Marco Island, FL is full of things to do. Maybe something you don’t see all over Instagram or the photo cover of National Geographic but it truly is a hidden gem in FL.
Being so close to the Everglades National Park, Miami and the always fun Key Largo we decided to check it out while heading up the West Coast to Fort Myers FL and Sarasota FL.
As soon as we arrived we were in love – the relaxed country vibe, the stunning houses and the quirky touches (many houses have unique letterboxes here) and the opportunity to try shelling (Marco Island is considered one of the very best shelling beaches in Florida) are just some of what makes this destination so special.
Marco Island forms part of the stunning Ten Thousand Islands. With amazing white sand, palm tree lined beaches (being just off the Gulf of Mexico) as well as weird alien-like structures to explore in the middle of the ocean it is a place you don’t want to miss.
Okay now that I got your attention with the aliens, stick around for a while, make yourself a hot cup of cocoa, as we outline everything you need to know to plan a perfect trip!
Whether you have kids, are traveling as a couple (as we did), on a friends trip, looking for a budget or luxury vacation, we have you covered with the ultimate list of things to do in Marco Island.
Click to jump straight to our list of things to do in Marco Island
Where to stay in Marco Island?
But First, you are going to need a place to stay as you will want a few days to explore this beautiful region of Florida.
Where you stay in Marco Island FL really depends on your budget. Luckily, there are places to suit all types of budgets here including the top eco friendly resorts.
If you can afford it, we would highly recommend staying in one of the luxury hotels in the area – they are particularly beautiful.
Luxury Marco Island Hotels
Let’s start with the good stuff. Luxury hotels near Marco Island are not just boring rooms but amazing full service resorts which back onto the beach. Let’s face it, enjoying the pristine sand is top of everyone’s things to do in Marco Island bucket list. Naturally, the fanciest resorts have the most prime real estate.
The Marriott Marco Island is our favourite resort. With beach cabanas, rooms overlooking the ocean (Marco Island has mean sunsets), yoga on the beach and an abundance of beautiful shells, this hotel is a no brainer for a romantic getaway, special occasion or just if you prefer holidays a little on the luxurious side (really can’t blame you there!).
The Hilton Marco Island Resort is also a fine choice. We have to say we have a little Hilton bias. I grew up with a Hilton loving granny and we recently spent a month Hilton-hopping in Europe. It was bliss. Especially the Hilton Budapest. You really can’t go wrong with a Hilton (I personally love that). The Hilton also backs onto the beach-side and has a stunning pool and plenty of other courtesy perks.
If money is no object this 5 star Marco Island hotel is outrageously perfect.
Sometimes you just want to stay somewhere and not spend tonnes of money. We feel you.
It goes without staying that Marco Island is not a budget destination but you will be happy to know if won’t cost you as much as Miami or Key West for a clean and comfortable place to stay.
For a clean and comfortable hotels near the ocean with consistently good reviews you can’t go past the Old Marco Island Inn and Suites which has large and clean rooms and a nice pool and other courtesy items.
The Boathouse Marco Island is another good choice for a budget stay. With clean and comfortable rooms and a view of the waterfront, you really can’t go wrong for a weekend away from Sarasota. Make sure your hotel has courtesy parking as you’ll want a car for shopping trips in this car friendly destination.
Things to do in Marco Island
Marco Island has something for every kind of traveler – whether you want to relax on isolated beaches, enjoy a snorkeling trip to one of the most beautiful islands in the world, try shelling or mini golfing – there is an abundance of activities, sports, tours and trips, day and night.
We also loved how close the proximity of the Island to Everglades National Park being just a 20 minute drive away. You can spend the morning swimming in the ocean and the afternoon hunting for alligators at Shark Valley.
There is also an abundance of wildlife which we loved. It’s home to many nesting turtles as well as tortoises which you will see freely roaming the sand dunes (something we haven’t seen before)
Oh, and if you are a bird watcher, you will be packing your bags already as it is home to some of the finest birding trails in Florida!
Top 2 Attractions: Visit Marco Island’s Best Beaches
The pristine beaches are the top attractions in town.
Marco Island’s two public beaches are Tigertail Beach and South Beach.
There are others a short car ride further away in Naples. Check out our guide to the best Naples Beaches.
Did you know there is a competition between the two – which is better? Keep reading to see which stretch of sand we preferred or enjoy a photo tour in our Marco Island Beaches & Activities guide.
The first of Marco Island’s two public beaches is Tigertail beach.
Located on Hernando Drive, it is very popular with locals and tourists alike due to the abundance of activities on offer.
Here you will find many natural and man-made nature trails to explore. Bird watchers love Tigertail; it’s been named the most popular bird watching location in FL. It is an important habitat for nesting shorebirds.
We didn’t see many birds but we saw a tortoise at Tigertail which we were very happy about. I mean how cool is a random tortoise walking on the beach?! Gotta admit, I’ve never seen that before. So you can now add a quirky, unique experience to your list of things to do in Marco Island.
Aside from animal watching, Tigertail is also perfect for watersports including kayaking to the tidal lagoon which joins Tigertail to Big Marco Critical Wildlife Area known as Sand Dollar Island Spit.
At Sand Dollar Island Spit there is a decent chance to see a Florida fighting conch which is pretty cool.
Tigertail has something for adults and young children alike.
The waves are dead flat which means it is ideal for families with young kids. And if you are at all concerned, the community provides little life jackets for free to keep the kids safe. I seriously love this!
There is full facilities at Tigertail including a large playground and a big SHADED cafe which is essential to retreat from the hot summer sun. Alternatively you can rent a shaded sun lounger if you prefer to stay on the sand.
It costs $8 USD to park at Tigertail Beach. There is no free public parking options in the area and you cannot park on the street so basically, despite it being a ‘free beach’ there is an $8 access fee.
While I did just complain about the $8 fee, it was assuring to see where your money goes: the beach is very clean and the facilities including the boardwalks, showers and kids life jackets (free for use) are in perfect condition.
The downside of Tigertail is the waves are a little mediocre but due to the awesome activities and facilities on offer there, I’ll let that slide…
Usually open from 9 – 6 pm (or dusk) you can see our full write up on Tigertail in our Marco Island Beaches guide.
The best “beachy beach” is undoubtedly South Marco Beach on South Collier Blvd.
South Beach has crystal clear water, white sand and is in the direct vicinity of many stunning luxury hotels.
It is without doubt the most popular sandy strip on Marco Island. While hardly anyone is at Tigertail, many chairs and umbrellas line the shoreline here.
There is also a possibility to partake in water sports including jet-skis, paddleboard and kayaks at South Beach. There is a rental shop close by called Marco Island Watersports where you can rent these if you are feeling adventurous!
$8 seems to be the going rate for parking. Like it’s rival Tigertail it is $8 to park near South Beach.
I say near because there is no allocated parking directly at South Beach. There are, however, many paid parking lots in the direct vicinity at $8 a pop.
Being a more beachy-beach, there are no nature trails here however, there is a sign as you enter which states that it is the home of nesting turtles which is very cool. As nesting turtles emerge after nightfall, it is unlikely that you will be lucky enough to see a turtle at South Beach though Boo :(.
Like Tigertail, there is a neat little stand with free life jackets for families with kids to use. How cool is this public initiative in the area?
All in all, we preferred it as the sand and sea itself is a lot nicer than Tigertail. It is also perfect for a photo which we loved.
What I didn’t enjoy however, it that unless you are staying nearby (a good reason to choose one!!) there are less facilities directly available at South Beach. There are restaurants available in the nearby streets but no cafes located directly on the sand.
This also means that there is no vendors selling shade covers, stand up paddle boards and kayaks. As you will see in the picture below, it is necessary to bring your own umbrellas and anything else you might need with you.
To see a comparison of the two see our Marco Island Beaches guide.
There is another sandy book worth mentioning named Hideaway Beach.
Hideaway Beach is lovely but it is an invitation only thing to do in the area.
If you manage to score an invitation from a member you are in luck as it is arguably the nicest beaches in the area with a really nice bar and restaurant attached. Unsurprisingly, there are fewer tourists too which is nice.
We have heard you can sneak in by walking from Tigertail Beach. This is only advisable for the most frugal & eager among us as it would be a very long and tiring walk! Any takers?
Take a stroll at Markle Park
If you are looking for somewhere with free parking where you can have a leisurely walk or enjoy a picnic with the family then Markle Park, otherwise known as the Frank E. Markle Park, is your spot.
The park is somewhat of a gem hidden in plain sight for locals, with it boasting many of the locals’ favorite things to do in Marco Island.
The Park has a stunning lake in the middle where you can try your hand at recreational fishing (catch and release that is) as well as a nice walkway, around 800 metres in length, to get your exercise in.
There are also many picnic tables at the park as well as basketball courts and a pool if you want to tire the little ones out (paid entry).
If you have brought your dog on vacation with you you will be happy to know that the park is very dog friendly with two fenced in areas for the dogs to run free.
Unlike the beaches in town you will enjoy free unlimited parking at Markle Park.
Marco Island Historical Museum
If you are interested in history including American Indian history you should definitely make a trip to the Marco Island Historical Museum.
The museum holds very interesting information about Southwest Florida’s Calusa Indians. It also homes many items that have been unearthed from the late 1800’s.
The intriguing entry sign captured our attention and provided a brief insight into the area.
Not all that long ago, in 1965, Marco Island had fewer than 600 residents. The Deltona Corporation had a greater vision for this small town. The Company flew out prospective buyers at significant expense and ran a $600,000 media campaign to attract people to the area.
It is incredible how quickly the town flourished! If you think about it 1965 really is not that long ago and now it is a fabulous place to visit in the Sunshine State.
In order to inspire people that MI is the place to be, the Deltona Corporation used amazing artwork.
The artwork used the Deltona Corporation to attract people to live in on the Island is displayed outside the Marco Island Historical Museum.
The museum is free to enter although donations are greatly appreciated to keep it running.
There is easy and free parking right outside the museum.
Phone: +1 239-252-1440
Website: Marco Island Historical Museum
Directions: Marco Island Museum
Marco Island Center for the Arts
As a small beachy town, you’ll notice a very arty vibe. If you are an artist you will really appreciate this aspect.
Beyond playing sports, one of the top things to do for art lovers is the Center for the Arts.
The Center was set up by a small group of artists in 1969, right when the town was in its initial growth stages, to learn from each other and offer support.
These days the center offers classes and workshops for adults and children who are interested in Art.
If you don’t want to try a class, you can still check out the center for free and admire the art. Parking is also free which is nice and easy
There is some particularly cool artwork displayed outside the center if you prefer to spend most of your time in the ocean but still want to stop by briefly.
There are often different exhibits and events at the center. If you want to check out what’s on while you are there, you can check out their website: Marco Island Center for the Arts.
Phone: +1 239-394-4221
Go Mini Golfing
Mini golfing is a tried and tested family activity on vacation. There is a fantastic 18 hole mini golf course called Marco Island Golf and Garden.
The course is really fun and well kept and they even offer courtesy water bottles in coolers which is necessary if you visit in the Summer months. It can get hot on the coast.
There are cute statues located all over the course which give it a nice an extra touch. Personally, I much prefer mini golf when the course is more interesting. Some of the holes at Marco Golf incorporate water features which is pretty neat!
The course costs $12 for players over 12 years old and is open AM or PM.
Phone: +1 239-970-0561
Take a Shelling Tour
Topping the list of most iconic Marco Island things to do is taking of of the famous shelling tours.
Marco Island is known for having some of the finest shelling beaches in Florida. If you want to find some seriously cool shells to bring home – this is the spot to do it.
While you can find nice shells at South Marco Beach and Tigertail Beach, the best shells are found on a dedicated shelling tour.
The very best areas for shells are found in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. This requires a boat to access so a tour is necessary.
We would recommend the Cape Romano Islands Shelling Tour. This is the most popular as it incorporates seeing the strange alien looking Cape Romano structures as well as shelling. Don’t wait too long to visit as Cape Romano is sadly sinking and won’t be around forever.
If you are lucky it’s possible to find a rate Junonia shell. If you won’t know what I mean, they’re those big, pretty speckled shells that are sometimes sold in beach shops.
Head out to the Islands on a Fishing Trip
If shelling isn’t quite your thing, a very cool alternative trip is a fishing trip. We would recommend: Marco Island Inshore Fishing Charter
As the island forms part of the Ten Thousand Islands there is some fun fish to be caught in this area of the state including some of the biggest and rarest fish including sharks, red drum, snook and tarpon.
We hand fed tarpon in Robbies in the Florida Keys and were were shocked how huge they are.
The fishing trip is pretty legit as it covers a very wide area including the rivers, creeks, the barrier islands, and backcountry shoreline.
You can opt for a full or half day depending on how serious a fisherman or fisherlady you are.
If you want to DIY fish in the Sunshine State you need a license. On the tours they provide you with a temporary license so it is nice and easy.
You can bring your own rod and fish yourself, but you will need to purchase a 3-day license for $17, seven day license for $30 an adult or 1 year license for $47 at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or you can call 1-888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356).
Have a relaxing afternoon at Caxambass Pass Park
Caxambass Pass Park is a charming place to relax and watch the fisherman, boats coming in and out, or to embark on a kayaking adventure.
It might not look like much when you first arrive but it’s a really nice spot to chill. Parking is free.
If you are feeling adventurous , you can rent a kayak or stand up paddle board from Paddle Marco Island and explore the surrounding area.
It costs $35 for a 2 hour rental or $75 for a full day rental (there are also various prices in between).
If you prefer a guide, Paddle Marco offers 2.5 hour guided tour through the mangrove tunnels.
This area of town is known for dolphin spotting. You can often spot a dolphin while kayaking here.
Naples Outlet Centre
If you are a shopaholic you will be happy to find a fabulous outlet centre nearby where you can score some incredible shopping bargains!
We love picking up a bargain ourselves so we were happy to find an outlet store nearby to satisfy all your shopping cravings. We checked it out after we visited some of the Naples Beaches.
It is a lovely outlet centre with a beautiful water feature, in front of a Starbucks store, which is always appreciated.
It is a large complex so there are plenty of good brands there including Abercrombie and Fitch and Adidas.
Visit the Marco Island Brewery
Beyond shopping, for some adult things to do Marco Island Brewery Company is a popular place to hang in the afternoon or evening.
The brewhouse has a very chilled vibe with a huge selection of beers on tap and no less than 40 flat-screen TVs to catch the latest sporting event.
We should also note that if you missed eating Key Lime Pie in the Florida Keys this is a fantastic alternative spot to try it. Their Key Lime Pie is bang on.
There is also a happy hour (3:00 – 5:30 pm) daily where you can catch some cheap deals (vary daily).
Website: Marco Island Brewery
One of the prettiest islands readily accessible from here is Keewaydin Island, FL.
Keewaydin Island is an absolutely stunning barrier island with pristine beaches. This photo worthy beauty of an island is arguably the biggest draw card to this region of FL.
The island is only accessible by watercraft so it’s one of those things to do in Marco Island which isn’t overcrowded on the weekend.
Basically, you have 2 options if you wish to visit: 1. Hire your own boat or join a tour.
You rent a boat at Rose Marina on Marco Island to access the island. A full day boat hire coats $320 for a 7 passenger pontoon boat. If you have a large group this can prove quite economical. If you don’t have a boat license you do need to register for a Temporary Boating Certificate to drive the boat.
If you prefer tours, here are the tours we recommend to access Keewaydin Island:
The tours depart from Naples which is about a 30 minute drive away. It’s worth visiting in it’s own right; the beaches in Naples are stunning!
On Keewaydin Island you can join the party (it is known as a bit of a party island) or find a secluded strip of sand to privately enjoy to yourself. The beauty of Keewaydin Island is that it suits all different types of day-trippers.
Quirky Attractions in Marco Island: Cape Romano Dome Houses & Nearby Islands
One of the weirdest and most unique attractions in Fl are the tours out to near the Cape Romano Alien Structures.
The Cape Romano Dome Houses are abandoned white domes on stilts.
The story goes that in 1980 Lee a retired oil producer started constructing his home. Sadly, by 2004, water levels rose and started to flood the concrete pillars holding up the home. Hurricane Wilma finally destabilised the house completely.
All that is left now is alienlike structures of a former house in the middle of the ocean. It is kind of eerie and has an Area 51 vibe.
The houses are an example of rising sea levels and climate change. It is believed that they will soon be completely emerged under the water.
To see the Cape Romano Dome Houses before they are gone, we recommend: Cape Romano Island Shelling Tour & Activities from Marco Island
We love how these tours incorporate Marco Island’s next most famous attractions – the ability to find amazing shells.
Visit Otter Mound Preserve
Otter Mound Preserve is a short historical walk near town that provides interesting historical facts about the area and the early settlers.
It is also a place to spot an animal or two include tortoises.
Eat at an Interesting Local Restaurant
There are many interesting local restaurants to enjoy in the island.
Here are the quirky restaurants we would recommend checking out in the area:
The Crazy Flamingo is a strange restaurant with even its own bright pink car. The restaurant serves sizzling steak sandwiches and other no fuss pub food.
Another quirky restaurant worth checking out is the SpeakEasy. This is a prohibition Era–inspired waterfront restaurant serves traditional Chicago food.
For something more beachy we suggest heading to Cocomo’s Grill – a laid-back island-themed restaurant specialising in seafood and steaks. The tuna tacos are highly recommended. Call ahead for weekend and Saturday night reservations.
(Just) Out of Town Activities: Take a trip to the Everglades National Park
One end of the Everglades is only 20 minutes drive away so it is entirely possible to visit the the Everglades FL in a day.
We love exploring the National Parks in the United States and the Everglades is possibly our favorite.
It costs $30 per vehicle for a week long entry to the Everglades.
If you are planning to do more than 1 National National Park we would highly recommend purchasing the annual National Park pass which permits you to access unlimited National Parks in the USA for a year.
If you decide to visit the Everglades from Marco make sure you don’t miss some of our favourite hikes including:
Our favourite trail for alligator watching is the Anhinga Trail. Alligators are easily spotted on this trail. Below is a little fella we spotted. Don’t arrive late, the gates shut at 5 pm.
Trip to Captain Horr’s Pineapple Plantation
Captain Horr’s Pineapple Plantation is part of a gated community.
Within the gated community (which you must pay $10 USD an adult to enter) you can view the vacation home of Captain John Horr including what remains of his pineapple plantation.
Taste the local produce at Marco Island Farmers Markets
If your trip to Marco falls between November to April then consider yourself lucky as you can try all of the local produce in the area at the Marco Island Farmers Markets.
Despite being located on little Marco, this farmers markets is almost the largest of these markets in Southwest Florida.
At the markets you can purchase fruits, vegetables, flowers and even meats!
Trip to Naples or Fort Myers
Naples FL is very close to Marco, only around 30 minutes away so it is very easy to visit.
If you decide to make a trip to Naples, we recommend visiting Clam Pass Beach, Vanderbilt Beach and Delnor Wiggins Pass State Park.
Clam Pass is very popular among day trippers as it has a cafe/bar on site which is perfect for relaxing by the seaside with a drink in hand.
It is also known for having one of the best sunsets in the area.
While in the area stop in at the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center.
Hot Tip: Another place to stop is Barefoot Beach preserve just a little further along in Bonita Springs.
Trip to Key West by boat
Yes, it is possible to explore Key West from Marco Island with the Key West Express Company (in the same place the Key West Princess docks).
If you don’t have much time and want to explore multiple areas of the state this is a convenient way to do it.
If you decide to head to Key West check out:
The ferry makes daily departures to Key West which cost $155 for a round trip journey.
For longer trips or getaways, our top tip is to drive the Florida Keys rather than taking the boat. Check our post for directions and a map complete with the best things to do, tours, and the top hotels near the attractions along the Overseas Highway.
If you are on a Florida Vacation, check out our other posts in the south to help you plan your trip:
- USA Getaways for Couples
- Beaches in Key Largo
- Key Largo Things to do
- Key Lime Pie in Key Largo
- Beaches in Islamorada
- Beaches in Marathon
- Bahia Honda Travel Guide
- Bahia Honda Camping
- Beaches in Key West
Save Marco Island to Pinterest (So you can find it again later!)