Marco Island’s beautiful crescent shaped beach stretches the whole length of the west side of the island.
Of course the beach is public property and open to all and, unless you’re staying in a beach front hotel or condo, there are three main access points to the beach... Tigertail Beach, South Beach and Residents’ Beach (which is only accessible to residents who are members of Marco Island Residents’ Beach).
We thought it might be helpful to talk a little about them....
The most northerly beach access point, Tigertail Beach, can be reached by taking either Tigertail or Kendall
Dr from North Collier Blvd and then turning left onto Hernando. Parking is free for Collier County residents
who display a permit and for all other visitors it’s $4 for 3 hours and $8 for all day. If you speak to the gate staff you may be able to get just a one hour rate.
It is best to consider Tigertail Beach as two quite distinct areas, the Lagoon and Sand Dollar spit.
The Lagoon - Great Family Fun
You approach the lagoon from the parking lot via one of six walkways and there is a rest-room at the furthest
walkway. Once on the sand you will be looking west towards Sand Dollar Spit and beyond to the Gulf of Mexico, which is hidden from there by seaoats, shrubs and even some small trees. The lagoon is a great place for families with younger kids to spend the day since it is normally very calm and the concession rents cabanas - a must if you are going to spend much time out in the hot Florida sun. In addition, you can rent aqua-trikes, paddleboards and all kinds of kayaks, including fishing kayaks.
One really neat trip is to kayak or paddleboard along the lagoon and access many of the small mangrove inlets and then beach the kayak on Sand Dollar Spit for some wonderful shelling. It’s best to go a couple of hours before high tide for maximum access. If you are an avid photographer, you can also sneak up really close to the herons and ibis, as they rest in the mangroves or feed in the shallows. All of the rentals are either pedal, paddle or electric and do not interfere with the peace and quiet.
Observation Tower and Fantastic Wildlife
The lagoon is also a great place to fish (either spinning or fly) with many secluded areas around mangroves or shallow water towards the Big Marco Pass. Over the years it has become an important rest area for migrating birds and also a major nesting site in spring and summer for several endangered species, like the least tern and black skimmer, and is listed as Site # 73 on the Great Florida Birding Trail. You can expect to see many types of heron, ibis, egret, plovers, sandpipers, willets, pelican, osprey, roseate spoonbills, and even a bald eagle. There are always mullet jumping and you should also see fiddler, horseshoe and ghost crabs and maybe three kinds of sea stars depending on how far you walk! The Observation Tower, with two levels and permanently fixed telescopes, gives unobstructed views of the lagoon and out to Sand Dollar Spit as well as an eye level view of a nearby osprey nest. The tower is handicap accessible from the main walkway close to the snack bar, and is open from dawn til dusk.
Café and Playground
The great benefit to this part of Tigertail Beach is that you are also close to all of the facilities - restrooms, showers, BBQs, a great kids’ playground and the café that offers lunch and light snacks, beverages and ice cream. Kids’ meals come with a beach frisbee, ready for fun in the sand.
Sand Dollar Spit - a Magnificent Unspoiled Gulf Beach
To reach Sand Dollar Spit and the beautiful, pristine, soft sandy beach on the other side of the lagoon, you either have to wade through it, head south some distance to where the lagoon ends and make a turn to the north, or rent a kayak or paddleboard and make it part of a day trip. It’s a bit of a trek to walk to the spit, but it’s definitely worth it. The beach here (which abounds with wonderful seashells) is absolutely breathtaking and totally natural.
The walk to the end of Sand Dollar Spit has changed many times and no more so than in September 2017, due to the impact of Hurricane Irma. The spit is so narrow in a number of places that breaches can occur, especially after strong tides. If on your walk you reach an area where the gulf is flowing into the lagoon, do be aware that not only could it be fast flowing, but if it is an incoming tide it may be a lot deeper on your return.
Many of Florida’s beach-nesting shorebirds that face conservation challenges can be regularly spotted on Sand Dollar Spit and Tigertail, including the snowy plover, least tern, black skimmer, American oyster catcher, and Wilson’s plover. So please keep your distance and never intentionally force birds to fly or run.
Respect posted areas and don’t feed wildlife.
No two visits are ever the same and you can walk for miles with just the lapping of the waves, the rustle of the seaoats and the cries of birds to keep you company. In our view it’s the best part of the whole beach and is well worth the walk, but don’t forget to take some water with you (it can get pretty warm out there!) and some shelling bags since there are over 200 different shell varieties that can wash up on these shores.
Reserved exclusively for island residents who are members of the Marco Island Residents’ Beach, this beach park is nothing short of sensational. With a multimillion dollar beach pavilion, café and children's’ play area, the facilities here are second to none. If you’re considering buying a home on Marco Island ask your realtor to take you there because a visit to Residents’ Beach should certainly help to make up your mind.
Everything is beautifully kept and absolutely pristine. The parking area (which is also for members only) is separated from the beach by wide sweeping lawns which are liberally scattered with Queen Palms and flowering shrubs. Many large chickee huts provide shade for family gatherings around the picnic tables and BBQs. It’s an easy walk across the boardwalk to the soft white sand where more chickees offer shade for members. There’s even a large raised viewing area for the disabled and a beach wheelchair is always available.
Residents’ Beach is located in the center of the beach at the intersection of Collier Blvd and San Marco Road. Walking south from here will bring you to the more populated areas around the hotels, time shares and condos, while walking north will take you to the unspoiled area west of Tigertail Beach previously described.
Residents’ Beach also has a members only parking lot close to the South Beach public access on Swallow Avenue, just off South Collier Blvd. There are bathroom facilities and a nice grassed area with Chickee huts, a children’s slide and BBQs.
If you own improved property on Marco, or rent for one month or longer you are eligible to join Residents' Beach. Call 642-7778 for membership details, or visit their website at www.marcocivic.com.
Located right at the southwest corner of the island, the South Beach parking lot on Swallow Avenue is a short stroll across Collier Blvd and through a recently updated tree lined walkway to the beach. Parking is free for Collier County residents who display a permit, and $8 for all other visitors. Parking is limited, and a strictly enforced fine of $95 will be issued for cars parked anywhere but designated parking spots, even surrounding streets and swale areas.
The public restrooms in the parking lot are the only facilities although beach chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, hobie cats and windsurfing rentals, are available for rent along the beach. Sunset Grille Beach Bar and Restaurant, which is located in the Apollo condominium (the yellow building just north of the beach access), is open to the public from 11am and is easily accessible from the beach for a casual lunch or dinner.
South Beach is a wonderful place for shelling, beach fishing and dolphin watching and is the most suitable beach for parents with young children or anyone with lots of beach things to carry. There is a drop off point at the access on S. Collier Blvd. If you are looking for a different way to experience the beach, check out Marco Island Yoga’s schedule on the Marco Review App.
MORE BEACH INFO...
If you want to reach the central beach, Turtle Lot is a 90 space privately owned public parking area on S. Collier Blvd opposite Charter Club with access to the beach via the public walkway just north of Crystal Shores. The cost is $12 per day and there are signs directing visitors to the beach, by crossing S. Collier Blvd at Winterberry Drive and then walking south. There is an additional access walkway to the beach just north of the JW Marriott, but because there are no parking facilities (with the exception of two bike racks), it can really only be used by those staying within walking or cycling distance.
Please remember that pets and cycling are not allowed on any of Marco Island’s beautiful beaches and that all public beach access points are only open between dawn and dusk so, unless you’re staying in a hotel or condo on the beach, a moonlight stroll on the sand is unfortunately not an option.
The many uninhabited islands south of Marco offer the opportunity to really get away from it all as they are only accessible by boat or personal watercraft. You can get to them either by renting a boat from a local marina or taking one of several local eco boat tours. Hemingway Water Shuttle, offer a regular service from Rose Marina to Keewaydin, a sparsely inhabited barrier island just north of Marco with a wonderful eight mile long sandy beach. You can rent beach chairs from them and there are food and ice cream boats which service this island too so it makes for a great family outing.
However you choose to get to the beach have fun in the sun and don’t forget your sunscreen and to leave behind only your footprints!
With all the wonderful shells literally ‘there for the taking’ on our beautiful beaches you’re bound to come up with a few you don’t recognize, so use our Beachcombers’ Guide to identify your treasures. You’ll find great shells all along the beach but the area right at the southern-most tip is particularly good as is the area between the gulf and the south tip of the lagoon at Tigertail beach. The north part of the beach is the best place to look for sand dollars. Click here for a guide to help you identify your finds. We also have a great store on the island where you can buy all the supplies you’ll need to preserve your finds and pick up ideas on how to incorporate them into wonderful hand crafted gifts and keepsakes.... You can buy local shells there if you don’t want take the time to find them yourself, and they also have great selections of amazing shells from all around the world. Shore Goods, in Marco Walk Plaza (which used to be known as Marco Craft and Shell Company, and located in Marco Town Center Mall). 239-394-7020 www.shoregoods.store
NAPLES BOTANICAL GARDEN - A unique 90 acre sanctuary with several different eco-systems. The Preserve’s giant pines and ancient cypress, unspoiled marshes and twisted mangroves provide vital habitat for hundreds of species of animals from bald eagles to otters and tree frogs to gopher tortoises. 4820 Bayshore Drive, Naples. 20 minutes from Marco - US41 North towards Naples, turn left on Thomasson. 643-7275
MUSEUMS & GALLERIES
MARCO ISLAND HISTORICAL MUSEUM - Providing a glimpse into the unique past of our area this beautiful new museum is now almost complete. It features the Calusa Gallery which traces Marco's history from its geological formation, through the times of the Archaic Indians, the Muspa and Calusa Indians and the discovery of the world famous Key Marco Cat.. Another exhibit details the development of Modern Marco and a third exhibit, the recently opened Pioneer Room, is an interactive exhibit which chronicles the evolution of the pioneer villages at Marco and Caxambas and offers visitors an in-depth look at the poeple, industries and lifestyles on Marco Island during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Windows & Doors to History exhibition, which has also recently opened, is one of a kind, featuring 24 faux windows and doors depicting vivid scenes spanning 6,000 years of Marco Island history from the Pleistocene, Archaic, Glades and Calusa periods to the pioneer period and modern Marco. Original works of art were created by seven renowned artists for transfer to the faux windows and doors that encircle the outside walls of the Museum complex buildings. Participating artists are John Agnew, Paul Arsenault, Merald Clark, Muffy Clark Gill, Tara O’Neill, Jarrett Stinchcomb and Malenda Trick.
The museum has recently been given approval to bring home on loan some of the Key Marco Calusa artifacts, including the Key Marco Cat, excavated during Frank Hamilton Cushing’s world-famous 1896 archaeological expedition. Hopefully these items will be on display from mid-November 2018.
There's also a great little gift shop and other traveling exhibitions so this museum is definitely worth a visit and a great rainy day activity. Open Tuesday-Saturday 9am-4pm. www.themihs.org. 180 Heathwood Drive. MARCO ISLAND CENTER FOR THE ARTS - Art galleries, classes & workshops as well as a gift shop featuring local artists' work.. www.marcoislandart.org. 1010 Winterberry Dr. 239.394.4221
PARKS & PRESERVES
BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE - Over 700,000 acres of cypress swamp and sawgrass prairie which is home to many endangered bird species and the Florida panther - 45 minutes from Marco.
COLLIER-SEMINOLE STATE PARK - 7,200 acres wilderness preserve. Camping and RVs, canoe rentals, guided canoe tours Mondays, Wednesdays & Saturdays, boat ramp, guided night hikes, 6.5 mile hiking trail, self guided nature trail on boardwalk and interpretive Center. 20200 E. Tamiami Trail, Naples. Take San Marco Road to US41, take right towards Miami and its on your right - 15 minutes from Marco. 394-3397 www.floridastateparks.org CORKSCREW SWAMP SANCTUARY - National Audubon Society owned 11,000 acre nature preserve. 2¼ mile boardwalk through primeval swamp & virgin cypress stand. See wildlife - alligators, birds (nesting wood storks) etc at close quarters. Wheelchair accessible. Take SR951 to Immokalee Rd and head east - about 1 hour from Marco. 348-9151 http://corkscrew.audubon.org/
DING DARLING NATURE RESERVE - See rare birds up close without even leaving your car! It’s about 90 minutes from Marco on Captiva Island but it’s worth the drive. Take exit 131 from I75 and follow signs for Sanibel and Captiva.
EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK - The third largest national park in the US. The closest visitor center to Marco is in Everglades City, where there are boat tours, orientation films and camping - 45 minutes from Marco. (800) 445-7724 www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm FAKAHATCHEE STRAND STATE PRESERVE - 32,000 foot long boardwalk and hiking trail through virgin cypress in the major drainage slough of southwestern Big Cypress Swamp. The original bald eagles’ nest which was visible from boardwalk was destroyed by Hurricane Irma but they have built a new one nearby. This is a great place to see alligators up close and personal, including baby alligators and lots of other great wildlife. Nesting bald eagles are visible from boardwalk. US 41 just before turn off for Everglades City - 25 minutes from Marco. 695-4593 www.floridastateparks.org THE CONSERVANCY’S NAPLES NATURE CENTER - Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, The Conservancy Museum of Natural History, Nature Store, 45-minute guided boat tours, guided trail walks, canoe & kayak rentals. 14th Avenue North, off Goodlette-Frank Road, Naples - 35 minutes from Marco. 262-0304 www.conservancy.org KORESHAN STATE HISTORIC SITE - Guided walks at site where Cyrus Reed started a religious community. Also boating, fishing, picnicking, and nature study. US41 at Corkscrew Rd - 50 minutes from Marco. (239) 992-0311 www.floridastateparks.org
FRANK MACKLE COMMUNITY PARK - Walking, biking, playground, picnic area, soccer, bocce courts, shuffleboard, and indoor games room. Kids’ spray park & two dog parks. Andalusia Terrace, (off S. Heathwood). 642-0575
H P WILLIAMS ROADSIDE PARK - Picnic tables, rest rooms, and a safe viewing platform to watch alligators, fish, turtles and birds. Carry on along Turner River Road, with the drainage canal running alongside, to see more alligators and abundant bird life just feet from your vehicle. On US 41, 6.6 miles after the turn to Everglades City.
JANES SCENIC DRIVE - 11 mile drive on an old hard-packed Cypress logging trail through the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. See bromeliads, alligators, herons, deer, turtles, and butterflies. Park and venture on foot down one of the old logging trails. US41 to SR29, turn left, approximately 2 miles on left.
MARCO EAGLE SANCTUARY - Site of nesting bald eagles since 2003, with adult eagles remaining on the sanctuary property year round. Regularly seen early morning and late evening before dark. The eagles were late nesting this year but now have 3 chicks in the nest. 665 Tigertail Ct.
ROOKERY BAY ENVIRONMENTAL LEARNING CENTER - This facility offers hands-on exhibits and live specimens of the plants and animals that inhabit Rookery Bay, the 110,000 acres of pristine mangrove forest area just north of Marco. 300 Tower Road, off 951, just south of SR41. 20 minutes from Marco. 417-6310 www.rookerybay.org/
10,000 ISLANDS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE - This 35,000 acre refuge is largely wetlands but visit the one mile trail and observation tower to see wildlife and tranquil views across the prairie and swamp grass. Best at sunrise and sunset. Take SR92 to US41 and turn right towards Miami. Approximately 2 miles on right.
NAPLES ZOO - 52-acre botanical garden founded in 1919 with animals from apes to zebras including the big cats. Presentations throughout the day and a boat cruise through islands of monkeys. Allow a half day to tour zoo. 1590 Goodlette-Frank Rd. Naples - 35 minutes from Marco. 262-5409 www.caribbeangardens.com
We’re only a small island, but Marco offers great shopping with lots of great one-of-a-kind stores... we have everything covered right here so there’s no need to go further afield. There are many small malls and stand alone shops dotted around the island but our main shopping centers are:
An up-market shopping and dining area on North Collier Blvd which backs onto Smokehouse bay and offers a marina, three restaurants with waterfront open air seating and an open air bar which often has live entertainment. It is also home to two great ladies' clothing and accessory stores, a ladies' shoe shop and it also has yacht sales, a yoga studio and ice cream parlor.
Located on the north west corner of the intersection of N Collier Blvd and Bald Eagle Drive this plaza houses an outlet store, pharmacy, ice cream, jewelers, beauty salon, pools supply store, surf shop and realtor.
Marco Town Center Mall
This tropical old Florida style mall offers many great stores and restaurants and is the largest open air mall on Marco. It has entrances on Bald Eagle Drive, North Collier Blvd and East Elkcam Circle. Shops include ladies', men's and children's clothing from beachwear to up-market, swimwear, shoes, health food and grocery stores, specialty stores such as a gallery, home goods and accessories and a variety of restaurants.
The courtyard at Marco Walk is the center of night-time activity on the island. Five separate, and very different restaurants, offer indoor and pretty outdoor seating in the central courtyard There’s also a movie theater (where you can enjoy anything from a beer to a full meal while watching the film), and several clothing stores as well as optical, vintage home goods and crafts, spa, nail services, ice cream and real estate as well as a gelato and gourmet chocolate store.
The Shops at Olde Marco
This pretty Key West style area offers an award winning fish restaurant, clothing, fresh fish shop, beauty salon, realty, and several art galleries. It is located on Royal Palm Drive at the northern most tip of the island.
Shops of Marco
Ladies' clothing, post office and gifts stores, beauty salon, dollar store and several restaurants join the island’s largest grocery store in this large shopping mall.
Naples Outlet Collection
Located 6 miles from Marco Island at 6060 Collier Blvd, Naples, FL 34114. Open daily 239.963.6666 6060 Collier Blvd., Naples, FL 34114
Over 140 top designer and brand name outlet stores and a wide variety of restaurants. Exit 123 off i75 on Corkscrew Road. (45 minutes from Marco). 239.948.3766
Eco tours and adventures are, of course, the best way to see the amazing wildlife that surrounds Marco Island, but just strolling on the beach you’re likely to see dolphin fishing and playing just offshore, ospreys and brown pelicans diving for fish and a huge variety of shore birds feeding, and resting on the sands. If you’re here in spring and summer you’ll see the yellow warning tape around sea turtles nests which are dispersed along the beach and if you walk to the northern-most portion of the beach to the Tigertail area you’ll likely see fiddler crabs in the vegetation at the back of the beach. Many different varieties of birds (some of them endangered) nest on the spit of land between the lagoon at Tigertail and the gulf and the area is sometimes closed to the public in the spring and summer to protect them.
Our many miles of canals are home to many species of fish and also endangered manatees. If you look carefully you may see their snouts or tails break the surface of the water as they come up for air, or the tell tail “footprint” left in the water as they submerge. Incidentally the water in the canals may look dirty but it is in fact just stained by tannin which comes from the mangrove trees - it is actually comparatively clean and unpolluted. If you’re lucky you may also see ospreys diving in the canals and returning to their tree top nests with wriggling fish in their talons and perhaps even tarpon gulping air on the surface of the water.
Going a little further afield towards the Everglades you are almost certain to see wild alligators sunning themselves along the banks of the canals which run parallel to US 41. Although their numbers have increased enormously in recent years, they are still seen as an endangered species. This is due in part to the fact that SW Florida is also home to a small amount of salt water crocodiles (there is a small group of them near Marco airport just off the island) which are very rare and not easily distinguished from alligators - to ensure that no crocodiles are mistaken for alligators and killed, the alligators continue to be protected.
Coming to Marco Island and not visiting the Everglades is like going to Africa and not going on Safari... a trip into the Everglades is something you just can’t miss! So here are some suggestions of where to go and what to do....
Take San Marco Road (SR 92) off the island past Goodland (a quaint little fishing village which is well worth a visit on another day as it has some great restaurants, an interesting clothing and jewelry store, as well as a whole lot of character).
Take a right when you reach US41 (The Tamiami Trail) and continue east a couple of miles until see a new parking lot on your right for the 10,000 Islands Wildlife Reserve. You can park here and take an easy walk down a track which takes you away from the road and into unspoiled grasslands and an easy to climb observation tower. In rainy season there’s lots of water to reflect the puffy white clouds floating in the wide blue sky. It’s incredibly peaceful, the landscape is just beautiful and you’re likely to see lots of birds and wonderful butterflies. But do watch out for alligators as we've seen many of them there, as well as river otters.
Getting back on the road your next stop will be Port of the Islands, a little community which includes a hotel, a marina with boat launching facilities and some great eco tour and fishing captains. The majestic Faka Union canal leads from the marina out to the Gulf of Mexico and in winter it’s home to hundreds of endangered manatee who congregate in its warm protected waters. You’re also likely to see lots of alligators, waterbirds and the fishing here is great too.
If you’d like to get out on the water we recommend Capt. Barry, (www.see-manatees.com) who offers 1½ hour private manatee tours (call 239-642-8818) and backwater fishing (239-389-0602),
Now for a little exercise.... Just a little further along US41 you’ll see a sign for Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, where the 2,000 ft long boardwalk provides an opportunity to experience the wonders of a rare ancient cypress forest. You’ll walk close by an American Bald Eagle’s nest, through amazing vegetation to a large and very beautiful pond which is usually alive with birds as well as adult and baby alligators. This boardwalk was badly damaged by Hurricane Irma but re-opened to the public in early November and is still very beautiful. But remember this is the Everglades and bug spray and long sleeved cotton clothing is a great idea.
The excitement of an airboat ride awaits you as you make your way further east on US 41. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of speeding through the shallow waters of the Everglades as alligators slip calmly into the sparkling water and herons, egrets, and maybe even woodstorks, white pelicans and Roseate spoonbills, take flight as they hear you approach. We recommend Jungle Erv’s (1-877-695-2820), which you’ll find on US41 just before entering Everglades City. They have an on site store where you can get a cold drink, use the rest room and maybe buy a souvenir or two and every airboat tour comes with access to their riverside boardwalk (which you'll find if you take a right just before going over the bridge into Everglades City), with an exotic bird exhibit, an alligator exhibit and show and maybe even the chance, if you're brave enough, to hold an alligator.
Everglades City is getting into the heart of old Florida. Once planned to be the capital of Collier County, Everglades City boasts wide tree lined avenues and surprisingly elaborate buildings like the City Hall and Rod and Gun Club. It was also badly damaged with devastating flooding, by Hurricane Irma, but it is certainly still very much worth a visit.
Break for lunch at Triad Seafood Cafe & Market (239-695-2262) for some all you can eat stone crabs. They are open 7 days in season (but closed for much of the summer) and are famous for their "All you can Eat" Stone Crab dinners and their fabulous homemade key lime pie.
The Museum of the Everglades, close to the city’s enormous central traffic circle, offers a fascinating insight into the area’s history as does the Smallwood Store and Museum, an old, amazingly well preserved, Indian trading post at the end of a scenic ten minute drive down a causeway to the shell island of Chokoloskee.
While you’re in Chokoloskee don’t forget to stop by JT’s Gallery (239-695-2630) - which features local art, crafts and books about the area, and maybe book a tour with Everglades Area Tours (www.evergladesareatours.com) 239-204-5344. Their many guided tours, which include boat assisted guided kayak tours, mangrove tunnel kayak tours, birding, photography, walking and fishing tours, offer a fantastic way to get up close and personal with the birds and animals that call this endangered environment home.
On your way back from Chokoloskee stop by the visitor center at The Everglades National Park to learn more about the park, which is one of the largest in the US and is particularly valued for its biological diversity with, over 300 kinds of birds and dozens of endangered species.
Now, if you really want to see alligators in their natural environment return to US41 and head east to the HP Williams Boardwalk. It will take you about ten minutes and on the way look out for the smallest post office in the entire United States.
The short boardwalk at HP Williams is a wonderful place to spot alligators as they sun themselves on the river bank or glide ominously through the dark but sparkling water. After your walk, if you don’t mind getting your car a little dirty, take a drive up the dirt road which follows the path of the river - it can get a little overgrown but you’re likely to see a lot more alligators at really close quarters there - but be careful and remember they can run faster than you over short distances!
Of course just driving through the Everglades is an experience in itself so your journey home will be a joy - it’s not spectacular scenery but it is incredibly beautiful, especially in the evening when the light is soft and the birds are active. Cloud formations out there can be enormous and ever-changing and an Everglades sunset has to be one of the most serenely beautiful things you can ever experience.