Travel // Marco Island and the Gulf Coast, Florida {Part One}

May 08, 2018

Sharing some photos, and a mini travelogue, from the second part of our Florida trip below if you'd like to see...

After our week in Orlando we drove around four hours South to reach Marco Island on the Gulf Coast of Florida. The whole of the gulf coast, stretching from Tampa down is home to ridiculously beautiful beaches, some of the best sunsets you'll ever witness and some incredible wildlife {think pelicans, manatees and dolphins!}. It's a world away from inland Orlando and the focus is definitely on coastal living compared to Disney.

We first stayed on Marco Island around 10, maybe 15 years back now. My parents first researched it as a destination back then, it's the furthest point South on the Coast before you reach the Everglades, and the island itself {which is pretty big} is such a cool place.

The very first time we visited, we stayed in a hotel on South Beach. But five years ago we rented this villa, and loved it so much that we couldn't wait to return and rent it again this time around. It's owned by a Swedish lady, so the decor is a lot all whitewashed and more slick than your typical American villa rentals. It has a beautiful pool and a dock on the canal along with three bedrooms and a large, airy open plan kitchen/living/diner. I didn't get to photograph the outdoor living area, but we loved the space and it was perfect for us as 2 couples for the week. 

The location really takes some beating on Marco Island. It's walking distance {5 mins max} to two grocery stores - Publix and Winn Dixie along with a CVS, Walgreens, a few shops and restaurants and the main marina. It's about a 10 minute bike ride to the beach so it's one of the few places we've found in America where you don't have to rely on a car for every trip. It's so nice to be able to walk out or cycle.

Pool floats in the supermarket, only in America!

I loved the gardenia bush outside the front door, it smelt so incredible.

On our first evening once we'd arrived and got some food shopping in, we wandered across to the marina to catch the last of the sunset sky and then revisited an old favourite ice cream parlour - Sweet Annie's that had been there since our first trip.

I can never resist a photo of a cool American car. It made us feel like we were in Palm Springs!

The four bikes at the villa were a huge bonus and on our first day we wasted no time in exploring the island.

Our first stop was South Beach, the main beach on Marco Island which must be around 4 miles long? It's huge, and so wide too. This is the stretch where lots of hotels sit behind, so it can be a little crowded at weekends. But we still found plenty of shells even on this stretch of sand. This gulf coast of Florida is famous for it's shell collecting.

So heavenly to dip our toes in the ocean again.

Our favourite beach is Tigertail, further along South Beach, it feels a lot more wild and has a nature preserve behind it rather than the big hotels. Again, it goes on for miles and miles. We were too hungry by this point to explore much but we couldn't wait to come back.

We watched in excitement as a shark was caught by a fisherman {they released it straight up} but then came another, and another. I didn't get a photo of the biggest one but I definitely wouldn't have wanted to have been in the water with them!

Even on our first, very quick visit to Tigertail led us to finding our first sand dollars of the trip. These beautiful shells, the skeletons of an anenome type seacreature, are washed up on these beaches along the coast. It's one of the only places that you can find them in the world easily and we quickly got very addicted to beachcombing the sand for them again. 

With lunchtime fast approaching it was back on the bikes and onto the olde {no joke, they call it Olde Marco as if it's medieval haha, nothing in America is over around 100 years old though right?!} part of the island for Lee Be Fish restaurant for our favourite fish tacos. I love how a destination doesn't change much even if it's been five years since a previous visit. The fish tacos were even better than we'd remembered {and we actually went back twice more that week!}. Everything is caught fresh that day and it's the kind of restaurant/beachy shack that doesn't accept cash and once the fish is sold out, shuts for the day.

Another favourite stop on the island is the Marco Craft & Shell shop for all things shells, even some antiques and beautiful crafts. I could spend all day in here! 

Being self-catering we adored visiting the supermarkets - I think I talked about this in my last Florida post - SO much choice. And so many fun different items to buy - frozen wholegrain chia waffles. Beach themed cakes. Can you tell that I was in my element that week?!

One evening was stormy so we ordered takeaway pizza and I introduced my parents to Queer Eye on Netflix which we then binge watched for the rest of the week when we got home from watching the sunset every evening.

We watched the most beautiful sunrises from the deck of the villa most mornings, and then made breakfast - most days the wholegrain waffles with berries and yogurt - pretty much my most favourite breakfast ever.  

Whilst we loved Marco Island, there's so much to see just up the coast from there. We remembered just how much we loved Naples from past visits and so that was our first day trip - just half an hour up the coast.

 Naples is pretty much the Beverly Hills of the Gulf Coast. Pristine streets, an insanely beautiful beach, a long pier and the sweetest town you'll ever experience. It's just all so perfectly manicured, and don't even get me started on the houses there.

Parking is metered near the beach but if you park just a few blocks inland it's completely free, and only about a 10 minute walk straight down. The main streets are around the pier, and 3rd/5th Avenue.

This beach! 

The soft white sand, the palm trees, it all felt so tropical and like we could have been in the Bahamas or somewhere. I'd forgotten just how beautiful Florida could be.

We spotted a wedding being set up on the sand!

Unfortunately the pier had been damaged by Hurricane Irma last September so half of it was closed during our visit. We'd remembered from our trip before how many fishermen {a lot of them real local American legends} congregated on the pier and we watched playful dolphins chasing the fish. It was a shame this time that it didn't have the same feel and it was a little choppy and windy during our visit. But normally, it's really calm.

After our beach walk we cut up one of the wooden boardwalks to wander into the centre of Naples. Swooning over the beach houses and palm lined streets as we went. The biggest properties lie on Gordon's Drive, it's definitely worth driving to the end for the beach and house views alone. 

A palm tree cut out gate please!

The streets around 5th Avenue are something else. Don't expect regular American shops, this is all high end art galleries, boutiques and Tommy Bahama. 

We stopped at Bad Ass Coffee for a mid morning pit stop. We wished we could have visited when the farmers market was on, I think every Saturday morning, as the whole place comes alive. 

Pelicans at the marina. 

That evening we had dinner at the Snook inn {back on Marco}. It's in Olde Marco and sits right on the water. It's always busy so get there around an hour before you want to eat - especially if you want a waterfront table like we did. But there's a nice open air bar upstairs where you can sit with a drink - and watch the dolphins whilst you wait and most nights there's live music. 

Again, it was a favourite from our previous visit and we actually enjoyed it more this time around. The food {blackened mahi mahi - my favourite when on holiday} was delish and the dolphins and boat sail-bys gave it that proper holiday feel. 

Sitting on the dock of the bay... 

Back with Part 2 next including Sanibel & Captiva island and Miami - I feel like I've photo overloaded enough for one post!

R <3 xx

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