Once a quiet fishing spot known only to local anglers, Marco Island’s enviable location made its development into a top vacation destination inevitable. Located at the southern tip of Florida’s Paradise Coast, the island is home to one of the world’s best beaches, as well as innumerable luxury resorts, great golf, and a top-notch shopping and dining scene. This guide is full of handy advice about when to go, where to stay and how to make the most of your trip.
Marco Island is the largest of Southwest Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, and within its 24 square miles, it packs in 6 miles of beach, 100 miles of waterways, and innumerable hotels, shops, restaurants, marinas, and parks. The biggest attraction though is its location. Marco Island is close to the Everglades, and just a short boat ride to myriad castaway islands.
The neighboring city of Naples buzzes with life both day and night, but with just 2 bridges connecting Marco to the mainland, the island retains a sleepier vibe appreciated by those who love this corner of the world. For Americans craving an exotic getaway without the hassle of international travel, Marco Island is the perfect answer. While for other travelers, a trip to Marco Island is a chance to sample Southwest Florida’s many trademark charms.
What is there to do?
There are countless things to do in Marco Island, whether you’re a couple seeking rest and relaxation, or a family looking for activity and adventure. There are white-sand beaches perfect for sunbathing and swimming, and the warm Gulf waters are ideal for every kind of water sport.
Beyond the beach, there are parks and nature reserves rich with local wildlife, and there are dozens of surrounding mangrove islands where fishing enthusiasts head for the best ‘backcountry’ fishing in Florida. Fun and entertainment can be found almost everywhere, with attractions like shelling beaches, a movie theater, and all manner of day trips and tours.
Golfers are catered for, too, with some of Florida’s top courses nearby. Marco Island is home to impressive shopping plazas, plush marinas, and an excellent range of restaurants to suit every taste and budget. If you want to head further afield, the elegant shops and nightspots in Naples are only 30 minutes away. If it’s a wilder adventure you seek, you can take an airboat to the Everglades where you’ll see nesting birds, sun-basking alligators, and miles of jungles and swamps.
Where should I stay?
The west coast
Marco Island is relatively small in size, so wherever you stay you won’t be far from the local facilities and attractions. The majority of hotels and high-rise condos are located along the west coast, backing Marco Beach, a crescent-shaped stretch of sand that spans the coastline. The sand here is regularly raked and tilled to keep it in pristine condition, and the beach is relatively flat which is great for kids and those with mobility problems.
The water here is shallow and stays fairly warm all year making it a great location for paddling, swimming, and water sports. There are a number of glamorous beach resorts in the west, and some popular restaurants like Quinn’s on the Beach and Sunset Grille. There are a number of water sports rental outlets here too, and it’s just a short walk from the beach to the Marco Walk shopping plaza, the Orange Grove Shopping Center, and the Downton Marco Island area.
If you opt to stay towards the northern end of Marco Island, you’ll be close to one of Marco’s top attractions, Tiger tale Beach. Unlike the west coast beaches, Tigertail is more of a true park than a maintained beach, and it’s home to Sand Dollar Island which is one of the most remote beaches in Marco. The main expanse at Tigertail is a full-service beach with a small restaurant, restrooms, and beach equipment rentals.
The beach has a vast blue lagoon which is great for swimming and kayaking, and you can wade across the lagoon to get to Sand Dollar which is a top spot for nature walks and for shelling. Other highlights in the north are the many marinas where you can take a boat or kayak to the nearby Rookery Bay National Reserve or to Keewaydin Island just off the coast of Naples.
As with the west, there are numerous water sports rental outlets, there’s also a bike shop offering bike and scooter rentals as well as guided tours. There is a good selection of upmarket restaurants and boutique stores at the Esplanade Shoppes plaza, and you can stock up on fresh local produce at Marco Island Farmer’s Market every Wednesday.
The east side
The east side of Marco Island is comprised of dozens of canals and waterways and is home to a number of luxury waterfront vacation homes – many with their own private boat docks. The 2 main roads that connect Marco to the mainland are located on the east of the island, so it’s super-easy access for day trips to the city of Naples or to the quaint fishing village of Goodland. The scenery on the east side is beautiful, with views over the many surrounding islands and keys.
There are a number of pretty parks within easy reach too, including the Frank Mackle Park which has a pirate-themed playground, a splash pad, basketball and volleyball courts plus a small lake. There are no beaches or bays on the east side, however, there are plenty within easy reach, as well as a good number of shops, restaurants, and bars.
The south coast
Accommodation along the south coast is located around the South Marco Beach area, which is hailed as one of the prettiest stretches of coastline in Florida. The beach has soft white sand and clear warm water ideal for swimming and sunbathing, and it’s great for beach games and water sports too. South Marco Beach is a popular spot for shelling, with all kinds of seashells lining the shore. The views here are great too, stretching over to the many pretty keys of the Ten Thousand Islands.
The walkway to the beach is lined with palm trees and is backed by a number of restaurants and hotels, but don’t worry about the tourist crowds as they tend to head to Marco’s busier beaches. Just a stone’s throw from the beach is Caxambas Park and Marina where you can charter a fishing boat to the Ten Thousand Islands or out into the Gulf of Mexico for deep-sea fishing. The Otter Mound Nature Preserve is in the south too, known locally as the Indian Hills section of the island. If baseball is you thing, don’t miss a trip to Winterberry Park, a great place to stop by to see local baseball teams playing, or to have a picnic after a bike tour.
What’s the weather like?
Being so far south, the weather in Marco Island stays fairly warm all year round. If you’re looking for the best time of year for dry weather and lots of sunshine then you should visit in the winter, which is roughly December through April. Unsurprisingly, these months are peak times for tourists but it is still possible to bag great last-minute deals on Marco Island vacation rentals.
The summer in Southwest Florida (June to September) is hot and humid with the threat of rainstorms, but prices are considerably lower than they are in the high season. If you love the sunshine, the best time of year to visit Marco Island is definitely winter, when it has some of the highest temperatures of anywhere in the continental USA.
How do I get there?
Marco Island doesn’t have a regional airport, however it’s just a short 45-minute trip from Fort Myers’ Southwest Florida International Airport to Marco Island. Rental cars can be collected straight from the airport, and it’s an easy drive to Marco along the I-75 South towards Naples. Fort Myers’ airport isn’t always the cheapest airport to fly into so check fares to other airports nearby including those at Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Tampa.