Long before tourists roamed the island, the Calusa Indians, a society of fishermen and woodworkers, established a highly developed culture. The Calusas, assumed to be descendants of the Maya Indians, may have come to the island as early as 500 or 1000 AD, but by 1750 Spanish explorers bringing disease had wiped them out.
The famous expedition of 1896 by Smithsonian archeologist Frank Hamilton Cushing uncovered hundreds of Calusa artifacts, including the Key Marco Cat, which is currently housed in the Smithsonian, but the Marco Island Historical Society is fighting to bring it back to the Key Marco Museum.
In 1896, the same year of the big Smithsonian expedition, the first attempts to "vacationize" the island were made by William D. "Captain Bill" Collier, who opened a twenty-room hotel, now the Olde Marco Inn & Suites. Then, in 1922, another Collier, self-built millionaire Barron G. (of no relation to Captain Bill), stepped into the Island's history with big plans to turn it into a tourist destination. Captivated by its natural beauty, Collier had spent the last decade accumulating land in Southern Florida. Unfortunately for him, the Great Depression came along a few years later, keeping the island a small fishing village.
By 1964, the Mackle brothers started turning Marco Island into what it is today. They began the development of beachfront hotels and condos such as the Marco Beach Hotel, now the The Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa, and a more traffic-friendly bridge replaced the old wooden hand-operated bridge that had been the only way to reach the Island. In 1965 Marco Island was ready for its close up, and over 25,000 people came in January of that year to test the warm waters. It was a hit, and visitors have kept coming ever since. Currently the permanent population is around 15,000, reaching 35,000 in the high season of the summer months.
One of Florida's Ten Thousand Islands, Marco Island is situated between Naples and the Everglades. You'll find the most variety in the Everglades Area and Mid-Island.
Two of the best beachfront hotels offering rooms, restaurants, and relaxing pools are The Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa and the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort, which also offers meeting rooms and business facilities. Ivey House Bed & Breakfast is conveniently located near Everglades National Park, and offers discounts on many tourist activities. For something a little more glamorous, visit the Marco Beach Ocean Resort, and be prepared to be pampered. Another seafarer's paradise is Marco Bay Resort, which is located next to Marco Island's largest marina. For poolside barbecues, check out the Club Regency of Marco Island. For a different kind of vacation experience, visit the warm and inviting Ivey House Bed & Breakfast. This B&B is located in Everglades City and is ideal for those vacationers with a love for the wild beauty of Florida's Everglades.
If you're after a more residential feel, check out the affordable Marco Island Lakeside Inn. The Olde Marco Inn & Suites is one of the oldest buildings in southwest Florida, but still offers all the modern comforts of home. For a quaint, quiet hotel next to Marco River with a variety of extras, visit The Boathouse Motel. Marco Island also offers many choices in condominiums. If you want to explore the island's non-beach areas, take advantage of the complimentary bicycles at The Charter Club of Marco Beach. For sailors, the Sunrise Bay Resort & Club boasts a private dock for their boat and, as the name suggests, a beautiful view of the sunrise over the bay.
Marco Island is a smorgasbord of dining. Many of the chefs and restaurateurs here are big city expats from places like New York City and Chicago, with years of experience dealing with high-volume business and upscale cuisine. Marco Island has it all whether you want Italian, French, Mexican, bar food, or steak and seafood.
From authentic delis to elegant restaurants, Marco Island runs the spectrum of Italian restaurants. You'll feel right at home at Joey's Pizza & Pasta House. The products at Italian Deli & Market will inspire you to create your own kitchen masterpiece. If you're in the mood for something more elegant, try Vergina Restaurant or Da Vinci.
Many restaurants in Marco Island offer the casual diner a place to eat anytime of night. Walk into The Bar straight from the beach and no one will give you a second glance. The outside gazebo provides the perfect environment for snacking and drinking. Party the night away at Sand Bar and you won't go hungry. Rookie's Bar and Grill can satisfy any craving for food, drinks, and fun.
In Marco Island, surf and turf is a dietary staple. With fresh ingredients coming in daily from the ocean and local markets, not to mention the high standard of beef set by many establishments, the island showcases some of the best surf and turf to come out of the USA. If it's perfectly smoked ribs you want, stop by Porky's Last Stand. They feature seafood on the menu, but the ribs are the real stars of the show. Captain Brien's Seafood & Raw Bar will leave you coming back for more. You can find all you need and more at Paradise Shrimp Company. The seafood is as fresh here as it was in the sea. If you aren't feeling up to cooking, they also offer meals to-go.
For the freshest seafood south of Myrtle Beach, stuff your face at HB's On The Gulf. All of the fresh ingredients available may inspire you to do it yourself. The Old Naples Pub is a local legend, and always packed with hungry customers looking for the quality food and excellent service.