter Village Tampa.
Find a spot along The Tampa Riverwalk for the popular and fun lighted boat parade, featuring small and large boat parades. Check the website for best places to see both. We love Water Works Park to see the magnificent oak trees decorated with lights.
>>> Plan your Tampa visit with our guide: 5 Fun Ways to See Tampa Florida
St Pete Clearwater Holiday Events
See the fun and festive twinkling Christmas light boat parade from a spot between Treasure Island and John’s Pass.
Epiphany Celebration, Tarpon Springs, Jan 6
USA’s largest Epiphany Day celebration (January 6) is celebrated by this predominate Greek Orthodox Church community. The highlight for most attendees of the Tarpon Springs Epiphany is the bishop tossing a cross into the water and the scrum dive to retrieve it.
>>> Plan your St Pete visit with our guide: St Petersburg FL Art Museums and Art Scene
Daily Florida Gulf Coast Events and Festivals
The following fun and quirky events occur every single night along the Florida Gulf Coast. Attend as much as possible.
Nightly Siesta Key Sunset Celebration and Drum Circle
Celebrate another glorious US Gulf Coast day with some music, dancing, and fun. Arrive about an hour before sunset and let your ears guide you to one of the most interesting daily spectacles you will find anywhere in the world. On our last visit, hundreds of people gathered around the Siesta Key drum circle, complete with dancers, drummers, funness for all types and ages, and, yes, a little funky odor.
Key West Sunset Celebration
Mallory Square is the scene of a vibrant nightly festival, hosting visitors from around the world who come to witness and participate in the magicians, jugglers, clowns, psychics, local musicians, artists, and food vendors that combine for an incredible cultural experience.
If you are Festivus fan, see our article Festivus: Airing of (Travel) Grievances
Obviously there are hundreds of other Florida Holiday events and festivals so leave a comment with your favorites so that everyone else will know. For events throughout he year along the entire Gulf Coast (from Key West to South Padre, Texas), see US Gulf Coast events.