Marco Island is the largest and most populous in South Florida’s chain of islands known as Ten Thousand Islands. Densely populated in some neighborhoods, with an open wilderness area in others, this popular getaway spot has something for just about everybody in your family. From many Marco Island vacation rentals, you will be within easy driving, biking, and even walking distance from dozens of great attractions that liven up this historic fishing and tourism hot spot.

1. Briggs Nature Center

If your first day’s travels on Marco Island take you anywhere near the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, visit the Briggs Nature Center, located in the heart of the reserve. Here, you and your family get to view wildlife, learn about Florida’s endangered species, and take a guided tour of one of America’s rarest and most fragile ecosystems.

2. Cape Romano

Cape Romano is one of the odder attractions Marco Island has to offer. Built by an eccentric oil executive in 1980, these curious domes in the ocean were originally intended to be a retirement complex. These structures were abandoned decades ago and now sit exposed to the elements, slowly being engulfed by the rising sea. Take your own boat out from your vacation rental mooring, or book a tour with Avi’s Watersports, which charters jet skis to the site.

3. Isles of Capri Paddle Craft Park

Marco Island is an ocean-oriented town, and many of the attractions it offers will take you out onto the clear Gulf water. Isles of Capri Marina takes full advantage of this nautical bounty, offering mooring for local boaters and visitors who sailed themselves into town, as well as boat rentals for the new arrivals who made the drive in from the mainland. The marina also offers kayak and paddleboard rentals for the adventurers who want more of a challenge than boating alone provides.

4. Mangrove Maniacs

If your family loves to fish, or if you all just love looking at exotic animals in their natural setting, Mangrove Maniacs can devise a fully personalized tour for you. Operating with maybe half a dozen kayaks, the company runs a wholly irregular schedule of excursions that are determined by the tides and the rumored availability of local wildlife. Every tour is different, so this is an attraction that attracts again and again.

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5. Marco Island Boat Tours

There’s always something new to learn about nature in the Ten Thousand Islands chain, and Marco Island Boat Tours is one of the best teachers on the island. Booking nature tours around the chain for individuals and families, the company takes you through the Everglades to leave you with memories and photos to remember.

6. Marco Island Historical Museum

A vacation rental on Marco Island takes your holiday in a place that has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years. The Marco Island Historical Museum does a good job of trying to chronicle those millennia, starting with the occupation of the Calusa people and moving through the age of the Spanish Main and Colonial America. Friendly volunteers are always eager to see families in the museum, and guided tours are available on a regular schedule.

7. Marco Murder and Mayhem

As befits any romantic getaway with a history involving pirates, Marco Island is haunted. Some parts of it, at least; a tour company called Marco Murder and Mayhem is available to lead you from point to point in the island’s haunted history. When you book your two-hour tour, be sure your guide is Martha Horror herself; she’s the resident ghost expert.

8. Malenda Trick Art Gallery

The Malenda Trick Art Gallery is one of the most unusual art attractions in the world. Unlike a conventional art gallery, which tries to showcase the work of many professional artists, Malenda Trick is entirely self-taught, and her gallery is built to showcase her own work in painting and interior design. In style, her work is strongly similar to early Impressionist work of the 19th century, and it’s all open to the public, along with regular art classes and special events near the holidays.

9. Verdi’s An American Bistro

At least once during your stay on Marco Island, make time for a romantic dinner with your companion at Verdi’s An American Bistro. This stylish restaurant provides a close, intimate atmosphere that’s great for couples, but that is also appropriate for older children with their parents. Adults who dine here love the Chilean sea bass, while kids can’t leave without at least a taste of the apple strudel.

10. Otter Mound Preserve

Probably no place on Marco Island better illustrates the community’s merger of the modern artificial with original nature than Otter Mound Preserve. Pull into the parking lot of this 2.5-acre nature preserve, grab a smoothie at Addison Court, and walk with the kids up a carefully mulched trail to see otters frolicking in their natural habitat. The park has plenty of benches for resting during your walk around the loop, while kids run around in several open areas to burn a little energy.

11. Marco Island Princess

For many years, the waters around Marco Island have been graced by the Marco Island Princess, a 90-foot yacht that books multiple daily cruises around the harbor. Kids are welcome, and guests have their choice between the two-hour buffet lunch cruise and two dinner cruises. If you’re in town for a special event, the Princess is available for private charters, though it’s best to call for details as early as possible; the ship is in high demand.

12. Breakwater Adventures

Just off the coast of the islands, the water is warm and clear, and it’s full of exciting sea life year-round. Book a tour with Breakwater Adventures, and you can head out for a few hours and enjoy the sight of whales, dolphins, and the area’s native population of playful otters. If you’re in the mood for a more active kind of day trip, Breakwater can take you out for water skiing, wakeboarding, and other fun watersports.

13. The Dolphin Explorer

If you’re interested in combining the excitement of dolphin spotting in the Gulf with a more sedate, leisurely pace that’s hard to get from a powerboat, the 30-foot catamaran The Dolphin Explorer has what you’re after. Slowly cruising through the still waters offshore, this boat, which is owned by a company of the same name, can bring you to where the dolphins are playing. One interesting quirk of The Dolphin Explorer is that it’s a working ship — the captain is a serving officer of the Coast Guard, and the ship’s science officer is a naturalist conducting a long-term study of dolphin behavior. Be ready with a lot of questions, because there is never have a better chance to get them answered.

14. Scuba Marco

Slicing through the waves is fun, but to get really close to the sea it’s necessary to dive into it. Scuba Marco can make that happen for you, with regular classes and guided dives to explore the unique underwater environment of the reef around Marco Island. As a full-service dive school, Scuba Marco offers 90-minute classes in the facility’s pool, supervised dive experience in the ocean, and equipment in the shop that you can rent or buy.

15. Sand Dollar Shelling

Just off Hernando Drive, along Sand Dollar Spit, there lies a small lagoon that’s littered with shellfish detritus. Conch shells, discarded fiddler crab homes, and the eponymous sand dollars are positively strewn across the sand here, and one local tour company, Sand Dollar Shelling, offers to take you out to collect a few as keepsakes of your trip. The company goes so far as to guarantee dolphin sightings on the trip out, and if you time your visit just right, the operators will park you in what they swear is the ideal spot for watching the sun set over the Gulf at the end of another perfect day in Marco Island.

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