This Spring Break, we said see ya to Chicago …
and headed south to Marco Island, Florida …
Marco is a hidden gem as far southwest as you can go in Florida without plunking into the Everglades. It’s a beautiful island on the Gulf of Mexico with a massive network of canals, a relaxed vibe, and sand that feels like flour under your feet.
There are several resorts on Marco, but we prefer to rent a condo on the beach. This year my family rented one with my parents and our friends rented a unit situated one floor above us. The flat cost of condo versus a hotel room is less, plus condos are equipped with a kitchen. This allows you to save on food. We generally eat breakfast, snacks, and lunch at the condo and go out to dinner.
Where to Eat on Marco Island
Favorite Spots for Dinner
CJ’s on the Bay – This waterfront restaurant is set along the canal facing upscale boats and houses. Grab a table outside at sunset and you won’t be sorry. The food is fresh and flavorful and the view of Smokehouse Bay at sunset is spectacular. Spurge on the Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Yum.
Bonus: The kids’ menu has variety and there are many options that are egg and nuts free. This made ordering stress free for Veronica.
Sale e Pepe – This is the spot to dine alfresco on the terrace facing the ocean at sunset. Mid-week my parents offered up a date night to my husband and our friends. My parents watched all five kids (God bless them) so the four parents could slip away before sunset for drinks and dinner. We shared a bottle of Prosecco as the sun sank into the Golf and then feasted on outstanding Italian food.
Two of our family faves are in the heart of the Marco Walk Plaza, across the street from our condo. DaVinci’s touts the only wood-burning pizza oven on the island and the za is quite fantastic.
Nacho Mamas is a casual spot for Mexican. We like to snag a table outside on the piazza and share fish tacos, guacamole, and chips.
Favorite Spots for Lunch
Quinn’s on the Beach – This beach side casual spot is my favorite for lunch. It’s perfect for the first day when you’re sinking into vacation and a two-beer lunch is in order. It’s has a castaway, feet-in-the-sand feel, and you can saunter in beach attire. It’s overpriced, even by Chicago standards, but it’s a keeper due to the location.
Snook Inn – This is a lively outdoor spot that you can drive to or dock your boat at and enjoy some live music, casual food, and drinks.
Favorite Spots for Drinks
Stilts – This contemporary restaurant is located on the beach. It’s wide open to the outdoors with great views at sunset.
Sale e Pepe – See above.
The Beach – Picture this: The kids are running up and down the beach, collecting shells, and writing their names in the sand. You are staring at the tide as the golden orange sun sinks into the gulf. Your feet are buried in the white sand and you’re chatting with friends and family with a drink in hand. To me, this is pure bliss.
Favorite Spots for Dessert
Dolce Mare – This sweet spot got a double thumbs up from both Veronica and Stella. Stella was geeked because my dad quite literally bought her an ice cream cone as big as her head and Veronica was pleased with the service. She said, “The owner knew which ice creams had eggs, which one had nuts, and which ones were good for me. He didn’t even have to look.”
What To Do on Marco Island
I’m completely happy toggling between the beach and the pool all day. There’s nothing I like more than hanging outdoors from sunup to sundown. We stop by Alvin’s Island on the first day and stock up. For $20 – 30 you can get enough buckets, shovels, and boogie boards to last your stay. Tack on a daily umbrella and chair rental and you’re all set.
However, we also like to venture off our regular recipe of beach, pool, repeat and try a few adventures. This year we tried …
Parasailing. Marco Island Water Sports is stationed on the beach in several locations. One morning my mom and I signed up to parasail.
Flying through the air was a peaceful experience. The perspective of the islands was full and we spotted a 6-foot shark and a giant sea turtle from that vantage point. This is us at 400 feet in the air.
My girl V was onboard and took shots and smiled from ear to ear the entire time. The girls flipped a coin to see who got to ride along. Stella was promised next time. Veronica is hoping she’ll be up in the air with me.
Fishing. We chartered a boat to experience offshore fishing. There are many companies docked at the Rose Marina. We took our friends’ recommendation of Enterprise Charters as they had used the company a few weeks earlier with their young daughters. (The husband even caught a shark!)
Despite our desire to catch some grouper 30 miles offshore, we stuck to a few miles off. The wind was fierce and waves were rumbling at three and four feet. Stephen caught three mackerel. I caught a handful of toss backs and came so close to a mackerel. Instead of joining us in the boat, he was chomped by a shark.
The girls caught some small fish. No keepers. It was fun until V got seasick.
Stella and the pelican had front row seats to fish preparation.
She proclaimed she was having none of it. Although in the end, she tried a few nibbles of the mackerel.
The fisherman suggested we lunch at Sand Bar as you could bring your own catch and they’d prepare the filets family style. We used up half the mackerel and my husband saved the other half to grill at the condo with a supplement from Paradise Seafood Marco and a fridge dive to use our must-go’s. Our group sat on the pool patio at the condo building and dined on fresh from the ocean food.
Pontooning. Our friends rented a pontoon boat for the day from the Isles of Capri Marina. My crew of four and my parents hopped on mid-day at Snook Inn after our offshore fishing adventure. It was a treat to tool around the channel, keeping an eye out for dolphins, manatees, and the regional birds. Our friend was comfortable navigating the sandbar-landed islands around Marco and the one we banked on was one of my highlights of the trip.
Dolphin watching. We joined the crew of the Dolphin Explorer and cruised the canals, got educated on dorsal fins, and checked the number of unique dolphins we counted. Many dolphins were attracted to the boat’s wake and we learned about their individual and family histories.
I know, wow! True be told, it’s not my shot. Stella sided up to the captain and got him to give her a pile of photos he took. The four girls coveted this one.
We toured near the mangroves and canals and stopped at a quiet beach. The captain gave the kids bags for shelling.
We had a fun week-long vacation with my parents and our friends. It’s a bonus when your daughters’ choice of friends matches with yours, n’est-ce pas?
Salt Life, I dig it.
Have you been to Marco? Any recs?
Next time I’d like to take the ferry to Key West from Rose Marina and rent bikes to circle the island.