In Atlanta, we often hear about Key West and Islamorada, so I was amazed to learn about all the exciting (and relaxing) things to do in Marathon, FL. In fact, it’s been called the boating and family destination of the Keys!
Just about 50 miles to the north of Key West, Marathon, Florida is home to dreamy beaches and resorts, exciting animal excursions, one of the most colorful sections of the Florida Reef, and divine restaurants.
Pack your bags! Here are 20+ ways to vacation in South Florida‘s beautiful Marathon!
Relax and Unwind
Looking for a relaxing vacation? Look no further. Marathon has a host of places and things to enjoy for those looking to unwind.
Sombrero Beach is one of the most favored beaches in the Florida Keys, probably because of the lack of mangroves and how it “feels” like a traditional Florida beach.
You’ll find clean restrooms, picnic tables, and a playground. You can swim here, bring Fido, and even catch a sea turtle release if you’re lucky. Visiting at sunset is a great way to end the day.
Sunset Grille and Raw Bar
For a different kind of relaxation, head to Sunset Grille and Raw Bar — a restaurant/tavern/pool just at the foot of the Historic 7 Mile Bridge.
Yes, I said pool! The kids will adore taking a dip before (and after) lunch. It’s also a great place to watch the sunset. Nosh on fresh local seafood, the raw bar or sushi.
Big Pine Key
Big Pine Key is not officially part of Marathon, but it includes the beloved Bahia Honda State Park — which is in close proximity and a true gem you can’t miss when in Marathon. White sand and shallow water that extends a long, long way from shore, make this a great beach for snorkeling and for kids.
While you’re in the area, check out the National Key Deer Refuge or venture to No Name Key for a kayak adventure.
Crane Point Hammock
At the Museum of Natural History, you can learn all about the life cycle of sea turtles. Or make a stop at the Florida Keys Children’s Museum, which includes a wooden pirate ship for climbing, touch tanks, and more.
Geocaching is also a popular activity in the Hammock! There are 11 geocaches hidden amongst the 63 acres.
Also, it’s worth pointing out that a fish pedicure is free with your admission to Crane Point. Just dip your toes in the tidal pool near the point, and let the fish nibble your feet!
For all you animal lovers out there, Marathon has some spectacular experiences you won’t want to miss.
Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters
The Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters is the newest attraction in Marathon, and gives kids (and adults) lovely opportunities to interact with all sorts of marine life. Our boys fed sharks and giant tarpon, touched sting rays, saw baby alligators and turtles, and had an absolute blast!
There are affordable tickets for additional animal encounters too, including snorkeling in a tank with large sharks (separated by a clear wall) and feeding them through a small opening, snorkeling in a colorful coral reef tank with a rainbow of fish, and more.
It’s not a large facility, and you can visit everything relatively quickly, but it was super for the kids, and very hands on. I highly recommend it!
Dolphin Research Center
The Dolphin Research Center is home to a number of dolphins and sea lions who were either born here, or were rescued and rehabilitated elsewhere but could not be released back into the wild.
While you can be a dolphin trainer for a day for almost $700 — if you have the dough, it’s totally worth it — there are also fun, affordable ways for the family to interact with the dolphins here too.
You can spend time meeting a dolphin and shaking hands, paint a picture with a dolphin friend, or experience a family dolphin splash!
Want more dolphins? Visit Dolphin Connection, where you’ll find more opportunities to interact with dolphin friends inside Hawks Cay Resort.
Enjoy private or group encounters in the water, or stay on the dock while you feed, play and interact with your new best friend.
Florida Keys Turtle Hospital
The Marathon Turtle Hospital treats injured sea turtles and returns them to the wild when they are able. Our tour here allowed us to meet the resident sea turtles and learn more about the hospital’s curative programs. The hospital is believed to be the world’s only state-licensed veterinary hospital dedicated solely to the treatment of sea turtles.
Insider Tip: The tours here fill up quickly. We arrived for the first tour of the morning (with a reservation) and noted that there were dozens of people already trying to get tickets for later in the day. Reserve your tour early.
Also, during the tour, try to stay to the front of the line, by the speaker. At the end of the tour you will get to feed the turtles, but if you’re at the back of the line — like we were — then they already have their bellies full by the time you come by.
You’ve just got to get in the beautiful water here! Marathon has plenty of great ways to experience the Keys.
A wonderful way to explore the reef is with a snorkeling excursion with Spirit Snorkeling.
The Florida Reef is the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world, and the Sombrero Reef sector is located off the coast of Marathon. While it has been under strict regulations as a Sanctuary Preservation Area in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, it is one of the more popular SCUBA diving and snorkeling destinations in the area.
In fact, this section of coral reef is considered to be one of the best and most colorful snorkeling and novice dive sites in the region. An outing with Spirit’s family-friendly crew is a great way to see it.
If you’d rather go out on your own, try one of the boat rentals from Captain Pips. 18- to 26-foot powerboats can be rented for the day, or by the week. You’ll need a Florida boat safety card to rent the vessel.
Deep sea fishing is a must if you’re in Marathon, and SeaSquared Charters really caters to families. The crew here is all about helping kids learn the joys of deep sea fishing, and teach them a lot about the fish they’re catching, and the coral reef.
The Family Fun Day Adventure is super for kids, because it mixes a little fishing with some snorkeling in the shallows off of Molasses Key (BYO gear).
Pigeon Key is a small island that is home multiple historic buildings that remain from the days of Henry Flagler, when it served as a work camp for the railroad construction of the original 7-Mile Bridge.
You can take historic tours daily by catching the ferry in Marathon. In addition to the tour, you are welcome to roam the small island, snorkel, or just relax.
Wheels 2 Go! is a great place to rent kayaks, bikes, paddleboards and Zayak sea sleds, for exploring Marathon on your own.
Did you know? A Zayak sea sled is for snorkeling without a mask. It’s like a float, with a glass bottom so you can see the sea life without actually snorkeling.
We also love that Wheels-2-Go! will show you where and how to take your own “self-guided” kayak eco tour through the mangroves from Sombrero Beach. The maze of tidal channels they guide you down are the perfect size for a kayak, and covered in shade so you won’t look like a touring lobster after your adventure.
Eat Your Heart Out
The best part of vacation is the yummy food, right?! Marathon has plenty of great restaurants that you’re sure to love.
Angler & Ale at Hawks Cay Resort
In addition to a great menu, Angler & Ale offers panoramic views, indoor and outdoor seating, and lounge areas with two fire pits. We also love that guests can leverage their “Hook N Cook” option: bring in your fresh catch and have a chef cook it up.
You can pick from sandwiches, ribs, burgers, salads and more. Hubs and I both went with the catch of the day with zero regrets. The chef takes the freshest fish available and adds his own spin!
Finally, don’t leave without dessert. We were going to skip it, but the waiter brought us the Chocolate Overload Cheesecake and wow! A must!
Lighthouse Grill at Faro Blanco Resort
Locals love the Lighthouse Grill at Faro Blanco Resort because of its unique waterfront atmosphere — and the food, of course! We sat on the covered patio and took in the lighthouse, then took a walk right at sunset for the perfect view from the Marina.
We opted for steak and scallops – sharing between us – and it was great! The boys loved the kids’ menu as well.
Brutus Seafood Market
If you’re staying at an AirBnB with a kitchen, you can grab fresh fish to go from Brutus Seafood Market and cook it at home like the locals.
We also recommend dining at the tiki bar here with a beer, peel and eat shrimp, and some conch fritters. They also offer a range of signature sandwiches, salads and dinners with unique daily specials.
No Name Pub
No Name Pub is one of the best casual dining experiences you’ll find in the Keys!
No Name Pub is located on Big Pine Key, and as we mentioned earlier, that means it’s not exactly in Marathon, but it’s close enough, and the perfect place to stop after a visit at Bahia Honda State Park.
No Name opened in 1931 as a general store and bait & tackle shop. A few years later they added a small room on to the main structure and the Pub was born. The walls are covered with dollar bills and it is one of the last great places with the “old” Florida Keys atmosphere. Their slogan: “A nice place if you can find it.”
Grab a pizza and a beer, and sit on the colorful tables outside. If you’re lucky, you might spot a Key Deer while you’re there.
Keys Fisheries is an island favorite and a great place to chill. It’s home to some of the freshest seafood creations around, and is even a supplier for Whole Foods. They are famed for their lobster Reuben.
Grab a table on the main level outside, or head upstairs for an even better view of the water. Consider yourself lucky to get a table here for the sunset!
They’re only open from 5:30am – 1pm, and there will likely be a wait for your table, but make breakfast happen at the Wooden Spoon at least once while you’re in town.
The omelets were great, and the kiddo options are very affordable.
Where To Stay
Marathon is home to some of the most beautiful places to stay, making it a great vacation destination.
Marathon Hotel Options
Best Hotel with Private Beach: Located in Key Colony Beach, Florida, the Glunz Ocean Beach Hotel and Resort offers an outdoor pool and a private beach area. Havana Jack’s Oceanside Restaurant and Bar is on site and offers Florida Keys-style cuisine including fresh seafood with indoor and outdoor dining options.
Best Hotel with Marina: The Skipjack Resort and Marina is opposite Florida Keys Country Club, 2.3 mi from Sombrero Beach, and 17 minutes’ drive from dolphins and sea lions at Dolphin Research Center. Guests can enjoy an outdoor pool and marina access.
Best Tried and True Hotel: Courtyard by Marriott Marathon Florida Keys offers free WiFi and an outdoor pool with hot tub. Guests will be 5 minutes’ walk from the Turtle Hospital and 16 minutes’ drive from the Dolphin Research Center.
Enjoy exclusive access to 300-feet of secluded waterfront nestled along the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico at Pelican RV Resort & Marina. This stunning Florida Keys resort is a fisherman’s paradise and features a private marina with 16 boat slips, a fishing area, a fish cleaning station, and access to their boat ramp.
Their amenity package also includes a heated swimming pool, recreation hall for planned activities and events, plus a waterfront Tiki Hut picnic pavilion with a large community grill to enjoy amazing Gulf Coast views.
These resorts are especially amazing and worth a visit!
Isla Bella Beach Resort
With 24-acres of remote beauty, a 4,000-square-foot spa, five pools, four restaurants, a marina and more, is it any wonder this resort is what my dreams are made of? Did I mention bocce, croquet, oversized chess, complimentary bicycles, on-site water sports, and guided fishing expeditions? They’ve got it all.
Marathon’s newest resort, Isla Bella Beach Resort, is the queen of the Keys in my opinion. Select from 1- to 5-bedroom spacious suites, all facing the water, with no detail overlooked.
I can’t emphasize more how much I love this resort. It alone is enough to draw me back to Marathon again and again.
If you are looking for rest, relaxation, luxury and remote beauty (with or without kids), go with Isla Bella. But if you are looking for a full-service resort that caters to young families and packs your day with opportunities for adventure, family excursions and the like — head to Hawks Cay Resort!
They’ve got on-site restaurants, a spa, a marina, five pools, a lagoon the kids can snorkel in, and kayak, paddle board, and bike rentals too. Once you’re here, you’ll never want to leave.
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Disclosure: Thank you to Florida Keys for hosting us in Marathon. As always, opinions here are all our own. This post may contain affiliate links at no cost to you. 365 Atlanta Traveler is a Visit Florida Digital Marketing Program Partner.