If you’re looking for actual paradise, I’ve found it.
A little background: Marco Island is in southeast Florida, just south of Naples – it’s a popular destination for tourists, spring breakers, and snowbirds alike, and actually has a pretty high population of visitors from my native Illinois. (My dad ran into someone he graduated from high school with on a beach. They hadn’t spoken since 1981. It was a little awkward.)
Travel Diary – Marco Island
How to Get There
You can fly. You can drive. Maybe you can walk, that’s based more on your location/tenacity. I’m not going to walk you through booking a flight. Partially because I have faith in your ability to do it yourself, and partially because I didn’t book my own flight, so I can’t tell you a lot about it.
My family flew into Tampa, rented a car, and drove in because the flight was direct. But there’s also an airport in nearby Naples, if you’re flying. You don’t, strictly speaking, need a car on the island, because it’s fairly small and you could probably walk most places. But in case of bad weather, or if you’d like to visit somewhere a little off-island (like Stan’s), having a rental car is a good idea.
Where to Stay
So, yes, there are tons of hotels on Marco, and you can use your travel comparison website of choice to find the best deals there. But you’ll also find tons of swanky condos right on the beach. I didn’t know this before our trip, but a lot of people buy condos, and rent them out for profit, or to offset the costs if they don’t live there full-time.
If you can find a condo to rent – especially if you’re splitting the bill between families or friends – this can be an awesome option. The buildings are often really, really well located, and you can save money on eating out by cooking at home. (Spend that money you save on fresh stone crab. You’ll thank me later.)
For example, the view from our condo:
What to Do
I’m tempted to say “everything” and leave it at that, but you’re probably hoping for something a little more specific.
You don’t go to Marco Island and not go to the beach. Not unless you enjoy missing out. Now, the sand is white, but it’s also incredibly shell-filled, so if you have tender feet, bring a pair of cheap flip flops. But the water is turquoise and perfect, there are tide pools to explore, plenty of gorgeous shells to collect, the shorebirds and numerous and fearless, and there’s no prettier view if all you want is to relax in the sun.
There are several boat rental companies on the island – if you have someone comfortable navigating the sandbar-laden islands around Marco, this is pretty much the best thing in the world. Follow the channel markers closely, check out the abandoned dome-houses, and keep an eye out for dolphins, manatees, osprey, and a million other types of birds that inhabit the region.
Yoga. On the Beach. (No, Seriously).
While wandering our condo complex, my sister, cousin, and I stumbled across a flyer advertising free yoga on the beach. I’m not normally a yoga person, but what could possibly be a better introduction?
It was, to be fair, a very introductory course. If you’re an experienced yogi, you won’t be in for much of a challenge. But as a total klutz, I found it doable and so relaxing. Nothing like surf and sand and stretching to start your day. From their Facebook page, it looks like they host events like that pretty often, so if you’re in the area, check them out!
Where/What to Eat
Every restaurant I ate at was amazing – check out the waterfront ones like CJ’s (which had just amazing service) and Mango’s (Blackened. Chicken. Ceasar. Salad. Need I say more?), both of which are by the marina. If you want to see everyone let their hair down, head to Stan’s for some ridiculously kitschy outdoor drinking (and live music on certain days!). Island Gypsy is ideal for fresh seafood on the dock.
Speaking as someone who’s not a big fan of fish, if you’ve got access to a kitchen, you’ve got to hit one of the fish markets and pick up the freshest seafood of your life. Marco is in Collier County, which (if my uncle is to be believed) is the source of something like 80% of American’s stone crab. So if you like shellfish, splurge on it, because the crab cakes are good.