Our mid-winter tropical escape this year has found us on Marco Island Florida. After many years of Miami-area winter pilgrimages, we are now quickly falling in love with South-West Florida coast (here is our Sarasota area trip report from last spring).
At 24 square miles, Marco Island is the largest barrier island in the 10,000 islands formation on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico (15 miles South of Naples) on Florida’s South West coast. It boasts lush tropical and subtropical greenery and some of the most gorgeous (if not the most gorgeous) stretch of beach I have ever seen (and I have seen a LOT of beaches).
We have recently spent a sun and sand-filled week here with our daughter and family friends and are happy to share our favorite Things to Do on Marco Island Florida:
Beach Walks and Shell Collecting
6-miles of uninterrupted stretch of white sand beach on the island’s western side is of course Marco Island’s best attraction. County-owned Tigertail Beach lies on the North West side of the island; with South Beach extending to the South-West.
Along with mangrove-lined beach, Tigertail (we called it “eco” beach) offers an opportunity to observe unique and threatened bird species that nest here and collect the sand dollars and other interesting shells. Collecting live shells is not permitted within county parks but there are plenty of collectibles as you walk towards South Beach. I have never seen such a variety of shells!
We went on our daily morning walks from South Beach where we stayed, some days reaching as far as the Tigertail Beach (some 3+ miles of walking). Before we realized that we could actually walk to Tigertail Beach from South Beach, we made a separate visit to this park by car ($8 parking fee; changing/bathroom/playground facilities available, but you may have to cross a lagoon- on foot. Ask me about it in the comments, if interested).
Boat Tour to 10,000 Islands
If you find yourself on an an island it is only natural to explore its surroundings by boat. There are a variety of boating options (including renting your own boat) around Marco Island and surrounding keys and islets, including a popular trip to beaches of Keewaydin island.
We picked 2-hour Cape Romano Sightseeing and Shelling Tour with Florida Adventures tours (they offer many others). Our tour departed from Caxambas Marina on the south end of Marco Island. This public boat access point (with free parking) allows easy access to the northern Ten Thousand Islands and the Gulf of Mexico.
There were 10 people on the boat (you could ask for a private tour) and a crew of two- a captain and a nature guide. Shortly after leaving the “harbor” we were surrounded by mangroves, dolphins, birds and manatees. I cannot say that I have a particularly deep relationship with an animal world, but I thoroughly enjoyed the transformative nature of the tour: I felt like I was on an adventure- far far away from the civilization (on an Amazon river?) I adore these moments of travel “highs” – you never know when (and if) they come but when they do, well, you know it must have been a great trip!
It took us about an hour to reach Cape Romano and famous Dome Houses: we stopped for photos and a story (there was actually a never ending supply of stories about the history of development of Marco Island and surrounding keys and the nature around us.
The beach on Cape Romano looked inviting:
We continued on our tour to stop on another island closer to shore- to search for exotic sea shells. We were each given a bag to collect the shells (they have samples of these on the boat for you: the Banded Tulip, the Clam Shell, the Coquina Clam Shells, the Cowry Shell, the Florida Fighting Conch, the Lightning Whelk, the Lined Moon Snail Shell, the Murex Shell, the Oyster Shell, the Ribbed Cantharus Shell, the Scallop Shell, the Scotch Bonnet Shell, and the Turret Shell.) I have to be honest with you- I spent my island time in a state of complete relaxation- on my blanket.
The tour is generally suited for most age groups, but at times it travels fast, so I would not recommend it for people with motion sickness- but I am sure you know who you are and stay away from boats anyways.
To learn more about 10,000 islands wildlife refuge visit their website.
We had a love-hate relationships with dining out on Marco Island. As is always the case in a new place it might take a couple of “misses” before you find your favorites (regardless of how many hours you have spent reading the reviews) and eating all your meals “out” for a week or more is a challenge (especially if you travel with kids). Not without help with some locals we found some great waterfront dining spots that provided picturesque views along with good food. Here are some of our favorites by the water: Leeby Fish (fresh off the boat seafood in a very casual setting), Snook Inn (casual inside-outside river-side with live music) and CJ’s on the Bay (bay-side dining with weekly entertainment). Aside from the food, walking around these places were on our list of favorite things to do on Marco Island!
Visiting a Farmer’s Market
On the days where we were in a “hate” stage of our relationship with dining out on Marco Island, visiting a (Wednesday) Farmer’s Market was something we were looking forward to on this trip! We made a mistake of going a bit late in a day (it is open until 1pm). While we did not find a lot of natively grown produce, we did find many interesting locals and a variety of home made foods and products. All in all, a market visit was an interesting diversion from the beach and a good look into local life.
Trip to nearby Naples
Marco Island is connected to Naples (to the North) via McIlvane Bay and East Marco Bay.
It takes 30-40 minutes depending on where you are on the Island to drive to Naples but we found a stroll and a meal on Naples’ 5th and 3rd ave South to be well worth the drive. There are galleries and nice shops and award winning Italian restaurants abound.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Marco Island, Naples and the Everglades form Florida’s Paradise Coast?
Where we Stayed
We were lucky to have collected enough reward points -after a year of no travel -to spend a week at Hilton Marco Island. It is a pricey beach front property on the South end of the island with many resort conveniences. There are a variety of rental options on the island in different price ranges on apartment/home booking sides, but you have to book ahead for best options.
What is your favorite area in Florida?
*Disclaimers. Be sure to check covid regulations in the points of origin and destination. Our hotel mentions may include affiliate links that do no cost any extra to you but may provide a small commission to this site.
PIN FOR LATER: