Prehistoric-looking Pelican’s swooping into crashing waves in hopes of a tasty nibble, miles of soft beaches kissed by sparkling sunshine, and fresh-from-the-sea cuisine delivered with gorgeous water views create a dreamy vacation getaway. Island life vibes conjure visions of pristine beaches, tropical drinks, and exciting on-the-water activities. Whether your ideal vacation is luxury hotels and first-class experiences — or cozying up to Mother Nature and roughing it — Marco Island offers the ultimate in #islandlife vacation adventures.
Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands region is home to vibrant sea life and is situated on a migratory bird path.
Beautiful beaches, water sports, bird watching, and outdoor adventures are the hallmarks of Marco Island. With one eye on protecting the ecosystem and the other on all-out fun, your vacation will be uniquely Floridian. Marco Island is a perfect place to enjoy days filled with endless fun in the sun.
1. Explore Florida’s Coastal Nature
Enjoying Florida’s diverse natural habitat is a must for visitors. The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is the perfect place to learn all about coastal flora and fauna. Naturalist guides lead interesting tours like the Keewaydin Island Shelling Tour or the Rookery Bay Estuary Tour. You will love exploring the thriving water and aviary life along the Mangrove forest and waterways.
With careful observation, you will be able to check off many birds on your list including kestrels, American bald eagles, kingfishers, vultures, pelicans, owls, herons, egrets, and more. Be sure to pack your camera and binoculars to capture a rare sighting.
The reserve is not just about birding; you can rent boats and kayaks to explore the shorelines, enjoying the reserve at your own leisurely pace. Fish from the shores or venture out into deep waters. Shelling and relaxing while soaking up the Florida sunshine is high on everyone’s to-do list. Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, nature’s playground, is just waiting for you to explore.
2. Experience A Water Adventure
There are so many ways to enjoy the water surrounding Marco Island. You can find adventures that will educate, entertain, exercise, and engage you. Marco Island is a water baby’s paradise waiting to be explored.
A romantic evening cruise around Rookery Bay allows you to watch the gorgeous, on-the-water sunset, then relax under the stars as you glide back to the dock. Rookery Bay Boat Tours offers a romantic Sunset to Starlight cruise around Keewaydin Island.
Kayaking and stand up paddle boarding (SUP) are great ways to see the bay and get your workout in at the same time. Paddle Marco rents kayaks and SUP boards. They will even deliver your rentals to your vacation property or boat launch. Paddle Marco also offers a Mangrove Tunnels tour through the mangrove forest. Your naturalist guide will take you on a journey deep into this natural wonderland without the worry of getting lost. As you paddle through the strange and wonderful root system of these interesting trees, you will experience a unique and diverse wildlife population.
For the true water enthusiast, jet ski tours are available from Avi’s Watersports. Avi will train even the most timid newbie and take you on a tour in the Ten Thousand Island area. This wild ride adventure is one you won’t soon forget. Navigate your own jet ski alongside dolphins playfully engaging the tour while entertaining you like you were their personal guests.
3. Binocular Hunt For Beautiful Birds
The Gulf area of Florida has some of the best birdwatching in the world. Florida is along the Atlantic Flyway, a spring and fall migration route for many species of birds. Pelicans, egrets, and other quintessential Floridian birds can be viewed in coastal and tidal areas year-round. When you add in the migratory flocks, the coast is all a twitter with aviary life.
The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail is composed of a network of over 500 viewing sites statewide. Bird sightings include the bald eagle, mangrove cuckoo, roseate spoonbill, wood stork, whooping crane, and many more. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has categorized 524 bird species in the state and provides a downloadable checklist. You have plenty of reasons to get up before dawn, pack your binoculars, enjoy the sunrise, and be on the lookout for dozens of unique and interesting birds.
For the adventurer who is not sure where to start aviary viewing, Everglades Area Tours offers group and private birding photography tours. Their customizable tours can be walking, kayaking, or motor boating outings during which you’ll enjoy different birding experiences. Led by a naturalist guide, your bird-centric adventure will be unique (and the envy of your friends).
4. Explore The Parks And Hiking Trails
Collier-Seminole State Park in Naples has over 6 miles of hiking trails where the bird watching brings you up close to native nesters. Rangers offer nature tours, or you can hike the paths through the park, which is open from 8 a.m. to sundown. The Collier-Seminole Prairie Hammock Trail is an easy 3.5-mile loop and a nice walk through the woods.
Keewaydin Island is the perfect place to hunt seashells, spend some time on the sandbars, and enjoy frequent dolphin sightings. Belly up to the local food boats for a refreshing beverage, snack, or ice cream. Keewaydin Island is only accessible by boat and is a car-free island. The Hemingway Water Shuttle is a 30-minute ferry from Rose Marina on Marco Island to Keewaydin Island (reservations are highly recommended). If you prefer, you can rent a boat or jet ski to get you out to the island allowing you to explore with more freedom.
5. Relax At The Beaches
The beaches on Marco Island invite you to relax and enjoy the Sunshine State’s beachy vibe.
South Marco Beach is known for its fine, soft sand and wide beachfront. The line of highrises with coveted beach access forms a backdrop. This is the place to experience parasailing, SUP boards, and jet skiing, paired with plenty of Florida sunbathing.
Tigertail Beach Park is open from 8 a.m. to sundown. This is one of Marco Island’s barrier beaches, and it offers lots of amenities and rentals. It is a favorite for families and seashell collectors. The adjacent tidal lagoon is perfect for viewing shorebirds like plovers, terns, and spoonbills and hunters like falcons, osprey, and bald eagles.
Beach parking is available for a nominal fee. Since the mid-day sun is powerful, plan to make your beach time early or late in the day.
6. Adventure The Fascinating Sea Life
The Florida Gulf is home to a large population of fish and other sea creatures. Exploring the ecology of the waterworld offers a peek into the future of our water resources and its fascinating inhabitants.
The Ten Thousand Island Dolphin Project is a long-term study of Florida’s bottlenose dolphins. You can join one of their eco-focused tours on the Dolphin Explorer. Join the research team as they keep track of the Marco Island dolphins. Using photo tracking technology, the researchers track the dolphins by their dorsal fins, which are unique identifiers. Rumor has it, if you spot a new, unidentified dolphin, you are responsible for naming it. How fun would that be?
Beautiful, gentle manatees thrive in the Gulf waters. Viewing these interesting sea mammals in their natural habitat is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Manatee Eco-Tours at the Port of the Islands Marina in Naples are a manatee-friendly way to enjoy the Ten Thousand Islands waterways and view these lovely creatures up close.
7. Gone Fishin’
Reeling in the big one just got easier with a private fishing charter on Sunshine Tours fishing excursions. They offer three types of fishing options: Near coastal, backcountry, and offshore fishing trips will fulfill your Florida angler dreams.
The offshore excursion will have you on the hunt for shark, barracuda, mackerel, and others. If backcountry fishing is more your speed, you could snag a snapper, trout, or other local delicacy. The near coastal excursion will have you hauling up a variety of fish-fry dinner options.
8. Where To Stay On Marco Island
From five-star hotels to state park campsites, you will find the perfect stay when you visit Marco Island.
On The Water Guesthouse
The Boathouse Motel is situated on Old Collier Creek with boating access to the Gulf of Mexico. While they offer traditional guest rooms, the star attraction is the Gazebo House. Situated literally on the water, the two-bedroom rental property has a surround deck, is open to pets, offers boat dockage, and boasts beachy amenities. There is a four-night minimum stay, and it is recommended to book this popular getaway way in advance.
Camping Under The Stars
If you prefer to tuck in with Mother Nature, there are lots of camping options available. Collier-Seminole State Park on the Tamiami Trail offers campground sites with electricity and water. The Blackwater River flows through the park’s mangrove forest. Canoe rentals and hiking and biking trails are available to explore the 7,000-plus-acre state park. Site reservations are required.
Overnighting On A Luxury Yacht
For an over-the-top stay, rent this luxury, 52-foot yacht. You can utilize the yacht as your docked floating hotel room or add a captained charter excursion and spend the day floating around the Gulf of Mexico.
9. Where To Dine On Marco Island
As you can guess, fresh local seafood is the go-to dish on Marco Island. You will find a wide selection of excellent restaurants serving up delicious dishes.
One of the best fine-dining establishments on the island is Fin Bistro. Known for its locally sourced, seasonal seafood, this casually elegant restaurant is a lovely spot for Florida-focused cuisine. Be sure to try the yellowtail avocado crudo; it is a flavor bomb — in a good way. For the main course, try the seared Florida black grouper with lump crab fricassee or the shellfish meyer lemon brodetto. Your taste buds will thank you. Reservations are recommended.
When you are searching for a spot that offers great food that won’t break the bank, stop at Hoots; they have a shop on Marco Island and one in Naples. Hoot’s specializes in breakfast and lunch, and the Marco Island location is open for dinner during the peak season. They offer scrumptious homemade items like mac and cheese and chicken pot pie. Also, a good selection of paninis, sandwiches, and salads are available for takeaway picnic lunches.
The Speakeasy Of Marco Island
Waterfront views with a prohibition vibe, The Speakeasy of Marco Island is a fun and funky watering hole and restaurant. Pop in for your favorite libation from 2 p.m.–6 p.m. for happy hour and stick around for great Chicago pub style chow. You will love the kick-back, come-as-you-are vibe.
The Best Of Marco Island
Marco Island is a vacation wonderland offering guests a Gulf of Mexico getaway in the glorious Florida sunshine. Whether you love luxurious pampering and five-star dining or enjoy sleeping under the stars and collecting seashells, you will find a wide variety of activities for every vacation style. Balancing eco-friendliness and a full-on adventure-seeking spirit, Marco Island masterfully offers a Mother Nature-first approach to fun in the Florida sun.
For more sun-kissed Florida getaways, check out TravelAwaits’ favorite Florida beaches: