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 several divine restaurants. Pack your bags! Here are 20+ ways to vacation in South Florida‘s beautiful Marathon!
Relax and Unwind
Curry Hammock State Park. This park represents one of the largest uninhabited land masses in the Keys, and it’s ideal for kayaking and paddleboarding, and getting lost in your thoughts. Walk the 1.5-mile nature trail, or try your hand at shore fishing.
It’s also a great place for camping, and Saturday night campers can take in a weekly gathering with a local astronomy club for unmatched star-gazing.
Sombrero Beach. It’s 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. Note that it is still undergoing some TLC after Hurricane Irma, but it is worth a stop, for sure.
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 this 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 for 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. Visit the Museum of Natural History, where you can learn about the life cycle of sea turtles and the Florida Keys Children’s Museum, which includes a wooden pirate ship for climbing, touch tanks, and more. There are nature trails with views of the water, a boardwalk, historic site, and more.
Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters. This aquarium 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 tarpoon, petted sting rays, watched baby alligators and turtles, and more.
There are affordable tickets for other encounters, also, 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 (unless you have a premium experience) but it was super for the kids, and very hands on. I highly recommend it!
Dolphin Research Center. This 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 fun, affordable ways for the family to interact with the dolphins here. You can spend time meeting a dolphin and shaking hands…paint a picture with a dolphin friend…or experience a family dolphin splash!
Dolphin Connection. There are 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.
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.
SeaSquared Charters. Deep sea fishing is a must if you’re in Marathon, and this charter really caters to families. 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. This small island contains 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 leaving from the ferry in Marathon. In addition to the tour, you are welcome to roam the small island, snorkel, or just relax.
Wheels 2 Go! This is a great place to rent kayaks, bikes, paddleboards and more, for exploring Marathon on your own. We also love that they 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 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
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!
Lighthouse Grill at Faro Blanco Resort. Locals love coming here to the unique waterfront atmosphere. 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 and cook it at home like the locals. We recommend dining at the tiki bar with a beer, peel and eat shrimp, and some conch fritters.
No Name Pub. Again, it’s not exactly in Marathon, but on Big Pine Key so you can visit after a stop at Bahia Honda. 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. This eatery is an island favorite and a great place to chill. It’s is 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!
Wooden Spoon. They’re only open from 5:30am – 1pm, and there will likely be a wait for your table…but make breakfast happen here at least once while you’re in town. The omelets were great, and the kiddo options are very affordable.
Where To Stay
Isla Bella Beach Resort
24-acres of remote beauty… a 4,000-square-foot spa… five pools… four restaurants… a marina and more. Did I mention bocce, croquet, oversized chess, complimentary bicycles and on-site water sports, and guided fishing expeditions?
Marathon’s newest resort, Isla Bella Beach Resort, is the queen of the Keys in my opinion. Select from 1-5 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. They are still coming back online since Irma, but the resort is open and thriving.
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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.