Marco Island is a quiet place for resting, and a naturally beautiful little town for exploring. Located near the Everglades and the beach, adventures in Marco Island are seemingly endless! Here are a few of my favorites.
With sunshine, smooth sand, early dinner times and a slow pace, Marco Island is an ideal, popular spot for retirement. But don’t let that fool you.
This quiet little Florida town, located directly across the state from its partying big brother Miami, is home to a variety of Wanderlost adventures for visitors of all ages — if you know where to look.
Lucky for you, my family and I scoped out Marco Island through the Wanderlost lens in early 2016, which led to an impromptu self-drive gator safari, some delicious local beers and, as any true Florida vacation should have: the beach!
Marco Island Must-Dos
Tigertail isn’t your typical beach. It’s actually a little bit depressing when you first get off the boardwalk, because instead of sand there’s mud, and instead of saltwater you smell a mix of sulfur and fish.
Mmm … sulfur and fish.
Yeah, this is the point where you’re quite certain I’ve lost it with my travel recos, and you may be slowly … hesitantly … heading up to that little X button in the top righthand corner …
But wait! I haven’t lost my mind. At least not yet.
Tigertail Beach is the perfect place to mix Floridian nature with a soft sand and sunshine.
On the nature side, Tigertail is a diverse, important habitat for shorebirds. It was also home to a sandbar that, over the past 10 years, has evolved due to the changing climate into an entirely separate barrier island named Sand Dollar Island.
And of course, Tigertail Beach is, well, a beach. Take a left when you get off the boardwalk from the parking area, and after about a half mile, you’ll stumble onto sand, seashells, salt water smells and the Gulf of Mexico.
Parking at Tigertail Beach is $8 for the day. If you’d rather not explore on foot, try the beach’s stand up paddle boarding or kayaking. Both can be rented on-site.
Big Cypress National Preserve Park
Big Cypress is 720,000 acres of mostly untouched, swampy land, and home to a variety of birds, turtles, fish, alligators, and even in rare cases some panthers.
As a National Preserve, much of the land in Big Cypress is unreachable, but the park does have visitor-friendly boardwalks and roads for spotting wildlife and soaking in the swamplands.
Big Cypress National Preserve Park is about 45 minutes east of Marco Island. Once you’ve made it to the park, continue east along Tamiami Trail until you hit Kirby Storter Roadside Park for your first Big Cypress boardwalk adventure.
The Kirby Storter Boardwalk takes you deep into the wilderness, with twisting trees, lime green lilypads and exciting opportunities for animal sightings. While there, we watched a big, beautiful heron drying off in the sun, and listened to alligators communicating with each other in the distance. In total, this Boardwalk took about 45 minutes — but we weren’t your average in-and-out tourists; we were soaking it all in.
Next up is Loop Road, a gravel, driveable trail directly below Tamiami Trail with vast opportunities for wildlife viewing. During our bumpy 24-mile drive, we saw at least a dozen alligators close to the road, along with more rare but beautiful Florida birdies.
If you’re visiting Big Cypress National Preserve, set aside a full day. With photographing, exploring and just taking it all in, this Everglade adventure can take much longer than you think.
Naples Beach Brewery
Over the past five years, the craft beer scene in Marco Island and neighbor city Naples has skyrocketed — and the outcome tastes delicious.
While I didn’t have enough vacation time (or, let’s be real, alcohol tolerance) to check out every brewery, I did get to stop at what my beer-connoisseur brother called one of his favorite Florida breweries: Naples Beach Brewery.
Like most authentic craft breweries, Naples Beach Brewery is located in an industrial parking lot right past the Naples Municipal Airport. In addition to its wide variety of brews — ranging from a refreshing Weissbier to a coconut cream coffee stout, and pretty much every style in between — Naples Beach Brewery offers wood fired pizza served up via food truck, and a dog-friendly tasting room.
Craft beer. Cute dogs. Pizza.
As you can imagine, Naples Beach Brewery was a little (literal!) slice of Wanderbrew heaven. The only thing missing was my little pup, who was having a boy’s weekend back in Hoboken with his dad. [Insert sad face here.]
Know before you go
Whether you’re exploring the Everglades or enjoying an outdoor meal, expect an unwelcomed greeting from some of Marco Island’s most prominent menaces: mosquitoes.
When I revisited Marco in early 2016, I was astounded by how many mosquito bites I got. I guess when I was younger I didn’t really notice them (especially once I put the “X” fingernail mark on them). But this time around — yikes.
Obviously, mosquito bites have an easy solution — repellent — but the hardest part is remembering to pack it or worse, put it on. Once you’re all repellent-ed up, (and hey, let’s throw in some sunscreen, too), you’ll be all set for a smooth, bite-free Marco Island vacation.