United States Islands
While many think of the Caribbean, Europe or Southeast Asia when they consider island retreats, the United States is home to a variety of paradises worth exploring. These destinations promise world-class surf breaks, award-winning coastal cuisine and breathtaking sunset views, all without needing a passport if you’re U.S.-based.
Whether you are hoping to literally go off the grid for a few weeks — or simply want to check out and chill out in a beachside cabana — this list will get you ready for your next unforgettable getaway.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island is situated between the upper and lower peninsulas of Lake Huron, and pairs its sublime views with top-notch island amenities.
Hop on the ferry and forget about the hustle of daily life, because things move a little slower here. Go back in time and hop in a horse-drawn carriage as you tour the island. Then stay at one of the oldest resorts in America, the Grand Hotel, where no two rooms are alike. Enjoy the sunset from the longest front porch in the world, and indulge in the island’s world-famous fudge at the hotel shop.
For a more low-key getaway, rent your bikes and set up camp by the limestone bluffs and beaches in Mackinac State Park. The island is just over 3 miles, so getting around by bike is a breeze.
Known as the “Garden Isle,” Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, and boasts some of Hawaii’s most glorious natural wonders, from rainforests and towering waterfalls to the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon.
Explore the rugged side of Hawaii on the West Side of Kauai, featuring stunning hiking trails, rolling valleys and cliffs plunging more than 3,000 feet into the earth.
Take to the skies on a helicopter to see the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, landing at the foot of Manawaiopuna Falls, featured in the opening scene of “Jurassic Park.” Hiking the ridgeline of Waimea Canyon is equally humbling and beautiful. Don’t miss Puu ka Pele and Puu hinahina lookouts for photo ops and breathtaking views.
Also on the west side is the quirky beach town and art capital of Kauai, Hanapepe. The town doesn’t look much different from the plantation era, but is now home to charming cafes, art galleries and other local shops.
Don’t miss exploring the island’s history in Lihue; see a 1,000-year-old aquaculture reservoir, the storied Ninini Point Lighthouse and Kilohana, a historic plantation estate. Head to Waimea Falls lookout nearby for one of the most extraordinary waterfalls you’ve ever seen.
Had enough adrenaline-fueled adventure? Relax by the serene blue water at Poipu Beach, Mai Tai in hand.
South Bass Island, Ohio
Situated between Toledo and Cleveland on Lake Erie, South Bass Island is one of the best-kept secrets in the Midwest.
During the War of 1812 and the Battle of Lake Erie, naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry departed from the island’s village of Put-in-Bay to defeat the Brits and ensure American control of the Great Lakes and the recovery of Detroit. All around town today, you’ll see Perry’s battle slogan “DONT GIVE UP THE SHIP” emblazoned on bars, restaurants and vacation houses.
To engage with this fascinating history, start your trip at Perry’s Victory National Park to learn more about this battle from park rangers, before riding to the top of the Perry Memorial for a bird’s-eye view of Put-in-Bay.
South Bass Island is also known as a great place to party, thanks to its bevy of harborside bars and restaurants, many of which feature live music every night.
Looking for solitude instead? Rent a place off the beaten path to enjoy nights where the only sounds you’ll hear are crickets and the gentle breeze, and lightning bugs set the sky aglow.
Cumberland Island, Georgia
The largest of Georgia’s barrier islands, Cumberland has a history that dates back thousands of years. It was once held under Spanish and British rule, before becoming a popular getaway for families like the Carnegies in the late 19th century.
The island is a natural oasis with over 9,000 acres of designated wilderness, roamed freely by wild horses and other coastal fauna. You can still catch glimpses of the gilded Carnegie era by exploring the Plum Orchard mansion or the ruins of the Dungeness mansion, once the largest on the island.
Experience the adventure of Cumberland Island by day with hiking, birding and beach-combing, before resting easy at the historic Greyfield Inn. This-all inclusive hotel was built by the Carnegies for their daughter Margaret in 1900 and offers a true Southern experience, complete with a bourbon-focused cocktail menu and garden-to-table dinners.
The island is open to visitors and primitive camping all year long, but if you can’t handle the sticky summer heat, consider a fall or winter trip instead.
Golden Isles, Georgia
St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island are barrier islands off the coast of Georgia that feature giant oak trees dripping with Spanish moss and a range of amenities for all kinds of travelers.
Jekyll Island is one of the least developed islands and home to the historic Jekyll Island Club. Once a hunting club for some of New England’s elite families, it is now a charming historic hotel, with an enviable setting right on the waterfront. Borrow a couple beach cruisers to trek to the famous Boneyard Beach, and walk among enormous driftwood trees before catching the sunset and enjoying peel-and-eat shrimp on the river.
St. Simons Island is the most developed of the four, and ideal for families. Learn about colonial history at Fort Frederica, cruise to East Beach via smooth bike paths underneath the oaks, and enjoy local seafood at one of the island’s many flip-flop-friendly eateries.
Looking for luxury? Head to Sea Island and stay at the Cloister Resort. Luxuriate at the award-winning spa, hang out in your own beachside cabana, then head to dinner in Georgia’s only Forbes Five Star Restaurant, the Georgian Room.
Plan a rustic and romantic getaway to the smallest of all the islands at the all-inclusive Lodge on Little St. Simons Island. With 11 acres of unspoiled wilderness, learn about the island’s native species and coastal ecology with naturalist-led hikes by day. By night, indulge in farm-to-table cuisine with locally sourced ingredients and produce grown right on the island.
Island of Hawaii, “Big Island,” Hawaii
The Island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, is for the curious and adventurous traveler who wants to experience the raw power of nature, from the tropics to the tundra.
Once the commercial center of the sugar industry in the 1880s, Hilo is a great starting point for a Big Island trip. Learn about the island’s history at the Pacific Tsunami Museum and the Imiloa Astronomy Center. Meet local farmers and stock up on island-grown foods at the Hilo Farmers Market. And don’t forget to go chasing waterfalls.
For the closest waterfall to Hilo, check out Wailuku River State Park. Get there around 10 a.m. to catch the rainbow in the mist of the falls. A little farther from Hilo, Akaka Falls State Park offers an easy half-mile hike to see Kahuna Falls, featuring a 100-foot drop, and Akaka Falls, which plummets over 400 feet into a gorge.
Before you leave this side of the island, venture south to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to witness the wrath of volcano goddess Pele. The park includes over 300,000 acres from the summit of Maunaloa to the ocean. You can hike through volcanic craters, deserts and rainforests, see petroglyphs, and explore a walk-in lava tube and two active volcanoes: Maunaloa, which last erupted in 1984, and Kilauea, which has been erupting since 1983.
For pristine beaches, Hawaiian history and luxurious resorts, venture to the Kona coast. Thanks to high elevation and volcanic soil, Kona is also home to the legendary Kona coffee bean. There are over 600 coffee farms in the area, many offering tours to the public.
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
A world away from other busy tourist destinations down South, Daufuskie Island is a quiet getaway free of cars and the commotion of everyday life. With three miles of beachfront and no bridge to the mainland, it’s no wonder Pat Conroy took inspiration from this little slice of paradise for his book “The Water is Wide.”
Unspoiled wilderness occupies much of the island thanks to nature conservancy protections, allowing wildlife like loggerhead turtles, egrets and storks to roam free. But it’s still accessible for stays, with lovely vacation rentals available.
Taste and tour the island’s only rum distillery and dine on famous Daufuskie deviled crab, and don’t miss horseback riding on the beach or playing one of the best golf courses in the country at Haig Point.
Looking for more action? Head to Daufuskie’s glitzier neighbor of Hilton Head, a short ferry ride away.
Block Island, Rhode Island
Only 12 minutes by hopper flight from the mainland, Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island is one of the most convenient island getaways in New England.
Here you can avoid the massive summer crowds and frightening price tags of other coastal getaways, while still enjoying oceanfront hotels, delicious island cuisine and picturesque views. Biking is the best way to experience the island thanks to an easy 7(ish) mile loop that will take you by historic lighthouses, beaches, scenic bluffs and more.
Shopping and eating local is the way of life on Block Island — you won’t find a single chain store here. So do as the locals do and enjoy swordfish and lobster at the water's edge.
St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia
Just north of Savannah, St. Catherine’s Island is a haven for wildlife like sea turtles, wood storks and the only lemur colony outside of Madagascar.
Although the island is privately owned and used primarily for research, the beaches are open to the public. Stay in nearby Dunham Farms in Liberty County, and charter a boat to St. Catherines for the day.
Pack a picnic and enjoy several blissful hours on empty beaches.
Isle Royale, Michigan
One of the most remote archipelagos in the United States, Isle Royale is only accessible by boat or seaplane, and is a wilderness-lover’s paradise.
Dive the depths of Lake Superior to explore shipwrecks, or kayak along the rocky coastline and discover hidden coves. Hike over 100 miles of pristine wilderness, fish for dinner, have a chance to experience the Northern Lights and sleep under the stars in one of the least visited National Parks in America.
If you’re not into roughing it, rest easy at the Rock Harbor Lodge. The property offers expert fishing guides, a cozy restaurant, sunset cruises of Raspberry Island, a guided hike to the oldest lighthouse on Isle Royale and a tour of the island’s historic commercial fishery.
Situated between the saltwater wilderness of Everglades National Park and the deep blue waters of the Florida Strait, the village of Islamorada is comprised of six Florida Key islands.
Nicknamed the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World,” Islamorada is the epicenter of Florida’s most vibrant ocean activities, as diving and snorkeling enthusiasts from all over the world flock there to explore the dynamic reef line.
Avoid the crowds of Key West and sleep soundly fronting the ocean and white sandy shores at The Moorings Village & Spa, an 18-acre resort harboring 18 villas, on what was once a coconut plantation.
Or experience a glimpse of Florida in the early 1800s with a visit to Indian Key Historic State Park. Hike the nature trail, snorkel in search of reef life and paddle around the island to sneak a peek of dolphins, rays and manatees in their natural habitat.
The most culturally diverse island in Hawaii lives up to its name, “The Gathering Place,” balancing island serenity with exciting activities and some of Hawaii’s most famous attractions.
See the only royal residence in the United States at Iolani Palace and explore the largest collection of ancient Hawaiian artifacts at the Bishop Museum. Both are located in the capital city of Honolulu, a vibrant culinary destination that represents the island’s unique cultural blend. Try everything from the iconic Hawaiian plate lunch, to fresh island poke, to fruity shave ice, to award-winning fine-dining masterminded by famous chefs like Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong.
On Oahu's central coast, hear first-person accounts from World War II survivors and experience the sites of the “day that will live in infamy” at Pearl Harbor.
For some of the most beautiful beaches on the island and biggest waves in the world, head to the North Shore. After you’ve had your fill of the beach, check out the cool surf shops and food trucks, which are among the best on the island.
San Juan Islands, Washington
Did you know there are over 100 islands off the coast of Washington? Accessible by ferry from the mainland, they include standout destinations like Orcas Island, San Juan Island and Lopez Island, all primed for incredible culinary and outdoor adventures.
Start your trip in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Shop for local delicacies at the San Juan Farmers Market — like local sea salt made made from sunshine and seawater — and sip from the source at San Juan Island Brewing Co and Westcott Bay Cider. Pack a picnic and enjoy incredible views of the Pelindable Lavender Farm, where you can sample over 200 types of lavender-based botanical, culinary and personal-care goodies.
Next, go to Orcas Island for a seafood feast of clams, oysters and prawns, fit for a king at Buck Bay Shellfish Farm. Meet cashmere goats and curious alpacas at Once in a Blue Moon Farm tours, before touring their bucolic fruit orchards. Don’t leave before taking to the water in search of majestic orca whales, or exploring old-growth forest on horseback.
Lopez Island is home to 63 miles of shoreline and rolling farmland. Shop for local art and crafts in Lopez village or tour the Lopez Island Vineyard and Winery, which specializes in island-grown Siegerrebe and Madeline Angevine grapes.
With five-star resorts like the Four Seasons and The Ritz Carlton, remote rainforests, charmed seaside towns and postcard-ready stretches of beach, Maui offers the best of all worlds.
Spend a few days lounging in luxury beachside, snorkeling and swimming with sea turtles, and maybe trying to catch a wave or two. Then head north to experience the funky surf town of Paia. Watch the surfers at Ho’okipa before venturing east to Hana for incredible waterfall hikes in Haleakala National Park.
Don’t leave Maui without going to a luau; one of the best in all of Hawaii is the Old Lahaina Luau, a truly authentic experience featuring locally sourced food from the luau’s own farm and traditional storytelling and chants. The oceanfront locale doesn’t hurt either.
Before you return your rental car, drive to the Haleakala Summit for an epic sunrise that will have you booking a return trip before you even head home.
Mount Desert Island, Maine
Known as the home of Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island is the largest island on Maine’s coast and the second largest island on the Atlantic coast.
The destination is steeped in Native American history — the Wabanaki tribe has resided there for thousands of years — and geologically distinct with its grounding in granite. The island features 1,532-foot Cadillac Mountain, the first place in the continental United States to watch the sunrise each day.
Drive the entire 27 mile-loop of island to grasp the vastness of Acadia National Park. Don’t miss hiking the Precipice Trail, with views for days and wild blueberries if you get hungry along the way. For even more outdoor adventure, get your thrills by scrambling on the park’s rocky cliffs, or just enjoy gliding along the coast in a kayak for a different perspective of the island.
Enjoy local dishes like lobster risotto and homemade ice cream, and knick-knack shopping in the central town of Bar Harbor, before heading back to reality on the mainland.