At the top the Jolly Bridge, linking Marco Island to the mainland, and you’re likely to marvel at this 14-plus-square-mile island. From this vantage point homes seem flush with the surrounding water and the view carries west for miles. At street level however, Marco Island welcomes with all of the tropical magic that attracted the first population explosion in the 1960s—well-manicured landscaping and tropical homes set against canals, the Gulf and the city’s various inland waterways.
Water brought the first settlers to the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands in the 1870s and continues to attract today’s new residents—mainly part- and full-time buyers who want a boat in the back yard and a carefree island lifestyle without sacrificing convenience and amenities—top shopping, restaurants and on-island healthcare.
Marco Island’s earliest settlers were the Calusa Indians, whose hand-carved works, including the most famous—the six-inch wooden Key Marco Cat—have been uncovered during archeological digs. The presence of these primitive people is still felt in Marco’s Caxambas section at the south end of the island, where a 50-foot shell mound creates the county’s highest point above sea level. It’s now home to the Estates and Marco’s highest concentration of multimillion-dollar single-family homes. As recently as the late 1800s, Marco Island was merely a point on the map. The island wasn’t really inhabited until after the Civil War and the arrival in the 1870s of homesteader William Thomas Collier (no relation to county patriarch Barron Gift Collier). Collier is credited with founding Old Marco village, located at the north end. His sprawling home site operates today as the Olde Marco Inn, and several Collier-era structures still stand.
Marco Island has six miles of beaches, six city parks, designated biking trails, upscale shopping and dining at the waterfront Esplanade, and a number of well-regarded spas and restaurants in resorts dotting the Gulf of Mexico, including the four-diamond Marco Beach Ocean Resort. Marco is a city, voter approved in August 1997, and by best guesses is expected to reach build-out around 2010. About 300 new homes are built each year.
Sixty percent of Marco Island’s homes are on the water—the Marco River, the Gulf, canals and surrounding bays and estuaries. Offerings include multimillion-dollar estate homes, efficiency condos starting in the mid- to high-$100,000s, time-shares and decent single-family homes. Most are within walking or biking distance of Marco’s beaches.
Tigertail Beach, on the island’s north end, offers five boardwalks, a bathhouse, concessions, beach rentals, volleyball and views of Sand Dollar Island, which has the largest concentration of shorebirds in South Florida. Resident’s Beach, at the intersection of Collier Boulevard and San Marco Road, has chickee-hut-shaded picnic tables, restrooms and a children’s play area, and South Marco Beach is found on Collier Boulevard.
Other public facilities include the Collier County Racquet Center, Frank E. Mackle Jr. Community Park and Caxambas Park.