Located on the southwest portion of Florida’s Gulf Coast, Marco Island is a small city of about 16,000 residents. It’s one of the largest islands in the region of the state that’s often referred to as ‘10,000 Islands.’
Marco Island and the surrounding areas are particularly well-known for their beautiful beaches, abundance of exotic shells, and laidback lifestyles, and the island draws sun-seekers from all over the country.
In addition to natural splendor, Marco Island offers guests a number of cultural, artistic, and festival attractions, so staying engaged and entertained on your trip shouldn’t be an issue.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Marco Island, Florida.
1. South Marco Island Beach
In many respects, Florida is all about the beaches, and Marco Island is no exception to that age-old rule.
Blessed with picturesque stretches of glistening white beaches and endless gulf vistas, Marco Island is a beachgoers paradise; South Marco Island Beach on South Collier Boulevard is one of the area’s most convenient public beaches.
The beach is popular for its variety of shells and nearby lodging, dining, and recreation options, and it’s not uncommon to see dolphins frolicking in the surf just offshore.
The beach sits on about an acre and is the perfect place to take in a Florida sunset too.
2. Marco Island Historical Museum
Located on Heathwood Drive, the Marco Island Historical Museum is dedicated to preserving the area’s rich history. Many guests especially appreciate the large reproduction of a traditional Calusa Native American village that gives an interesting insight into the lives of the area’s original inhabitants before it was officially settled.
The museum’s exhibits include historical artifacts, early photographs, and first-hand accounts of the pioneers who settled the area when it was little more than an undeveloped fishing village.
Over the years, Marco Island’s economy has changed into one that’s now dominated by the tourism business, and that’s well-documented as well.
3. The Marco Island Princess
At nearly 100-feet long, the Marco Island Princess has been a recognizable feature on the waters around the island for years. For those who long to get a view of the Florida coast from the water, there’s no better way to do it than aboard the Princess.
The Princess sails from the Rose Marina in Marco Island, and each tour features narration by the captain that includes historical and natural insights you won’t likely find elsewhere.
A variety of cruise packages are available; some include full buffet-style meals and evening excursions for die-hard seekers of amazing sunsets.
4. Marco Island Seafood & Music Festival
Though you may have missed it this year, the plans are already in the works for the 2020 edition of the Marco Island Seafood and Music Festival.
Taking place the third week in March, it is one of the area’s most popular events.
Endless rows of vendors will be serving fresh seafood in more ways than you’d think possible. For those who’d rather dine on land-based fare, there will be plenty of non-seafood options as well.
It’s a family-friendly event that includes arts and crafts, kid’s activities, and fun cooking competitions.
The festival draws an eclectic crowd, and many guests return year after year.
5. Marco Island Center for the Arts
With so much natural beauty, it’s no wonder that Marco Island and other coastal towns in the vicinity have been inspiring artists for generations.
Florida art is primarily characterized by its vibrant colors and natural themes. For visitors who’d like to get a good look at a few locally-produced masterpieces without spending an arm and a leg, the Marco Island Center for the Arts would be a great place to spend a few morning or afternoon hours.
The museum’s works are predominately from local and regional artists, and in addition to their permanent exhibits, they offer live entertainment, guest speakers and even a popular film series.
6. Otter Mound Preserve
Otter Mound Preserve is located on about three acres of land in Marco Island’s Indian Hills area. Unlike most of the island’s attractions, it’s mostly comprised of tropical forests, which offer a perfect change of pace for those who’ve temporarily had their fill of sun, sand, and surf.
The preserve’s trails aren’t paved, so they may not be appropriate for those with kids in strollers. But for walkers, runners, and mountain bikers, they’re perfect for burning some calories and doing a bit of exploring.
Most of the trails are shaded by the forest canopy, and it’s common to see a variety of animals along the way.
7. Briggs Nature Center
Located on Shell Island Road in nearby Naples, the Briggs Nature Center is a popular attraction with nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, who appreciate its scenic trails, remoteness, and the abundance of animals that can regularly be seen from its boardwalk.
The center is part of the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which is a natural breeding and hatchery area for a variety of animals – including birds, marine turtles, and fish.
The center features more than three miles of trails and is open to the public year-round. Dogs are okay as long as they’re kept on leashes and cleaned up after.
Don’t forget your camera, because snakes, turtles, and foxes are familiar sights along the trails.
8. Marco Island Brewery
Located on North Collier Boulevard, Marco Island Brewery is a favorite dining and imbibing destination for those with empty stomachs, dry throats, and a longing to get out of the intense Florida sun.
The brewery features a few tasty beers made onsite. Also, there are many famous brands from the far reaches of the world.
Their menu includes some traditional bar classics likes burgers and sandwiches, and there’s lots of fresh Florida seafood too.
The brewery is one of the island’s largest sports bars as well, and is a favorite destination for the football and baseball crowds during their respective seasons.
9. Cape Romano
Words like surreal, alien, and strange are often used to describe the bizarre shapes that jut from the sea at the southern tip of Marco Island.
Cape Romano is a conglomeration of weird concrete structures built as a vacation home for a wealthy, retired Florida oilman in the ‘80s, and they resemble something from a sci-fi movie.
They’re only accessible by boat, and though they’re now abandoned, they’re an interesting bit of local lore that are worth a look.
The structures also attract a variety of game fish, and therefore attract fishermen as well, so ask a local for a recommendation on the best way to get there.
10. Keewaydin Island
For those looking to avoid the crowds of tourists that are often present at many other South Florida attractions, the Marco Island area is the perfect retreat. Keewaydin Island just off the coast of Naples is another pristine attraction that’s known for its idyllic natural setting and abundant wildlife.
Unlike many local parks and preserves, Keewaydin Island is home to some large animal inhabitants, like wild boar and deer, and its beaches are an annual nesting site for loggerhead turtles.
Cars aren’t allowed on the island, and it’s only accessible by boat, so consider visiting with a tour from a local marina.
11. Breakwater Adventures
Breakwater Adventures is located on Collier Court in Marco Island. Unlike many tour providers, they offer a number of options that are customizable to suit the needs and interests of their guests.
Their wildlife viewing tours are among their most popular, and commonly include dolphins, manatees, and sea turtle sightings, depending on the time of year that you visit.
Breakwater also offer private cruises that include activities like waterskiing, wake-boarding, and shelling along serene stretches of remote beach.
Though some of their more adrenaline-fueled tours aren’t suitable for young children, they’ve got several options that are, so check out their website for details.
12. Marco Murder and Mayhem
If history, ghosts, haunted hotels, and centuries-old Native American burial mounds sound like your idea of a good time, then Marco Murder and Mayhem deserve a coveted spot on your itinerary.
Tours last about two hours and visit a variety of haunted sites, and each trip is led by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide who’ll have you laughing and looking over your shoulder for most of the evening.
Marco Murder and Mayhem tours are inexpensive and always kicked-off with a complimentary drink and orientation. From there, guests will head into the darkness to experience the macabre side of Marco Island.
13. Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
Bailey-Matthew National Shell Museum is located on Captiva Road in Sanibel, and for many guests, it’s one of the most memorable experiences of their trip to the Florida coast.
Sanibel and Marco Island are ground-zero for the state’s avid shell collectors, and for those who don’t have the time to comb the shores on their own, there’s no better place to get a unique insight into the area’s shells than at the museum.
In addition to its exhibits, the museum staff offer a variety of guided activities and an introductory talk from a resident biologist.
The exhibits are nothing short of breathtaking, and the cost of admission is reasonable.
14. Tigertail Beach
If unspoiled, inexpensive, and remote are words you often use to describe your perfect beach destination, then Tigertail Beach is probably a good fit.
Tigertail Beach doesn’t get as much tourist traffic as other beaches, so it’s perfect for those looking for fantastic scenery and peace and quiet; it’s also one of the area’s best kept shelling and beachcombing secrets.
From conchs and sand dollars to whelks and scallops, the shells are amazing. Though there aren’t many amenities, there are bathrooms and changing rooms, ample parking, and a popular snack bar that serves yummy sandwiches and cold drinks.
15. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
At nearly 14,000 acres, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples has been open for almost seven decades, and is home to one of the largest cypress swamp areas in the country.
The sanctuary is most well-known for its easily walkable elevated boardwalk, from which it’s common to see a variety of animals – like gators, snakes, turtles and an array of wading and predatory birds.
The sanctuary is open year-round except during severe weather. Previous guests have noted that due to the swamp’s muggy nature, it’s wise to bring plenty of insect repellent, especially during the summer when mosquitoes are prevalent.