If Marco Island, Florida is not currently on your bucket list, that’s about to change! Marco Island is the only developed island of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands. It is located just south of Naples on Florida’s gulf side, and is part of the string of cities known as Florida’s Paradise Coast.
Here, you’ll find world-class beaches, restaurants, and barrier islands to explore. Spend the day out on the water kayaking through mangrove-lined estuaries, going shelling around the different islands, or enjoying some fresh seafood from local favorite restaurants.
The best time to visit Marco Island is in the dry season, early fall or spring. Not only is the weather the best at these times, you’ll also find that there are fewer crowds, so you can enjoy warm sand beaches all to yourself!
Keep reading for all the best things to do in Marco Island and the Ten Thousand Islands.
NAVIGATE THE MARCO ISLAND HISTORICAL MUSEUM
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Discover something new at the Marco Island Historical Museum! This museum showcases the rich history of Marco Island, all the way from its early days as a fishing village through its explosive growth in the 60s, that made the island as popular as it is today.
This museum features a few permanent and rotating exhibits, but it’s most well known for housing the Key Marco Cat, which acts almost as a mascot to the locals of the island today.
The Key Marco Cat is a world-famous 6-inch tall, half-human-half-panther wooden figurine. It was carved from shark teeth in native hardwood by the island’s earliest settlers, the Calusa Native Americans, and is understood to be a spiritual icon for the tribe. It was extremely well-preserved, and discovered on Marco Island in 1896 by Anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing.
The Key Marco Cat belongs to the Smithsonian, but the museum graciously extended their loan of the figurine to the Marco Island Historical Museum for five more years, so visitors can admire the statuette in its birthplace through 2026.
Cushing’s Marco Island excavation also produced other amazing discoveries, that helped give insight into the lives of the Calusa Indians and their ancestors.
WALK BRIGGS BOARDWALK NATURE CENTER
The Briggs Nature Center is located just a short drive away from Marco Island in Naples. It features five diverse habitats and an estuary to protect all the different species of fish.
The most popular thing to do at the Briggs Nature Center is take a walk down the boardwalk. Take a relaxing stroll through some lush Florida greenery, and if you’re lucky, spot some wildlife like river otters playing around on their backs or alligators looking for their next snack.
TOUR ROOKERY BAY NATIONAL ESTUARINE RESEARCH RESERVE
The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is a nature reserve located on the Gulf side at the northern end of The Ten Thousand Islands. It one of 29 protected reserves in North America, and one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove habitats.
Here you can visit the learning center or take guided nature tours of the mangroves. If you’d prefer to venture out and explore the 110,000 acres of forests and waterways on your own, you can rent kayaks or paddleboards too.
The reserve has made an incredible impact on the area, and is committed to continuing to protect the land for years to come through education and more research.
Read More: 12 BEST FLORIDA GULF COAST VACATIONS FOR SAND AND SUNSHINE
WATCH THE SUNSET AT KANE’S TIKI BAR & GRILL
Visiting Kane’s Tiki Bar and Grill is an experience you absolutely cannot miss when you visit Marco Island! Here at the JW Marriott Marco Island, you’ll find authentic Indonesian street food, rum-based cocktails, and a nightly show that you will never forget right on the beach.
When the weather permits, the bar hosts a nightly sunset celebration, complete with fire dancers. Sit back and enjoy a delicious dinner over views of the Gulf of Mexico, and drink all the rum your heart desires.
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DINE AT SNOOK INN RESTAURANT
The Snook Inn is a famous landmark in Marco Island serving up the best authentic island cuisine on the water! This lovely little restaurant has been a Marco Island staple for 35 years due to its delicious food, lively ambiance, and stunning ocean views from every corner. Enjoy live music entertainment for both lunch and dinner 7 days a week, and make sure you stay for the grand finale — the sunset over the water.
Local tip: This is also one of the best places to spot dolphins in Marco Island!
INDULGE IN A DINNER CRUISE ON THE MARCO ISLAND PRINCESS
If you’re looking for a unique dining experience, take a tour on the Marco Island Princess! This 90-foot-long boat offers sightseeing tours, lunch and dinner cruises, and a sunset cocktail cruise.
Sail from the Rose Marina through the pristine waters of Marco Island, while enjoying fresh local meals or a drink from one of the two full-service bars on deck. Enjoy a relaxing evening on the water basking in the warm Florida sunshine and admiring the views of the Gulf of Mexico. If you’re lucky, you may even spot some dolphins!
CHOW DOWN AT MARCO ISLAND BREWERY
The Marco Island Brewery is not your typical brewery. This is a family-run restaurant, known for bringing the best beer and the best vibes to Marco Island!
With over 50 rotating beers on tap, 40 flat screen TVs, and a delicious food menu, spending at least one evening at Marco Island’s largest sports bar is simply a non-negotiable. Stop in for some local beer, fresh made grouper, and a fun evening out on the town.
After, make a stop at Dolce Mare, a 10 minute drive away, for some of the best ice cream you’ve ever had.
Want More: Craft Beer Tour and Tasting
EXPLORE SAND DOLLAR ISLAND
There are two main public beaches on Marco Island: Tigertail Beach and South Beach. Tigertail Beach is on the north end of Marco Island and is known for its excellent bird-watching, shelling opportunities, and barrier island exploration.
There are two main areas of Tigertail Beach. The boardwalks from the parking lot will lead you to the main area of the beach, where you can lounge for the day, let the kids build some sandcastles, and have easy access to concessions. This is an ideal spot for bird lovers, as it has one of the highest populations of wintering birds in Southwest Florida.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, rent a kayak or paddleboard and paddle your way over to Sand Dollar Island! This island is known for its soft white sand and abundance of shells, such as sand dollars. You are welcome to take sand dollars if they are no longer alive, which you’ll be able to see by their white grayish color.
There are enough activities to do on Tigertail Beach to keep the entire family entertained for a whole day, so be sure to plan plenty of time here to explore both the inner beach and Sand Dollar Island.
Read More: 5 Best Beaches in Florida With Kids
HUNT FOR SHELLS AT KEEWAYDIN ISLAND
If you like hunting for shells, make your way over to Keewaydin Island. Keewaydin Island is a barrier island right smack in between Naples and Marco Island known for its plethora of shells.
The island is only reachable by boat, so it’s much more private than other beaches. If you don’t have your own boat with you, you can take the Hemingway Water Shuttle from Rose Marina on the main part of Marco Island out here. Spend the afternoon sunbathing, hunting for shells, and relaxing over the views of the gorgeous sunset.
Tip: Keewaydin Island is dog friendly and so is the shuttle, so bring your four-legged friend along for a day of playing in the sand!
Take a Tour: 10,000 Islands Shelling Tour by Boat
HIKE OTTER MOUND PRESERVE
Otter Mound Preserve, also known as Indian Hills, was named for the previous owners of the land, and it’s a nature and hiking area built on 2.45 acres atop a Calusa Shell Mound containing historical and archeological artifacts.
The Calusa Native Americans lived in South Florida from 500-1750 AD, and they were fisher-hunter-gatherers. Otter Mound is a small part of the Caxambas Point archeological site, which was once a thriving clamming community.
The Conservation Collier Program purchased the land because it contains tropical hardwood hammock habitat, which is a beautiful closed canopy of evergreen and semi-deciduous woody species found on many Caribbean Islands.
Hundreds of resident and migratory bird species can be observed at Otter Mound Preserve as well as various native and non-native plant species.
TAKE AN ECO CRUISE WITH DOLPHIN EXPLORER
Marco Island is one of the few places where you can spot wild bottlenose dolphins. One of the best things to do in Marco Island is join an eco tour on the Dolphin Explorer, the only dolphin research study in Southwest Florida.
The boat cruises around the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and the Rookery Bay, where you’ll get to know the area’s wild dolphins and sea turtles. Learn their names, faces, and friendly personalities!
These eco tours are the best bang you can get for your buck when visiting Marco Island. It’s a great tour on its own, and it also stops at some barrier islands for a chance to go shelling. I highly recommend making a reservation and cruising around with the Dolphin Explorer crew!
KAYAK CAPE ROMANO
Sad Update: The Florida Dome House seen above was completely destroyed by a hurricane in 2022.
Cape Romano is a small island south of Marco Island popular for kayaking, fishing, and exploring. You can only access it via boat or kayak.
If you’re kayaking, you can launch at Dickman’s Island, and if you’re boating, head to the southernmost boat ramp on Marco Island, Caxambas Pass. You can head straight through the mangroves to Cape Romano, or take your time stopping at some barrier islands along the way.
I recommend stopping at Kice, as this is an excellent place to go shelling with few other tourists.
Once you’ve arrived at Cape Romano, you can go shelling or camp overnight if the weather’s nice! Nowadays, the area serves as a reef, where you can paddle out to see the diverse marine life that makes up Cape Romano.
Take a Tour: Boat Assisted Kayak Eco Tour
CHARTER A FISHING TRIP
Marco Island is one of the best places to go fishing year-round in the world. You can go shore fishing from Tigertail Beach and South Beach, or charter a fishing trip.
If you don’t have your boat with you or are unfamiliar with the area, have no worries! Fishing charters are an extremely popular activity here, so there is no shortage of trips available. You can book charters in advance online, or head to Rose Marina when you arrive in Marco Island. From here you’ll find a number of different tour companies ready to take you on sightseeing or fishing excursions lasting anywhere from a few hours to a whole day.
Gather your buddies and a cooler full of beers and get some tight lines!
PONTOON THE ISLANDS
It should come as no surprise that one of the best things to do in Marco Island is to explore the area by boat. Get some friends and family together for a fun day on the water! Pack some lunch and spend the entire day cruising around Naples, Marco Island, and the rest of the Ten Thousand Islands.
There are a few different places you can rent a pontoon boat from, but the best one is from the Isles of Capri Marina. The boats have space for the whole family and are very well-maintained. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable of the area, and are more than willing to help you plan your adventures for the day.
Enjoy some shallow water fishing, go on your own nature tour through the mangroves, or go hunting for shells on the barrier islands where you’ll have beaches all to yourself!
DAY TRIP TO EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK
If you have an extra day or two to kill during your trip to Marco Island, take a day trip to Everglades National Park! The park is only about an hour south of Marco Island, and an hour west of Miami.
Covering over 1.5 million acres of wet swampland and lush marshes, Everglades National Park is one of America’s largest and most unique national parks. While most national parks are meant to preserve unique geological areas, the Everglades was established in order to protect the flora and fauna of such a fragile ecosystem. The Everglades is home to 36 threatened or protected species, including the manatee, American crocodile, and Florida panther.
While there are plenty of enjoyable things to do in the Everglades at any time of year, the best time to visit is in the dry season, December through April, as this is when the South Florida humidity and insects are at their most tame. May to November is the wet season, so this is when humidity levels are higher and it rains more of the time.
So what is there to do at this amazing national park? Go for a bike ride, go kayaking and canoeing, boating, fishing, bird watching, hiking, camping, and more.
There are four main visitor centers in the park that serve as a hub for activity. Directly west of Miami you’ll find the Shark Valley Visitor Center, which is the best place to go hiking or biking.
If you’re looking to go canoeing, head to The Gulf Coast Visitor Center. Here you’ll find the start of the Wilderness Waterway, a 99-mile canoe trail that takes visitors all the way to the last outpost in the park, Flamingo. Flamingo is pretty deep into the park, so I’d recommend making the trek if you have more than one day in the park. From here you can go camping, fishing, and access the Ten Thousand Islands by boat.
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MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO FLORIDA
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WHERE TO STAY IN MARCO ISLAND
Best for Families. Staybridge Suites – Naples – Marco Island is centrally located, has suite options as well as free breakfast. It’s 7.5 miles from Tin City, 8.1 miles from Fifth Avenue South and 5 miles from Naples Botanical Garden.
Best Luxury Option. Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa is beachside luxury at it’s best. The gorgeous grounds are located right on the gulf, and feature a beautiful pool w/bar, and upscale dining. On-site water sports rentals, including sailing and kayaking are also available.
Best Budget Option. For a more affordable option consider a vacation home like Collier Condo. This small studio-type is just 1,650 feet from South Marco Beach, and has a king bed and separate bunk.
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