15 Best Things to Do in Marathon (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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On a string of islands in the Middle Keys, the city of Marathon is a tropical paradise with some of the world’s best diving and snorkeling.

The name comes from the tireless labor of the workers who built Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway at the start of the 20th century. 

In that vein, some of my happiest memories of Marathon involve dipping into the history of that mammoth project, at Pigeon Key and Crane Point. 

Elsewhere you can go paddling in mangroves, observe tropical marine species, and visit recovering sea turtles at a dedicated hospital. Marathon has one of the best beaches in all of the Keys, as well as one of the big annual events at March’s seafood festival.

1. The Turtle Veterinary Hospital

Turtle Veterinary HospitalSource: Andriy Blokhin / shutterstock
Turtle Veterinary Hospital

I don’t think you can leave Marathon without a tour of one of the world’s only veterinary hospitals dedicated solely to sea turtles. Managed by a charitable corporation, the Turtle Veterinary Hospital rescues, rehabilitates and releases sea turtles in the Keys. 

On a moving 90-minute tour you’ll get a privileged look at the treatment facilities, and observe sea turtles in the rehabilitation area. 

This is an educational experience, with plenty of information about sea turtles and their habitat, and what you can do to participate in their conservation. A stop at the gift shop is a must, and you can even ‘adopt’ a turtle here.

2. Sombrero Beach

Sombrero Beach, MarathonSource: Simon Dannhauer / shutterstock
Sombrero Beach

It may come as a surprise, but classic, mangrove-free sandy beaches are actually quite scarce in the Keys.

It’s one of the things that makes Marathon special. Because here you’ve got what may be the best beach in the entire archipelago. Facing south, at the end of Sombrero Beach Road, this is a sublime crescent of soft white sand. 

The beach is accessible, and is complemented by a picnic area, free parking, some volleyball courts, and a playground

April through October this is also a nesting site for loggerhead turtles. I was here during this season, and small patches off the beach are cordoned off, but the remainder is open.

3. Diving and Snorkeling

A Deep Blue Dive CenterSource: A Deep Blue Dive Center / Facebook
A Deep Blue Dive Center

With vibrant coral reefs offshore combined with near perfect visibility, Marathon is a prime place to go diving or snorkeling. 

In fact, some of the best dive sites in the entire Keys can be found locally. I’ll list a couple of highlights here, like Coffins Patch, with its rare pillar coral, or  Sombrero Reef, which is absolutely teeming with marine life. 

Also special is the wreck of the Thunderbolt wreck, 120 feet deep, and an awesome adventure for advanced divers.  

There’s a handful of dive centers around Marathon, many in business for decades. Two prominent operators are Captain Hook’s Marina and Dive Center, Tilden’s Scuba Center, and Deep Blue Dive Center.

4. The Crane Point Museum, Nature Center and Historic Site

The Crane Point Museum, Nature Center and Historic SiteSource: Andriy Blokhin / shutterstock
The Crane Point Museum, Nature Center And Historic Site

In 1976, the Florida Keys Land & Sea Trust purchased this 63-acre parcel of hardwood hammock on Key Vaca to save it from development. 

Now you can come to find out all there is to know about the history, nature, and culture of Marathon and the Middle Keys. 

I found Crane Point spectacular, with sumptuous tropical vegetation, 2.5 miles of nature trails through palm groves and mangroves. 

The restored 1903 home of Bahamian pioneer George Adderley still stands by the trail and is open to visitors who wish to learn more about him and his contributions to the area.

5. Curry Hammock State Park

Curry Hammock State ParkSource: Wilfred Marissen / shutterstock
Curry Hammock State Park

In the Middle Keys it can feel like every square inch is given over to development, which makes this state park even more impactful. 

Curry Hammock State Park encompasses the largest piece of uninhabited land between Big Pine Key and Key Largo. 

Mangroves crowd the coastline here, so I’d suggest renting kayaks or paddleboards to get the most out of this magical place. Paddling around the channels, you may well see manatees grazing on the seagrass, as well as horseshoe crabs, stingrays, and dolphins. 

Meanwhile on days when the wind is up, the park is a hub for kiteboarding and windsurfing. There’s a campground here, while other activities include hiking in the rockland hammock, birdwatching, and fishing.

6. Pigeon Key

The walkable/bikeable stretch of the Old Seven-Mile Bridge leads west from Marathon to the five-acre Pigeon Key.

I found this a fantastic place to get to grips with the history of the Keys. During the construction of the Old Seven in the early 1900s, this island was a camp, home to as many as 400 workers.

Several buildings from that period remain on Pigeon Key. You can tap into that past on a guided tour of the bridge and island, taking place daily. This history is also documented at a museum in the old Assistant Bridge Tender’s House. 

There’s more to do on Pigeon Key, including fishing from the pier, snorkeling, bird watching, and picnics.

7. The Seven Mile Bridge

Seven Miles BridgeSource: Mia2you / shutterstock
Seven Mile Bridge

I think you have to take a moment to appreciate the sheer scale of the viaduct connecting Marathon’s Knight’s Key with Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys.

On completion in 1982 it became one of the longest bridges in the world, at 35,719 feet. It’s more than twice as wide as its predecessor, making the crossing much safer.

Beyond its amazing dimensions, the Seven Mile Bridge is a superstar. After all, it has featured in many blockbuster movies, most famously True Lies (1994) and 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003). 

You can check out the old, early 20th-century bridge, while passengers will appreciate the extraordinary views, especially at sunset.

8. Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail

A National Recreation Trail shoots through Marathon on the way from Key Largo all the way to Key West. When I put this list together, just over 90 miles of the trail’s total 106 miles had been completed.

For the length of Marathon the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail hugs the namesake highway. This makes the city one of those rare places where you can get around easily without motorized transport.

In terms of scenery things really get spectacular in the west where the trail crosses a section of the Old Seven-Mile Bridge on the way to Pigeon Key. Before departing Knights Key there’s a sensational viewpoint near the tip of the island.

9. Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters

Florida Keys Aquarium EncountersSource: Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters / Facebook
Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters

At this one-of-a-kind aquarium attraction you’ll get to see native  tropical marine species in new ways. 

General Admission at Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters grants you access to a wide range of tanks, containing anything from rays to moray eels, sharks, seahorses, giant grouper, and alligators.

These include numerous touch tanks, with starfish, urchins, hermit crabs, rays, and more. You can take part in Q&A sessions with marine biologists, and watch hourly feedings and demonstrations. 

For an additional fee, this attraction also lets you take part in special encounters. For me, the undeniable highlight is swimming in the reef tank, hand-feeding rays and angelfish, and observing sharks and moray eels incredibly close.

10. Original Marathon Seafood Festival

Among the Florida Keys’ signature events, the Original Marathon Seafood Festival attracts more than 20,000 people every March, in the middle of the stone crab season.

This event dates back to 1976 and is my favorite time to be in Marathon. Of course, seafood is at the heart of the celebrations, delicious, ultra-fresh stone crab, lobster, shrimp, fish, and a lot more. To go with it you’ve got cold beer, wine, sparkling wine, and soft beverages. 

There are upwards of 200 craft vendors every year, selling unique handmade jewelry, clothing, art, and home decor. All weekend long there’s a hopping lineup of live music, as well as games and activities for all ages.

11. Sunset Park, Key Colony Beach

One of the prettiest sights in the Middle Keys is the sun going down from this park at Key Colony Beach. Facing west, Sunset Park is all about the view, and there’s a cluster of benches to help you enjoy it.

Amenities are limited here, but there’s a small beach, bathed by shallow, clear waters. This may look tempting, but swimming is not permitted. Extending from the breakwater on the south side is a small pier, although fishing is also banned at this spot. 

For much of the year, a group of residents visits the park most nights to sing as the sun sets. I love this little tradition, and it always creates a special atmosphere.

12. The Catamaran Sirius

The Catamaran SiriusSource: Sirius NightLife / Facebook
The Catamaran Sirius

For an unforgettable experience in the tropical waters around Marathon you can take a cruise aboard a 36-foot sailing catamaran. 

Skippered by a local resident with 30+ years of sailing experience, the Sirius holds 24 passengers and departs the Marathon Marina and Lazy Days Restaurant. 

The main experience is a gentle two-hour cruise, leaving just before sunset. On this trip you’ll be treated to heart-swelling views of the Middle Keys in the golden setting sun. As you go, the first mate will provide you with complimentary drinks. 

Departure times vary by season, and it’s worth signing up early as seating is limited.

13. Keys Cable at Otherside Adventure Park

Keys Cable At Otherside Adventure ParkSource: Otherside Adventure Park & Keys Cable / Facebook
Keys Cable At Otherside Adventure Park

Towards the east end of Grassy Key, the Lagoon Adventure Park is based at a former limestone quarry that turned into a tidal lagoon. 

The centerpiece is the Keys Cable Park, using an overhead cable system to tow wakeboarders, without the need for a boat. I learned that this is a unique two-point configuration, replicating the feel of riding behind a boat by shuttling back and forth in a line. 

As well as being solar-powered, one advantage of this system is that the motor cuts when you fall, so you’ll be back up and running straight away. There’s also a kiteboarding cable for a safe and forgiving intro to this activity.

14. Bike Marathon Bike Rental

Marathon Bicycle RentalSource: Andriy Blokhin / shutterstock
Bike Marathon

As I pointed out before, Marathon is a joy to discover on two wheels. While the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail is the central thread, there’s a network of other paths to explore.

Imagine coasting through the warm breeze with that dreamy tropical scenery all around. Well there’s a number of rental companies ready to make that happen. 

One is Bike Marathon Bike Rental, stocked with Sun Atlas & Boardwalk Beach Cruisers, and offering daily and weekly rentals. Delivery and pickup are included in the rental fee.

You can also get hold of kayaks and paddleboards from Bike Marathon, complete with all the necessary gear, from vests to paddles.

15. EAA Air Museum

Marathon Air MuseumSource: Alex Patsay / Facebook
EAA Air Museum

I was pleased to discover a chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, right by Florida Keys/Marathon International Airport. 

Chapter 1241 maintains a small aviation museum, housed in a hangar with a variety of aircraft on show. I saw a DC-3, Cessna, and Beechcraft Model 18, and you can climb inside to get a feel of the cockpit. 

These planes are accompanied by a trove of memorabilia. These exhibits, from posters to photographs, charts, models, and a Pratt-Whitney J-57 Turbo Jet, have all been donated by Keys-based EAA members down the years.

15 Best Things to Do in Marathon (FL):

  • The Turtle Veterinary Hospital
  • Sombrero Beach
  • Diving and Snorkeling
  • The Crane Point Museum, Nature Center and Historic Site
  • Curry Hammock State Park
  • Pigeon Key
  • The Seven Mile Bridge
  • Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail
  • Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters
  • Original Marathon Seafood Festival
  • Sunset Park, Key Colony Beach
  • The Catamaran Sirius
  • Keys Cable at Otherside Adventure Park
  • Bike Marathon Bike Rental
  • EAA Air Museum