In June this year, I won a contest and had an opportunity to visit the Florida Keys to share stories from this incredible region. I chose Marathon Florida as a base, since it is situated in the Middle Keys – south of Key Largo, but north of Key West, so that I could explore all the Florida Keys had to offer. From enjoying fresh fish at restaurants, to feeding tarpons to even trying wakeboarding for the first time, it was a wonderful trip, only 2.5 hours away from Toronto by plane. If you’re looking to plan a vacation to the Florida Keys, keep reading for my roundup of the best things to do in Marathon Florida, the best Marathon restaurants and even a mini recap of a Key West Day Trip!
10 Things to do in Marathon Florida
- 10. Enjoy water sports including Kayaking, sailing, snorkelling and fishing
- 9. Visit Curry Hammock State Park
- 8. Try Wake boarding at Keys Cable
- 7. Visit Pigeon Key and see where the Railway workers used to live
- 6. Go to Sombrero Beach
- 5. Feed the Tarpons at Robbie’s
- 4. Catch live music at Dockside Bar & Grill
- 3. Visit the Turtle Hospital
- 2. Catch a Sunset in Marathon
- 1. Bike along the Old Seven Mile Bridge
There are so many things to do in Marathon Florida. Situated in the Middle Keys, you can easily access Key Largo to the North, and Key West to the very south! There are lots of activities in Marathon itself, and I’ve shared some of my favourite activities with conservation, and preserving the local ecology in mind.
Arriving in Marathon Florida – Day One
On our first day in Marathon Florida, after driving in from Miami International Airport, we went to Robbie’s of Islamorada for lunch, where I had a delicious gluten-free grouper sandwich, and dined oceanside with iguanas scurrying at our feet. After we finished our pina coladas, we went over to feed the tarpons. With a bucked of stinky fish, the massive tarpons leaped out of the water to grab a fish. This is a super fun activity near Marathon, and definitely worth checking out!
We then checked in to Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club and relaxed by the pool and beach, with some cocktails at their tiki bar. On our first day of travel, I like to get acclimatized and in south Florida – you definitely need to, because it was very hot and humid in June, so a pool day was a perfect option!
What to do in Marathon Florida – Day Two
On our second day staying in Marthon, we had a packed schedule! We woke up early to drive out to Sugarloaf Key about an hour south of Marathon to go kayaking with Get Up and Go Kayaking. We boarded a clear kayak and got to explore through the mangroves, where you can explore the diverse ecology. We had an incredible time and encountered nurse sharks, starfish, anemones, birds and even a massive sting ray! The tour was over two hours and very physical – be prepared to do some moderate kayaking through clear waters to get out to the mangroves, but once you are there, you can take the magic in, float along in your see-through boat and explore the magic.
Mangroves are vital to ecosystems and they can trap and cyclesvarious organic materials, chemical elements and important nutrients. The mangroves are great places for animals to live, feed and nest and are vital to protecting coastal areas from floods, and they can filter and maintain water quality. Kayaking through the mangroves is incredibly serene, and you can get an appreciation for this vital ecosystem without disturbing the nature.
Afterwards, we visited the Marathon Turtle Hospital. If there’s one thing you MUST do in Marathon, the Turtle Hospital is it. On this tour, we learned about the various turtle species in Florida, including green turtles, loggerhead turtles and leatherback turtles, as well as some of the common reasons why these adorable creatures end up at the turtle hospital – from boat strikes to tumours. The Turtle Hospital was founded in 1986 when the owner converted a roadside motel into a grassroots rescue centre to rehabilitate turtles… partly inspired by the 1980s success of the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!
On the tour, you will learn about the Turtle Hospital’s motto – Rescue, Rehabilitate and Release. The Turtle Hospital intakes sick and injured turtles from all over Florida and beyond, and offers specialized care to help the turtles thrive. We got to see their operating room, where they even have a new laser device to remove tumours from the turtles! We also got to see some of the turtles in their large ponds, and some of their permament residents who cannot be released due to having more serious long-term conditions. However, we learned that these permanent resident turtles have a purpose in that they actually are often blood donors for other turtles! The Turtle Hospital also contributes to research efforts, and we learned that they are researching different turtle blood types.
It was a fascinating, heartwarming experience seeing the efforts of this organization, and the cost of the tour admission goes directly to helping these creatures get rehabilitated. I am personally very weary of certain aquariums and animal activities, so this is a great way for kids and adults alike to learn about conservation and rescue efforts, while also seeing adorable animals. Make sure you book your tour in advance, because they are often full!
In the late afternoon, we visited Keys Cable Park, where you can learn how to wakeboard using a cable pulley system. I’ve never gone wakeboarding, but it was a lot of fun to learn in a controlled environment! I did a few runs, and definitely hit the water a few times. My partner Daniel really enjoyed refining his technique, and it was almost as fun to watch him.
Day trip to Key West Florida from Marathon Fl – Day Three
On Day 3 of our stay in Marathon Florida, we took a day trip to Key West which is about 1.5 hours south of Marathon. We left early in the morning in order to take advantage of a full day in Key West. I loved how walkable Key West was, we were able to park our car in one spot and walk all over the Key. We visited a number of wonderful destinations including the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, the Hemingway Home and Museum and the Harry S. Truman Little White House. A Key West Day Trip is a must when you visit the Florida Keys, since there are plenty of things to do in Key West from museums, to dining, to nightlife to water sports and more! You can learn more about activities and attractions in Key West by visiting the Key West Attractions Association.
We capped off our day trip to Key West Florida with a magical Double Dip Snorkel trip with Fury Key West. It was incredible to explore the beautiful reefs in Key West, with warm waters, colourful fish and lively coral reefs. The 3 hour snorkelling trip which departed at 5pm allowed us to catch the stunning Key West sunset as well. It was truly the highlight of our trip, and I highly recommend taking a sunset cruise around Key West and the Keys in general to experience the warm sunset glow along the waters.
What to do in Marathon Florida – Day Four
We had nearly an entire day on Sunday before our flight back home to Toronto departed at 10 p.m., so we decided to stay local to our hotel and discovered more things to do in Marathon Florida. We kicked off the morning with an incredible, scenic bike ride on the Old Seven Mile Bridge.
This iconic structure, suspended over azure waters, offers a unique blend of history and nature that will leave you in awe. As you pedal along the bridge, you can enjoy panoramic views of the expansive ocean unfold before your eyes, but make sure to stop and take a look below, as we spotted nurse sharks dancing below the turquoise surface.
This 2.2 mile section runs parallel to the Seven Mile Bridge, and was recently reopened in 2022 to be accessible only to pedestrians, cyclists and rollerbladers, acting as a linear park in Marathon. It is incredible to think this structure was built over 110 years ago, and people would traverse this vast overwater section by train down to Key West. Conserving this piece of history and keeping it open to all residents and tourists is remarkable.
You can also stop and visit Pigeon Key, once a bustling hub for workers constructing the Overseas Railway, this tiny isle now offers a glimpse into the past, with preserved buildings and exhibits that narrate the story of its pivotal role in shaping the Florida Keys’ transportation history.
Built in the early 20th century, the bridge exudes a nostalgic charm, transporting you back in time. The bridge connects two worlds, connecting the present with the past and immersing you in the ethereal beauty of the Florida Keys. The bridge is a testament to human ingenuity, and was constructed between 1909 and 1912 as a part of Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railway, connecting the Florida Keys by rail. Serving as a vital transportation link, it survived the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and later underwent renovations. It stands today as an iconic historic landmark that beckons visitors to traverse its path and relive a bygone era.
After our bike ride, we worked up an appetite and headed to Burdines Waterfront for a delicious local meal. With our bellies full, we visited Sombrero Beach, a public beach with stunning white sands and clear crystal waters. If you’re looking for beaches without the red sargassum, we were so pleased to discover this lovely beach, right in the heart of Marathon. Sombrero Beach is also home to loggerhead turtle nesting sites. From April until October, you might get lucky to catch baby turtles make the journey out into the ocean! But even if you don’t catch the turtles, it’s still worth relaxing with a picnic and enjoying the lovely turquoise waters and white sand.
Marathon Florida Restaurant Guide
Marathon has tons of food options in town and in the surrounding areas. If you love fresh fish, good vibes and healthy eats, you will find it here. There’s also many gluten free restaurants in Marathon, and I never went hungry!
Burdines Waterfront is a quintessential tiki bar with sandwiches, burgers, salads and plates. I ordered the tuna sandwich and it was absolutely delicious, with fresh tuna and a gluten free bun. I also had a great pineapple cider to drink, and I enjoyed the great view of the marina and enjoying the shade under the tiki hut.
Keys Fisheries is a great local spot with very fresh seafood. They are famous for their Lobster Reuben sandwich, however, since I’m allergic to seafood I opted for a plate of grilled blackened grouper with coleslaw. It was a generous serving large enough to share, and the cocktails were also very well priced. Daniel had their key lime pie and it was one of his favourites during our trip!
Sunset Grill is a classic place to watch a sunset, however, we didn’t end up eating at this restaurant in Marathon Florida. Unfortunately, Sunset Grill was very busy, and you could only order up at the bar. Since I have allergies, I didn’t feel comfortable doing this and we left. The prices at Sunset Grill are a lot higher than other Marathon restaurants, but the view would be well worth it if you could take advantage of their pool and catch a sunset.
Dockside Bar & Grill at Boot Key Harbour is located near Sombrero Beach on Sombrero Boulevard, and offers a fun environment to grab a bite or brew with live music on the water! I had an amazing salad with fresh sesame-crusted tuna, along with some fun spicy margaritas and piña coladas. We loved the live music, and it was a very fun atmosphere.
Hotels in Marathon Florida – Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club
Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club is located a few minutes east of Marathon on Grassy Key. This new boutique hotel and resort is locally owned and operated, and features 38 guestrooms, with two pools and beachside access. There are so many amenities on site including a poolside/beachside Tiki Bar that served free coffee in the morning and amazing cocktails until the early evening. Grassy Flats also had an on-site restaurants, Barrel & Bale, offering small bites. With free parking and wifi, beachside access and free watersports, there was lots to do in between all of our excursions.
We stayed at the Wreckers House Galleon Suite in the adults only side. The room was so large, featuring beautiful wood details, a canopy king size bed, lounge area and a desk. The washroom was so gorgeous, with brass fixtures, a claw foot tub, two sinks and a large shower. I loved having a large space to get ready in the mornings and the aesthetic was beautiful with the brass fixtures and spanish tile floor. Our room also had an ample balcony with views of the ocean and pool below.
Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club is a sustainable hotel in Marathon Florida, with many eco-friendly initiatives. Instead of plastic water bottles in the room, we received metal bottles, and there is recycling on site for any waste. The hotel uses plant-based detergent, and do not use any pesticides on their landscaping and garden. The hotel also composts seaweed from the beach and will be participating in the Negative Consumption Power Program to contribute to a network of solar power grids to generate enough electricity for the resort and give surplus energy to the surrounding community.
The grounds around Grassy Flats were stunning, with lush gardens, flowers and a lovely beachfront. We spent many afternoons relaxing by the pool and taking in the views of the ocean. As a monstera mom back home, I was so impressed with how large some of these plants could get!
Directions to Marathon Florida
Getting to the Florida Keys from Miami is super easy! You stick to highway 1-South the entire way down. We took an early morning flight from Toronto to Miami International Airport, and picked up our rental car at the airport, which was very convenient. We left the airport and got on the Ronal Reagan Turnpike, drove south on highway 1-S the entire way. We made a pitstop at the Target located in Homestead to pick up some sunscreen (we did carry-on only), snacks, and some wine. We then got back onto HIghway 1 south and it was smooth sailing the whole way in to Marathon. It’s really fun having the water on both sides of your car! It takes about 2 hours to get from Miami Airport to Marathon Florida by car, perhaps longer with traffic or any accidents on the road.
From Fort Lauderdale
We actually ended up flying home out of Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, and made the 2 hour 30 minute drive up from Marathon to Fort Lauderdale. Like the trip from Miami, you take Highway 1 north and the Ronald Reagan Turnpike to get up to Fort Lauderdale. We did hit some traffic, so google directed us up on Highway 905 through “North Key Largo” before getting on the mainland again, and we passed through the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Preserve. Even this detour was very straightforward, but it always helps to keep alert and use a maps app to keep track of any road closures or traffic to save time.
Overall the directions to Marathon and the Florida Keys was super straightforward and an easy, scenic drive along one main highway, with stunning blue ocean waters on each side!
Sustainability and Conservation in the Florida Keys
Conservation is a huge responsibility for tourism – and I was incredibly touched by all the wonderful experiences we had over four days in Marathon Florida. From an ecological perspective, Get Up and Go Kayaking through the mangroves was a wonderful opportunity to see the mangroves up close and personal, encounter a variety of animals and learn through a wonderful guide about the balance in this ecosystem. It was incredibly peaceful and was a great opportunity to reflect about the impact humans can have on nature.
The Marathon Turtle Hospital was also a great example of how conservation and rehabilitation efforts can assist an endangered species that are being directly affected by humans and climate change. We learned so much about how turtles are getting struck by boats, and how the rising water temperatures are affecting the species. We learned that leatherback turtles’ eggs are impacted by this, since warmer water temperatures lead to more female hatchlings. Microplastics and plastic bags also majorly impact turtles – a plastic bag floating in the water looks exactly like a jellyfish, which is a main source of food for sea turtles. Learning about how humans impact nature is important, so it can lead to individual behaviour changes (like only using reusable bags) to larger governmental policy change, like banning single-use plastics. Interacting with these conservation groups is important to not only support their cause financially, but learn about human impacts as well.
Conserving the rich cultural history of the Florida Keys is also an important aspect, and I deeply enjoyed learning about the Old Seven Mile bridge as an infrastructure project that created an entire tourism boom, as well as the incredible historical sites we visited in Key West. I love taking the time to learn about the history of a place and how it influenced architectural styles, urban planning and local industries.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of my long weekend in Marathon Florida. I hope you’ve left inspired with a number of things to do in Marathon Florida to inspire your next vacation. With beautiful waters, incredible nature and good vibes, it was a great place to relax and explore. I’ve created a couple of highlight reels to inspire your trip to Marathon and the Florida Keys! You can also learn more about the Florida Keys and plan your next trip here.