21 Fabulous Things to Do in Marco Island Florida
Have your eye on a little slice of paradise… that is, the Paradise Coast? There are so many great things to do in Marco Island that no matter what kind of tropical vacation you’re seeking, you’ll always find it here. With its unique location between Naples and the Everglades, there’s a broad range of year round activities in Marco Island to choose from. Turn left toward Naples to enjoy the livelier downtown shopping and dining, or right into the watery wilderness of the Florida everglades .
So whether you’re looking for relaxed sunbathing on the beach, great shopping and restaurants, getting to know the natural world, boating, or enjoying some fresh Florida seafood, start packing for your trip to paradise.
Where is Marco Island Florida? Situated in southwest Florida just south of Naples on Florida’s Paradise Coast, Marco Island is the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands (though spoiler alert: there’s really only a few hundred), which extend south for 99 miles to Cape Sable. It’s an angler’s and nature lover’s paradise. With an area of 24 square miles, Marco Island is smaller than Naples, its neighbor to the north. Even so there’s lot to do here — from boating and paddling the 100 plus miles of waterways and combing the six miles of gorgeous sun-drenched beaches, to exploring some of the most well-preserved natural areas in Florida. >>> Tip: When flying into Southwest Florida International Airport we highly recommend renting a car for your stay on Marco. Here’s what you’ll find to do in Marco Island: What’s In This Article Things To Do In Marco Island For Nature Lovers Activities in Marco Island for Kids Things To Do In Marco Island For Foodies Things to Do in Marco Island When It Rains
Things To Do In Marco Island For Nature Lovers
1. Kayak The Ten Thousand Islands
Marco Island is the largest barrier island within the Ten Thousand Islands, the chain of small islets and mangrove islands rising up from oyster beds between Cape Romano and the mouth of Lostman's River. If visiting the Everglades is on your Florida bucket list — and it should be — then kayaking Marco Island through the waterways of the Ten Thousand Islands and the Everglades is an absolute dream. There are remote and deserted barrier islands to explore, interesting local wildlife, and some of the most beautiful beaches in southwest Florida. You’ll have your choice of several Everglades kayak tour operators. Many have knowledgeable Florida naturalists and biologists to guide and narrate your paddle.
Explore the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands in a kayak 2. Visit Tigertail Beach And Sand Dollar Spit Without a doubt, Tigertail Beach and Sand Dollar Island are among the best beaches in southwest Florida and each one is unique. According to legend, the beach was named for Tigertail, a nickname given to the native Florida Seminole leader by US Army soldiers because of the long strip of panther skin which hung from his waist. Tigertail Beach is actually split in two by a tide-driven lagoon. The inner beach features the calm lagoon where you can swim or rent beach shelters, stand-up paddle boards and kayaks. The shallow lagoon is great for kids, and fishing is quite good at the turn of the tides. You’ll see mullet jumping by the dozens straight out of the water. The outer beach is reached by wading across a shallow part of the lagoon (3-5 feet deep at high tide) and walking a short distance on a narrow path through coastal scrub to Sand Dollar Island. There is a sturdy observation tower on this side of the beach that gives a panoramic view of the area and is ideal for birdwatchers. On the inner beach is parking, a snack bar for lunch, cold drinks, and snacks along with picnic tables, grills, a playground, and restrooms. The main part of Tigertail Beach is Sand Dollar Island — aka Sand Dollar Spit — considered one of Marco Island’s most beautiful natural areas. It’s great for shelling, and for birdwatchers the narrow island is a haven for egrets, herons, sandpipers, plovers, terns, and osprey among others. We think this is the prettiest beach on Marco Island and not at all crowded during the off-season. Parking is $8/day or $1.50/hour for non-beach parking pass holders. 3. Go Fishing In Marco Island
Marco Island boasts some of the best year round inshore and offshore sport fishing in the world. With the Gulf of Mexico and Ten Thousand Islands in its backyard, Marco is perfect for some serious fishing. At different times of the year anglers can target the shallows for tarpon, snook, sea trout, and redfish. If deep water fishing is your thing, a knowledgeable captain can take you to premier spots offshore in the Gulf of Mexico targeting grouper, snapper, cobia, tuna, and king mackerel. Something is always in season around Marco Island. Rates for a family of 4 can run upwards of $500 for a private trip, or you can book space on a charter or party boat for much less per person. No matter the time of year, there’s nothing like a dinner of fresh fish from the Gulf. 4. Explore Rookery Bay and Briggs Boardwalk Nature Center Shell Island Road, Marco Island If you’re looking for Marco Island things to do for nature lovers, exploring Rookery Bay tops the list. Maintained by Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, the half-mile long boardwalk loop at Briggs Boardwalk Nature Center showcases seven habitats in the complex local ecosystem and is a bird watcher’s paradise at the right time of year. Signs along the boardwalk help to identify and understand the flora and fauna in the different habitats making for an easy self-guided tour. Next door and just down the road from the boardwalk is the entrance to the 110,000 acres of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, one of only twenty-nine protected reserves in the US and the only remaining intact and undisturbed mangrove habitat in the US. This incredible mangrove forest and protected waters offers a view into a pristine ecosystem.
Explore the natural world on a Rookery Bay boat tour
The best way to experience Rookery Bay is to take a guided nature tour either by kayak or onboard a power boat that will cover a broader area of the reserve. We highly recommend a Marco Island boat tour or kayak tour with the local biologists and naturalist guides at Rising Tide Explorers.
Paddling will take you through mangrove tunnels and shallow water to see and hear egrets, herons, ospreys, bald eagles, and a wide variety of other birds. The covered skiff will take you deeper into the reserve to see pristine areas inaccessible to the public. If you have the time, take them both.
You’ll find Rising Tide Explorers just after the Marco Island Bridge located off FL 951 (Collier Blvd.) near the end of Shell Island Road.
To Get There from Marco Island: Drive 8.9 miles (about 15 minutes) on US951, then turn left onto Shell Island Road. In 1 mile the parking area will be on the right. To reach the boardwalk, park in front of the building and take the path on the right to enter the walk at the back of the building.
5. Explore the Everglades
When it comes to Marco Island attractions, remember this: Marco Island is the gateway to the Florida Everglades, and you’re only 30 minutes from Everglades National Park, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve and Big Cypress National Preserve, a huge part of Everglades. Although the Glades are remote, there are many opportunities to explore this fantastic wilderness right along Rte. 41, the main road traversing the Glades from west to east.
A visit to the Everglades is like stepping back into a primordial time and there are many ways to experience the natural world. Hike along well-groomed walking trails and boardwalks that will take you deeper into the swamp.
Paddling is especially serene and popular for exploring. Take an Everglades airboat tour through mangrove tunnels and across wet grasslands and look for alligators in the Glades. There are a few small areas to learn about the Native Americans who once occupied the Glades.
Our post on hiking in Naples also includes several trails and boardwalks around Marco Island to places like Big Cypress Preserve, Fakahatchee Strand, Collier-Seminole State Park and other natural areas in and around the Glades.
Seeing alligators in the Everglades is one of the best things to do in Marco Island
6. Kayak to Key Marco and the Horr House
Located on the southern tip of Marco Island is the 4-acre Caxambas Pass Park where you can enjoy a fun day with the kids. You can enjoy a picnic at the Park and concessions where you can grab a light bite to eat and rent kayaks and other watercraft. Caxambas Pass Park is a popular departure point for fishing boats, sailboats, and day cruisers to get out into the Gulf of Mexico and Ten Thousand Islands. But kayakers find this park to be the perfect jumping off point to explore the nearby deserted islands. Paddle across the Pass to Dickman’s Island where you can shell to your heart’s content — you’ll likely be the only visitors on this deserted island! It’s fun to explore the surrounding mangroves and quiet inlets, and watch dolphins play right around your kayak. On Key Marco, you can visit the Captain John Foley Horr House, the former vacation home of Captain John Horr who built the home in 1877 upon ancient shell mounds. The site was formerly a pineapple plantation and is one of the most unique things to do in Marco Island! You can explore the ruins of the 19th-century plantation house — just ask for a pass at the gate. 7. Otter Mound Preserve
1831 Addison Court, Marco Island
In a residential area of Marco Island you’ll find the Otter Mound Preserve. Locally known as ‘Indian Hills’, you can explore this 2.45 acre Preserve on short trails that make their way through what is a rare maritime hammock plant community that includes native gumbo limbo trees.
Dating back to the time of the Calusa natives, the Preserve has a rich archaeological history. Otter Mound attracts a large number of butterflies and a variety of bird species. It’s also home to a population of Florida gopher tortoises.
Activities in Marco Island for Kids
8. Eco Cruise With The Dolphin Explorer
951 Bald Eagle Dr, Marco Island
Manatees and bottlenose dolphins call the waters surrounding Marco Island home and there are several local boat tours that will take you out for a few hours. The experienced captains usually know where dolphins will appear and where the manatees are feeding.
The Dolphin Explorer is unique from other operators in that they offer eco tours from Marco Island as part of their Ten Thousand Islands Dolphin Project. Launched in 2006, the Dolphin Project is a long-term study of the numbers, distribution, movements, and behavior of bottlenose dolphins in the waters of southwest Florida.
This is the only eco tour where visitors can participate in sighting and counting dolphins. Become a scientist for a few hours. It’s a lot of fun, and many people love the interactive experience.
9. Sunset Fire Dancers on the Beach
400 S Collier Blvd, Marco Island
As the sun goes down on SWFL, the beach at the JW Marriott Marco Island comes alive with the beating drums of fire dancers twirling their batons of fire. You don’t even have to be a guest at the property to enjoy the show. Grab a seat or table at Kane’s Tiki Bar & Grill and enjoy a cocktail or two while watching the sun go down.
As the sun sets, a crowd begins to form, and like magic the fire dancers seem to come out of nowhere. Bring your camera or phone to capture the show during the blue hour.
The JW Marriott is located at 400 S. Collier Blvd, Marco Island. You should go at least once!
Fire dancers on the beach at the JW Marriott are one of the must-see Marco Island attractions
10. Visit Keewaydin Island on a Shelling Cruise
The barrier island of Keewaydin between Naples and Marco Island is mostly deserted for much of the year except on the 4th of July and New Years when boaters raft-up just off the beach. Only accessible by boat, Keewaydin is a beach and nature lover’s paradise, and especially fun for kids as they can run around to their heart’s content without worry. During sea turtle nesting season the beach becomes a nursery of protected turtle nests for primarily loggerhead turtles. Shelling on Keewaydin is without question some of the best to be found anywhere in Florida. Many tour operators offer a tour of local waters combined with an hour or so of island shelling. They’ll help you to identify those small treasures that are precious souvenirs of your day on the beach. 11. Rent A Boat For The Day
If you want to explore the waters around the island on your own, definitely rent a boat for a few hours or for the entire day. You don’t even have to have any boating experience (though it helps). If you’d love to treat your kids to a day on the water — swimming, shelling, fishing — rent a pontoon boat.
A pontoon boat is stable and you’ll quickly get the hang of it. In no time you’ll be exploring calm inlets and the warm shallow water all around the island. A pontoon boat also has a shallow draft meaning you won’t have to worry about running aground and can get into waters where your kids can swim safely.
Depending on the type and size of boat you choose, prices can start from around $300 for 1/2 Day (4 Hours) to $250 or more a day if you commit to a full week.
Where to Rent Boats in Marco Island:
Rose Marina and Walker’s Hideaway Marina on Marco are two excellent marinas.
Calusa Island Marina on Goodland, and Isle of Capri Marina on the Isle of Capri are also recommended.
12. Visit the Cape Romano Dome Houses
Wondering where to go in a boat around Marco Island? At Cape Romano south of Marco Island about 300’ offshore sit an otherworldly creation — six dome-shaped module homes on stilts that were actually built onshore.
Due to beach erosion and a change in the local sea level, the houses have been sinking for years and stand totally abandoned. The structures were never meant to be accessible by boat. If you’re always on the hunt for a cool photo op of odd and quirky sites to see, visit the sinking dome houses at Cape Romano.
Rent a boat and discover your own hidden gems on Marco Island
Things To Do In Marco Island For Foodies 13. Marco Island Seafood And Music Festival
If you plan your trip to Marco Island in March during the height of season, plan on attending the Marco Island Seafood and Music Festival, considered one of the best food festivals in the area. The festival has been sponsored by the Marco Island Rotary Club for over a decade and is highly anticipated each year In March the weather is sunny and mild, making the weather generally perfect for this event. It’s also a prime time for fresh local seafood and it’s the Florida stone crabs that keeps visitors coming back to the festival year after year. There’s nothing better! 14. Marco Island Restaurants
If you love dining out as your vacation entertainment, there are lots of good restaurants in Marco Island and Naples — you’ll be in heaven with nearly 1000 places to eat between them. Casual places and relaxing waterfront restaurants are always the favorites. You’ll even find excellent small restaurants tucked away in strip malls. The Snook Inn on Marco Island is a legend. It’s casual, has great food including the freshest fish, and on certain nights, live music. Sale e Pepe in the Beach Ocean Resort is outstanding for a more upscale evening and one of the best restaurants on Marco Island. Many people come to southwest Florida for new dining experiences during their visit. In Marco and Naples there is something for everyone from amazing fresh seafood straight from the Gulf to dedicated places offering vegetarian and vegan specialties. No matter what you’re taste buds are craving, you really can’t miss in Marco Island. 15. Marco Island Beach Bars
Southwest Florida is famous for its numerous fun and salty beach bars. Whether you see yourself lounging in a tiki bar while sipping an umbrella drink or having a few cold ones at a local joint that has just a bit of crustiness, you’ll find both and everything in between in Marco Island. A short drive to Goodland on the south side of the island is a blast for kicking back, usually with live music. There’s always a party going on at Stan’s Idle Hour and Little Bar. For a tiki beach bar where you can sit with your toes in the water, we like Capri Fish House on the Isle of Capri just about 10 minutes from Marco Island. At Kane’s Tiki Bar & Grill in the JW Marriott you can cozy up to the tiki bar or sit under an umbrella with your toes in the sand.
Cocktail time at a perfect Marco Island beach bar
16. Marco Island Farmers Market Mackle Park, 1361 Andalusia Terrace, Marco Island
You may be surprised to find that such a small island community has a pretty cool farmer’s market, but foodies will especially enjoy it. The seasonal Marco Island Farmer’s Market is one of our favorites. Located is Mackle Park, you’ll find loads of unique fresh produce and locally made goods.
Plus, during season, there’s always live music to set the mood, and it’s not surprising to find locals and visitors dancing in the parking lot before noon!
17. A Dinner Cruise On The Marco Island Princess 951 Bald Eagle Dr., Marco Island For sightseeing, a nature tour, or a sunset cruise complete with cocktails, book passage on the beautiful 90’ Marco island Princess. They offer a Nature & History Lunch cruise featuring a luncheon style buffet and the Admiral’s Sunset Dinner with a buffet. Onboard are two full service bars for your enjoyment. The food is quite good and the tours are excellent. We think this is one of the most fun things for families to do in Marco Island. The Princess can accommodate up to 149 guests and host large family gatherings, special events, and even weddings. Things to Do in Marco Island When It Rains 18. Marco Island Center For The Arts 1010 Winterberry Dr, Marco Island This impressive art center features artist receptions, monthly exhibits, and classes for adults and kids. You can browse through galleries, stop by the gift shop, and enjoy music programs and events year round. On the 2nd Tuesday of each month, the center holds a gallery opening reception. And best of all, admission is free. 19. Marco Island Historical Museum 180 S Heathwood Dr, Marco Island If you’d like to learn more about early life in Marco Island, this museum is well worth a visit. The exhibitions include interesting facts about the Calusa Indians and the history of how Marco Island was developed, all operated by the Marco Island Historical Society. Among several significant artifacts is the world-famous Key Marco Cat discovered over 100 years ago. It is one of the finest examples of Pre-Columbian art ever discovered in North America. Also on display are other rare artifacts found in the late 19th century. Admission is free. 20. Theater At The Marco Players 1089 N Collier Blvd, Marco Island The Marco Players was started in 1974 as a children’s play reading group and has grown into the oldest non-profit organization on the island. Today, the venue is an intimate community theater offering entertaining theatrical productions that benefit the community. 21. Go Shopping In Marco Island
Shopping in Marco Island is a popular pastime, in small boutiques selling everything from beachy home decor and gift items to high-end designer labels. Overlooking the marina on Smokehouse Bay is The Esplanade, an up-market Italian-style retail and dining center. With fountains, waterfront restaurants, a large courtyard with an open air bar, and a delicious ice cream shop, this is a great place to shop, people watch, and relax. Another favorite Marco Island shopping place is The Marco Town Center Mall. Featuring 30 great restaurants and stores it’s also the largest shopping venue on the island. You’ll find just about everything you might want — beach, casual, and formal wear, jewelry, gifts, health foods, and a Publix grocery store. *** There are so many things to do in Marco Island, and even more for you to discover. We love southwest Florida for its abundance of unique nature and rare wildlife, incredible coastal scenery, and of course the Everglades. If you have not yet been to Marco Island, make it your next destination in southwest Florida.