Key West, Florida
It hasn't been around as long as some of the other great South Florida cultural events, but what the Key West Food & Wine Festival lacks in history, it makes up for in funky fun. It is Key West, after all. Now in its third year, the festival provides some structure to the rich and diverse food-and-drink scene Key West is known for, even away from Duval Street. The event kicks off at sunset on the 26th and features a multitude of wine and food seminars, chances to eat fresh seafood, and the only-in-Key West January weather.
For information on how to party the Heming-way, visit keywestfoodandwinefestival.com.
Suggested marina: Conch Harbor Marina
Avast ye mateys! There's a pirate ship invasion happening on the west coast of Florida, and you're invited! If you're piloting your booty through Tampa Bay this January, you really shouldn't miss this fest, which has been swashbuckling fun since 1954. The event is put on by Ye Mystic Krewe, which has more than 700 members and is made up of the city's most prominent pirates. They even commissioned the only fully rigged pirate ship built in modern times, the Jose Gasparilla, a three-masted replica of an 18th-century West Indiaman. The actual invasion is just part of a week-long celebration. For more information, visit gasparillapiratefest.com.
Suggested marina: Tampa Marriott Waterside Resort & Marina
New Orleans, Louisiana
While Bourbon Street craziness may be the lure for the masses, don't write off Mardi Gras as strictly booze-addled debauchery. There's plenty to offer every visitor during this celebration of the beginning of Lent. The entire party is put on by Mardi Gras Krewes, private social clubs that fund nearly all of the music, parades, picnics and, of course, those long, colorful strands of beads tossed from increasingly elaborate floats. Officially, Mardi Gras --- French for Fat Tuesday --- is the day before Ash Wednesday, but most visitors arrive in town no later than the previous Saturday to enjoy an extended weekend of festivities. For more information, visit mardigrasneworleans.com.
Suggested marina: Orleans Marina
Miami Beach, Florida
There was a time when the South Beach Food & Wine Festival was a small fundraiser for Florida International University. Now that it's hosted by the Food Network, anything and everyone goes. Celebrating its 11th year in 2012, the festival showcases wine and food pairings to die for from local restaurants, set to the backdrop of celebrity sightings and more as-seen-on-TV chefs than star-struck foodies could even dream of. It would be an incredible event if it were held in Iowa, but South Beach takes it to the next several levels. As frequent visitor and seminar host Emeril might say: BAM! For information on this tasty event, visit sobefest.com.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
(January, March, October)
There's really nothing like strolling along Las Olas Boulevard in late winter and early spring. And when you're there to drink in the best art South Florida has to offer, well, let's just say it only gets better. You name it, any medium you're after is represented --- life-size sculptures, oil paintings, jewelry, photography, ceramics. When you add in a diverse range of live music and food from area restaurants, you've got the makings of an annual excursion. For more information, visit artfestival.com.
Suggested marinas: Bahia Mar Resort Yachting Center
One hundred years already? Where does the time go? That's right, it's been a century since the mayor of Tokyo, Japan presented a gift of 3,000 cherry trees to the city of Washington, D.C. The grove created by the gift reciprocated, by the way, with a gift of dogwood trees from the U.S.has now blossomed into the site of a full-fledged annual festival with a wide spectrum of activities. Whether you're taking in contemporary arts and culture, the fireworks and parade, or just enjoying the incredible natural beauty, it's a great chance to enjoy the nation's capital. For information on this branch of government, check out nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.
Suggested marina: Gangplank Marina
Palm Beach, Florida
Quick, what world-renowned film festival has held more than 150 premieres over the past 12 years? OK, you probably saw the headline and know it's the one held in beautiful Palm Beach, Florida. But you might think you're at Cannes or Sundance the way the celebrities come out for this event. You want Clooney? Got him. Julia? Her too. It's as A-list as it gets. There are a variety of ticket packages available that will get you past the velvet ropes to where the action is. But don't wait too long. This event has been known to attract as many as 20,000 visitors. For information on this screen gem, check out pbifilmfest.org.
Suggested marina: Palm Harbor Marina
Newport Beach, California
There may be no yacht race in the country that has a more storied history of both competition and fun than this one. For 64 years, seasoned pros and first-timers have joined together for a fun-filled weekend of partying, racing, and more partying. The actual race, a 125-mile jaunt from Balboa Pier down to the Hotel Coral & Marina in Ensenada, Mexico, has grown to include 20 different boat classes and has attracted SoCal celebs such as Humphrey Bogart as well as world-class racers such as Dennis Conner. And the parties, well, they are just as legendary. For more on this unsinkable event, log on to nosa.org.
Celebrating the rich maritime legacy of the Seattle area with a decidedly appealing Pacific Northwest flair, this festival is big fun right on the downtown waterfront. Appealing to a wide range of interests, the family- oriented event has something for everyone --- from tugboat-race enthusiasts to chowder aficionados. Skilled at donning a survival suit or building a dirty boat? Just sign up for the competition. Rather hear stories of the sea or tour a container ship packed with attractions? Right this way! For more information, visit seattlepropellerclub.org/maritimefestival.
Suggested marina: Bell Harbor Marina
If you haven't been to Chicago in June, do yourself a favor and check it out. And if the weather, food and great people aren't enough, how about throwing in a visit to one of the best music events in the country. Celebrating the city's incredible musical heritage and some of the true living legends of the blues, this festival is held on Lake Michigan in beautiful Grant Park. Free shows go on all day at venues sprinkled throughout the park. And after hours, just about every club in town welcomes special musical guests. For more information, visit explorechicago.org.
Suggested marina: DuSable Harbor