If you are craving an escape but don’t want to leave the country, I’ve got good news: some of the best islands to visit are right here in the USA.
These are places you can go for vacation or even just a weekend that will leave you feeling like you’ve landed in an otherworldly place. Plus, you won’t need to dig out your passport to get there.
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Best islands to visit in the USA
From sandy beaches to mind-blowing natural wonders, these nine beautiful and interesting USA islands are worthy of a visit. Some are the warm, tropic variety. Other locations are the chilly, rugged types.
I’ve rounded up options off the Pacific Coast, in the Atlantic Ocean as well as the Gulf of Mexico–practically in the Caribbean.
Either way, if you’re looking for a domestic island getaway, get ready to pack your bags and sunscreen, and head out for a memorable vacation.
Best Hawaiian islands to visit
There are eight Hawaiian islands you could possibly visit. They are:
- Hawaii (aka the Big Island)
However, when it comes to island getaways in Hawaii, most agree that you want to head to Maui.
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.
Since we’ve already established that Kaanapali Beach, Napili Bay, and Wailea Beach have the best beaches on this island, here are hotel suggestions in those locations.
Many of them are Marriott USA hotels in Hawaii.
Finally, if none of the hotels work for you, you can alway book a vacation rental on Maui.
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 to Avalon Bay. That’s where most of the ferries to and from the Mainland USA originate.
Once you’re on Catalina Island, you can choose from snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking or zip lining through the trees.
Or head over to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden.
However, it isn’t actually a casino. Instead, it is a stunning venue for events and concerts.
Speaking of stunning, when you look at the Catalina Island harbor, you’ll swear that you’re on the coast of the Mediterranean. This view below reminds me of places in the South of France or the Costa del Sol in Spain.
Finally, be sure to stop by the Lobster Trap, where you can get fresh seafood and more of those fantastic harbor views. And don’t leave without trying some buffalo milk — a local specialty you won’t find anywhere else.
I’ve just suggested a lot of activities to fit into one day. So, if you want to book lodging on Catalina Island, here are the two highest rated hotels on the island:
San Juan Islands, Washington State
Not one island, but a whole chain of them, the San Juan Islands archipelago is an absolute gem of the USA’s Pacific Northwest. They are filled with rolling hills, rocky coastlines and lush forests.
“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,” adds Bella Bucchiotti, XOXO Bella.
Just off the coast of Washington State, the San Juan Islands is a group of more than 170 islands. However, only a handful of them are easily accessible via ferry.
Our two favorites are San Juan Island and Orcas Islands.
San Juan Island
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 Islands Sculpture Park is a public outdoor art museum with 150 sculptures across 20 acres of fields and woods.
If you like visiting outdoor art destinations, then check out the Olympic Sculpture Park back on the mainland in Seattle.
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. These are a terrific place where you can enjoy the local bounty of fresh seafood and produce.
If you’d like to book a vacation rental on the San Juan Islands, you’ll find the most options on Orcas Island.
Finally, what is the best time to visit the San Juan islands? The shoulder season of May/June and September/October. That way you avoid the summer crush but can still enjoy the temperate climate.
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
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.
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.
Finally, your best bet for lodging on Martha’s Vineyard is booking a vacation rental. However, during high season aka summer, you will pay a premium.
Key West, Florida
As a book lover, my first stop in Key West would be at author Judy Blume’s bookstore. It’s called Books & Books at The Studio.
One of the things I love about Key West is you get to go to a tropical paradise, with all the sun, sand and fun you could want, yet you’re not leaving the continental USA. Where else could you drive to such a location?
Judy Blume isn’t the only author who has called Key West home. You should definitely check out the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum — descendants of his infamous cats are still said to live there.
What makes them so famous? The fact that they have six toes. The term for that is polydactyl.
Also high on my list: the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, home to hundreds of butterflies, exotic birds, and tropical plants.
Finally, when evening comes, enjoy the sunset at Mallory Square, where everyone gathers to watch the setting sun.
Sanibel Island, Florida
Sanibel Island in Southwest Florida is known for its clear blue waters and copious shells.
In fact, you’ll find more than 250 species of sea shells on the beaches here, especially on the eastern shore. It’s a seashell collectors paradise.
Another must visit is the JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. It is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service location.
In fact, according to the USFWS, “J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, on the subtropical barrier island of Sanibel, is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States.”
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. That would be the Calusa Indians.
Visit the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village for even more history about the island.
South Padre Island, Texas
South Padre Island is known for its lively party atmosphere and nightlife scene. In fact, I strongly recommend you avoid it like the proverbial plague during spring break season. That’s when college students descend on SPI, as South Padre Island is known.
However, the rest of the year, you can enjoy miles of white sandy beaches, including Isla Blanca Park, Andy Bowie Park and South Beach. There, you can do many of the same activities you might at Caribbean destinations like Cancun–jet skiing, parasailing, kiteboarding, and surfing.
There are many amazing places to visit on Puerto Rico.
“Puerto Rico is an island not to missed, says Alisa Infanti of The Delicious Spoon. “Incredible food, beautiful beaches, magnificent rainforest and a vibrant nightlife. It truly has everything.”
That magnificent rainforest? It is El Yunque National Forest.
Believe it or not, it is the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System.
Puerto Rico is also home to 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.
Don’t miss out on strolling the colorful streets in the historic Old San Juan district. You’ll be amazed at the colonial architecture. Plus, other must visits include the San Juan Cathedral and the El Morro Fortress.
The Final Word
I grew up on an island–New York’s Long Island. While not a destination most would think of as vacation-worthy–unless you’re heading to the beach–it did spoil me.
That is, it’s not a getaway for me unless you’re near the water. So, my first choice for a trip is always someplace with a beach.
It’s one of the reasons that we’re relocating back to the Atlantic seacoast. There is just something so comforting about the smell of salt water, the sound of seagulls and the sight of waves crashing on the beach.
And with all of the locations I’ve covered here, you can get that and more right here in the United States of America.