By Kara Franker
Flanked by nearly 100 miles of palm tree-lined islands and picturesque turquoise bays, Marco Island is an oasis located at the southern tip of Southwest Florida. Known as Ten Thousand Islands and located 15 miles south of Naples, the area features miles and miles of white sand beaches and the Gulf of Mexico on one side, as well as pristine mangrove estuaries and access points to Everglades National Park on the other.
The natural environment in and around Marco Island provides the perfect backdrop for both relaxing and adventurous activities. And if you like to spend time on the water, then you’ll love opportunities for fishing, boating, dolphin watching, kayaking, canoeing, shelling and more.
Here’s a list of some of the best things to do in Marco Island on your next idyllic vacation.
Hunt for colorful seashells
The sandbars surrounding Marco Island and beyond are famous for some of the best shelling in the world. Stroll along the sandy shoreline and keep your eyes open for a wide variety of whelks, olive shells, scallops and hundreds of other kinds of seashells. (Remember, don’t collect live creatures.) Or go off the beaten path and find a beach all to yourself and far away from the crowds with a private boat tour via Sea Shell Tours, priced from $250 for up to six passengers. Sand Dollar Shelling also offers tours, starting at $90 a person.
Explore Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
Marco Island is the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands, but there are plenty of hidden, uninhabited isles that are prime for exploring in Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Head out via kayak, canoe or boat and weave through mangrove-lined estuaries. You might even spot manatees, sea otters, alligators, crocodiles, wood storks, brown and white pelicans, roseate spoonbills, herons, egrets and more. No entry fees required.
Spend a day at a luxurious hotel spa
Head to the oceanfront JW Marriott Marco Island and book a pampering session at the Spa by JW and experience one of the more relaxing things to do in Marco Island. All your cares will melt away with the resort’s signature 80-minute Balinese treatment, a choreographed massage that soothes sore muscles. Or opt for the 50-minute Marco Island Custom Facial and a skincare therapist will customize a specific treatment for you using organic ingredients.
Search for bottlenose dolphins playing in the waves
Hit the surf and become a “citizen scientist” when you accompany marine researchers aboard the Dolphin Explorer for a three-hour eco-tour. Captain Chris Desmond and his crew go out on the water twice daily to record activities and behaviors of the more than 200-member dolphin population. It's a great activity in Marco Island for kids - they can help complete a nature survey while spotting bottlenose dolphins. The best part? If you find a new dolphin, you get to name it! Tickets from $59 for adults and $37 for kids.
Other Fun Things to Do in Marco Island
Listen to live music and sip cocktails on the water
Sway to the sounds of a live band with panoramic water views at the Snook Inn Restaurant. Arrive by boat and park at the onsite docks, then order your favorite cocktail - it's one of our favorite things to do in Marco Island. With live music seven days a week and one of the most popular happy hour specials on the island, the Snook Inn is a favorite hotspot for locals and tourists alike. Happy hour is 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 p.m. to close seven days a week.
Unearth Native American artifacts
Calling all history buffs! Marco Island is home to several ancient burial mounds and other artifacts dating back to the Calusa Indians. Archeologists have unearthed artifacts found to be more than 3,000 years old, including the priceless Key Marco Cat sculpture, now located at The Smithsonian. To learn more, visit the Marco Island Historical Museum, which features priceless items documenting the Calusa Indian settlements on the island. Admission is free.
Drop a line and hook a big one
Book a fishing trip and reel in everything from snook and tarpon to redfish and trout. Head out with a local backcountry fishing guide from Six Chuter Charters and explore the salt flats. Or book a deep-sea charter out into the Gulf of Mexico to try your hand at fishing for the big one and return with a whale of a tale. Charters from $475 for four people.
Discover the local arts scene and create your own souvenir
There’s plenty to do for the artistically inclined. Featuring a rotating exhibition schedule as well as works of art by locals, browse the gallery at Marco Island Center for the Arts to see what’s currently on display. Or take a class like painting, photography, sculpture and more—available for both adults and children. There is also a variety of events for aficionados of live music, literature and, of course, the arts. Admission is free.
Set sail on a pirate ship and discover hidden treasure
Ahoy matey! Climb aboard the Black Pearl pirate ship for an interactive adventure on the high seas. Perfect for mini buccaneers, kids will learn how to sing, dance and play games in true pirate fashion -- all while searching for Pirate Pete, who has stolen the keys to the treasure chest. In a final epic battle, learn how to fire high-power water cannons at the bad guys and then share in the bounty. Tickets from $23 per person.
Tee off with a round of golf
Practice your golf swing and tee off at either of JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort’s two golf courses: The Rookery, recently redesigned by course designer Robert Cupp, and Hammock Bay, designed by Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy. Or brush up on your skills and take a few lessons at the resort’s Dennis Clark Golf Academy. Green fees from $89 per person depending on tee time and season.
Shop till you drop and score some great deals
Visit a variety of local specialty shops and resort boutiques in Marco Island and you’ll find everything from tropical-inspired swimming suits to funky souvenirs. Or head off island to the Miramar Outlets, where you’ll find more than 40 stores offering designer goods at discount prices. Naples Outlet Center is located off of I-75 at Exit 123.
Hit the waves on a guided eco-adventure
Hop on a waverunner and explore the crystal clear waters surrounding Marco Island on a guided eco-adventure led by Captain Ron Hagerman. He’s been leading tours through Ten Thousand Islands since 1988 and he has a wealth of knowledge about the tropical wildlife and history of the area. It’s sure to be loads of fun for the whole family. Prices vary depending on season.
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