13 Best things to do in Marathon Key, Florida

|   Last Updated on June 2, 2021

— MARATHON KEY, FLORIDA — The Florida Keys consists of more than 800 islands, and Marathon makes up seven of them in the middle keys. At the north end of the historic Seven-Mile Bridge, it is one of the most historic stops along the Overseas Highway.

The combined year-round warm weather and relaxing tropical setting make Marathon a great place to vacation.  If your goal is to spend time with family, relieve your life of stress, and take a break from the city – then Marathon is your go-to destination.

It’s famous for fishing, snorkeling, and boating on the majestic waters surrounding the main island. Marathon also has a unique history, as it was founded by New Englanders in the early 1800s. It still retains the charm of its roots as a 19th-century fishing village.


1. Relax, Unwind & Recharge

Hawks Cay Resort, Marathon Key
©Sharon Kurtz

Looking for a relaxing getaway? Look no further. Hawks Cay Resort on the pocket-sized island of Duck Key is the place.

An ideal destination for a family with kids, the heart of the property is the main pool where everyone gathers for swimming, scuba lessons, and sun-worshipping.

From paddleboarding in the saltwater lagoon to deep-sea fishing in some of the best waters around, it is the perfect way to get the whole family back outside and enjoying endless hours of fun under the Florida Keys sun.

The crown jewel of Hawks Cay is the Dolphin Connection program. The ocean-fed saltwater lagoon is home to a friendly pod of bottlenose dolphins. Unique experiences allow guests the opportunity to view, interact and learn about the dolphins and Florida’s marine ecosystem.

2. Local Seafood Favorites

Marathon Key Seafood
©Angler and Ale

There are many restaurant choices in Marathon, with a variety from fine dining to waterfront seafood spots where you can feast while enjoying the sunset.

Angler and Ale Restaurant on the docks of Hawks Cay Marina is straight off the hook delicious. Overlooking the boats in the marina, this casual and fun eatery is a perfect way to spend an evening while you dig into some of the Key’s favorite dishes. The chefs will prepare the fish you just caught or serve you the freshest seafood you can get, direct from dock to plate. The outdoor dockside dining is a gorgeous backdrop to dig into some of the Key’s favorite dishes. Did I mention the killer key lime pie?

Looking for a perfect choice for a date night? Capturing the essence of island cuisine, the Butterfly Café in the Tranquility Bay Beach House Resort is the place. Savor award-winning tropical cuisine in the upscale, elegant dining room with its soaring ceiling, or dine al-fresco on the outdoor covered patio as we did. The emphasis is on quality, local ingredients, and ocean-fresh seafood with a menu and wine list that changes seasonally. I couldn’t resist slipping away from my table between courses roaming the palm-lined paradise to the beachfront, catching yet one more breathtaking Marathon sunset.

3. Fish in an Angler’s Paradise

©Bob Krist Fla Keys News Bureau
©Bob Krist Fla Keys News Bureau

Marathon is an island nirvana that will meet any angler’s expectations. Tarpon fishing is a favorite here and is one of the most action-packed ways a novice angler can catch a fish. Just hop aboard one of the many fishing charters lined up in the marinas and be prepared to set out on an adventure you won’t forget.

Fishing aboard a charter is easy, convenient, and fun. The captain will know the best places to go for the types of fish you are looking to catch, and don’t worry about licenses and details; the captain will take care of everything. From a half-day outing exploring the waters close to shore or a full-day trip, various trip options will take you out to the reefs and wrecks in the deeper offshore waters.

Reef fishing in Marathon brings an excellent opportunity to catch a wide assortment of prime fish species, including grouper, mackerel, redfish, snapper, jacks, and more. Sunken boats and piles of bridge rubble from the world-famous Seven Mile Bridge are home to huge hungry fish.  Head further offshore for a taste of Marlin, Tuna, Wahoo, and Mahi- Mahi.

4. Award Winning Beach

Bahia Honda State Park
©Sharon Kurtz

Featuring an award-winning beach and historic bridge, Bahia Honda State Park at mile marker 37 is a true gem you can’t miss.

The silky sand and shallow water that extend a long way from shore make this an excellent beach for kids and for snorkeling with gorgeous scenery and picturesque views. The expansive park includes an offshore island and has some of the best beachcombing in Florida.

The only camelback-type steel bridge used on the Overseas Railroad is right here. The deep-water—over 24 feet—posed a monumental challenge for the project engineers that resulted in its unique construction.

Pro Tip: Take the walkway to the top of the bridge for the perfect sunset with panoramic views of the island and shimmering turquoise water.

5. A Seven Mile Bridge

Seven Mile Bridge, Florida Keys
©Laurene Norah Florida Keys News Bureau

The Seven Mile Bridge may well be one of the most well-known bridges in the world, and the highlight of any Keys road trip is crossing it. On the National Register of Historic Places, it was once considered the eighth wonder of the world.

Once the centerpiece of the Florida Keys Overseas Railroad, the Bridge is a historic and scenic landmark.  Stretching beside the contemporary Seven Mile Bridge, it took over four years to construct and was recognized as the longest Bridge in existence when it was built.

Many films and television series have been filmed on the famous bridge over the years, including Mission Impossible III and 2 Fast 2 Furious. The community also organizes a well-known marathon at the Seven Mile Bridge each year.

6. Play on Sombrero Beach

Sombrero Beach, Marathon Key
©Sombrero Beach

One of the best-kept beach secrets in the Florida Keys, Sombrero Beach on Marathon Key, is perfect for families.

The wide, curving sandy beach on the Atlantic Ocean is stunning; the water— turquoise blue. The shady park with towering palm trees is what I picture in my mind when I think of Florida. Add in picnic pavilions, volleyball courts, and a children’s playground, and you have a perfect day. The clean restrooms and showers are handicap accessible, and best of all— it offers free parking close to the water.

Pet friendly, secluded, and quiet, the shallow water is perfect for kids to play in the surf and swim with colorful fish. There are many beach spots in Marathon, but you can’t go wrong with this one.


7. Catch a Sensational Sunset

Marathon Key Sunset
©Sharon Kurtz

There is no better place to see the sunset than Sunset Park Beach in the Key Colony Beach area. I got this sunset tip from a local. It is a beautiful but small crescent-shaped beach surrounded by rocks. The benches under the tall palm trees and a little wooden pier that gets you out over the water for an even better view add to the ambiance. As sunset approaches, a gathering of families and couples relax and enjoy the ocean breezes in happy anticipation of a glorious sunset. The sun’s final dip into the ocean was accompanied by appreciative clapping and a musical accompaniment of the song “Islands of Marathon.” It was a charming end to a perfect day in paradise.

8. Be Lulled by Nature

Curry Hammock State Park
©Sharon Kurtz

Curry Hammock State Park is a unique habitat for many bird species. This untarnished sanctuary will entice even the most seasoned travelers A hidden gem, it is much less busy than other beaches in Marathon; you will have it all to yourself.

It is a beautifully preserved ecosystem of lush mangrove swamps, tropical forests, protected dunes, and seagrass beds with wildlife sighting opportunities. With picturesque views, hiking paths, snorkeling, fishing, and more, camping facilities at this state park are a plus.

A great family destination, the calm water suits all levels of swimmers, and picnic shelters provide a reprieve from the sun.

9. Hike to the Point

Crane Point, Marathon Key
©Sharon Kurtz

Crane Point Hammock Museum & Nature Trail is one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in the Keys, with evidence of prehistoric Indian Artifacts. It includes a natural history museum along with the Children’s Museum. Other features include nature trails, a wild bird rehabilitation center, rainforest, butterfly garden, and flight habitat.

There are spectacular picture-postcard views of the ocean with a breathtaking view of the Florida Bay just beyond the Point. Sit for a while and enjoy the solitude and scenery.

Pro Tip: The hammock forests are a great place for birding while in the Keys, and they have quality binoculars available for loan if you didn’t bring yours.

10. Swim With Dolphins

Dolphin Research Center
©Dolphin Research Center

Dolphin Research Center promotes peaceful coexistence, cooperation, and communication between marine mammals, humans, and the environment. This acclaimed non-profit marine mammal research and education facility has provided sanctuary and a forever home for Dolphins for more than 35 years.

 Interested in marine life and the environment? If so, the Center offers a day-long interactive and learning experience for adults and children.  Swimming with Bottlenose Dolphins, along with interactive experiences such as the Family Dolphin Splash, are just a few of them. Nothing beats the experience of playing with the dolphins.

Fun Fact: Back in the early 60s, the Dolphin Research Center was known as Santini’s Porpoise School. Mitzi the dolphin, who was Santini’s first pupil, was picked to star as Flipper in the original movie, filmed at the school. Mitzi is buried here, where her grave is the first stop on the Center’s public tours.

11. Meet a Sea Turtle

The Turtle Hospital, Marathon Key, FL
©Sharon Kurtz

Take a tour of one of the world’s only veterinary hospitals dedicated solely to sea turtles. Housed in a former motel, the Turtle Hospital has a critical mission: rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing different species of Sea Turtles, including loggerhead, green, hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley turtles.  Over the years, the Turtle hospital has rehabilitated and released more than 1,500 turtles, not counting hatchlings.

A 90-minute tour teaches you all about sea turtles and how this Hospital helps them, walking through the recovery and surgical areas and even the “hospital bed” tanks. In the end, you get a chance to feed the sea turtles for an unforgettable experience.

The Hospital has a well-stocked gift store with all things turtle and an excellent educational interactive area in the front. Reservations are strongly encouraged.

12. Immerse in an Aquatic Experience

Aquarium Encounters
©Aquarium Encounters

The Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters offers unique experiences with some of the ocean’s most stunning creatures. Learn about the local sea life through various exhibits, both indoors and out. Get up close and personal with over 50 different species of tropical fish, marine wildlife, and even sharks.

Touch a starfish in the tide pool tank and feed the stingrays. How about getting into a tank for aquarium diving with coral reef dwellers, stingrays, and much more. Best of all, the trained professionals are with you every step of the way.

This marine facility is more than just an aquarium. Little ones will love the touch tanks and feed the marine animals. In contrast, adults and bigger children will love the chance to snorkel and dive in a reef, swim with stingrays, or even get up close and personal with sharks.

Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters is fun for the whole family and a great way to make memories that last a lifetime.

13. Snorkel a Reef

Snorkeling at Marathon Key
©Rob O’Neal Florida Keys News

Sombrero Reef National Marine Sanctuary and Lighthouse are recognized as the best place to snorkel in the entire Florida Keys, the only place in the US with a live coral reef.

With turquoise water against a baby blue sky, the ocean is alive with hundreds of fish species. It is the third-largest barrier reef in the world and the largest reef in the Middle Keys, located just eight miles offshore.

This beautiful 30-acre coral reef site ranges in depth from 2 to 30 feet, providing a thriving habitat for thousands of tropical fish, vibrant corals, sponges, and other marine life.

Fun Fact: The area’s name is derived from the 142-foot lighthouse on a mostly submerged reef. The nameSombrero Key goes back to the Spanish, and old charts show a tiny island at the spot. Still, by the later 19th Century, the island had eroded away, with some parts of the reef exposed at low tide. The lighthouse was put in service in 1858, automated in 1960, and was deactivated in 2015.

Conclusion

Marathon Key region is approximately a 2.5-hour drive from Miami International Airport and a one-hour drive from Key West International Airport at the southern end of the Florida Keys.

Whether you are a keen bird watcher, hiker, fisherman, or simply looking for a peaceful, natural landscape where you can recharge your soul, this is the place for you. Blending the new and old to ensure a unique experience for each visitor, Marathon is the perfect getaway.

It’s time to discover the fantastic island of Marathon. Don’t take my word for it; come and see for yourself.

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Last Updated on June 2, 2021

Author

  • Sharon Kurtz is a freelance travel writer who shares her passion for travel and food by exploring unique customs, cultures and flavors from around the globe. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and three dogs, but her carry-on is always packed ready for the next adventure. Follow her travels on https://instagram.com/shar_kurtz and https://facebook.com/sharonkkurtz. Read more articles on her website www.Sharonkkurtz.com