To-Do List: Marco Island, Florida

For my family, Marco Island has been a vacation tradition for nearly 20 years. I first discovered it when I was looking for a destination with great beaches — a place that was relaxing and not too busy. A colleague recommended I try Marco Island, and it was perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I fell in love with it, and so did my husband and our two daughters.

We’ve been taking vacations there ever since. We even hosted a family reunion there one year, with several relatives traveling from a variety of overseas locations!

I could go on forever about my love for Marco Island — the relaxation, the therapeutic heat and the huge smile I get on my face as soon as my feet hit the soft, white sand. If you’re new to this serene vacation spot, check out my top five can’t-miss experiences.

1. Be lazy at the beach, of course.

Most people visit Marco Island for the beach! The island is part of the Ten Thousand Islands along the southwest coast of Florida. Here, the brackish, mangrove-filled waters at the foot of the everglades spill into the crystal blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a magical setting for sunbathers and relaxation seekers — and of course, all the local wildlife that’s lucky enough to call it home (more on that later).

2. Go on sailing and shelling excursions.

The JW Marriott® Marco Island Beach Resort offers wonderful catamaran rides to the uninhabited tiny islands of the chain. These islands are so remote, in fact, that the only footprints you’ll likely see in the sand are from the birds! It’s pretty much a beachcomber’s dream come true. Plus, if weather permits, the catamaran sails unaided by a motor, and dolphins may even come up and swim alongside the boat.

3. Enjoy waterfront dining like a local.

My family loves the Snook Inn which has been a favorite with locals for more than 30 years. The eatery on Bald Eagle Drive offers beautiful water views and even slips for visitors arriving by boat. We particularly enjoy the conch fritters, Atlantic smoked fish spread and the yummy shrimpburger. The restaurant also has a little gift shop where you will want to buy your very own Snook Inn T-shirt or hat, so you can fit in with the locals the next time you go.

Sea gulls over marco island beach

4. Discover the native wildlife.

From bald eagles and ospreys to manatees and sea turtles, the animals of Marco Island have provided us with hours of fascination. The hands-down best spot to go wildlife watching is Tigertail Beach at the north end of the island. A tidal lagoon links the beach to the Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area, a resting spot for migrating shorebirds like the piping plover. We’ve explored the area via kayak, and it was loads of fun to venture into different nooks amid the mangroves that were not easily accessible otherwise.

Quick Tips:

While you’re at Tigertail, you can also rent a paddleboard, take a guided eco-tour, or grab a burger at the beach café. If you venture across the lagoon, just make sure to stay aware of the time (and the tides). Otherwise, you could find yourself facing a path that’s rather sludgy and slippery. In fact, it will suction to your flip flops — I actually broke a pair wading through the pass after the tide rose!

5. Treat yourself to ice cream.

When you’re on vacation in Florida, who doesn’t want ice cream? The last time we visited Marco Island, we discovered Beebe’s Ice Cream, a fabulous, friendly place on Collier Boulevard. You can choose from more than 40 flavors of homemade ice cream, including nondairy and seasonal varieties. While customers can sit in, we were in a hurry, so they prepared for us a delicious banana split with all the trimmings to go.


Where to Stay:

Marriott’s Crystal Shores

Lisa is a director of go to market strategy for Marriott Vacation Club International in Orlando, Florida.