The palm tree-lined city of Marco Island can be found in the Gulf of Mexico on Florida's turquoise southwest coast. It's the largest barrier island in the region called Ten Thousand Islands. Peppered with resorts, marinas, and spas, as well as a long, sandy beach, there are plenty of things to do on Marco Island. Besides the picturesque beach, the island has a vibrant museum and arts scene. You'll soak up rays, culture, and history all on one charming island community.
If you think South Florida is all about white, sandy beaches, then you're right! You have to hit the shore on the public South Marco Island Beach on South Collier Boulevard. Comb for shells and watch for playful dolphins before finding a great seaside restaurant serving up Florida favorites. The sunsets here are spectacular too.
Every year, during the third week in March, families, and neighbors turn out to celebrate Spring at the Marco Island Seafood & Music Festival. Row and after row of vendors come to serve seafood and other fares with great live music in the background. There are also arts and crafts to browse and activities for children.
Located in nearby Naples, the Briggs Nature Center is popular for its three miles of trails and a huge variety of wildlife. Snakes and foxes are easily seen from the boardwalk. As part of the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, visitors also have access to the natural hatcheries there for birds, turtles, and fish. It's open year-round, and leashed dogs are welcome.
Rent a boat or kayak at one of the island's marinas for a new perspective of Marco Island or neighboring Naples. You're sure to see dolphins playing in the waves, and the bird watching is unparalleled. Stop awhile and relax on one of the islands or sand bars in the area. Or book a romantic dinner cruise at sunset.
At the island's southern tip, bizarre concrete structures sit on top of the waves, where they've become part of the island's lore. Cape Romano was built by a rich Florida oilman for a vacation home when he retired in the 1980s. Now, it sits abandoned except for game fish who like to hide in its shadows. Only accessible by boat but totally worth a look.
Tour operators are available to take you and your whole family for an exciting day of ocean wildlife watching. You're sure to see dolphins, turtles, and manatees on these popular boating tours. If you're looking for something active, sign up for water skiing and wake-boarding. Or, take a trip to a remote beach for shelling and relaxation.
Close to Marco Island lies Sanibel, and there's where you'll find the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. Both Marco Island and Sanibel are famous among shell collectors. But, even if you aren't into beach-combing, you can still see these natural beauties with a visit. Enjoy guided activities and talks with the resident biologist.
Tigertail Beach is unspoiled and remote — perfect for a quiet afternoon of shell hunting and relaxing. Find sand dollars, scallops, and other treasures as you beach comb in peace surrounded by breathtaking scenery. Although you won't see too many people, there are still restrooms and a snack bar for your comfort.
Near Naples is the 14,000 acre Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary--one of the largest cypress swamps in the U.S. It's easy to walk through on the elevated boardwalks, and you'll see many alligators, snakes, and turtles. Wading birds are also plentiful. It's open year-round, weather permitting. Because of the humidity, you will want to carry some insect-repellent, especially in warmer months.
Many of the resorts on Marcos Island have spas. Take advantage of your downtime and book a treatment or two. You'll feel rejuvenated after a massage and facial and ready to handle whatever life throws at you. Afterward, indulge in a spa lunch and cucumber-infused water for enhanced wellness and relaxation.
Located in a wildlife section of Florida the Ten Thousand Islands chain represents part of the National Wildlife Refuge System of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, the name of the natural reserve is exaggerated, as the area comprises a couple of hundred keys that span the distance between Florida's Collier-Seminole State Park and the Everglades National Park.
Some of the islets are mere spits of sand - nice for devouring a picnic lunch or resting for a while from kayaking. While the northern islands in the chain represent one of the largest mangrove forests in the U.S., the south islands make their home in Everglades National Park.
If you wish to camp at the popular keys in the south, you need to get a camping permit at Everglades City. Top campsites are taken fast during the winter months, so plan ahead.
Known for its diverse ecosystem, the Briggs Boardwalk Nature Center features an estuary where mixed species of fish converge in the fresh and saltwater tidal waters. Begin your visit to the site by dropping in at the Welcome Center. Volunteers at the site will introduce you to the area.
The primary attraction of the site, the half-mile boardwalk trail, winds through 5 distinct wildlife habitats and preserved mangroves. Stay on the elevated boardwalk, as free-roaming alligators often travel through the waters. You can also observe other wildlife, including otters, which sometimes float on their backs, red-shouldered hawks, the beautifully hued indigo snake, and bobcats, which often emerge around daybreak or sunset.
An unbridged barrier island beach between Naples and San Marcos Island, Keewaydin Island, or Key Island, serves as a wildlife sanctuary for terns and loggerheads, both who use the 8-mile stretch of sand as a nesting ground. Tour companies also host tours to the remote and tropical locale, which is also known for its wild boar, white-tailed deer, bobcats, and currently threatened gopher tortoises.
Owned by Sunshine Tours and Charters, the Marco Island Princess features daily cruise trips, sunset excursions, and elegant onboard dining, accommodating small and large groups of cruise-goers, individuals and families. History and nature-based sightseeing cruise trips are offered as well. Boats depart from San Marco's Rose Marina daily.
Parasailing awaits you on San Marco Island where you can parasail over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. See dolphins, fish, and manatees below and tropical birds flying alongside you. Parasailing is featured for solo, double, and triple flights. Parasailing flights, which last from 10 to 15 minutes, include a boat trip of 75 minutes to and from the flight site.