Skip to main content

Marathon, Florida Keys

Whether you’re a brand-new diver or an old salt, traveling solo or with the whole family, if you want an exhilarating playground for your vacation, you’ll find your perfect match in “the Heart of the Keys.”
By Patricia Wuest | Created On December 6, 2023
Share This Article :

Marathon, Florida Keys

 A lighthouse in the ocean

Sombrero Reef, located just a few miles offshore from Marathon, is part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Marathon Is a Perfect Match For ...

Experienced divers who have come to the Keys for its wreck diving — the Thunderbolt is the signature wreck here, and it’s a haven for big pelagic species.

Families who want the choice of a variety of accommodations and family-fun attractions.

New divers who are hoping to gain confidence underwater — the shallow sites here are mellow, sun-dappled reefs with a ton of marine-life diversity.

A group of people on a boat

Beyond diving, Marathon boasts beautiful beaches and opportunities for various water activities, like boating.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

The site of some of the oldest communities in the Florida Keys — some of the early settlements have roots that can be traced back to the 1800s — Marathon is located in the middle of the island chain. This stretch along the Overseas Highway includes Vaca, Grassy, Deer, Fat Deer, Boot, Knight, Hog, Stirrup, Crawl and Little Crawl, East and West Sister’s Island, and Long Pine keys. Marathon incorporated as a municipality in 1999, just one year after Islamorada, and the city’s infrastructure began to boom.

Marathon: Fun-Loving, Fascinating and Friendly

As businesses, restaurants and parks began to multiply, its appeal to families also grew. Of course, divers needed no introduction to these keys — scuba diving was already an established part of the fabric of life here. Once you spend a dive vacation here, you’ll discover why Marathon is called “the Heart of the Florida Keys.”

A close-up of a wreck

The Thunderbolt wreck, intentionally sunk in 1986, is a notable site for wreck diving enthusiasts.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Diving in Marathon

Advanced divers jump at the chance to dive Marathon’s signature wreck, the Thunderbolt, a 188-foot-long former World War II cable laying ship that’s among the oldest wrecks in the Keys. It was purpose-sunk in 1986 in about 120 feet of water and has become an ocean oasis for schooling fish such as amberjacks and migrating tarpon. Divers with wreck-diving certification can do some limited penetration; the swim-throughs are all fairly wide open.

The shallow patch reefs of the Coffins Patch Sanctuary Preservation Area offer some of the best beginner diving in the Middle Keys. A kaleidoscope of colorful fish will swirl around you — tangs, jacks and butterflyfish — and you may also encounter nurse sharks and curious moray eels. The corals here are amazing too, with some of the prettiest patches of boulder and pillar corals found in the Keys.

Sombrero Reef is another easy-peasy site for new divers. You’ll take a plunge in swimming-pool conditions, with clear water and corals and fish surrounding you, in just 10 feet of water. This is the ideal place for beginners to spend long bottom times perfecting their skills, and it’s a sublime spot for snorkelers, too.

 A person and person in a kayak

Sombrero Beach is a popular spot for sunbathing, picnicking, and enjoying the turquoise waters.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Topside Fun in Marathon

When you visit Marathon on a family vacation, you will never hear the kids say, “There’s nothing to do here.” That’s because there’s a smorgasbord of fun and fascinating diversions. Take the budding marine biologist in your group to the Turtle Hospital, a veterinary hospital for sick and injured sea turtles. At Grassy Key’s Dolphin Research Center kids can enjoy educational experiences at several saltwater lagoons that are home to dolphins and California sea lions. They can also swim with a pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat at Hawks Cay. Let them immerse themselves in several marine animal encounters at the Florida Keys Aquarium, including nurse sharks and stingrays.

Take in the amazing views while walking, running or biking across the old 7 Mile Bridge connecting Marathon to Pigeon Key, a tiny island that has a rich heritage, history and museums. If you want to skip the exercise, you can also book a trip aboard the Pigeon Key Express trolley.

Or head to Sombrero Beach on the Atlantic Ocean, the epicenter of loggerhead turtle nesting (April-October). It’s also a great place to plan a picnic lunch — there are pavilions, volleyball courts, restrooms and showers.

At Curry Hammock State Park on the ocean side of Little Crawl Key, you can rent kayaks and explore the beauty of the mangroves. The park also has public access to swimming, a playground, picnic tables, grills and showers.

A number of restaurants in Marathon serve up delicious food as well as spectacular water views, and you’ll find plenty of family-friendly accommodations here, too.

You truly can’t go wrong wherever you stay in the Florida Keys, but it’s hard to beat Marathon’s location — in addition to offering up a buffet of things to do right in its own backyard, Marathon is not far from the activities, parks and attractions found in the Keys’ neighboring regions.

At a Glance: Marathon

Average water temp 69°F to 88ºF >> What to wear 3 mm in summer; 7 mm in winter >> Average viz 60 feet or more >> When to go Year-round >> What to pack besides dive gear Standup paddleboards — there are so many special places to put in and get an SUP workout