Marco Island thrives on resort tourism, bringing visitors from all over the world to the largest of the Ten Thousand Island chain on the Gulf side of Southern Florida. The island is much quieter in September than in peak season beginning in November: the water is warm, the beaches are less crowded, and the room rates are lower. There are still daily weddings on the beach, but you do not have to fight for reservations to the limited number of restaurants on the island, featuring mostly seafood and Italian fare. There are plenty of boats for rent for fishing or touring the islands, and all of the typical water sport activities can also be found (although the waves aren’t right for surfing since it is Gulf side). People gather on the beach to watch the sunset every evening, and storms roll through with regularity, passing as quickly as they appear.
I spent a few days on the island relaxing with the family and working #digitalnomad, and I’ve compiled the following brief list of recommendations based on my experience.
Local Eats on Marco Island
NeNe’s Kitchen – Great local breakfast option with huge portions. I had a skillet with eggs and steak, and I did not have to eat for the rest of the day.
CJ’s on the Bay – Great little spot overlooking the water. When it’s not too hot outside, you can choose to sit outside by the bar with a view of the docks. The linguini with clams is chock full of bivalves, and they have fantastic nightly specials, including interesting selections like lionfish. There are tons of seafood options, but even their chicken wings are good.
Crazy Flamingo – This dive bar has great seafood. Order the steamed clams and they bring the steamer to your table. The mussels marinara is a large portion with fresh tomatoes in the sauce, and their ahi tuna sandwich was excellent. The prices were very reasonable; you could even get a Yuengling for $1.75.
Snook Inn – This bar and restaurant is so on the water that you can pull up and park your boat to grab a bite. The snapper are really the star of the menu when we ate here, but the scallops were also delicious. All meals come with a trip to the salad bar as well. With live music and a casual atmosphere, you definitely feel like you are at the beach.
Quinn’s on the Beach – One of our favorite places to grab drinks is Quinn’s on the Beach. Quinn’s is part of the Marriott, but you can walk right up from the water and order anything from fruity blended drinks to local brews. The bartenders are super friendly locals who are great with recommendations. The food here is also really good, and their happy hours often coincide with the sunset.
Kane Tiki Bar and Grill – Kane’s is a new bar, also at the Marriott, that sits right on the beach with a happy hour of their own. Kane’s is not open nearly as late as Quinn’s is and the menu is much shorter, opting for less seafood and more Polynesian options. They offer nightly entertainment on the beach, including music and fire dancers.
Where to Stay
Marco Island Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa – This beach front property is where to stay if money is no object. The property is really beautiful, and their pool area is well-designed. Steps from the beach, you can enjoy a cocktail at their beach bars (described above) whether you are a hotel guest or not, and they have several on-site restaurants as well. Be sure to stop in and check out their featured sand sculpture on the way to the lobby.
Vacation Rentals – This is really the way to do Marco Island. Hotels are very expensive, so if you can get a weekly rate, you’re much better off. There are a few cheaper options by Snook Inn, including the Olde Marco Inn, but it doesn’t look like you’d be getting what you pay for. We stayed in a vacation rental next to the Marriott for the best of both worlds.
What to do
The Beach, Of Course – Also, the pool. I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. We also spent some time surf fishing at the beach, but because tropical storms had just passed through and the water wasn’t as clear, all we were catching was saltwater catfish, sometimes two at a time. When the water is clear, it is possible to catch more delicious fish to grill. The pelicans were having no problem finding sustenance. Early in the morning, dolphins are also commonly spotted.
Marco Island Historical Museum – This small, free museum covers the history of Marco Island from Native Americans and early settlers to the present day. There are also temporary exhibits that rotate through the museum.
Captain Horr’s Pineapple Plantation – In the late 1800s, there was a pineapple plantation where these ruins now stand. Just a quick stop to see another piece of island history and the occasional turtle.
Ferry to Key West – Key West lies almost directly south of Marco Island, and you can take a 4-hr ferry from Marco Island for $85 each way. At that point, I’d probably just drive, but it’s an option if you want a different experience.