Marco Island is an idyllic getaway with kids and the perfect location for those in search of their next family destination. The barrier island of Marco Island in the Gulf of Mexico is home to beautiful beaches, opportunities to spot wildlife, and a handful of fun activities that your entire family can get involved with.
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On our most recent trip to Florida, we stopped by Marco Island. And let me tell you, we’ll definitely be going back again.
From mini golf courses and shelling beaches to dolphin trips and water parks, Marco Island has it all.
In this article, I’m going to share with you all the things we did during our time on Marco Island, along with other attractions that are on our list for next time!
Best Things to Do in Marco Island
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Marco Island may only be 6 miles long and 4 miles wide. But here are six of the best things you can do on the island, with our favourites being dolphin trips and shelling.
Shelling and Dolphin Tour
You can go shelling on your own when visiting Marco Island. And you will find some great beaches—which I’ll get into later—where you can pick up some truly incredible shells. But we actually went shelling with Marco Island Boat Tours as part of a dolphin and shelling package.
The tour lasts roughly two hours, with the first section of the tour being a boat journey looking for Marco Island’s resident dolphins. After watching the dolphins in their natural habitat, you’ll be taken to an uninhabited barrier island to look for shells while learning all about the island’s beach dynamics.
One thing I will say about the tour is that the boat had no cover. So make sure everyone is wearing a sunhat, suncream, and sunglasses.
Once the boat gets moving, it does cool down. But as we all know how hot the Florida sun can be, it’s best to be prepared before getting on board.
Alternatively, another great dolphin experience on Marco Island is the Dolphin Explorer Dolphin Eco Tour.
The dolphin eco-tour lasts for three hours. And during your time on the boat, you’ll cruise Marco Island’s waters in search of dolphins while also exploring the subtropical estuaries of the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge and the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
On your trip, you’ll learn how to identify dolphins by seeing if you can match a dolphin with its photograph. And If you do come across a dolphin that hasn’t yet been identified, then the tour group gets to name it!
Once you’ve seen the Marco Island dolphins up close, you’ll be taken to a beach on one of the surrounding barrier islands where you can search for exotic sea shells. If you’re lucky enough, your tour group may even witness Florida’s famous manatees and birds of prey like eagles, osprey, and great blue herons.
Both tours are equally as great. But the Dolphin Explorer Dolphin Eco Tour does have a shaded boat, which could be better for families with young children.
Once the tour is over, kids also get gifted an activity pack, a shelling bag, and a badge.
Marco Island Movie Theater
If you’ve had enough of the sun, or if a rain storm is creeping its way in, then a trip to the Marco Island Movie Theater is an ideal solution. The Marco Island Movie Theater is a family-owned cinema with three screens that showcase some of the latest movies.
What makes this movie theatre different from a standard cinema, however, is the fact that the chairs aren’t in rows like you’d usually expect. In fact, some of the chairs even have tables, which ultimately means more room for snacks.
Marco Golf and Garden
We absolutely love finding new miniature golf courses when we’re enjoying a family holiday. And Marco Island certainly delivers with Marco Golf and Garden.
The award-winning 18-hole miniature golf course is undeniably beautiful, and the owners really maintain the grounds for visitors to enjoy.
The course is slightly more challenging than your regular miniature golf course. So, although kids of all ages can play, it may be an activity for children aged eight and over.
Marco Island Water Sports
For families with slightly older children, then getting involved with some water sports at Marco Island Water Sports could be a highlight of your trip. The company offers wave runner tours, banana boat rides, parasailing, and paddle board rentals, all for you to enjoy on Marco Island’s calm, crystal-clear waters.
Free Things to Do in Marco Island with Kids
I know how quickly costs can add up when you’re on holiday—especially when you’re travelling with kids—which is why it’s always handy to know about free activities that will keep your little ones entertained. Luckily for families visiting Marco Island, there are a few great free activity options, which I’ve listed down below.
Marco Island Historical Museum
A trip to a museum is always a great way to learn about new places. And the Marco Island Historical Museum is no exception.
The museum is completely free to enter. And your little ones can discover the history of Marco Island and the Calusa Indians who inhabited the land thousands of years ago.
The museum is home to a few interesting and informative exhibits with artefacts that archaeologists discovered on the island, early photographs, and replica villages that showcase what a traditional Calusa village would have looked like.
Otter Mound Preserve
The Otter Mound Preserve is another free, kid-friendly Marco Island attraction. Spanning over three acres, the preserve is home to some incredible wildlife like butterflies, bird species, and a population of Florida gopher tortoises.
With most of the paths shaded by the forest canopy and benches dotted along the trails, the Otter Mound Preserve is a great place for little ones to learn about Marco Island’s wildlife while burning off some built-up energy out in nature.
Frank E. Mackle Park
Frank E. Mackle Park is a community park with a playground, sports courts, and a splash pad that will really come in handy on particularly sunny days. Toddlers all the way up to teens can enjoy Frank E. Mackle Park, and as it’s totally free, you can spend all day making use of everything the park has to offer.
You can book a snorkelling tour while holidaying on Marco Island. But if you have your own goggles or masks at home, then take them along, and voila, you have yourself a free activity!
For one of the best beaches on Marco Island to snorkel with kids, check out Tigertail Beach, as the waters close to the shore are shallow and teeming with aquatic wildlife.
Briggs Nature Center
The Briggs Nature Center is another free Marco Island attraction that is popular amongst families with kids, outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. As the Briggs Nature Center is part of the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, it features 3 miles of easy hiking trails and boardwalks that allow you to get up close to a variety of animal habitats.
At the right time of year, you’ll get to witness dozens of bird species at the Briggs Nature Center. And even if you aren’t knowledgeable about local flora and fauna, signs along the boardwalk will provide you with all the information you need to know.
Marco Island Farmers Market
Every Wednesday in Mackle Park, you can attend the Marco Island Farmers Market, which has stalls and stalls of local crafts, fresh produce, baked goods, and freshly cooked meals.
Best Family Beaches and Shelling Beaches in Marco Island
Another great free activity that deserves their very own section are Marco Island’s beaches. Whether you relax on the sand, swim in the ocean, or search for seashells along the shore, these family-friendly beaches are a must-do for those visiting Marco Island with kids.
Tigertail is a 31-acre beach at the northern end of Marco Island that is quite possibly the best in the area. At Tigertail, you can explore tidal pools, collect seashells, go snorkelling, swim in the ocean, spot wildlife, and watch some of the island’s most incredible sunsets.
I do want to point out, however, that Tigertail has limited amenities. And depending on the time of year, the beach may experience strong currents and an influx of mosquitos.
South Marco Beach
Another great beach on Marco Island that is suitable for kids is South Marco Beach. South Marco Beach has pristine white sand, turquoise shallow waters, and swaying palm trees that just give the beach that tropical island feel.
But as South Marco is so beautiful, it can become crowded—especially in peak season. If you are planning to spend the morning or afternoon at the beach, be sure to pack some form of shade, as shaded areas on the beach are lacking.
You’ll find Cape Romano at Marco Island’s southwestern tip, and with it comes the famous Cape Romano Dome House. These bizarre structures were originally built as a vacation home for a retired Florida oilman. However, now, they’re abandoned and only accessible by boat.
If you don’t want to check out the Dome House, then the nearby shores are great for shelling. You can also swim at the beach or set off on a beach walk.
Best Tours in Marco Island for Families
Aside from the dolphin and shelling tours, Marco Island has some other tour packages that may interest you.
Nature and History Bicycle Tour
If your kids know how to ride a bike, then the Nature and History Bicycle Tour could be a good option for you. The guided bike tour takes you through the island’s natural landscapes and to its historic sites, where you can spot wildlife and learn all about Marco Island’s history.
Kayak or Stand Up Paddle Tour
Again, for families that like to keep active, a kayak or stand up paddle tour would be an excellent activity that kids of all ages can enjoy. These paddle tours on Marco Island will see you paddling around the island’s calm waters and through its mangrove forests.
With chances to see manatees, sea turtles and pelicans, a kayak or stand up paddle tour will have your kids engaged throughout its entirety.
Black Pearl Pirate Tours
And the final tour is for pirate-loving little ones who want to get a taste of the pirate life. The Black Pearl Pirate Tour is an interactive pirate cruise that takes you out to sea with kids learning how to talk, sing, dance, and play games like a true pirate.
On the boat, you’ll help Captain Salty reclaim the keys to the treasure chest that a scallywag Pirate Pete stole from his possession.
Alternatively, if you’d prefer a more relaxing cruise, you can hop on the Black Pearl sunset cruise, which has a fully stocked bar and a DJ who delivers family-friendly entertainment.
Best Brunch in Marco Island for Kids
Are you a breakfast, a brunch, or a lunch type of family? Well, regardless of what you are, here are some great brunch options on Marco Island that both kids and adults will enjoy.
- Doreen’s Cup of Joe – Doreen’s Cup of Joe was by far our most favourite brunch restaurant on the whole island. The menu at Doreen’s ranges from waffles and pancakes to egg dishes and breakfast burritos. So you’re guaranteed to find something to suit all taste buds.
- Red Rooster – Red Rooster is another popular brunch choice on Marco Island, which has classic American breakfast dishes for customers to choose from.
- Hoots – Another all-American breakfast joint is Hoots, where you’ll find skillets, pancakes, egg dishes, and sandwiches.
- Stonewalls – Stonewalls also has a great selection of classic American breakfast foods with pancakes, omelettes, breakfast burritos, and flatbreads to choose from.
- Empire Bagel Factory – If you’re after a grab-and-go breakfast option, then Empire Bagel Factory has pastries, sandwiches, and, of course, bagels for you to take away.
Best Restaurants in Marco Island for Families
And for dinner-time meals, here are some great Marco Island restaurants for families with kids.
- Boardroom Tavern – We loved the Boardroom Tavern during our trip to Marco Island. And the outdoor seating area and the live music on Fridays and Saturdays really put it at the top of our restaurant list. Although the tavern is primarily a bar, you can order food from their sister restaurant, which comes to your table.
- Leebe Fish – Although Leebe Fish doesn’t have a children’s menu if your kids love seafood, then they will be in heaven. Leebe Fish serves up incredibly fresh seafood dishes with a menu of tacos, baskets, and sandwiches.
- Thai Sushi – Thai Sushi is a mix of Thai and Japanese food with plenty of sushi options and dishes like pad Thai.
- Marco Prime – Marco Prime is a steak and seafood restaurant with an elegant dining atmosphere—perfect if you’re looking for a nicer meal out. They do have a kids’ menu that includes things like sliders, steak, and salmon.
Best Family Hotels in Marco Island
And the final component of a Marco Island holiday is a hotel. So here are some great ones on the island at a few different price points.
Holiday Inn Club Vacations Sunset Cove Resort
The Holiday Inn Club Vacations Sunset Cove Resort is one of few five-star resorts on Marco Island. The apartments at the resort can sleep up to eight people in their three bedrooms. And contains everything you’d need, including a full kitchen, laundry facilities, a dining area, and a balcony.
Outside of the apartment, you can make use of the shared pool, the resort’s bicycles, and the free shuttle that will take you to and from the beach.
Old Marco Inn and Suites
The hotel we stayed in during our visit to Marco Island was the Old Marco Inn and Suites—we absolutely loved it! Families of up to six people can enjoy the hotel’s two-bedroom suites, which have full kitchens, bathtubs, and a dining area.
On site, you’ll have access to a restaurant and an outdoor swimming pool. And you can rent bikes which you can use to cycle down to Tigertail Beach.
Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa
The Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa is another great, family-friendly hotel on Marco Island. But unlike the previous two accommodation options I mentioned, the Hilton offers guests hotel rooms as opposed to apartments.
Although the rooms are smaller than an apartment, the amenities you get at the Hilton may be more beneficial to your family. The resort has an onsite restaurant, a pool, a spa, and water sports rentals for guests to enjoy.
Plus, it comes with the benefit of other dining options that are just a 2-minute walk from the hotel.
The Riverside Club also offers an apartment that can sleep four people. It is a one-bedroom apartment, but the pull-out sofa bed is ideal for young children.
The apartment features a full kitchen, a dining area, laundry facilities, a balcony, and a living room. You will also get access to an outdoor swimming pool and a hot tub.
Marco Island Lakeside Inn
A more budget-friendly Marco Island accommodation option is the Marco Island Lakeside Inn. At the Marco Island Lakeside Inn, families of up to three people can book a one-bedroom queen suite that has both a double bed and a pull-out sofa bed.
The apartment has a full kitchen, a dining area, and an outdoor seating area. The hotel also has a swimming pool, a barbeque, laundry facilities, and bicycle rentals.
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