Discover Florida’s 12 Best Islands: Explore Marco Island
Marco Island is the last creature-comfort isle on Florida’s Gulf coast.
Marco Island is the last creature-comfort isle on Florida’s Gulf coast before you enter the wilderness of the Everglades known as the Ten Thousand Islands. Yellow road signs with a silhouette of the Florida panther warn motorists that the swamp lies just beyond Southwest Florida’s encroaching development. For those who like posh resorts but also want to get up close with unspoiled nature, Marco Island blends the two beautifully.
The island is not only surrounded by water, it weaves through every nook and cranny. The Gulf, rivers, bays and canals—little bridges connecting the intricate fingers of land—shape Marco. Its main thoroughfare, Collier Boulevard, leads to a six-mile-long beach lined with towering high-rise condominiums and sleek hotels—JW Marriott, Marco Beach Ocean Resort and the Hilton—that offer magnificent views of the Gulf and its bright white, sugary sands.
On the northern tip, visitors find public access at Tigertail Park. A 10-minute walk to the crescent beach passes a shallow coastal lagoon surrounded by mangroves, a peaceful spot for paddleboarders. A two-story observation tower rewards those who climb it with a view of the pristine Sand Dollar Spit—wade through the lagoon to reach it.
However, the beach at Tigertail is what you really want to experience. It’s Florida’s widest stretch and surprises with its massiveness. Besides frolicking in the Gulf, beachgoers find bountiful shelling and birding here. Sandpipers, plovers, gulls and terns flock along its foamy surf, where whelks and glossy olive shells wash up.
On the beach’s south end, overgrown sea grape plants shade a narrow public path for pedestrians and bicyclists. This popular spot offers sunset watchers a bonus: Sunset Grille. Separated by sea oat-studded dunes, the restaurant is a fave with beachgoers who carry trays of Bloody Marys to the shore for the nightly celebration. The restaurant’s outdoor tables and indoor bar are ideal perches for sunset viewing.
Those looking for waterside dining can head to Old Marco, a neighborhood that’s home to the jam-packed Snook Inn, a 35-year-old landmark. Sidle up to the chickee bar where Mai Tais are still the go-to drink. Or you can order a platter of peel-and-eat shrimp (sourced from local waters) and chill at a table on the edge of the Snook River as musicians play Jimmy Buffett tunes. paradisecoast.com
Tour guide Capt. Ron Hagerman leads a caravan of WaveRunners through the Ten Thousand Islands. Keep an eye out for dolphin fins breaching the water’s surface and bald eagle nests on the surrounding islands’ tall snags. You’ll travel through a labyrinth of mangroves, home to ospreys, snowy egrets, blue herons and roseate spoonbills. Book with Capt. Ron’s Awesome Everglades Adventures.
For a reprieve from sun and sand, drive five miles to Goodland, a spit of land connected to Marco. The Old Florida fishing community is a stark contrast to Marco’s swankiness. Funky dive bars like Stan’s Idle Hour attract a motley crowd, ranging from bandana bikers to Gucci-clad socialites, who comes to drink Stan’s Buzzard Punch and enjoy rousing outdoor entertainment.