Many people have heard good things about Key West but wonder if it’s worth the trip. Rest assured, this small island city at the end of the Florida Keys delivers on experiences, cuisine, and culture that far outsize its small footprint. Read on to learn some of the best ways in which Key West stands out for visitors.

Exciting Events All Year Long

Whether you’re interested in sports, fishing, theater, food and wine or the arts, Key West has something for you. The island is known the world over for its stand-out festivals, including Hemingway Days every summer and Fantasy Fest in October. During the winter months, the “Bight” Before Christmas festival is a cheerful way to get into the holiday groove.

You can also participate or cheer on those who sign up for marathons and fishing tournaments throughout the year. And if your visit doesn’t coincide with one of these events, not to worry–you can visit Mallory Square for the nightly Sunset Celebration.

At this seaside street fair, locals and visitors alike gather to send off the day in style, complete with live music, vendors, and more. If fishing tournaments are more your speed and you can’t make it to Key West in time for one, book a fishing charter on your own. All In Fishing Charters offers trips dedicated to deep water, flats, wreck or reef fishing any time of year.

Arts and Culture in Key West

At the Key West Food and Wine Festival, enjoy home and garden tours and walking tours of the city that showcase local culinary delights. Participate in themed activities such as making your own key lime pies or sign up for food and wine pairings presented by local chefs.

If you miss the Food and Wine Festival, you can still enjoy home and garden tours during the annual Key West Home Tours that celebrate the architecture, landscapes, and history of Key West.

The autumn Key West Film Festival highlights the key elements of the Key West experience through films that highlight beauty, creativity, sustainability, and diversity, sustainability. Scheduled events typically include meet-and-greet programs with showcased films’ cast and crew, special film screenings, and parties. Some hotels offer special festival packages, too, so it’s worth mentioning your itinerary when booking your reservations.

Sporting Events and Festivals

Key West welcomes the new year with a half-marathon and 5K each January, making the most of the gorgeous weather and low humidity. Additional races continue throughout the year and include the famed Hemingway Sunset 5k. Runners and walkers of all skill levels are welcome, and the Hemingway look-alikes make even just being an observer of the race a fun experience.

Among the fishing tournaments are the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series, the Southernmost Light Tackle Anglers Masters (SLAM) event, and the Key West Fishing Tournament. These tournaments offer multiple sport fishing and recreational fishing categories. Some of these are catch-and-release tournaments.

Others are open to entries for an extended period, often several months, so that even fishing charter guests like those of All In Fishing Charters can join in. For those who’d prefer a different kind of sporting event, the Key West Yoga and Wellness Festival features several days of classes, a wellness marketplace, spa treatments, workshops, informational events, and educational programs.

Family Friendly Festivals

During the annual Ocean Fest, kids can enjoy touch tanks, community art projects, and fishing clinics. The Mote Marine Lab at the NOAA Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center and Truman Waterfront host this event, which also includes a marketplace with food and craft vendors plus live music and performers.

The annual Key West Mermaid Festival raises awareness of marine issues through education, including the importance of conservation. For a one-of-a-kind experience, check out the Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade held every spring. For three days, parades and other events spotlight floats and art bikes inspired by the hometown folk artist Stanley Papio. For visitors who can’t make it to the event, Papio’s work is on exhibit at the Key West Art & Historical Society’s Fort East Martello.

Beaches and Parks

Key West is home to several local public beaches along with Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. Each of these locations offers snorkeling for novice and experienced swimmers alike. The state park includes plenty of picnic areas, tours of the historic fort, walking and biking trails, and jetties for fishing. These are the ideal destinations to pick up a great meal from Eaton Street Seafood Market and Restaurant, where the conch fritters, lobster roll, and fish sandwiches are legendary, and come watch the dramatic and colorful sunsets.

Whether you’re planning a solo getaway, a retreat for two or a family vacation or reunion, Key West stands apart when it comes to activities and experiences. From state and national parks with unrivaled opportunities for close encounters with wildlife to eclectic shopping, fine dining, and casual meals sourced with the best local seafood, it’s easy to discover why travelers return to Key West year after year.