Marathon, Florida

Welcome to our Marathon, Florida Travel Guide

Marathon, Florida, between Key Largo and Key West, is the mid-way point of The Florida Keys, a collection of unique islands south of Miami, making it an ideal base-camp. Marathon was a great way to enjoy the small-town vibe, quiet nights, cheaper grocery and gas prices, friendly locals, good road bike options, delicious food with ocean or gulf views, and was slower-paced than Key West. Driving approximately 1 hour each way was worth the quiet escape from the hopping bars and live music venues of its favorite southern sister.

Bahia Honda State Park in Marathon Florida
Bahai Honda State Park

Things To See in Marathon, Florida

Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters – The Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters is an amazing opportunity for everyone in your group to touch and learn about stingrays, sharks, and more. With five encounters (reservations needed), everyone can have close-up encounters with sea creatures. I loved the stingray encounter.  It was fun and joyous to touch and feed the large and small stingrays in the tank that I was in. If getting into the water isn’t for you, there are plenty of other ways to engage with these creatures, including the 5 touch tanks that provide a sensory experience, you can buy food and feed a variety of animals with special food-feeding sticks, seven interactive stations like Stingray Cove, Big Shark Bay, Giant Isopod Touch Tank, Coral Reef Tank, Predator Reef Tank, Nursery Tank, and Tidepool Touch Tank, 11 daily biologist-led presentations from 10am-04:30pm, and seven free guided educational tours all allow for explorative learning.

Dolphin Research Center – The Dolphin Research Center (DRC) offers nine ways to experience the dolphins. To say that I was impressed with this facility and their trainers would be an understatement. Their dolphin enclosures sit right in the natural gulf waters and DRC has breakaway nets in all of their enclosures, which means that no animal can be injured due to an enclosure net issue. The dolphins are not captive, they can jump over or breakaway from the enclosure and leave at any time. Also, all training moments are what I call command-requests, because no animal is forced to do anything or perform. The animals have plenty of engagement with each other, human trainers and visitors to ensure they are socialized, having fun, and getting lots of love and kisses. I’ve never seen dolphins at a facility that looked so happy! If you book an encounter, read the fine print. They often do not allow pictures from the docks, and they are serious about this. We booked the Play with Dolphins experience and it was a life-highlight.

The Turtle Hospital – The Turtle Hospital is a small but mighty facility saving the lives of turtles each day, releasing them when possible, and educating their many visitors. Their education programs include how we can be better humans and learn the dangers of straws, fishing line, plastic bags, cigarette butts, and the warming of our oceans, which create fibropapillomatosis, a disease where tumors grow on the sea turtle. They have permanent and nonpermanent residents, releasing turtles when they can. They typically do announce their releases at the nearby beach. It’s quite an amazing moment to watch, as the turtles pull their way toward the glistening waters, and into freedom. Check their Facebook page for future releases.

Sombrero Beach – One of my favorite beaches, Sombrero Beach is a soft white crescent sand beach, with plenty of sand to lounge, trees to tie a hammock, a picnic area to BBQ and dine all day long, with clean bathrooms and changing areas. The beach is open 7 days a week from 7am to dusk. There is a lot of parking, but on turtle release days and weekends, it can take a while to find a spot. April through September, the beach is a turtle nesting area but only takes up 10% of the beach area. There is no fee to access this beach, which is not always the case in The Keys. The water was so clear it didn’t seem possible to see so far down. Bring your kayaks, body boards, and paddle board. There is little shade on the beach, though you can catch a sun-break under the picnic areas.

National Key Deer Refuge – A short drive south from Marathon, FL, to Big Pine Key, you will be amazed by the tiny deer that inhabit this key. Key Deer, are very small, not larger than 38 inches, having adapted to their salty environment, are endangered, along with 15 other animals like the marsh rabbits, box and marsh turtles. The visitor’s center was closed due to COVID so check if it’s open before you go, and not via their website. Drive down Overseas Highway and turn right on Key Deer Blvd. Drive down several miles until on the right side you will see a parking lot and National Refuge signage. The first trail is Blue Hole Observation Platform. There is a very short paved and non-paved path that will only take you a few minutes to walk round-trip. At the freshwater observation platform, look straight down and you’re likely to see the resident American alligator. Laws protect these animals from feeding and harassment. Back into the car and drive a little farther down the street and you’ll see another parking lot with two trails, Mannillo, an in and out trail, and Watson trail, a short loop. Both trails are not shaded with crushed limestone paths, surrounded by exceptional local terrain “through pine rockland, freshwater wetland and hardwood hammock habitat”. There is a local tree called a poisonwood tree which has oils like poison ivy, so be aware of what it looks like. The town and surrounding Keys are very serious about protecting their endangered animals. Be sure to observe lower nighttime speed limits.

Bluewater Adventure Catamaran Tour – Located in Islamorada, a short drive from Marathon, FL. One of the most fun excursions I’ve had on our travels has been the Catamaran Tour. That’s right! You get your own mini-catamaran to speed through the open ocean. It was a rush! I’ve never driven a boat, and I found the basic function of the turn and speed features easy to use. Gregg and I each had our own boat, as the price was the same either way, so we could each experience the fun of driving. Be sure to wear old tennis shoes or water shoes, because as you are flying through the ocean, the water will float over the pontoons on either side and you will get wet. Be sure to bring sunscreen. There is a dry box on the boat for keys, phone, wallet, and water, but I found it difficult to drive and use it. The captain we had was aggressive when it came to keeping the boats together and in a straight line, so there is little opportunity to get side by side with anyone in your group. The tour was a full two hours and was simply an extraordinary experience. Be sure to stop at the World Wide Sportsman (part of Bass Pro Shop), as you depart your tour, for any need swim or water sports gear.

Crane Point Museum and Nature Trails – The pet friendly Crane Point Museum and Nature Trails, was well worth the paid admission. Sixty acres of well-manicured native terrain with crushed limestone or shaded deep-woods dirt paths, boardwalks, and platforms offer a variety of ways to experience this unique nature venture. My absolute favorite part was the (included) fish pedicure. An obscure dock sits adjacent to a tidal pool where you can plunge your feet into the water and have the free-swimming fish cater to your toes. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was so ticklish. Birding opportunities are plentiful between wild birds searching for food and the Wild Bird Center which specializes in rehabilitation, rescue and release. The Adderly House, a traditional house found in the area in the 1890s, tells the story of the difficult circumstances that residents experienced. The heat forced them to keep their windows open to promote air circulation, leaving them helpless to the army of mosquitoes in the area. Guided tours of the property are available.

Aquarium Encounters
Alise at the Dolphin Research Center
Turtle Hospital

Bahia Honda State Park – The shallow emerald green waters, surrounded by stunning white sand beach, beckons you to swim, jump into your kayak, or hop on your board. Be aware, the narrow sand beach, in some places, is hardly wide enough to place a towel at high tide. For a small entry fee, there is plenty of parking, though the park fills up on weekends and holidays, when it reaches capacity, the park will be closed. You can make reservations online. The large gift shop has a snack bar which sells very basic sandwiches and drinks, also has an activity desk which rents kayaks and snorkeling gear. Picnic tables with grills are a great place to escape the sun’s rays, but the true test will be can you escape the shore birds begging for scraps. There is a single short walking trail including up to the Old Bahia Honda Bridge providing a panoramic view and excellent view of 7 Mile Bridge. Scuba diving and snorkeling is permitted with rented or personally owned equipment. Their gift shop sports decent swim and beach attire and vacation gifts. You can bike the 3.5 mile road that runs the length of the park, but it isn’t particularly scenic.

Curry Hammock State Park  – “Situated along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail and the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, Curry Hammock is a birding and paddling paradise.” Fall is the best time to see peregrine falcons, and Aug-Nov are hawkwatch months, a birder’s paradise, along this white sandy beach slice of heaven. Hiking is not located within Curry Hammock State Park, rather a mile south of the park entrance with no bathroom services. Kayak or paddleboard on your own, or kayak with a tour, sporting personal or rented equipment through mangrove to a sandbar. Kite boarding is also permissible. Seagrass snorkeling offers abundant sightings of some of Florida’s most interesting sea creatures. Star gaze in the blackened sky and becomes part of the greater cosmos as the water laps ashore.

Tilden’s Scuba Center – Something for everyone 8 years old and up in one convenient stop is Tilden’s Scuba Center’s specialty. SNUBA allows you to experience the magic of the underwater world teeming with sea life, without the heavy tank and lengthy certifications. Twenty-feet down, into this “Life Zone” you’ll be at ease with this guided experience. Want to get certified on your vacation? What a better place to do it, and with Tilden’s Scuba Center you can do it in 1-3 days. Just choose from the variety of lesson options that fits your needs. Night dives, wreckage dives, and reef trips are offered regularly and enhance your underwater experience.

Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary  – I loved the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary (LQWBS) because I’m a ‘crazy bird lady” and because the 40 species of birds housed here, I was able to see birds that I don’t often see in the wild. The LQWBS open sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year, with two daily pelican feedings, houses over 90 non-releasable birds, but these amazing bird-angels have a bird hospital a few miles away, which has a gift shop and education center. The smallish parking lot leads into the sanctuary’s round-trip path with boardwalk for a requested monetary donation of $10 per person in lieu of an entrance fee. The work they do there is imperative to the survival of the birds, often injured by human interactions. Pets are not allowed. If you fall in love with one of their feathered residents, you can always adopt, which includes special mementos of your feathered friend.

Sunset Park – Located in Key Colony, this small, but incredibly beautiful park is the ideal place to grab some fruit, cheese, and wine to watch the sunset. There are tables and benches, but if you don’t get there early you might have to stand. Sometimes live music is played and the crowd is given sing-along music to participate. The newly installed bathrooms are high quality for outdoor facilities. There is little beach and swimming is not allowed due to the transition to deep water quickly and the large rocky ocean floor.

Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanct
Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanct
Sunset park in Marathon Florida
Sunset Park

Places to Eat in Marathon, FL

The Florida Keys are known for outdoor dining, spectacular sunset views, seafood delivered same-day from the waters, and the musical sounds of rustling palm trees and cocktails being shaken not stirred.

Burdine’s Waterfront Bar & Grill – Burdine’s Waterfront Bar and Grill has the best Fried Key Lime Pie. We went back again and again for more of this exceptional, frozen key lime pie wrapped in a pastry and fried to warm steaming perfection. The spectacular view of the setting sun with the warm breeze blowing through this outdoor haven, highlighted our favorite culinary delights including the cheesy hushpuppies spread with raspberry jalapeno sauce and BBQ wrapped large shrimp, which were so large, I think the kitchen has a gym. The staff was friendly and prompt.

Butterfly Cafe – Located at the Tranquility Bay Resort, the Butterfly Café leads you through a metamorphic journey from an array of appetizers to the main course, that defines the outdoor fresh-food dining experience Florida is famous for. Reservations are highly recommended.

Lazy Days – Award winning, Lazy Days Oceanfront Dining, located in nearby Islamorada, offers a place to put your toes in the sand, wade in the lapping tropical ocean waters, step to higher ground for a vast ocean view, and dine on the highest quality of fresh seafood you’ll find in The Keys. They will even prepare your own catch! No matter your entrée, I highly recommend the daily house made banana bread. Get a few orders to go, and enjoy it again and again for breakfast. It’s all delicious! This pet friendly restaurant is always packed, and we waited 45 minutes for our table in the middle of the week and the middle of the day and it was worth it!

Steak and Lobster House – Award winning Steak and Lobster House is an upscale indoor dining affair. The artistically curated sushi, steak and seafood plates will leave you breathless and the button on your pants begging to be undone. There is a separate menu section for vegetarian and vegan dishes, a truly inclusive menu. Just when you think it can’t get more perfect, you can have a Stonegrill dining experience, allowing you to do the cooking right from your table. Reservations are recommended.

Sunset Grille and Raw Bar – Where can you dine, swim and look at an emerald green ocean while sipping on Electric Margaritas? The Sunset Grille and Raw Bar brings the party food to the pool party. The sunset and 7 Mile Bridge views stun as the backdrop to the temperature regulated all-season oceanfront pool.
Blue Water Adventures in Marathon Florida
Blue Water Adventures in Marathon Florida
Key Deer Refuge in Key West
Key Deer Refuge

Places to stay in Marathon, FL

A private home, a private island, or private beach house are what Florida Keys dreams are made of. With the water steps from your door, why wait to set sail in your kayak for the open waters and celebrate this day of life and connect with the healing powers of the emerald waters and white sand beaches.

Waterfront Home – The best way to enjoy The Keys is from this clean, well-hosted two-bedroom dock-side home (duplex). The home has plenty of parking in front, two kayaks with life vests for morning trips leading directly to the ocean or multiple mangroves, and a screened porch that became our living room, I can’t imagine our trip without this quiet retreat. Club access is available to enjoy golf, tennis and other sports.

Tranquility Bay Beachfront Resort – Meditate from the porch of your beach house, bringing yourself into tranquil harmony, while the rustling of the swaying palm trees awakens you and the tropical waters call you to join this water paradise, at the Tranquility Bay Resort. Begin your vacation with an in-room spa treatment (no external facility), an afternoon game of sand volleyball, a day of kayaking and snorkeling, an evening in the sunset gazebo, and a meal that will remind you there is no reason to leave the resort, unless you just want to.

Hawks Kay Resort – Award winning Hawks Kay Resort, located on Duck Key, a few miles north of Marathon, FL, is the respite you’ve been searching for. On this quiet, more private island, easily accessible by land, you’ll find six restaurants and bars, four adult and family pools and a lagoon, tennis court, putting green, a salon, spa and fitness center, and a multitude of water activities. Don’t stress about capturing pictures from your trip! Let the staff of Hawks Kay Resort take care of that for you! A photo session capturing the relaxed, connected, and rejuvenated “you” that’s emerged again, with your everyday Valentine or family. Rent a cabana for the day, lounge by the pool, and read that book you’ve been putting off. Heading off property for a day of watersports? Get a delicious boxed lunch to go! Don’t stress the details here, they have you covered!

Little Palm Island Resort & SpaCondé Nast and Travel and Leisure 2021 award winner and America’s only private island resort, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, is the treasured respite you deserve. This luxurious experience includes your own thatched roof suite with stunning ocean view- when you’re on an island, what is there to get in the way? You’ll slumber in the silence in a four-poster bed, ground in the outdoor shower, upgrade to an outdoor patio, fire pit or outdoor soaking tub. Calm radiates from tip to tip of this island utopia. When it’s time to emerge, snorkeling or kayaking through the Great White Heron Sanctuary, scuba diving, eco-tour, learning to sail, the on-property spa or fitness center, or a seaplane ride might be on your list. Your body will be nourished by a world-class chef, along beachside tables, indoor and outdoor seating or have it delivered and keep the spark burning. Complimentary valet parking is offered on the mainland at the Welcome Shore Station located at 28500 Overseas Hwy, Little Torch Key, FL 33042 and ship to shore yacht transportation is provided throughout the day.
Kayaks from Airbnb
Kayaks from Airbnb
Bahia Honda State Park
Bahai Honda State Park

Seasonal things to see and do in Marathon, Florida



Curry Hammock State Park  – fall falcon season. Curry Hammock also hosts the Florida Keys Hawkwatch! August to November, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

How to Work to Travel

Everything you need to know about traveling


Marathon was the ideal road cycling basecamp, situated between Key Largo and Key West. This central location was optimal to vary rides based on wind direction, to gain the “push” home, when possible, with long distances available both ways. Gregg had the pleasure of riding from Marathon to Key West twice, and thought it was a trip highlight.

Prior research led us to believe that there was a continuous adjacent trail that ran from Key Largo to Key West, but that was not the case at all. The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail boasts “90 linear miles of multi-use trails”. There are a few key points to know before you go. The optimal path for bikers is not marked. At times, the trail could be on the left side of the highway, and then suddenly it’s on the right side, requiring you to cross four lanes of heavy traffic in a zig-zag fashion over the course of the ride. On this “trail” the path could divert to what could be described as a pedestrian bridge, sharing a small space with walkers, people fishing and large birds roosting on the railing in some parts. For example, Gregg thought he should get onto the path, running adjacent to the highway, but that path deadened and he had to turn around and bike back, find the right path, again, usually on the other side of the road. Overall, the emergency lane, also marked as a bike path, of the Overseas Highway was relatively clean, free from debris, and the space was respected by drivers making his trips to Key West fun and exciting, especially going over 7 Mile Bridge. Gregg feels that riding over the 7 Mile Bridge was a rush, with the crystal-clear waters of the Atlantic on one side and the Gulf on the other, with the ability to see to the bottom of the ocean floor. Even for seasoned bikers, a tiny white line on one side and a rail separating you from the open ocean with cars speeding by at 50-70 mph can be intimidating, though stunningly beautiful.

The Overseas Highway is tight in some areas so safety gear such as back lights, radar and other equipment is recommended for improved visibility. Also be aware that to ride through the state parks along the way, they do charge you for entrance fees, however in most cases, there is not enough road to make that a significant addition to the ride. I will also say that throughout our travels, Florida had the most bike accidents that we saw with our own eyes, then any other place, despite clearly marked bike lanes (at times). If this sounds daunting, check out Key Largo Bike tours which offers guided tours, which might build the confidence you need to know where you’re going, or purchase their self-guided tour ebook (for a fee) so you can plan your trek.

If you’re looking for an easy quiet ride on flat terrain, I highly recommend National Key Deer Refuge, located south of Marathon to Big Pine Key.  Not only are you likely to see the endangered Key Deer, not larger than 38 inches, but you will have a separate paved path for an extensive period. To get there, bike down Overseas Highway (zig-zagging as needed) and turn right on Key Deer Blvd. Continue on Key Deer Blvd until it deadens and then you are coming back out the opposite way. If you just wanted a shorter ride, you could park at the trailhead for the Blue Hole Observation Platform. Please note the Refuge Visitors Center was closed when we were there and this may still be the case. If it is open, that would be a better place to park to give you more distance.
Key Deer Refuge Trail
Key Deer Refuge Trail
Gregg cycling in Key West
Gregg rode from Marathon to Key West

Virtual Vacations

If you want to experience The Keys right now, you can hop on the audio tour at Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters.  This narrated tour of the facility will allow you to plan just what you want to see.

The Dolphin Research Center provides a private at-home encounter, Zoom With A Dolphin, the ultimate virtual experience. You can further contribute to the care of the dolphins by sending a special e-card to a friend or loved one. Can you spot a dolphin trick on this webcam? On their Facebook page, you can catch Live streaming events, amazing pictures, and educational facts about dolphins.

Best In Show

When you’re in paradise and everywhere you look is something you’ve dreamed of, it’s hard to pick the best. My Best in Show is based on convenience, accessibility, fun, and location. From an extraordinary encounter, to the best fried key lime pie in The Keys, to a retreat with a private boat dock, this trip will be a lasting memory.

Things to Do Dolphin Research Center – The Dolphin Research Center (DRC) offers nine impressive ways to experience the dolphins. Being that close to such a supremely intelligent water-creature in such an intimate way really impacted me. The other impactful moment occurred when we met several dolphins with physical traits including partial fluke (tail) and fins, or scars. We met Aleta who has a hole in her right tail fluke. The gift shop sells laser-cut dolphin fluke necklace pendants, which includes each of their unique anomalies.  We also saw a plush toy of a dolphin created in this same way, creating a level of inclusion for human visitors with a similar amputation or residual limbs to see themselves and relate to these animals more deeply. I thought this important step of further inclusion just made me love them all more! Lastly, the DRC houses parrots, mostly from people that passed away before their birds, or other reasons. One such bird, known as Blue, is a master a peek-a-boo. Please stop by his enclosure and play a game with him. Tell him I said HI. We booked the Play Experience with Santini and Aleta. It was incredibly joyful. I will forever remember giving dolphin kisses, and getting splashed by them.

FoodBurdine’s Waterfront Bar & Grill – Casual, easy, and fast, Burdine’s Waterfront Bar and Grill, home to the best Fried Key Lime Pie, offers a spectacular view of the setting sun with the warm breeze blowing through this outdoor haven. The food was delicious and the comfort food you’ve been saving calories for. Go all in here! You’ll be glad you did.

AccommodationWaterfront Home – The home that feels like your own resort, but without valet or resort fees, is the best way to enjoy The Keys. This two-bedroom dock-side home (duplex) boasts plenty of parking in front, two kayaks with life vests for morning trips leading directly to the ocean or multiple mangroves, and a screened porch that ensures your quiet and intimate party doesn’t have to end at sunset. I can’t imagine our trip without this quiet retreat. Club access is available to enjoy golf, tennis and other sports.

Dolphin Research Center- Play Experience
Dolphin Research Center

Alise’s Favorites and Suggestions

Be sure to wear sunscreen. In most activities, you’re in the open water and sun overexposure is easy, even in winter months.
When walking on the beach, close to the water’s edge, be aware that you could easily step on a jellyfish. Each time I walked a shoreline, I saw more than one translucent small jellyfish that I could have easily stepped on. I wore water-shoes when playing in the ocean.
When renting water equipment, call ahead and check wind speeds and availability. We planned to rent kayaks from a state park, only to arrive and find out they were not launching due to high winds. To be honest, it didn’t seem like a high wind day to us. Verifying before you go will save your disappointment if they are closed for the day.

Florida is infamous for their hurricane season. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit during this time; it just means you can be prepared and know what to do.

Marathon city officials have identified fraudulent vacation rentals advertised via Craig’s list, so I do not recommend booking from there.

Campers have noticed that Florida is upgrading its electrical grid and facilities are seeing an increase in utility vehicles using the grounds as their base of operations, sometimes displacing visitors.

I will say that in general, I didn’t think anything north of Key West was inherently beautiful other than the water. The buildings sustain high winds of hurricanes each year and that amount of battering leaves the towns grey and rundown. Restaurant exteriors often caused us to pause and consider if we should eat there, until we got inside, because so many seemed like shacks, but that is also the so-close-to-the-Caribbean-vibe.  I felt like TV shows, books, and other travel magazines romanticize the beauty of The Keys so I was confused and disappointed at first. I recommend focusing on the stunning waters, the fun activities, and the connection with nature all around you.

Florida Trips


These items will make your travels memorable.

Lightweight 2-person Hammock with Removable Bug Net, Tree Straps & Tarp
Tifosi Jet Sunglasses
Solar Charger
Chair the Size of a Waterbottle
Silicone Collapsible Water Bottle 26oz
Dry Bag- Many Colors and Sizes

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