Things to do on Marco Island, Florida

Work is exhausting, you need a break, and you have some vacation time coming to you. You decide you want a nice, relaxing beach vacation: nothing to do but lie on a beach lounger with a drink in your hand.

After some googling, you hit on a place you’ve never heard of before: Marco Island, Florida, south of Naples. For you, it’s not too hard to get to, and it looks wonderful. With a long, white-sand beach facing west, you could watch the sun set every day. The hotels here have everything you’d enjoy for this vacation: sun, sand, perhaps a spa and/or a pool.

Perfect. You book it, and you’re on your way.

A view out to sea from the beach. On the right, two palm trees. white sand beach with a row of little thatched-roof shelters across the beach left to right. Beyond that, some dramatically-lit cloud formations over the ocean.
Marco Island sunset. Photo courtesy of Ruby Escalona of A Journey We Love

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Use the map below to book your hotel!

The first couple of days on Marco Island are magical. You drift from your room to the restaurant to the pool to the spa to the beach and back again. You read the book you brought from start to finish. In the evening, you drink a cocktail (or several), relishing the beauty of the sunset.

The main beach in Marco Island is Marco Island Beach: the long strip of sand facing west, where most of the hotels are located.

A view along the wide white-sand beach. In the foreground, the sand is flat and empty and looks like it's been raked. In the background, a cluster of tall buildings, presumably hotels and apartments. A bit of the ocean is visible on the right. White fluffy clouds and blue sky.
Marco Island Beach. Photo courtesy of Ruby Escalona of Voyage Florida

If you want a slight change of scenery, go further north of Marco Island Beach to Tigertail Beach. It’s likely to be less crowded and its calm water makes it very child-friendly.

When you’ve had enough of the beach

If you’re like me, though, by Day 3 you start feeling restless. All of this lazing around has been great, but you’re ready for something else. At the same time, you don’t want to do anything too strenuous, or to have to drive a long way.

Maybe you didn’t know it when you booked, but Marco Island is the biggest of the “Ten Thousand Islands” that range along the west coast of Florida. Most are uninhabited; some are as small as a clump of mangroves. A lot of the area is protected as part of the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge or Everglades National Park.

What this all means is that you can have your relaxing, luxurious, lazing-on-the-beach holiday, and also explore the nature and wildlife of the region.

Going to Florida but not into the whole Disney thing? Read Things to do in Orlando besides Disney.

You might also enjoy A weekend in Atlanta: Beyond “Gone with the Wind”.

Things to do on Marco Island

There are quite a few things to see on Marco Island. Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order:

Marco Island Historical Museum

The Calusa Indians were the first to live on Marco Island, and this museum is the place to learn about them and all of the settlers who came later. Besides a permanent exhibition, the museum also has a recreated Calusa village.

Marco Island Historical Museum: 180 South Heathwood Drive, Marco Island. Open Tuesday-Saturday 9:00-16:00. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Admission is free. Website.

Otter Mound Preserve

This small nature reserve is a tropical hardwood hammock, quite a rare habitat, it’s slightly higher ground, so it didn’t flood, which means it’s the kind of land that got cleared first for humans. The name “Otter” isn’t connected to the animal; it has to do with a man who lived there starting in the 1940s whose name was Ernest Otter. The remains of his walls and terraces made of seashells are still visible.

It’s a good place for birdwatching and you might see other animals like tortoise, opossum or armadillo, among others.

Otter Mound Preserve: 1831 Addison Court, Marco Island. Open daily during daylight. There is a dirt trail that is shady with informational signs about nature and history of the area. No facilities and not wheelchair accessible. Bring binoculars and bug spray! Admission free.

Captain Horr’s Pineapple Plantation

Doesn’t that name make you think that Captain Horr’s Pineapple Plantation is some weird attraction at an amusement park? It’s not. It’s the ruin of an actual plantation house, dating to the late 19th century. Technically on a separate island called Key Marco, it’s inside a gated community which, rumor has it, is now charging a $10 fee to enter. If you’re allowed, take a walk around the site and look out for turtles!

Captain Horr’s Pineapple Plantation: Blue Hill Creek Drive at Highland Point, Marco Island. $10 vehicle charge.

Marco Island Center for the Arts

Marco Island Center of the Arts is a community space used as an art gallery but also for adult and child art education. The exhibitions change often; check out their website for current exhibits or just go there and be surprised! This is more an art gallery than a museum, so if you particularly like a work of art, you might be able to buy it!

Marco Island Center for the Arts: 1010 Winterberry Drive, Marco Island. Open Monday-Friday 9:00-16:00. Closed on weekends. Website.

Activities to do on Marco Island

There are also plenty of more active things to do on Marco Island. Since it’s just one island in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, you might want to go see some of the other little islands.

a water bird in the Everglades near Marco Island. It stands on a log on one leg. It is grey, with a long, pointed beak.
great birdwatching in the Everglades! photo by Road it Up on Trover.com

Boat trips among the islands

There are lots of boat trips on offer in Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge and down into the Everglades, but only a selection leave from Marco Island, while many more would require a drive to, for example, Naples. Most involve some combination of wildlife viewing and shelling on smaller islands. Here are some that leave from Marco Island:

  • On this two-hour tour, you’ll learn about the area and possibly see various creatures like manatees, dolphins, sea turtles and a whole range of birds. They only take 6 people per tour, and the tour is guided by a Florida Master Naturalist.
  • On this Craigcat tour, you ride a private two-person motorized catamaran among the islands, looking for some wildlife to photograph. You aren’t on your own, though: there’s a guide boat as well.
  • This shelling and sightseeing boat tour looks at mangrove ecosystems and includes searching for various marine life as well as a stop for shelling on an island beach.
  • On this three-hour boat tour, you’ll look for wildlife and also stop on a barrier island for shelling and swimming.

Kayaking

For a more active tour, try one of these:

  • On this 3 1/2-hour trip, you’ll travel by boat and kayak to see the various animals and birds of the islands. A Florida Master Naturalist will guide you to the highlights of the area.
  • This pedal-kayak tour stops at small islands to look for seashells while you also keep an eye out for wildlife like manatees, dolphins and lots of birds.
an alligator in the foreground, half submerged. Middle of the photo behind the alligator is a small water bird standing on a muddy bit of land that is barely above the surface of the water. Beyond that, water, with here and there a tuft or two of grass.
an alligator in the Everglades, by Beatriz Castillo on Trover.com

What to bring to Marco Island

Besides your usual packing list, don’t forget these essentials!

  • Binoculars for wildlife sighting; you might get to see dolphins, birds, and, if you’re lucky, a manatee or an alligator!
  • A camera
  • Sunscreen: Remember to reapply it often!
  • Bug spray: This is a must everywhere in Florida.
  • Water: Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration.
  • Sunglasses: The sun glares as it reflects off the water.

Enjoy!

Please, if you have visited the area, add your observations below!

PInnable image
Text: Marco Island, Florida Things to do (and the Rachel's Ruminations logo)
Image: a sunset: The sun is a bright semi-circle on the horizon at the very top of the photo. The sky is bright orange. The sea fills the rest of the photo, quite dark blue and very calm. Bottom left, a paddle-boarder in silhouette.

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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments! Read more...

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We loved Marco Island! Gentle surf and powder sand is perfect for little kids. It’s also very near the city of Naples which has more great restaurants and shopping (+playgrounds, zoo etc if you have kids)

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