The 22 Best US Islands

From Catalina Island to Mount Desert Island view our list of the best islands in the US — except Hawaii, of course!

March 09, 2020

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Photo By: San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau

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Fire Island, New York

Fire Island, a barrier island parallel to Long Island is a popular summer vacation destination. Accessible by shuttle ferries, water taxis and private boats, the island is free of motor vehicles, so many visitors get around the island by walking or biking. During the summer, the 32-mile-long island is popular for surfing and sailing. However, many people enjoy visiting the National Seashore during the off-season to explore Fire Island Lighthouse, Sailors Haven and the Sunken Forest, or to collect seashells along the shore.

Marco Island, Florida

The unspoiled beaches and lush, tropical surroundings of Marco Island — the largest of Florida's Ten Thousand Islands — attracts visitors to Florida's Gulf Coast year-round. Find respite on one of the island's white sand beaches, spot dolphins and manatees on a boat tour, or go shopping at the Esplanade.

Amelia Island, Florida

Amelia Island, Florida's northernmost barrier island, is a picturesque seaport community popular for outdoor recreation enthusiasts of all ages. During the day, explore 13 miles of beautiful, white sand beaches, go kayaking in the island's scenic waterways, or hop aboard a river cruise for views of Floridian wildlife like dolphins, manatees and alligators. At sunset, go horseback riding on the beach. Amelia Island is one of the few beach-horseback riding opportunities in the US. Before you go, dine at the family-owned and operated Crab Trap in Fernandina Beach for fresh, locally-caught seafood — a historic downtown landmark for more than 30 years!

Anna Maria Island, Florida

The pristine beaches and turquoise blue waters of Florida's Anna Maria Island beckon both locals and travelers to this small island paradise on the Gulf Coast. Catch a ride on the free Anna Maria Island Trolley that travels between the island's three cities — Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria. Soak up the sun at Bean Point — a secluded beach and local favorite in Anna Maria — before dining at the historic Rod & Reel Pier restaurant.

Block Island, Rhode Island

Located just off the coast of Rhode Island is a haven where locals and tourists escape for ultimate serenity. Block Island is comprised of 17 miles of pristine beaches, wildlife preserves and hiking trails, in addition to historic inns and lighthouses. New Shoreham — the smallest city in the smallest US state — is also located on the island.

Santa Catalina Island, California

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city with a Catalina Island getaway. A true West Coast paradise, Catalina Island is situated just off the coast of Southern California. Hop aboard a ferry for an hour-long ride to the island, or take a 15-minute helicopter ride. Once on the island, go parasailing to see the island from a different perspective, zip 1,100 feet over the island and descend onto the beach on a zip-line eco tour, or sleep under the stars at one of the designated campgrounds. With a variety of activities and accommodations, the island is great for couples and families looking for an island escape, even if it's just for the day.

Chincoteague Island, Virginia

Escape to Chincoteague Island — Virginia's only resort island — located three and a half hours from Richmond. The small, seven-mile-long island is a fishing village famous for its oysters and clams. Visit in July to watch a herd of 150 wild ponies swim from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island in the annual Pony Swim.

Galveston Island, Texas

Located an hour's drive from Houston, Galveston Island is a popular vacation destination chock-full of beautiful beaches, historic architecture and a variety of family-friendly attractions and accommodations. Get wet 'n' wild at Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark or experience 242 acres of attractions at Moody Gardens.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Whether you're looking to enjoy a few rounds of golf at one of the island's 30 golf courses or to relax on the 12-mile stretch of white-sand beach, Hilton Head Island in South Carolina has it all. One of the largest islands on the East Coast, Hilton Head is a popular, family-friendly resort area with an abundance of activities to choose from, including water sports, outdoor adventures and museums.

Key West, Florida

Experience the culture, history and charm of the small, three-and-a-half-mile-long island of Key West. A part of the Florida Keys, Key West is located at the southernmost point in the contiguous US, only 90 miles from Cuba. Explore Old Town Key West and the former home of famed author Ernest Hemingway, hit the water on a jet ski for a tour around the island, or watch the sunset from Mallory Square.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Picturesque Mackinac Island is situated in Lake Huron between the state's upper and lower peninsulas. A great destination for the outdoorsy and adventurous, Mackinac Island has more than 70 miles of hiking and biking trails to explore. Meander through Historic Downtown to view beautiful, 18th-century architecture and to tour Fort Mackinac — the oldest building in Michigan — along with other historic sites.

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

A true New England getaway, Martha’s Vineyard -- located seven miles off the coast of Cape Cod -- lures travelers to its shores with its history, charm and natural beauty. Meander through the historic districts of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. Tour the Vineyard’s five lighthouses, or find respite on one of the island’s 19 scenic beaches. Avoid crowds of tourists and travel here from October to May when prices also tend to be less expensive.

Mount Desert Island, Maine

Crashing waves and rocky coastlines meet lush, evergreen forests and granite mountaintops on picturesque Mount Desert Island — the second largest island on the East Coast. Home to Acadia National Park — the first National Park east of the Mississippi River — and Bar Harbor, the island welcomes millions of visitors each year. Explore more than 120 miles of hiking trails, go white water rafting or spot moose on a wildlife tour. Keep in mind, the average temperature on the island is only 67 degrees during the summer, so bring a jacket.

Nantucket, Massachusetts

Nantucket Island may be small but it's full of character. With cobblestone streets, historic cottages and quaint shops and restaurants, the "Faraway Land" — as it was referred to by Native Americans — provides visitors of all ages with the perfect New England getaway. Meander through downtown's historic district, charter a boat for a day of fishing, or watch the sunset on popular Madaket Beach.

Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

A part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Ocracoke Island is a small fishing village only accessible by ferry, private boat or plane. The island's 16 miles of pristine, undeveloped beaches — protected by the National Park Service — offer a peaceful escape to travelers willing to make the trip. Explore the tree-lined streets and 1880s architecture of Ocracoke Village and the Ocracoke Lighthouse — one of the oldest lighthouses still in use in the US.

Orcas Island, Washington

Lush forests, placid lakes and beautiful, craggy shorelines await the outdoorsy and adventurous at Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington. Stroll through some of the island's charming waterfront villages, hike the miles of trails in Moran State Park, or go on a wildlife or marine life tour to spot bald eagles or Orca whales.

San Juan Islands, Washington

The San Juan Islands, located just off the coast of Washington, represent the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer — lush forests, quaint fishing villages and scenic waterways. A top whale-watching destination, the island is best visited from mid-April to October when whale sightings are most popular, and when the weather is perfect for outdoor adventures.

Sanibel & Captiva Islands, Florida

Located off Florida's Gulf Coast, the sister islands of Sanibel and Captiva offer travelers a tranquil, tropical escape year-round. The beautiful, shell-strewn beaches on both islands rank among the top destinations for shelling, and provide the perfect landscape to sit back, relax and watch the sun set. The island’s pristine, turquoise blue waters are also great for offshore fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving.

Sea Island, Georgia

For a five-star luxury island getaway, visit Sea Island. Part of Georgia’s Golden Isles — which includes St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons and Brunswick — Sea Island is only 75 miles south of Savannah. Book a room at the island’s internationally acclaimed Sea Island Cloister Resort, play a round (or more) at one of the three championship golf courses, or melt the stress away with a day at the lavish Spa at Sea Island.

St. Simons Island, Georgia

Moss-draped oaks, centuries-old historic sites and charming shops and restaurants line the streets of St. Simons Island, the largest barrier island in Georgia's Golden Isles. Tour St. Simons Lighthouse — a working lighthouse built in 1872 — tee off at one of the three 18-hole championship golf courses, or stretch out on East Beach — perfect for sunbathing, windsurfing and more.

Mustang Island, Port Aransas, Texas

Just across the bay from Corpus Christi, Mustang Island is a small island community with five miles of coastline perfect for sunbathing, fishing, camping and more. With one of the highest bird counts on the Gulf Coast, it's also a popular destination for avid birdwatchers. Visit in February for the annual Whooping Crane Festival to get a close-up view of the endangered bird species.

Shelter Island, New York

Located on the eastern end of Long Island, Shelter Island is a quiet island with secluded beaches and one of the richest nature preserves in the northeast. Go boating, sailing or fishing along the island's 17 miles of coastline, ride a bike to secluded Shell Beach, or explore the miles of trails in the Mashomack Preserve — a nearly 2,100-acre preserve that makes up 1/3 of the island.

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