Can’t make the long haul to Hawaii for your vacation? Don’t worry, these tropical paradises may be the best-known islands in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean they’re the best. The Continental U.S. is literally bursting at the steams with ample island vacation destinations. From East Coast nature sanctuaries to the Caribbean Sea tropics, to the luxurious laid-back vibes of the West Coast – here are the 10 best U.S. islands that aren’t Hawaii.
1. Dry Tortugas, Florida
You’ve heard of the Florida Keys, but have you heard of Dry Tortugas? A lot of people haven’t, but they are absolute gems in the Caribbean. Located 70 miles west of the Keys, the Dry Tortugas National Park encompasses all 7 islands. Snorkelers and scuba divers, if you’re looking for an untouched place with superb corals, abundant marine life, and crystal-clear waters - look no further. This remote area is surrounded by pristine and protected waters. Need more proof of its off-the-beaten-path claim? The only accommodations are campsites on Garden Key and there are no facilities – bring your own food and water! This is one deserted island you won’t mind being stuck on.
2. Assateague Island, Maryland
If you like the sound of wild horses roaming freely on protected National Seashore, then your next trip should be to Assateague Island. This island is one of the northeast’s best and offers visitors tons of fun outdoor activities. Biking is a popular way to explore the island and allows for many awesome wildlife photo opportunities. Horseback riding, canoeing, and kayaking are other favorite ways to explore Assateague. And if you visit in July you have the chance to see the “saltwater cowboys” lead the feral horses on an epic swim across the Assateague Channel.
3. San Juan Island, Washington
San Juan Island is a picturesque Pacific Northwest jewel. Just because it’s an island doesn’t mean there isn’t much to do. In fact, this island boasts more activities and attractions than many mainland cities and towns. Strolling around the historic Friday Harbor is enjoyable for those who like to browse bookstores, art galleries, boutique and antique shops. Outside the center, rolling farmlands, alpaca farms, and sweeping valleys can be enjoyed during a scenic car ride. San Juan Island even has its own vineyard and tasting room. Whale-watching tours are a common excursion in addition to hiking, biking, and kayaking. Did we cover everything?
4. Sapelo Island, Georgia
This state-protected barrier island in southeast Georgia is the site of the last Hog Hammock population (an African-American community) with just 47 people. Visit in October and you’ll get to participate in the annual festival as they celebrate cultural traditions with gospel choir, basket weaving, and other activities. The Sapelo Island Lighthouse is the second-oldest brick lighthouse in the country dating back to 1820. If you want to stay the night you have a variety of options ranging from a state-run campsite to a group rental of an early 19th-century mansion! This is one island that can’t be called ordinary.
5. Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts
Cuttyhunk’s exotic flair is not your imagination. It still oozes with European charm after its 1602 settlement by the British. Eight miles west of the ever-popular Martha’s Vineyard, this quiet island is the perfect weekend getaway for couples who want to enjoy the ocean, landscape, and a whole lot of chilling. There are no bars, malls, or parking lots on Cuttyhunk, but the island provides good times in a more subdued fashion. Expect yummy, home-made ice cream, ample fishing opportunities, a quaint harbor, and some beautiful hiking trails. Escape and relax.
6. Block Island, Rhode Island
This Atlantic Isle is a favorite summer east coast favorite. Known for its rugged beauty, Block Island is a haven for visitors and locals who appreciate the simpler things in life. Block Island brags that you’ll never have to ask for directions to the beach because the entire 17-mile island is surrounded by them. All you have to do is walk in any direction until you hit the end of the island’s iconic windswept bluffs. Naturally, there’s a lot of outdoor fun to be had in the form of kayaking, sailing, hiking and biking the 32 miles of trails. Not to mention horse-back riding, bird watching, and snorkeling. Grab a burger or indulge in a romantic candlelit lobster dinner to cap the perfect day on Block Island.
7. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Situated on Lake Huron, Michigan claims one of the nation’s unique treasures. With no cars (banned in 1898!), no chain hotels, and 80% of the island designated as a national park, Mackinac Island appeals to travelers who want to leave the modern world behind. Built in 1870, Fort Mackinac is a top attraction along with the historic downtown. Not to be missed, the Arch Rock is the most stunning natural marvel along the coast. No visit is complete without a visit to Murdick's Fudge. This family-owned business has been producing arguably the best fudge in the country since 1887.
8. Santa Catalina Island, California
This southern California island is suitable for everyone. For those wanting to be spoiled and pampered to those who just want to relax in nature, Catalina is heaven for vacation-goers. Campgrounds are available all over the island for starry night-gazers. On the flipside, Catalina also has a generous offering of luxury, oceanfront boutique hotels with an intimate atmosphere. Adventure seekers can take flight
on the island’s 1,100-foot long eco-tour zipline, or go hunting for the island's free-roaming herd of bison. Take a glass bottom boat tour, or if you really want to see what lies beneath, scuba dive to see some of the most impressive underwater kelp forests in the country.
9. Key West, Florida
Yes, it’s popular and everyone knows Key West, but for good reason. Noted as the southernmost city in the continental U.S., this Key is just 90 miles from the coast of Cuba. Key West is more than just a pretty face, though. It’s also teeming with history. Did you know Ernest Hemingway shacked up on Key West for 30 years? You can visit his home (now a museum) in the heart of Old Town Key West. In the late afternoon, you’d best be strolling the funky and hip Duval Street on your way to Mallory Square for the nightly sunset celebration. Duval is also your party and shopping center with some notorious bars, unique boutiques, and art galleries.
10. Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Another east coast paradise, Kiawah Island is a perfect blend of luxury, adventure, and everything in between. Twenty-five miles off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, Kiawah Island is praised for its southern hospitality and pristine nature. This island claims 10 gorgeous miles of beach, protected marshlands and forests booming with wildlife, and loads of water sports. Rent a paddleboard, surfboard, kayak, take a guided nature tour, or set off on an independent trek. For visitors who like the finer things in life, there are five epic golf courses at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort and three luxury spas on the island. Bonus: this island’s sunrises and sunsets are second to none.