In a scene that is played out night after night, crowds begin to gather a couple of hours before sunset. It is a festive atmosphere... live bands play, craft vendors hawk their wares, talented artists sketch portraits, and street performers delight the crowds. As twilight approaches everyone seems to pause to enjoy Mother Nature's show-stopping spectacle. Then, as if on cue, the party continues.
In most locales, the nightly setting of the sun takes place without fanfare. In Key West, however, it's the occasion for a waterfront celebration that for more than 25 years has been a tradition for residents and visitors alike. The unique sunset gala celebrates two of Key West's most enduring assets: its natural beauty and the lighthearted individuality of its people.
People of all ages flock to Mallory Square, the historic pier overlooking Key West Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico, to enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere as the sun sinks beneath the waves in orange-red splendor.
The Mallory Square performers offer a spectacle as vivid as the sunset itself. Visitors are likely to encounter a sword swallower, a fire-eater, and jugglers. Some evenings an Uncle Sam look-alike named Love 22 strolls along the pier giving away $22 bills. A kilted bagpiper adds an oddly mournful accompaniment to the Sunset pageantry. And, no one can overlook the tightrope walker who can be seen balanced high above his audience, silhouetted against the fiery glow of the setting sun.
The festive, water's-edge market is equally appealing. Visitors might have their fortune told, buy jewelry or crafts handmade by local artisans, sample popcorn, or meet a live iguana named Miss Trouble dressed in seasonal costumes ranging from a Santa hat to biker's gear.
To enjoy the celebration to its fullest, it is best to arrive at Mallory Square at least 30 minutes before the sun actually sets and stay until it slips below the horizon. All the entertainment on the pier is free to watch, although entertainers pass the hat following their performances.
This is one attraction that should not be missed on a visit to America's southernmost city. These celebrations are for everyone — young and old — and provide the perfect end to a busy day of sightseeing, or for the locals... a hard day at the office. Once you have experienced one of these sunset celebrations, you'll want to come back night after night — after all who can resist a beautiful sunset and a good festival all rolled into one?