Who hasn’t dreamed of a tropical island getaway? Soft, white sand beaches; clear, azure waters; unique, Eden-like settings—not to mention some of the coolest outdoor recreation around and exciting, adventurous local cuisine. But it’s not always possible to globe-trot at a moment’s (or even a month’s!) notice without a ton of planning—especially during peak travel times (and an ongoing pandemic).
The good news is that there is a veritable treasure trove of islands in the Continental U.S.that combine all the allure of an island getaway with the convenience of (relatively) easy access. Just a domestic flight (and maybe a ferry ride) away, these idyllic gems are the perfect way to live the island life—laid-back, beachy vibes definitely included.
Maine’s Mount Desert Island Calls A National Park Home
The largest island off the coast of Maine and the second largest on the eastern seaboard, Mount Desert Island is home to one of the state’s most popular tourist towns—Bar Harbor— in addition to a parade of other equally charming small towns and villages. However, Mount Desert is not just beachy burgs: in addition to its famed seaside communities, Mount Desert is well-known for its idyllic surrounding scenery, including the imposing Cadillac Mountain and nearby forests—all a large part of Acadia National Park, as is the island itself.
- Getting Around: Walking, Biking, Ferry Services, Island Explorer Buses, Scooter Rental
- Where To Stay: The Claremont; Balance Rock Inn; The Asticou Inn; The Inn on Mount Desert
- Outdoor Adventures: Schoodic Peninsula; Cadillac Mountain; Park Loop Scenic Drive; Acadia National Park Trails (Ocean Trail, Wonderland Trail, Ship Harbor Nature Trail)
- Historic Haunts: Carriage Road Hikes and Bridges; Somesville Historical Museum & Gardens; Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
- Grab A Bite: Lompoc Café; Red Sky; Café This Way; Burning Tree Restaurant
Block Island Has Rhode Island’s Best Beach Adventures
Just a short ferry ride away from the mainland, Block Island is undoubtedly The Ocean State’s prettiest seaside gem. With miles of pristine white beaches; stunning seaside cliffs; and a plethora of quaint streets filled with fab food and fun shops, this picturesque isle is an ocean overlook with all the charm of small town the USA; the perfect retreat amid some of RI’s most beautiful natural scenery.
- Getting Around: Biking, Car Rental, Walking; Ferry Services
- Where To Stay: Blue Dory Inn; Hotel Manisses; Spring House Hotel; Block Island Beach House
- Outdoor Adventures: Rodman’s Hollow; Baby Beach; Ballard’s Beach; Andy’s Way
- Historic Haunts: Block Island Maritime Institute; Cow Cove/North Light Area; Block Island North Lighthouse; Block Island Bicycle Tour (12 major attractions by bike)
- Grab A Bite: Ballard’s Restaurant; Aldo’s Restaurant; The Beachhead; McAloon’s Saloon
The San Juan Islands Is Washington’s Offshore Retreat
Mellow, laid-back vibes and temperate climes set Washington State’s the San Juan Islands apart. A series of over 170(!) named islands and reefs make up beautiful San Juan County, but the namesake San Juan Island—in addition to Orcas Island and Lopez Island—is by far the most populous and offers visitors a plethora of fun things to see and do. The islands’ are also home to a number of small towns and historic hamlets that are big on the seaside charm, from the vibrant, bustling Friday Harbor to the quaint and cozy Lopez Village—and everything in between.
- Getting Around: Biking; Ferry Service; Trolley Rides; Island Transit Shuttles; Walking
- Where To Stay: The Edenwild Boutique Hotel; Otter’s Pond B&B; Inn At Saltwater Farm; Bird Rock Hotel
- Outdoor Adventures: Turtleback Mountain; Lime Kiln Point State Park (whale watching); Moran State Park (Cascade Lake); Hummel Lake Preserve
- Historic Haunts: Cattle Point Lighthouse; San Juan Island National Historic Park; The Whale Museum; Roche Harbor
- Grab A Bite: New Leaf Café; Ursa Minor; Duck Soup; Kingfish at West Sound
An Unexpected South Carolina Island Gem
There’s no doubt that when it comes to SC islands, Hilton Head is the spot that inevitably tops every list. However, the unspoiled beauty of Kiawah Island has its own under-the-radar seaside charm: full of beautifully preserved forests, marshlands, and sand dunes; a charming yet upbeat village; and approximately ten miles of stunning sandy beaches make Kiawah a true island escape that’s high on both relaxation and recreation. Note: Kiawah Island is a private community with limited access to property owners and guests of local lodgings; however, there are many public areas, such as Beachwalker County Park, that are open to the public
- Getting Around: Biking; Walking; Car Rental
- Where To Stay: The Sanctuary Hotel at Kaiwah Island Golf Resort; Andell Inn; Water’s Edge Inn (Folly Beach); The Dewberry (Charleston)
- Outdoor Adventures: West Beach; Golf at the Ocean Course; Beachwalker Park; Tidal Trails Tours and Kayak Rentals
- Historic Haunts: Shopping at Freshfields Village; Morris Island Lighthouse (Folly Beach); Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon (Charleston)
- Grab A Bite: Cantina 76; 48 Wine Bar & Kitchen; Jasmine Porch At the Sanctuary; King Street Grille
An Escape From Florida’s Busier Beaches
The Sunshine State has a seemingly endless parade of spectacular beaches, but those looking for a truly tranquil escape may want to search out one of FL’s quieter spots—such as the secret paradise of Amelia Island. Situated along Florida’s northeast coast, this hidden gem feels like it’s a world away from the busier (and bigger) tourist destinations. And with plenty of historic charm, luxe hotels and cozy lodgings, and outdoor recreation (on and off the beach), this peaceful getaway is perfect for those looking for an off-the-beaten-track beautiful beach town.
- Getting Around: Car Rental; Horseback; Biking; Walking; Amelia Island Trolleys
- Where To Stay: The Amelia Hotel; Ocean Coast Hotel; Elizabeth Pointe Lodge; Omni Amelia Island Resort
- Outdoor Adventures: Seaside Park; American Beach; Main Beach (Family Zone); Fort Clinch State Park
- Historic Haunts: A.L. Lewis Museum; Amelia Island Williams House; Historic Downtown Fernandia Beach; Isle of Eight Flags
- Grab A Bite: Timoti’s Seafood Shack; Salty Pelican; The Boat House; David’s Restaurant & Lounge
Tropical island getaways are some of the most popular vacation destinations—and with good reason. Pristine white sand beaches, epic outdoor adventures, luxe lodgings, and stunning scenery are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exotic island retreats; but there is something to be said for the smaller, more off-the-beaten-track isles that are situated closer to home. With all the perks of their larger island cousins—beaches, nature, history, and delicious cuisine definitely included—these small Continental U.S. islands are genuine diamonds in the rough; offering vacationers a chance to take the road less traveled; no passport required.