Spend the morning identifying dolphins in the wild and the afternoon on an airboat searching for alligators
If your next family vacation must-have list includes lots of sunshine, beautiful beaches, delicious local food, and tons of activities for kids, then Marco Island, FL, should top your list of places to visit. Whether you want to fly across the water on a speeding airboat or explore a barrier beach for all the shells you can carry, Marco Island offers something fun for everyone in the family.
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Whether you fly into Ft. Myers or take a family road trip to the island, you will love your family vacation in Marco Island, FL. Many celebrities call Marco Island their home away from home, and it is easy to see why with the white sand beaches and epic sunsets. But there’s so much family fun this town has to offer, and we rounded up our favorites.
Best Things to Do on Marco Island with Kids
The Dolphin Explorer
There's nothing quite like seeing wild dolphins jumping and playing in the wake of a boat, and this eco-tour delivers. With over 100 dolphin sightings a year, you're sure to enjoy your family-friendly cruise with The Dolphin Explorer. Both the guide and captain are knowledgeable and happy to answer any questions throughout the tour. After you board the boat, your kids can grab a clipboard and answer questions about the dolphins they see to receive a junior scientist badge. Before returning to the marina, you'll stop at Keewaydin Island to explore the barrier beach and collect intact conch shells and sand dollars. You'll leave with a full shell bag and a souvenir photo.
If you prefer sand-free water fun, Sun-n-Fun Lagoon in Naples, FL is an excellent addition to your vacation itinerary. The tiniest swimmer will enjoy the zero-entry wading pool and splash area for kids under 6. And, of course, everyone will want to float around the lazy river or swim in one of the many pools. With life jackets and tubes available, you won't need to pack as much gear. Also, the lifeguards are very attentive and friendly. When your crew is ready for lunch, head to the parking lot and visit the Chef Global food truck. His gourmet fusion menu is delicious, and the homemade passion fruit lemonade is perfect on a hot day.
Pro tip: Leave your cooler at home, as no outside food is allowed in the waterpark.
Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center
It's rare to find a place where you can visit a mangrove aquarium, hold a sea star and take a stroll across an observation bridge overlooking Henderson Creek, but we found all that and more at Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center. Take a self-guided tour through this educational attraction, both inside and outside. Watch butterflies land on native plants, and learn about local history as you explore the center's trails. Remember to stop by the classroom in the art gallery for an educational DIY craft.
Get ready for a fast and furious family adventure aboard one of the large airboats just outside of Everglades National Park. Nature puts on a show as you race through the swamps filled with alligators and birds with Wooten's Everglades. Knowledgeable guides take you through the mangroves and ensure you get the best view possible. After the airboat ride, walk over to see the alligator show and take your turn holding a baby alligator. Then, stroll through the animal sanctuary where they house and rehabilitate exotic animals.
Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
Don't plan to get too far into the zoo after arriving because your kids will want to stop and climb around on the playground inside the entrance at Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens. It's a great place to stop and eat as there are tables and shade in the same area. Remember to snap a photo of the zoo map, check when you can meet the keepers, and take a boat ride to see the primates. And, of course, everyone will want to take turns feeding the giraffes after you've explored the beautiful outdoor enclosures and exhibits.
South Marco Beach
Known for some of the most beautiful beaches in Southwest Florida, Marco Island delivers the perfect family-friendly beach day at South Marco Beach. With easy public parking ($10 per day) and only a five-minute walk to the beach, you'll be laying out towels and blowing up beach balls in no time. The water is often calm enough to paddleboard, and the white sand is lined with beautiful shells and sand dollars.
Pro tip: The city provides complimentary life jackets along the public beach access available to borrow throughout your trip.
Veterans Community Park
When your kids are ready to burn off some energy, head to the newest park in Collier County, Veterans Community Park, where they can climb on the well-lit playground, skate on the covered rink, or play fetch with your fur baby in Rover Run. So grab your gear and enjoy a friendly game of Pickleball, Tennis, or Racquetball together. Remember to check their website for information on family movie nights and local events.
Where to Eat on Marco Island with Kids
The locals call their food "coastal casual", and you'll want to get a table early to miss the local crowds. This restaurant offers the best marina-side seat in town to catch the sunset over the water, and the happy hour menu is a great way to try a little of everything at a great price. The crab rangoon tops the list of favorites, but your kids will have lots to choose from off the kids' menu.
If you want the freshest seafood, you'll want to order the stone crab (sold by the claw) caught daily at this restaurant. While the restaurant seems rough around the edges, the food is excellent, and the casual atmosphere is perfect after a long day exploring the Everglades. You can even try fried alligator. This waterfront restaurant is the perfect stop after the airboat ride at Wooten's.
Mango's Dockside Bistro
This restaurant offers the best in family-friendly dining on Marco Island. In addition, you can skip setting your alarm on vacation because they serve breakfast until 1 p.m. every day. It's also an excellent place for lunch and has lots to offer on the kids' menu. You can get a great view of the marina at one of the patio tables outside.
Italian Deli and Market
Try this authentic Italian deli for colossal pizza slices and amazing Italian dishes when you've had your fill of local seafood. You can dine in or grab food to go; either way, everyone in your crew will enjoy the food at this restaurant. Remember to stop at the dessert case and pick out a sweet treat made fresh daily.
Where to Stay on Marco Island with Kids
Holiday Inn Club Vacations Sunset Cove Resort
With less than 40 villas, the Holiday Inn Club Vacations Sunset Cove Resort skips the crowds and delivers family-friendly luxury. The three-bedroom Signature Collection Villa offers plenty of space to spread out and family-friendly amenities such as a fully stocked kitchen and an in-villa washer and dryer. Thankfully, you won't need to pack as much gear as usual because you can borrow bikes, pool gear, games, movies, and more from the front desk. And the zero entry pool and hot tub (or your screened-in balcony) are the perfect places to enjoy the gorgeous sunsets over the water.
Are you ready to see wild dolphins? Check this out.
Discover More about Marco Island
Marco Island is the ideal family destination with the perfect balance of epic adventures and lower-key family fun. Check out the Paradise Coast tourism website for more ideas on what to do on your next weekend adventure.
Editor’s note: This trip was hosted by Paradise Coast, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.