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Escape to Paradise: The 11 Best US Islands To Visit Now

Are you dreaming of an escape to paradise without having to leave the United States? Look no further than these 11 beautiful and interesting US islands you can travel to without even needing to find your passport.

The US island of Maui.
Photo credit: Yayimages

From sandy beaches to mind-blowing natural wonders, these islands have something for everyone. So pack your bags, grab your sunscreen, and get ready for the vacation of a lifetime.

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The Pacific

Whether your island paradise is of the warm, tropical variety or the chilly and rugged kind, you’ll find an island that suits you in the Pacific.

Maui, Hawaii

Maui is sure to impress with its gorgeous beaches, lush rainforests, and dramatic volcanoes. Plus, you can’t beat the world-class dining and breathtaking sunsets.

The beaches in Maui are truly out of this world — think crystal-clear waters, fine sand, and palm trees swaying in the breeze. Some of the best beaches to check out include Kaanapali Beach, Napili Bay, and Wailea Beach.

When you tire of lolling on the beach, head to Ho’okipa Beach Park for great surfing, hop on a snorkeling tour, take a helicopter tour of the island, zipline through the jungle, or take the scenic Road to Hana to see cascading waterfalls, black sand beaches, sea caves, lava tubes, and more.

Don’t-miss dining options include fish and seafood at Mama’s Fish House, The Fish Market Maui, and Lahaina Fish Co, and refreshing frozen desserts at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice.

Catalina Island, California

If you’re looking for a quick and easy getaway from Southern California, Catalina Island is the perfect destination — and it’s just a stone’s throw from Los Angeles.

Enjoy stunning views on the quick ferry ride over. Once there, choose from snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking, or zip lining through the trees. Or head over to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden.

The Catalina Island Museum is a great way to learn about the island’s history and culture. The famous Catalina Casino isn’t actually a casino but a stunning venue for events and concerts.

Check out the Lobster Trap, where you can get fresh seafood (like perfectly cooked lobster) and fantastic harbor views. And don’t leave without trying some buffalo milk — a local specialty you won’t find anywhere else.

San Juan Islands, Washington

Not one island, but a whole chain of them, the San Juan Islands archipelago is an absolute gem of the Pacific Northwest. Just off the coast of Washington state, it’s a group of more than 170 islands, only four of which are easily accessible to visitors: San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island.

Rolling hills, rocky coastlines, and lush forests provide opportunities for hiking, kayaking, whale watching, and other outdoor activities.

US San Juan Islands in Washington.
Photo credit: Yayimages

Friday Harbor on San Juan Island is the largest town and has a lively restaurant scene, as well as a plethora of shops and cultural events. The San Juan Island Sculpture Park is a public outdoor art museum with 150 sculptures across 20 acres of fields and woods.

Orcas Island is more laid-back and rural, with a vital farming and artisanal community. It’s an excellent destination for hiking, whale watching, and kayaking. You’ll also find a local art scene, farmers’ markets, and farm-to-table restaurants where you can enjoy the local bounty of fresh seafood and produce.

“Nestled between northwest Washington and Vancouver Island in Canada, the San Juans are quiet, full of local charm, and the perfect playground for outdoor enthusiasts.” 

— Bella Bucchiotti, XOXO Bella

The Atlantic

Off the East Coast of the US, you’ll find a whole different island vibe. In addition to pristine beaches, Atlantic islands offer small-town charm, history, and some great discoveries for nature lovers.

Martha’s Vineyard, MA

Nestled off the coast of Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard is a picturesque island known for its bohemian atmosphere, quaint lighthouses, serene beaches, and fresh seafood. It’s a popular spot for sailing, fishing, biking — and celebrity spotting. 

The Vineyard has plenty of beaches to choose from, each with its own unique vibe. One of the most popular is South Beach in Edgartown, a two-mile-long stretch of rolling dunes and crystal-clear water.

Head to Menemsha Beach for spectacular sunsets over the ocean and some of the best seafood shacks on the island. Aquinnah Beach, near the famous Gay Head Lighthouse, features dramatic red cliffs and panoramic ocean views. Kids will love Joseph Sylvia State Beach’s calm waters and gentle waves.

The island’s charming towns of Edgartown and Oak Bluffs are worth exploring, too, with their historic homes, cute shops, and great restaurants and breweries. And don’t miss the iconic Gingerbread Cottages in Oak Bluffs.

Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

This remote barrier island, with its secluded beaches, stunning sunsets, and relaxed vibe, is perfect for a romantic getaway or a family vacation. It offers beautiful beaches plus several nature trails for close-up glimpses of the flora and fauna. Nature lovers should check out Springer’s Point Nature Preserve.

There’s a historical Ocracoke British Cemetery, the Ocracoke Lighthouse, the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum, and Teach’s Hole Blackbeard Exhibit.

ocracoke light station in the outer banks.
Photo credit: Kailey MarcAurele

Tybee Island, Georgia

Tybee Island is charming and laid back, known for its beautiful beaches, historic landmarks, and outdoor activities.

Tybee Island Beach is one of the main attractions — its calm waters are great for swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Fishing enthusiasts enjoy casting their lines off the pier or taking a charter boat to the deeper waters of the Atlantic.

Hop on a boat tour to see Tybee’s large population of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Natural science buffs will also love the Tybee Island Marine Science Center’s marine life programs, touch tanks, and live animal displays.

The historic Tybee Island Lighthouse, built in 1736, is one of the oldest and tallest lighthouses in the country. Climb to the top for a breathtaking view of the island.

There’s also Fort Pulaski, which played an essential role in the Civil War and is now a national monument. Explore the fort, the museum, and the surrounding nature trails.

Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico, bordering Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, is home to several islands, each with its own unique charm and attractions.

Key West, Florida

If you’re looking for a tropical paradise with all the sun, sand, and fun you could want, the Florida Keys, and especially Key West, should be at the top of your list.

The beaches are perfect for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing. It’s also packed with fascinating history, culture, and natural beauty — from historic shipwrecks and lighthouses to mangrove swamps and wildlife sanctuaries.

Check out the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, home to hundreds of butterflies, exotic birds, and tropical plants. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park has one of Key West’s best beaches.

When evening comes, enjoy the sunset at Mallory Square, then move on to historic Duval street and grab a drink at Sloppy Joe’s and a bite at one of the many great restaurants.

Key West Florida island park.
Photo credit: Yayimages

Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Island in Southwest Florida is known for its clear blue waters and copious shells.

Some of the most popular beaches on the island include Bowman’s Beach, Blind Pass Beach, and Lighthouse Beach. You’ll find more than 250 species of sea shells on the beaches here, especially on the eastern shore.

Visit the JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. This 6,300-acre refuge is home to more than 270 species of birds, plus manatees and alligators. Take a tram tour, go kayaking or paddleboarding, or explore the refuge on foot.

There is also a rich history to explore, dating back to the original inhabitants, the Calusa Indians. Visit the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village or tour the 1884 Sanibel Lighthouse.

Head to Periwinkle Way for shopping and dining. You’ll find unique art galleries, specialty shops, fantastic restaurants serving fresh seafood, and more.

South Padre Island, Texas

South Padre Island is known for its lively party atmosphere and nightlife scene. There are plenty of bars, restaurants, and clubs to keep you entertained in the evening, but there are many daytime activities to enjoy, too.

South Padre Island boasts miles of white sandy beaches, including Isla Blanca Park, Andy Bowie Park, and South Beach. You can enjoy jet skiing, parasailing, kiteboarding, and surfing.

The island is home to sea turtles, dolphins, and various birds. Explore the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center or take a sunset cruise to glimpse the local wildlife.

SPI is an angler’s paradise, too, with plenty of opportunities to fish in the Gulf of Mexico or the Laguna Madre Bay.

Caribbean

US Islands in the Caribbean include Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands, offering a mix of natural beauty, cultural diversity, and historical significance.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a popular vacation destination because of its beautiful beaches, rich history, delicious cuisine, and vibrant culture.

A few favorite beaches are Isla Verde, Condado, Flamenco, and Luquillo. And El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System and is a popular destination for hiking, camping, and wildlife watching.

Puerto Rico has several bioluminescent bays where microscopic organisms light up the water at night. Take a kayak or boat tour to see this magical natural phenomenon up close.

Beach in Puerto Rico.

Stroll the colorful streets in the historic Old San Juan district, admire the colonial architecture, and visit historical landmarks such as the San Juan Cathedral and the El Morro Fortress.

Puerto Rican cuisine is a mouthwatering fusion of Spanish, African, and Taino influences. Some popular dishes include mofongo, a mashed plantain dish, and arroz con gandules, or rice and pigeon peas.

“Puerto Rico is an island not to missed! Incredible food, beautiful beaches, magnificent rainforest, and a vibrant nightlife. It truly has everything.”

— Alisa Infanti, The Delicious Spoon

The Final Word

Whether you’re looking for a tropical paradise, a cultural hotspot, or a secluded getaway, there’s a US island for everyone. From the picturesque beaches of Hawaii to the charming small island towns of New England, there’s no shortage of beauty and adventure. So forget your passport and plan a US island adventure for an unforgettable trip.

Related

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This article first appeared on Food Drink Life.

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