The Best Things To Do In Marco Island, Florida

Marco Island may have a laid-back pace, but don’t be fooled—this jewel on Florida’s west coast is filled with surprises.

Person walks along Tigertail Beach
Shore Thing. Tigertail Beach is one of Marco Island’s best spots for bird-watching and shell seeking. . Photo:

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A trip to Marco Island can feel like you’ve discovered the sweet spot of southwest Florida’s Paradise Coast. Less than 20 miles southeast of the luxury riviera of Naples, this island offers the best of all worlds: a relaxed fishing village with tranquil beaches and unspoiled nature as well as oceanfront hotels, delicious dining options, and lots to do both in and out of the water.

Honey-Sriracha snapper from the Snook Inn
Order honey-Sriracha snapper at the Snook Inn.

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Its unique position on the coast offers access to the Gulf of Mexico, with its white sands and famous sunsets, and the Ten Thousand Islands, a remote archipelago that is home to a vast mangrove forest and hundreds of species of wildlife. “We have a lot of things that draw people here—but to me, this part of the state is an outdoors town in disguise,” says Capt. Ryan Young, the founder of Rising Tide Explorers, a local company offering kayak and boat tours.

While it may be tempting to spend an entire weekend sipping poolside cocktails, it would be a mistake to not venture out. From catch of the day culinary experiences to glowing horizons and postcard scenery, Marco Island is full of opportunities for having a good time. Here’s our guide to seeing it for yourself. 

Old Florida Stays

Located in the historic district, the Olde Marco Island Inn & Suites has been the crown jewel since 1883, when it was a boardinghouse of sorts. The original structure, which is still on the property, has been reimagined as the French restaurant Bistro Soleil and is adorned with classic John James Audubon prints to enhance the Old Florida appeal.

The inn itself features a collection of two-bedroom suites with living areas, full kitchens, and screened porches. Hearkening to days past, the pool deck has lounge chairs, umbrellas, a tile-accented pool, and swaying palm trees. You can even bike to nearby stretches of sand—the closest is the famous Tigertail Beach

Outdoor pool at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort
There's plenty of room for splashing around at the pool at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort.

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Some call The Boat House Motel the island’s best-kept secret, and it does an impeccable job of maintaining its motor court feel with a bold turquoise-and-white facade and retro accents at every turn. This quaint 20-unit property with access to Collier Creek, just seconds from the Gulf of Mexico, is family run and gives a proper taste of the island’s more than 100 miles of waterways.

Private boat slip rentals complement the simple suites, while the poolside views often include dolphin sightings or pelicans flying in formation. If you’re bringing a boat, head over to Keewaydin Island in the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve; it’s accessible only by water.

You’ll find sandbars, shells, and weekenders enjoying fare from floating food and drink boats. Or hitch a ride with the Hemingway Water Shuttle leaving daily from Rose Marina, and feel the wind in your hair. 

Dinner with a View

While well known for the great restaurants found at its resorts, Marco Island is more famous for its locally owned seafood dives and watering holes. Stationed for more than 35 years on Big Marco River, with views of undeveloped Stingaree Island, the Snook Inn stands out with its umbrellaed patio dining, the activity of boat traffic, and the palm thatched Chickee Bar.

Favorites from the menu include shrimp cocktail with a rum runner at sunset and mahi-mahi tacos or honey Sriracha snapper for dinner. The eatery, which is beloved by residents (who often refer to it as “The Snook”), has been temporarily closed since Hurricane Ian. 

Just down the road, a major contender in the race for best grouper sandwich is Lee Be Fish, located in The Shops of Olde Marco in the historic district at the northern end of the island. This area has brick paved walkways and colorful coastal shanties that were turned into shops, restaurants, and art galleries.

Outside View of Lee Be Fish Restaurant
Seaside Adventures. Grab dinner at Lee Be Fish, walk in the surf at Tigertail Beach park, and catch glimpses of coastal birds among the many acres of mangroves in Collier Seminole State Park.

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Started by a commercial fisherman named Lee Tinter, this restaurant has a menu just as diverse as the morning’s catch, which often includes grouper, snapper, and stone crab. Where other fishermen pack and ship their bounty off to chefs around the region, Lee Be’s holds onto theirs and serves it to a loyal following.

award-winning Key lime pie from little Bar Restaurant
Sunshine State of Mind. Grab cocktails with a side of salty air at Little Bar Restaurant. Be sure to save room for a bite of the famous (and award-winning) Key lime pie after a meal at Lee Be Fish. Settle in for a gracious stay amid the elegant surroundings of JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort.

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Don’t miss brunch a short walk away at Smith House Restaurant and Tavern, where you’ll find classic comfort foods plus vegetarian and vegan options. The west coast of Florida is famed for its glowing sunsets. These are best enjoyed on the patio or in the indoor dining room at Sale e Pepe in the Marco Beach Ocean Resort.

Infinity doors open wide to let in the warm light at this stunning spot on the coast. The restaurant offers an extensive wine list, but if you’re feeling adventurous, try a tiramisu martini. Sale e Pepe’s Italian menu also has seasonal seafood options, like fish crudo with Florida citrus and olive oil and grilled sea bass. 

tiramisu martini from Sale e Pepe restaurant
Toasting with a tiramisu martini from Sale e Pepe restaurant.

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Another can’t miss Gulffront spot is Kane Tiki Bar & Grill at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort. Sitting at a cozy cocktail table, you can enjoy a menu of Indonesian street food in a tropical setting. 

Choose from blended rum drinks, tuna poke bowls, their much-loved lechon kawali appetizer (crispy pork belly with soy dipping sauce), and other tempting options. 

coconut shrimp from Kane Tiki Bar & Grill at JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort
Tasting and Toasting. Don’t miss the chance to try a plate of coconut shrimp from Kane Tiki Bar & Grill at JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort or the tiramisu martini from Sale e Pepe restaurant.

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On the east side of Marco, located in the fishing village of Goodland, is Little Bar Restaurant. Hot pink bougainvilleas climb its exterior, a blues band will sometimes play, and a host of regulars welcomes you to settle in and have a good time.

What started as a community headquarters has evolved over 44 years into an iconic waterfront restaurant and bar that is adored by locals and visitors alike. As the owner, Niki Bauer, says, “Little Bar is home to a lot of people. Our staff is one big family, and our customers are family to us too.”

waterfront view of the Little Bar Restaurant
Grab cocktails with a side of salty air at Little Bar Restaurant.

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The spot is well known for its fresh seafood and du jour menus. Chef Christopher Kneipp says, “We’re bringing in the catch on ice every day, sometimes carrying it straight in the back door after walking it over from Kirk Fish Company just 300 feet away.” Enjoy their stone crabs, fried soft-shell crab sandwich, and tangy Key lime pie on the patio. 

Beaches Worth Combing

The shores of Marco Island are its calling card, featuring pristine white sand, bountiful shells akin to the ones found on Sanibel Island, and water warm enough to swim in year-round. Beyond soaking in the sheer relaxation and vitamin D, a day at Tigertail Beach is a must for shell collectors.

Venture out early to catch low tide and embark on the walk from Tigertail Beach to Sand Dollar Spit, so named for the abundance of sand dollars that naturally wash up here.

 Tigertail Beach Park
Salk in the surf at Tigertail Beach park.

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Pack for the activities of the day, as this spot is flanked by Tigertail Lagoon, with calm waters perfect for paddle boarding, bird-watching, and wading. Other nearby public sands of note include Marco Island South and the Keewaydin Island beaches.

The Wild Side

A true outdoor oasis, Marco Island is the largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, situated where the Everglades meet the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond the beach, views of the natural world can be found in the lush ecosystem of the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

“We’re on the edge of wild Florida,” says Captain Young of Rising Tide Explorers. “One of our mantras is ‘You can’t see Florida from a lounge chair.’ ” With many picturesque mangrove islands, marshes, and hundreds of species of wildlife, this primal beauty is ideally experienced through one of Rising Tide’s small-group, biologist-led boat or kayak tours.

“Spending three hours in one of the most ecologically interesting places on the planet with someone who has devoted their life to studying it—there’s nothing like it,” says Young. “We like to think we’re helping our guests develop an appreciation for this place so they will then care more about protecting it.”

Collier-Seminole State Park Coastal Bird
Catch glimpses of coastal birds among the many acres of mangroves in Collier-Seminole State Park.

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About a 15-minute drive north of Marco Island is the Briggs Boardwalk trail. This half-mile loop is an easy walk with much to see. You will encounter different habitats, various coastal bird species, and a scenic overlook. Binoculars are recommended. 

Also along the connecting Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) is access to Collier Seminole State Park, which lies within the great mangrove swamp of South Florida and has cypress swamps and pine flat woods too.

Island History

Before Marco Island was founded in the late 1800s by the Collier family, it was home to the Calusa people of the southwest coast of Florida. They were expert woodworkers, making canoes, piers, and sculptures like the Key Marco Cat, which is considered to be one of the finest pieces of pre-Columbian Native American art found in North America. The cat (which is on loan from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History) can be seen at the Marco Island Historical Museum through 2026.

Nestled in this alluringly wild scenery are biking and hiking trails, plus access to the Blackwater River for boating, canoeing, and fishing. No matter where you roam on Marco Island, there is always plenty of adventure to be had in this tiny slice of Florida paradise. 

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