Marco Island, Florida is such a special place for my family. Every year we head down to Marco for Thanksgiving. It’s been our family tradition for the last 30 years. (More on that here.) I remember the island when it was underdeveloped with bare lots and no major retail chains. Throughout the years, the island has just gotten better and better. It was even rated first on TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Islands in the U.S. in 2014 and it’s been in the top 10 ever since. The secret is out. Last September, my husband and I even tied the knot on the beautiful, white sandy beach with all of our closest friends and family in attendance. We truly love it there! Without further ado, here are my recommendations of the best places to stay, see, and do while you are on the island.
WHERE TO STAY
All of my favorite places to stay on the island are conveniently located right next to each other in a row and are all beachfront properties.
Eagle’s Nest Beach Resort – This is where my family always stays as my parents bought into the Hilton Grand Vacation Club timeshare when I was little. I love that the Eagle’s Nest accommodations are condo units with full kitchens and amazing balconies. It’s a little outdated, but gives off a homey type of feel. They’ve recently upgraded the pool bar and now have a full menu of food for lunch. (The chicken caesar wrap is phenomenal.) There are tennis and pickle ball courts in front of the resort. There is a nice pool, two hot tubs, and daily activities that take place on the pool deck. My family always rents beach chairs for the entire week. It is so serene. Like I said, this is a part of Hilton’s HGVC, but I think they take RCI points as well.
Marco Island Marriott Resort – This is the resort where Chris and I got married!!! It is currently under renovations and is being converted into a JW Marriott, expected 2017. I love this resort because of all the fantastic amenities. There is a lavish spa, seven restaurants, three pools, two fitness centers, and two private 18-hole golf courses that are off-site. It smells ridiculously good when you walk into the lobby too. Love. While this resort is pretty upscale, it is still very kid friendly.
Marco Beach Ocean Resort – I love this resort. It’s a great mix of timeshare life and resort life as the rooms have full kitchens, but the resort itself has that hotel feel (unlike Eagle’s Nest.) I think this resort is romantic and perfect for a weekend getaway. They have a relaxing spa, five restaurants, a rooftop pool, and can make arrangements for you to play golf or tennis at nearby facilities. I would not recommend taking kids to this resort.
WHERE TO EAT
Petite Soleil – Located in the Shops of Olde Marco, this hidden gem is fantastic for breakfast/brunch. The atmosphere is that of the Florida Keys and the food is legit. I ordered a quiche and was very satisfied. After brunch, walk off the calories by perusing the cute little boutique shops.
Maia – Located inside the Marriott, this restaurant offers buy one, get one free breakfast buffet if you are staying in the resort. It’s bundled in the resort fee. However, even with the deal, it is quite expensive. The spread is expansive and very tasty, but I don’t eat a ton for breakfast and can’t justify the cost. Also, for the people who despise buffets (like I do), this one is incredibly nice and I actually like it.
To be quite honest, lunch is a forgettable meal when vacationing on the beach. Sometimes I’ll have leftovers from the night before or hit up the pool bars. These are my two favorites.
Quinn’s on the Beach – Marco Island Marriott
Beachfront Bar and Grill – Marco Beach Ocean Resort *Side note: this place has the BEST piña coladas of all time.
Little Bar – This place is an oldie, but a goodie. My parents used to come here back in the day and my mom decided to introduce us to it last week. It’s a little off the beaten path and is about a 10 minute drive from the hotels. Unlike a normal restaurant, they bring you a giant poster board menu for the entire table to gaze at. It’s very bizarre, but gives this restaurant unique character. The food was really good too. Seafood is their thing.
Sale e Pepe – This is where Chris and I had our rehearsal dinner! I love this restaurant’s atmosphere. It feels like you’ve transported yourself to the Amalfi coast. It’s an upscale Italian restaurant, so you may want to wear your Floridian finest.
La Tavola – My family and I discovered this restaurant last year. The name is deceiving. It is contemporary American cuisine. There is a bar in the front that always seems to be poppin’… although it definitely draws an older crowd. Get the beet salad. It’s so, so good.
The SpeakEasy of Marco Island – Ok, so I’m somewhat biased towards this restaurant because all of the decor is Chicago themed. You can take the girl out of Chicago, but you can’t take Chicago out of the girl! Am I right?! Ha! Aside from the decor… this restaurant will cook the fresh fish you catch if you charter a fishing boat. Many restaurants on the island do this, but for some reason the batter they use here is insanely good. It is also good on all their fried foods – specifically their onion rings. I wasn’t feeling the greatest and ordered soup and a salad… not the place to order that kind of stuff.
Nacho Mama’s – This is where Chris and I had our welcome party for the guests attending our wedding! It’s a super casual Mexican restaurant with great outdoor seating. Sometimes they have a DJ (if you’re feeling wild). I tend to get crispy beef tacos at every Mexican restaurant I go to. Tacos are tacos. However, the rice and beans are phenomenal. Stay away from the piña coladas here. According to my mom (the piña colada aficionado), they have absolutely no taste. What a waste of calories!
Michelbob’s – If you are a rib fan or even just a BBQ fan, this is the place for you. It’s take-out only on the Island. There is a sit down restaurant in Naples if you prefer going to a restaurant. My family and I get this every time we are on Marco. The sweet sauce is… Mmmmmm. Perfection.
Korals – This is kind of an odd place for me to list, but I like it so I don’t care! Haha. This restaurant is the lobby bar/restaurant in the Marco Island Marriott. It’s a sushi restaurant and is my go-to when I want to go out, but not far. They have this cocktail called the Cucumber Raspberry Refresher and it’s pretty amazing. Get it. I also very much enjoy the Island Roll.
WHAT TO DO
Marco Island is the perfect place to just chill, but it is loaded with fun activities. My family has pretty much done them all. My dad was crazy into experiences, tours, historical sites, etc. As a child, I would get so annoyed because I would just want to swim in the pool with my Marco Island friends. Now, I’m so appreciative he took us to do so many fun things! These are my top five things to do on Marco.
Charter a Fishing Boat – I am obsessed with this activity. As my brother said, “That is a very off brand thing for you to say!” I laughed out loud. He seems to think I have a very strong personal brand. Haha. But honestly, I think fishing is so exciting. As long as there is a “guy” (aka the captain) to bait the hook and take off the fish, I’m good. On our most recent fishing excursion, we caught the craziest sea creatures – a sting ray, a starfish, and two blowfish! It was wild. At the end of your charter, the captain filets the fish you caught and wraps it up nicely. Like I said previously, we bring our fresh catch to The Speakeasy of Marco Island.
Jet Ski Tour of the 10,000 Islands – Many people like renting jet ski’s to play around in the ocean. In my opinion, it is really expensive to just go back and forth a few times and somewhat boring. This tour is only slightly more expensive than just renting a jet ski and extremely well worth the cost. The guide will bring your group through the mangroves of the 10,000 islands that surround Marco Island. It is pretty much guaranteed you will see several different types of beautiful birds, dolphin, and sometimes manatee! Depending on time of year and the weather, the wildlife will vary on your tour. One of the coolest things you’ll see are the abandoned Cape Ramano dome houses on the southern tip of the 10,000 islands. I don’t have any photos of this activity because I’m always terrified to bring my phone or camera out on the water.
Marco Movies – I’ve had several people question why we would ever go to the movies on vacation… let me just tell you that (#1) the best movies come out around Thanksgiving and (#2) they serve you dinner, dessert, and/or cocktails in this theater. I know this is now a very common thing, but they’ve been doing this forever and was unique back in the day. Now, this theater is nostalgic for our family. On this recent trip, we grabbed dinner at Nacho Mama’s (located in the same plaza) and then had dessert in the theater. We saw Allied. (I wanted to see Fantastic Beasts, but I was out voted.)
Kayak in the Ocean – I love this boat assisted kayak tour. It’s nice because it’s technically a big bang for your buck. You get a boat tour, kayak tour, and walking/shelling experience all in one. One time we had dolphin playing in our wake that were so close to our boat we could touch them if we wanted. It was the closest I have ever been to wild dolphin. If you like to be active on vacation, this is absolutely the tour for you.
Watch the Sunset – Marco Island has beautiful sunsets. Grab a cocktail and your DSLR camera and make your way down to the beach to hangout. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the “green flash.” I’ve never seen it, but you can read about the Legend of the Green Flash here.
If you’ve been to Marco Island, I’d love to know your favorite things to do! Leave me a message in the comment section.