Marco Island, the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands, is located at the southern tip of Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast in Collier County. A beachfront paradise located just north of the Gulf Coast entrance to Everglades National Park, the island is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico on one side and pristine wilderness on the other.
Part of Southwest Florida’s Paradise Coast, Marco Island is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and offers world-class golf courses nearby, shopping and dining on Marco Island and in nearby Naples, the world famous Everglades National Park immediately adjacent, and immediate access to both the Gulf of Mexico and the mangrove-lined estuaries of the Ten Thousand Islands for shelling, fishing, boating, bird and wildlife watching, kayaking and canoeing.
Tigertail is the northern most Marco Island beach. It is the only beach that has restroom facilities, as well as concession stands and beach rentals etc. Since we always try to go to a beach with restrooms, we definitely wanted to give this beach a try.
We soon discovered that the tricky thing about Tigertail Beach is getting from the parking area to the actual beach. Let’s just say that it is a either a very long walk, or a very wet walk to get to get to the ocean.
Marriot Vacation Club Beach Access ~We enjoyed this beach, and felt this location was probably the least crowded of all the options we explored. There are no restroom facilities here and the Turtle Public Parking lot was too far away, so we ended up parking at a nearby grocery store lot and walking over.
South Beach Access~ This was our personal favorite Marco Island beach. It is located at the southern tip of the island and offers the best views.
Parking was also the easiest at this location. You pay $8 to park in the public parking lot and it is just a short distance from the access point. There are also restroom facilities at the parking lot, which comes in handy with little ones!
Marco Island’s beach and surrounding sand bars offer some of the best shelling in the world. A casual stroll along Marco Island beaches will reward the shell seeker with a wide variety of shells including whelks, olive shells, scallops and hundreds of other gems of the sea.
The Ten Thousand Islands stretch endlessly from Marco Island’s southern edge, winding past Everglades City and Chokoloskee all the way down to Flamingo at the southern tip of Florida’s mainland. A large percentage of the Ten Thousand Islands is located within the boundaries of either the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge or Everglades National Park, providing a haven for numerous rare and endangered animal and bird species.
Bird watchers and adventurers can easily access this water wonderland from Marco Island in a variety of ways. Canoes and kayaks are readily available for rent, with both short and extended tour routes available. Beachfront water sports operators provide guided Waverunner tours through nearby mangrove islands with information on the mangrove estuary and its inhabitants, including bottle nosed dolphin, manatee, sea otter, alligator, crocodile, wood stork, brown and white pelicans, roseate spoonbill, herons, egrets and more.
Marco Island is flanked by nearly 100 miles of islands, bays and estuaries that will never be developed. Access to this nearby wilderness is possible through the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Collier-Seminole State Park, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. These conditions provide a paradise for nature photographers, anglers and outdoor adventurers.
Backcountry fishing reels in plenty of snook, tarpon, redfish, trout, pompano and many more species. Experienced guides are readily available for fishing excursions from Marco Island, Chokoloskee, Everglades City, Goodland and other nearby areas and include backcountry flats fishing and deep-sea charters into the Gulf of Mexico for grouper and snapper.
Marco Island is an oasis for getaway golfing with several courses located nearby including The Rookery at Marco – Marco Island Marriott’s newly redesigned Audubon-certified course that also features the Faldo Institute golf instruction program. There are many nearby courses in Naples easily accessible to Marco Island.
Marco Island is well known in archeological circles as an important center of early American civilization, based on priceless artifacts recovered there dating back to the Calusa Indians. A dozen key historic markers chart Marco Island history.
The Marco Island Historical Society has two museum locations on the island. One, in the Shops at Olde Marco, features items documenting the Calusa Indian settlements on the island, and the other, located within the Marco Island Area Board of Realtors office, showcases both ancient history and the modern day settlers who made Marco Island what it is today.
Marco Island offers many shopping treasures. Specialty shops and resort boutiques offer everything from bathing suits and island wear to the finest designer fashions. Shopping goes beyond beach wear, with stores that offer artistic items of local flavor and interesting souvenirs. Conveniently located just a few miles off the island is Prime Outlets, with over 40 stores. Naples is just a short drive away with many shopping destinations including the downtown Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South shopping districts, along with Tin City, The Village at Venetian Bay, Coastland Center and Waterside Shops.
Chef Alberto Varreto brings the authentic tastes of Italy with gourmet flair to Sale e Pepe at Marco Beach Ocean Resort with spectacular Gulf of Mexico views. Kurrents at Marco Island Marriott features fusion cuisine and martinis.
What to know before you go to Marco Island
We’ve visited many beaches in the Sunshine State, but our favorite Florida spring break destination by far is Marco Island. It’s the perfect combination of white sand, turquoise water and warm temps year round.
Marco Island has a very family friendly feel, no spring breakers and just the right amount of open beach space and activities for a rainy day.
Our favorite time of year to visit Marco Island is during the month of March, when it’s still miserably cold in PA and summer still feels a long way off.
We chose to stay in a Home Away rental, since we have a family of seven. We trade having the beachfront location many hotels offer, for the extra space, our own private pool and full kitchen.
How about this view overlooking Smokehouse Bay? While we all want to stay oceanfront, if your budget doesn’t allow it (ours usually doesn’t) having a water view makes such a difference.
Although we visited Marco Island during the high season, which runs January – April, (and Marco does have its share of high rises) we never felt the beaches were too overly crowded during the week. However, traffic definitely picked up on weekends and you have to stake out your space early.
The only downside to Marco Island is the parking. There are four main public access beaches on Marco, and parking is a bit tricky for all of them.
Parking ~ The best strategy we have found for dealing with Marco Island parking issues is to have your driver, in our case Big Papi, drop you, the children and most of the beach gear off at the beach access while they find parking.
Plan to arrive early (by 10am) to get a decent parking space, or time your arrival during the lunch hour when some folks leave to eat and you can grab their parking space.
Of course, if you have a smaller family and a bigger budget you can stay at one of the many beautiful oceanfront resorts or hotels and skip the parking dilemma altogether!
Esplanade Shoppes ~ Plan to eat dinner out one evening at The Esplanade. Beautiful shopping complex with boutiques and restaurants overlooking the Smokehouse Bay. Big Papi and I were able to leave the kids with grandparents and enjoy an evening out!
We enjoyed eating at Mango’s Dockside Bistro and loved the outdoor music and dancing at CJ’s on the bay!
Home Away ~ If you have never booked a vacation with Home Away before, we encourage you to give it a try! We’ve had great success with the quality of the homes and the responsiveness of the owners. Not to mention you can usually get a much better deal than staying in a hotel or resort!
Boating ~ Exploring Marco Island and the surrounding area by boat is truly amazing. In fact, exploring any tropical location by boat is one of our family’s favorite activities.
You will get a unique perspective and see amazing wildlife up close (dolphins and manatees!) that you can’t appreciate from the mainland.
Fortunately for us, we have friends in southern Florida who have a boat membership. They have taken us to explore amazing places! If you don’t have boating friends of your own, there are several marinas who will do half or full day boat rentals. No experience required!
Hope you have fun planning your trip to Marco Island and that this review and recommendation has been helpful!