Want a getaway that has white sand beaches, plenty of activities, and is easy to get to? Let us introduce you to Marco Island, Florida.
Surprisingly, I hadn’t heard much about Marco Island before a few years ago. The farthest south I’d ever been on the Gulf Coast of Florida was Sanibel and my family usually spent more time in the Pensacola area.
Just south of Naples on the Gulf Coast (the southwest part of Florida), Marco Island is known for its laid back vibe, beautiful beaches (excellent shelling), and close proximity to the Everglades. To get to Marco Island, you’ll most likely fly into Fort Myers (RSW), rent a car, and make the hour or so drive south.
Why is surprising your kids with a beach trip so enjoyable?
that is just what we did and this was the moment the giggles and excitement broke out.
On a private strip of quiet beach, where sea turtles can be seen coming ashore its four miles of white sand beaches, Marco Beach Ocean Resort is a ‘boutique resort’ that’s setting a new standard for hospitality. This resort epitomizes the AAA Four-Diamond standards and showcases an award-winning fine dining Italian restaurant, casual resort dining, spa and fitness center, rooftop gardens, and so much more.
What makes Marco Island Beach Resort a great couples and/or family getaway?
Marco Island has white sand beaches, relatively calm water (it’s on the gulf) and it’s just about 45 minutes south of Fort Myers (love the airport-it’s fairly small and new).
There’s an incredible JW Marriott that sits right on the beach. I don’t know about you, but having a great place to stay (or not) can really make or break a destination for me. There aren’t a ton of great beach resorts on Florida’s Gulf Coast so this is definitely a gem.
The shelling is fantastic. Like-better than Sanibel.
It’s close to the Everglades. Everglades City (the gateway to the Ten Thousand Islands and the gulf entrance to Everglades National Park) is just about 45 minutes south of Marco Island and there are a ton of outfits that offer airboat tours.
Marco Island Resort: A boutique hotel with 5 star resort service
We simply adored
The exclusive Italian restaurant, Sale e Pepe, and the experience of the staff with recommendations for every guest (Thank you Ramona for introducing us to spectacular wines. Goodbye whites, hello reds!). The staff is international and their service is on another level. The restaurant takes you across the world with its tastes, but the stunning beach views will keep you in a Florida state-of-mind.
The silent and completely clear beaches at night, allowing the moon to literally light up the white sands of Marco Island
The quality of service from the housekeeping staff to the valet (shout out to Palov!) who made it feel like we were the only guests in the resort – when in actuality, it was at 90% capacity.
The luxurious sheets and mattress in the one-bedroom suite
Every time we entered and exited the site, we were greeted with the most warm and wonderful employees, adding a whimsical daydream vibe to our anniversary trip.
Note to self
Marco Beach is approximately a 45-minute drive from the airport in Ft. Meyers, FL. Renting a car is a smart move, or, you can always Uber it.
Turtle season is roughly May-October and there are ordinances in place to protect the nesting turtles and eggs. No lights on the beaches at night make for the most relaxing and romantic walks ever.
Get The Dish
Sure, we mentioned it earlier, but words cannot do the tastes justice. Sale e Pepe (Salt & Pepper) is under the instruction of Southern Italy’s own Chef Antonio Minichiello, who makes their ricotta and gelato in-house. Mouth-wateringly-delicious.
Our favorite things to do on the island
Take a Kayak Shelling Tour
If you want to add a little adventure to your shelling expedition, book a kayak shelling tour with Southwest Florida Shell Guide. Ali will take you to one of the best shelling spots near Marco Island where you’re sure to find some treasures.
Take the Ferry to Keewaydin Island: If you’d rather shell on your own, take the Hemingway Water Shuttle over to Keewaydin Island and spend a few hours shelling on the near deserted barrier island. The shelling isn’t as good as it is as the places the two tours I mentioned above will take you to, but it’s decent and a more affordable option. I would recommend going on a weekday as it turns into a bit of a party island on the weekends.
Tigertail Beach & Sand Dollar Spit: Tigertail Beach is by far the most popular beach on Marco Island (although the whole island is really one long stretch of sand) and it’s mostly because of the public access and the phenomenal shelling. Now I’ll be honest…it’s nowhere on the same level as the Ten Thousand Islands, but it’s a steady shelling spot and if I hadn’t been shelling on a tour, I would have been over the moon impressed (I found three sand dollars which I would consider a pretty big success normally).
It’s $8/car to park and there’s quite a bit of public parking, a cute cafe and rentals for paddle boards and kayaks.
But here’s the deal…the area where you park your car (where all of the amenities are), there’s a small white sand beach which is technically Tigertail Beach. That little beach sits on some brackish brown water surrounded by some mangroves and you either have to wade through it or walk around it to get to the main beach (on the ocean) also sometimes called Sand Dollar Spit.
RELATED: Where to Stay on Marco Island
Marco Island Shelling Guide
Marco Island vs Sanibel
See the graphics here to understand what I’m talking about.
The quickest way to get to the beach/ocean (where the shells are) is to wade across the “lagoon” and trek through a brushy trail. The water is usually 2-3 feet deep and I’m not going to lie…it’s pretty gross. It’s a sandy/muddy bottom so you can’t see what’s in the water ; ) but in the shallow parts there were a lot of little jellies. They didn’t bother me, but I would definitely recommend wearing shoes.
Now if the thought of wading through the swamp grosses you out, you can walk around it. From the main parking lot (by the cafe) around the lagoon and to the start of the beach it’s close to a mile and took me a solid 15 minutes (moderately paced walk). There is no shade, it’s VERY hot and I would NOT want to do this with kids. Tip: when you’re parking, park as far south as possible and take that entrance. It will save you a fair amount of time (it’s still a big walk though!).
The last thing I’ll say about logistics…if you’re staying on the beach on Marco Island, you may seriously consider walking down to Tigertail Beach. From the JW Marriott it’s about 1.5 miles and all things considered with where we parked and how long the walk was, we would have been better off walking especially since we just went for shelling (we weren’t there to set up camp for the day). Also, you can’t get into the parking lot until 8AM so if you walk you can get an early start on it, avoid the blazing heat, and get the best dibs on shells.
Now about the beach itself…it’s a beautiful beach and the farther you go down the “spit” the more remote it gets. The shelling was really good (better than anywhere I’ve been except for the Ten Thousand Islands) and it’s pretty picturesque too.
Boating & Water Sports
Take a Dolphin Eco Tour: This is probably the most popular thing to do on Marco. Dozens of companies run boat tours through the 10,000 islands to spot dolphins and manatees and many make stops at uninhabited islands for world class shelling.
The best overall bang for your buck option is going to be the Calusa Spirit Eco Tour with Marco Island Water Sports (departs from the beach in front of the JW Marriott). It takes you into the Ten Thousand Islands to see the dome houses at Cape Romano and includes a shelling stop in addition to dolphin and manatee spotting.