All Articles Where to take an island vacation in the United States (besides Hawaii)

Where to take an island vacation in the United States (besides Hawaii)

These American islands offer their own coastal charms

Esme Benjamin
By Esme BenjaminJun. 7, 2022 4 minutes read
Person walking along shoreline at beach next to ocean at sunrise
Image: Getty Images

Hawaii remains a perennially popular choice for travelers seeking an island getaway; in Tripadvisor’s 2022 Travelers’ Choice Awards, the Island of Hawaii (a.k.a. The Big Island) ranked first among trending domestic destinations. But there are plenty of other spots off the country's coasts—from Alaska to Florida—that offer lush parks, quaint B&Bs, and miles upon miles of beachfront.

High Angle View Of Sea Against Sky, Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Image: Getty Images

Hilton Head, South Carolina

A beloved Lowcountry summer retreat, Hilton Head Island is home to wide, dune-flanked beaches, historic homes draped with Spanish moss, and plenty of outdoorsy activities. Follow up a round of golf—the island boasts 24 championship courses—a beachside bike ride, or dolphin-spotting with a feast of fresh oysters at Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks.

Where to stay

Calling all golf fanatics: The luxurious, 60-room Inn & Club at Harbour Town offers a plush clubhouse overlooking the Harbour Town Golf Links.

Devils Island Lighthouse at Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
Devils Island Lighthouse
Image: Getty Images

Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

With dramatic sandstone sea caves, secluded coves, and plenty of postcard-worthy lighthouses, the Apostle Islands are best explored from the waters of Lake Superior. Visitors can rent kayaks, hop on a cruise, or scuba dive at shipwreck sites around the archipelago.

Where to stay

Consider spending the night under the stars: 19 of the 21 islands in the archipelago offer campsites.

Catalina Island's famous landmark, the Casino
Catalina Island's famous landmark, the Casino
Image: Getty Images

Santa Catalina, California

Santa Catalina is just an hour off the coast of Long Beach, but you’ll feel about a million miles away from the SoCal freeways once you arrive. Sip cocktails in a private cabana at the chic Descanso Beach Club, or try zip-lining over the island’s canyons and eucalyptus trees.

Where to stay

The century-old Hotel Atwater, once owned by gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., blends Art Deco elegance with laid-back beach vibes.

Aerial view of Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island
Image: Getty Images

Mackinac Island, Michigan

With quaint fudge shops and horse-drawn carts, car-free Mackinac Island has a distinctly retro vibe. Spend the day cycling around the island’s winding paths, flying kites on the scenic shores of Windermere Point, or picnicking with a view at Fort Holmes, the island’s highest point.

Where to stay

The Grand Hotel, a national historic landmark, is said to have the longest porch in the world. Find a spot—and an Adirondack chair—to kick back in along the 660-foot wraparound terrace.

Boat dock at Block Island, Rhode Island
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Block Island, Rhode Island

Located 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, Block Island exudes classic New England with its brick lighthouses, windswept sand dunes, and bustling harbor. With half the island designated as protected land, the natural scenery—from freshwater ponds to pristine white-sand beaches—also makes a stunning backdrop for outdoor adventuring.

Where to stay

Block Island Beach House looks like a surfer’s crash pad thanks to the coastal-chic shiplap and vintage surfboards decorating the walls. Grab a lobster roll at the porch cafe and watch the sunset from the beach-front bar.

Kodiak Island, Alaska

Aerial view of Kodiak Island, Alaska
Image: raspberryilsand/Tripadvisor

Kodiak Island is full of surprises not typically associated with Alaska: a surfing scene and an annual rodeo, for starters. The second-largest island in the United States, Kodiak is also known for whale spotting, hiking, and a very large population of coastal brown bears (but don’t worry, they’re mostly interested in the giant salmon zipping through the isle’s waters).

Where to stay

The homey Cranky Crow B&B offers cozy rooms with working fireplaces.

Horses walking on the beach at sunrise on Assateague Island
Sunrise at Assateague Island National Seashore
Image: Sbyman/Tripadvisor

Assateague Island, Maryland/Virginia

On Assateague Island, a 37-mile long barrier island straddling Maryland and Virginia, you’ll find secluded beaches, pine forests, and salt marshes. The island is also home to approximately 300 wild ponies, said to be descendants of domestic horses that survived a shipwreck off the Virginia coast in the 17th century.

Where to stay

Visitors can choose to camp on Assateague, or stay at Miss Molly’s Inn, a B&B full of Victorian charm, on nearby Chincoteague Island.

A white egret stands on the pier at a beach on Sanibel Island
Image: FtMyersSanibel/Tripadvisor

Sanibel Island, Florida

This barrier island off of Florida’s western coast is a paradise for wildlife-watchers: at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll find loggerhead sea turtles, manatees, and other endangered fauna among the seagrass beds and mangrove forests. Sanibel also has a reputation for top-notch seashell collecting, thanks to an unusual east-west orientation that puts it in a prime position for shells to wash ashore.

Where to stay

Kick back at the balmy beach bungalows and palm-shaded pool at the family-friendly Island Inn.

Lighthouse on St. Simons Island, Georgia
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Little St. Simons Island, Georgia

This private island off the coast of Georgia, part of the four-island archipelago known as the Golden Isles, is home to 11,000 acres of maritime forests, diverse wetland ecosystems, and sand dunes. You can tour Little St. Simons with a naturalist guide or strike out on your own and for bird watching, boating, or beach-lounging.

Where to stay

The island’s only resort, The Lodge on Little St. Simons, is a sustainability-minded 32-room property outfitted with rustic, cabin-style cottages, and meals made with ingredients from the organic garden onsite.

A small white boat is tucked into a cove in Orcas Island
Image: Dscram/Tripadvisor

Orcas Island, Washington

In Northwest Washington, not far from Vancouver Island, BC, you’ll find Orcas Island–a hilly and forested landmass that’s part of a 172-strong archipelago known as the San Juan Islands. Life here moves at a refreshingly slow pace. Explore Moran State Park by foot, bike or horseback, take a whale-watching tour for a glimpse of the island’s namesake orcas, visit organic farms and artist markets, and relax by the water’s edge.

Where to stay

Originally founded by settlers in 1888, The Outlook Inn was purchased by a mystic in the 1960s and transformed into a spiritual commune. On the hotel’s grounds, you’ll find a remnant of that era, The Chapel of Light, which is still used by guests for morning meditation and Sunday spiritual service.

Esme Benjamin
Esme Benjamin is a Brooklyn-based award-winning writer and the current editor-in-chief of Full-Time Travel. Her editorial work, which covers wellbeing and travel, can be found online at Self, Refinery29 and Culture Trip, and in British "glossies" like Red, Grazia and The Telegraph Magazine. She was a contributing author to the book Wanderess: The Unearth Women Guide to Traveling Smart Solo and Safe, and currently hosts The Trip That Changed Me, a podcast from Full-Time Travel featuring transformative travel stories from guests like writer/illustrator Mari Andrew, celebrity Chef Markus Samuelsson and former star of ABC's The Bachelor Ben Higgins.