High-rise buildings stretch skyward along nearly six miles of white sand beach where the sea meets the shore on Marco Island. At the base of these glistening structures, visitors enjoy a wonderland of fine restaurants, world-class golfing, shopping and aquatic adventures.
But, a snazzy skyline didn’t always define the largest barrier island on Florida’s southwest coast. Instead, mangrove forests covered much of the island in 1870 when town founder, Captain W.T. Collier sailed here on his schooner, the Robert E. Lee. Life back then was all about commercial clamming, fishing and farming. Resorts and residences were developed after World War II, creating a unique seaside personality and easy-going lifestyle.
Today’s mariners can still find a bit of the old Marco while enjoying all that’s new.
For centuries, humans have called Marco Island home. Artifacts unearthed from an 1896 archeologic dig include ceremonial masks and other handmade objects crafted by the Calusa people that date back to 300 A.D.
Marco Island Historical Museum is a wonderful place to learn about the Calusa and other earlier residents, while art galleries and photography exhibits showcase contemporary talent. Fork into recent history by dining at Captain Collier’s historic home. The property is now an acclaimed eatery named Marek’s Bar & Bistro.
To experience Marco’s natural beauty, take a guided tour of Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The maze-like labyrinth of mangrove lagoons, marshes, estuaries and reefs are so shallow that this area can’t be reached by regular boat. Instead, operators employ shallow draft vessels such as wave runners, kayaks and paddleboards. Dolphins, manatees, sea turtles and 200 species of seabirds and fish are among the magnificent menagerie.
Back on Marco Island, beaches offer a delightful combination of nature and nurture. “Tigertail Beach is one of the favorites, because there’s usually not a lot of people or noise,” recommends Joe Weideman at Esplanade Marina.
WHERE TO DOCK
The Esplanade Marina
Centrally located, 77 slips accommodate vessels from 25 to 60 feet. Amenities include water, electricity, cable TV, high-speed internet, storage lockers, pump-out, showers, restaurants and shops.
WHERE TO DINE
Mango’s Dockside Bistro
One of the best breakfast spots on the island, it also offers lunch, dinner, sushi and kids’ menus.
CJ’s on the Bay
Dig into casual American cuisine, little neck clams, lobster tail,
prime rib and specialty cocktails.
Marek’s Bar & Bistro
Enjoy a fresh seafood dinner and live music in one of the island’s oldest buildings.
WHAT TO DO
Must-see winter events:
Winter Concert Series (free) in Mackle Park every Sunday at 2 p.m. from January through April.
Marco Island Seafood & Music Festival starting at 11 a.m.
on March 24 in Veteran’s Community Park.