Cool, happy, and fun things to do in Marco Island include strolling some of the best US Gulf Coast beaches for sea shells, savoring sensational sunsets, enjoying scrumptious seafood, exploring abundant natural settings, and experiencing small town vibes.
Things to Do in Marco Island, Florida
Where is Marco Island, Florida?
Marco Island is the southernmost developed area to visit along the Florida Gulf Coast mainland. Only the Ten Thousand Islands area of Everglades National Park is below Marco Island on the Florida peninsula—followed by the Florida Keys stretching 100 miles below that. Marco Island is the largest of the 10,000 islands and is located 18 miles south of downtown Naples. Marco Island is part of Collier County, whose tourism agency has branded the area as Paradise Coast.
How to Get to Marco Island?
Most people arrive in the Paradise Coast area by car, whether seasonal snow birds from the US northeast or Canada, short-term visitors, or residents.
When arriving by air to visit Marco Island: Marco Island is about 47 miles from the nearest public airport, Southwest Florida Airport in Fort Myers (airport code RSW). Miami Airport is 100 miles east of Marco Island and Sarasota Airport is 135 miles north. For private aircraft, Marco Island is 17 miles from Naples Airport and about 6.5 miles from Marco Island Executive Airport.
Another option is to arrive in Marco Island on the Key West Express. The 3.5 hour boat ride between Key West and Marco Island leaves at 5pm every day.
All distances are from/to Marco Island City Hall, which is right in the center of Marco Island.
Please join us in discovering the top things to do in Marco Island FL.
Marco Island is one of our Favorite US Gulf Coast Spring Break Destinations
1. Beaches of Marco Island
Besides enjoying the amazing weather (particularly in winter months), activities on the magnificent Florida Gulf Coast beaches are among the main things to do in Marco Island. The sand is soft and white, the beaches are among the widest along the US Gulf Coast, and the water and air temperatures are the warmest this side of Key West.
A highlight of Marco Island beaches is the phenomenal shell collecting potential, one of the best shelling beaches in the world. Public beach entrances include signs of common shells found on Marco Island beaches (very cool feature).
The Marco Island public beach access entrances also have loaner life vests for children. That is such an amazing program and every US Gulf Coast beach should do this!
But those scintillating Marco Island sunsets are why many people choose to visit and live here. And with 5 miles of magnificent white sugar sand beach directly facing west into the setting sun, you are sure to find your own special spot.
US Gulf Coast Travel note: the 2.5 miles of prime beach on the southern end of Marco Island is lined with condos and private entrances. If staying in an oceanfront condo, you are golden. When renting a Marco Island vacation house, like we do, make sure it is close enough to a public beach entrance to walk or bike. Your best bets for parking are the paid lots at the Marco Island south public beach access and Tigertail Beach.
2. Tigertail Beach
Tigertail Beach itself is a calm, family-friendly beach protected by a lagoon and an island (will get to that in a sec). There is plenty of parking ($10, credit card only, and long lines on popular days), snack bar, playground, shower facilities, equipment rental, and more.
Our US Gulf Coast Travel tip is to walk to the other side of the lagoon to that gorgeous island. OK, not across the water but around to the left. Plenty of other people will likely be doing the same so follow the crowd. Well, until they set down their chairs and stuff, then you can keep walking to the cool portion.
You see, that island, called Sand Dollar Island, has only recently connected to Marco Island. Hurricane Wilma stirred up a bunch of sand sediment and fortunately attached this natural jewel so that you can easily visit it. You can also walk to Sand Dollar Island from the rest of Marco Island beach. It is about 2.75 miles from the south point of Marco Island beach (Cape Marco) to the Welcome sign at the start of Sand Dollar Island.
But getting to this point is just the start of the adventure. Continue walking as long as your heart and legs desire. Maybe even longer. After 1/2 mile or so, you encounter mangroves and you might get wet, depending on the tide. After passing the mangroves, more gorgeous white beach sand area appears and the crowds thin.
Look for shell trees along the way. Please do not disturb the gorgeous public art but feel free to add your own sea shells.
Intrepid explorers can walk another two miles to the tip of this island that protects Tigertail Beach. At this point it is probably easier to do a wade/swim over to Royal Marco Way. But has anyone walked this far to the island tip?
Tigertail Beach lagoon is ideal for relaxing kayak and SUP adventures. Bring your own or rent equipment from the Tigertail Beach stand.
3. Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
While the Marco Island coastline is 100% developed (not including Sand Dollar Island), 40% of the entire Paradise Coast waterfront is protected. Yippee. Rookery Bay is one of our favorite natural Florida spots and is one of only 29 designated reserves in the United States.
Explore 110,000 acres of pristine mangrove forest on the Shell Point Canoe Trail or on a guided Rookery Bay eco-tour. Paddle through mangrove tree tunnels and see migrating tropical birds and more. On our latest visit to Rookery Bay, a pod of dolphins spent several minutes playing right in front of our kayaks. It was an extraordinary experience. See the video here.
4. Otter Mound Preserve / Indian Hill
Otter Mound Preserve is a fascinating historic Florida site. It is a 2.5 acre ancient shell mound created by the Calusa Natives from 700-1200 AD and now preserved and restored to native wilderness, as much as possible. The endangered habitat sits among some of Marco Island’s most expensive houses. Enjoy the short nature trail and look for gopher tortoises and birds and butterflies.
Just a half-mile east of Otter Mound Preserve, Indian Hill is the “high point” of Southwest Florida. At a whopping 50 feet above sea level, this area is also elevated because of the centuries of shells left. Now it is a rare hilly section in South Florida and is a great place for a walk or cycle work out.
The small fishing village of Goodland is most definitely worth a quick short day trip from Marco Island. It is only five miles away but maybe 50 years back in time to the Old Florida before condos.
At the turn to Goodland (San Marco Road and Goodland Drive), we love the gorgeous wildlife mural on the large water/fuel tank.
Goodland has a handful of local restaurants and bars. Our favorite thing to do in Goodland is stop at Little Bar Restaurant, one of our 13 Best Grouper Sandwiches in Florida.
One exciting activity (which we have yet to do, darn it) is explore the waterways around Goodland on a Craig-Cat tour. we saw a Backwater Adventure tour leaving from the dock behind Little Bar Restaurant on our last visit. Let us know if you have done one.
6. See Burrowing Owls
Nature lovers visiting Marco Island should expect to see gators, manatees, dolphins, and tropical birds—like pelicans, ibises, egrets, osprey, and roseate spoonbills. But burrowing owls are a most pleasant surprise.
The burrowing owls of Marco Island can also be found in other places in Florida, are the only owl species with underground nests, and are fully protected (do not disturb!). Even more interesting are that they are fully awake during the day and not exclusively nocturnal like other owl species.
When you see an empty residential lot and think it is likely worth a billion dollars, it is probably undeveloped because of burrowing owls. The owls are great for everyone because they hunt for mice and bugs.
7. See Other Amazing Florida Wildlife
Some wildlife viewing opportunities have already been mentioned—like dolphins in Rookery Bay and burrowing owls. Look for posted signs at public beach access points showing shore birds you are likely to see. Manatees frequent the canal waters and you may see iguanas and snakes (especially in the summer months).
When driving to Marco Island you likely passed through Florida Panther habitat and Gopher Tortoise zones. Hopefully you will one day get a rare glimpse of a Florida Panther. I have not yet seen one in the wild. Neither had my grandparents and they lived in the Florida Everglades for 25 years.
Kayaking is a great way to get on the water and hopefully encounter marine mammals and tropical birds. Or join a dolphin watching cruise (some are at sunset).
It is entirely possible to not only see gators but also crocs. Did you know that Southwest Florida is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles co-exist in the wild?
8. Places to Eat On Marco Island
Three of our top Marco Island restaurants are on our Florida Gulf Coast Grouper Trail but they are wonderful for all types of seafood and other local dishes. Our favorite Marco Island restaurants are Lee Be Fish, Snook Inn, and Little Bar Restaurant (in Goodland).
Marco Island has a wide range of restaurant options, including many Italian choices, upscale places, and of course seafood. The highest rated restaurants in Marco Island (according to Yelp reviews) include Doreens, Lee Be, Boulevard, Oyster Society, Sami’s, Da Vinci, Fin Bistro, and Stonewalls.
If you are in the Isle of Capri area, try the waterfront Capri Fish House. We have had mixed results but love supporting local places. For a fun Florida craft beer experience, drop by Marco Island Brewery (they also have a full food menu).
For more dining choices, head to Naples and some of our 8 Great Places To Eat in Naples Florida.
Where to Stay in Marco Island
The best Marco Island hotels are luxury Florida Gulf Coast resorts. JW Marriott Marco Island, Marco Beach Ocean Resort, and Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort are the three major Marco Island waterfront properties.
We often prefer vacation rentals over hotels and have rented locally from Marco Island Vacation Properties. Also check VRBO, Airbnb, and other sources. One example is this highly-rated Marco Island rental home with three bedrooms and a private pool.
Bonus: Things to Do in Marco Island
Marco Island has miles and miles of convenient biking and walking trails. Look for festive and artsy mailboxes while walking through the neighborhoods.
But even some Marco Island businesses have a fun demeanor also.
Let us know your favorite Marco Island things to do. We love hearing from our readers.