Are you searching for romantic, tropical, or just plain cool islands in the U.S. to visit? What, you say, islands in the U.S.?
Whether your vision of island ambiance leans toward crystal clear water, coral reefs, and tropical trees or ventures to mountains, pine forests, and rugged terrain, we’ve got an island destination for you and your crew. There are even urban islands, believe it or not.
We’ve searched the shorelines from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the Gulf to the Great Lakes. So, let’s get started!
Here are the best rugged, romantic, and relaxing U.S. islands for couples, families, groups, or single travelers.
Table of Contents
- How to Prepare for an Island Vacation
- Best Islands in the U.S. to Visit
- 1. Mount Desert Island – Maine
- 2. Cape Cod – Massachusetts
- 3. Nantucket – Massachusetts
- 4. Martha’s Vineyard – Massachusetts
- 5. Block Island – Rhode Island
- 6. Manhattan – New York
- 7. Fire Island – New York
- 8. Assateague Island – Maryland/Virginia
- 9. Outer Banks – North Carolina
- 10. Emerald Isle – North Carolina
- 11. Kiawah Island – South Carolina
- 12. Hilton Head Island – South Carolina
- 13. Jekyll Island – Georgia
- 14. The Florida Keys and Key West – Florida
- 15. Marco Island – Florida
- 16. Sanibel Island/Captiva Island – Florida
- 17. Santa Catalina Island – California
- 18. San Juan Islands – Washington
- 19. Oahu – Hawaii
- 20. Maui – Hawaii
- 21. Hawaii Island (the Big Island) – Hawaii
- 22. Kauai Island – Hawaii
- 23. South Bass Island – Ohio
- 24. Mackinac Island – Michigan
- Which U.S. island is the most family-friendly?
- What is the most romantic U.S. island?
- What U.S. islands are best for thrill seekers and outdoor recreation?
- Best U.S. Island for Couples – Maui, Hawaii
- Best U.S. Island for Families – Outer Banks, North Carolina
- Best U.S. Island for Relaxation – Sanibel and Captiva, Florida
- Best U.S. Island for Adventure Seekers – The Florida Keys and Key West
How to Prepare for an Island Vacation
After checking Skyscanner for the best deals on flights, hotels, and rental cars, you’ll want to get that pen and paper (or keyboard and fingers) ready to start a packing list.
An island vacation typically brings to mind sand, sun, and surf. That means sunscreen, sunscreen, and more sunscreen. Additionally, you’ll want to bring hats, sunglasses, swimwear, sandals, walking shoes, and backpacks (to hold the sunscreen, of course).
For a rugged island adventure, pack hiking shoes and long sleeves, and rugged pants. Hikers can come into contact with mosquitos and branches in the forests. You may also want to include a nice outfit for dressier restaurants.
Best Islands in the U.S. to Visit
1. Mount Desert Island – Maine
Widely known for the coastal town of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island sits off the coast of Maine along the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Maine.
Rather than tropical touches, this U.S. island offers a landscape of mountain forests, jagged cliffs, rugged shorelines, and harborfront fishing village towns.
Explore the trails of Acadia, watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, or visit the Asticou Azalea Garden. Sightseeing cruises on the Margaret Todd, a four-masted schooner, make unique travel memories.
Looking for hotels near Acadia?
The pet-friendly Holiday Inn Bar Harbor Regency Hotel overlooks Frenchman’s Bay and is about three miles from Eagle Lake in Acadia. There’s an oceanfront lounge, an on-site marina, a pool, a hot tub, a tennis court, and a couple of restaurants.
2. Cape Cod – Massachusetts
Shaped like a fishhook, Cape Cod is surrounded by Nantucket Sound and Buzzards Bay on the Atlantic Coast. It’s about 65 miles long and located North of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
The iconic island has several lighthouses, beautiful beaches, and gardens as well as pine forests, and ponds along the island’s National Seashore. You can enjoy and book the Cape Cod Caper Scavenger Hunt or Cape Cod Self-Guided Driving Audio Tour.
The Blue Dolphin Inn, located in Eastham, sits on six acres and has a pool, a picnic area, and barbecue facilities. Guest rooms have a mini-fridge, a coffee maker, and a private patio. Nauset Lighthouse is about five miles away.
See Related: Most Beautiful Places in America to Vacation
3. Nantucket – Massachusetts
With cobblestone streets, cedar-shingled buildings, and sand dunes, the New England paradise of Nantucket sets a traditional New England scene. The Massachusetts island sits off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in the Atlantic Ocean.
Spend time perusing maritime history museums, zipping about on golf carts, or sailing in Nantucket Sound.
Take a four-wheel drive tour and go nature-watching at Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge or indulge your love of lighthouses at Sankaty Head Light, Great Point Light, and Brant Point Light.
See Related: Best Vacation Dresses for Summer & Beach Trips
4. Martha’s Vineyard – Massachusetts
The New England village island of Martha’s Vineyard offers coastal cottages, sandy beaches, rocky shorelines, and a laid-back ambiance along Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds. It’s approximately nine miles wide and 26 miles long at the furthest point.
Access to Cape Cod is easy via the Hyannis/Oak Bluffs ferry port. Once on the island, dine on traditional seafood, watch the sunset from Aquinnah Cliffs Overlook, or visit Oak Bluffs and its antique Coney Island carousel, the Flying Horses Carousel.
Vineyard Square Hotel & Suites is a casually elegant romantic resorts category hotel. Formerly known as the Colonial Inn, it has a fitness center, a salon and day spa, free bike rental, continental breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and a private courtyard.
It’s within easy access to the shops and restaurants in the resort town of Edgartown.
5. Block Island – Rhode Island
Situated just south of mainland Rhode Island, Block Island has about 17 miles of rocky beaches dotted with lighthouses, bluffs, and winding pathways.
Popular activities on Block Island, Rhode Island include bicycling, hiking, fishing, sailing, birdwatching, and nature viewing at Block Island National Wildlife Refuge.
For a romantic adults-only getaway, Payne’s Harbor View Inn is a scenic choice. It’s located in New Shoreham and features antique touches like four-poster beds and pedestal sinks.
Some rooms have a balcony with ocean views. Ballard’s Beach, Block Island Historical Society, and Fred Benson Town Beach are nearby.
See Related: Most Beautiful Cities in the World to Visit
6. Manhattan – New York
Yes, Manhattan is an island – people don’t just call it “Manhattan Island” for funsies!
If you like your isles with museums, skyscrapers, culture, cuisine, and a vibrant ambiance, this borough of NYC is the island for you.
If you still don’t believe us on the island thing, there are 21 bridges and 15 tunnels leading into Manhattan. There’s even a movie called 21 Bridges starring Chadwick Boseman to help prove this point. Check it out. RIP Chadwick.
The Hudson, East, and Harlem Rivers form the boundary waters around the island.
The Empire State Building, Central Park, Broadway shows, Times Square, and world-class museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of Modern Art are just a few of the island attractions you’ll find in Manhattan.
You can also enjoy a scenic Manhattan dinner cruise.
From the Upper West Side to Midtown, Chelsea, and Midtown South, you’ll find a wide array of hotels to accommodate families, couples, groups, and single travelers.
The New Yorker, a Wyndham Hotel is centrally located (near the Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden, and Penn Station) for easy access to attractions and activities. Suites have separate seating areas and two bathrooms.
With art deco decor, this New York City hotel features free Wi-Fi, on-site restaurants, and even a small museum dedicated to Nikola Tesla. The inventor and engineer actually lived in the New Yorker for about ten years beginning in 1933.
See Related: Best Place to Stay in New York for Sightseeing
7. Fire Island – New York
Fire Island, a thin barrier island off the southern coast of Long Island, is a popular seasonal resort destination. Take the ferry and arrive in the town of Kismet and grab a bite at pizza shops or snack shacks around town.
Check out the 19th Century Fire Island Lighthouse, have a picnic at Robert Moses State Park, or visit the Sunken Forrest, a rare ecological habitat of maritime forest, flowers, and shrubs protected by high dunes.
See Related: Chicago vs New York: What’s the Difference?
8. Assateague Island – Maryland/Virginia
Assateague Island shares a border with Virginia in the south and Maryland to the north (near Ocean City). The 37-mile-long island and its wild horses were made popular in the 1947 book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.
Visitors to this Atlantic coast island enjoy kayaking, crabbing, wild horse viewing, and relaxing along stretches of soft sand.
Check out the 142-foot-tall Assateague Lighthouse (built in 1867), where you’ll have terrific views of Assateague Island National Seashore. The horizontal bands of red and white are a distinctive touch.
Assateague State Park, at the northern end of the island, is bordered by the Atlantic and Sinepuxent Bay. The park offers camping, swimming, beach lounging, and wildlife viewing.
There aren’t hotels along this secluded stretch known as Assateague, but the town of Chincoteague (and, yes, there are Misty and pony-related themes all over town to please the kids) offers several. Don’t miss a chance to experience Grand Boat Tour around Chincoteague and Assateague Islands.
9. Outer Banks – North Carolina
The Outer Banks (or OBX) is a popular stretch of Atlantic barrier islands that run from Corolla in the north to Cape Hatteras in the south (and onward to Ocracoke Island via a ferry). Along the way, you’ll pass the towns of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head.
For beautiful wide beaches, sand dunes, sea oats, family-friendly attractions, great seafood, and a casual attitude, you can’t go wrong.
There are many things to do in Outer Banks, popular activities and attractions include Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the Wright Brothers National Monument, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, offshore charting fishing trips, wild horse tours, and the rich history of the Lost Colony outdoor drama.
10. Emerald Isle – North Carolina
Emerald Isle sits along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast on the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re into fishing, you’ve made a great choice with Emerald Isle.
The Bogue Inlet Pier and Fort Macon Park are popular fishing spots. Additionally, you can go surf fishing and book charter fishing trips. Reel in flounder, cobia, and black drum.
Emerald Isle Woods Park and Hammocks Beach Park are top attractions for beach and nature lovers. The Salty Pirate Waterpark, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, and Emerald Forest Mini Golf appeal to the kids in the group.
11. Kiawah Island – South Carolina
The stretch of barrier island known as Kiawah Island makes excellent islands in the U.S. to visit. Located south of Charleston, between the Kiawah River and the Atlantic Ocean, it’s about 10 miles in length and 1.5 miles at the widest point.
The island is home to celebrities such as Ray Allen, Dan Marino, Tara Lipinski, and Joe Gibbs.
Kiawah Island has been developed as mainly a private golf and beach resort. Relax on the beach, enjoy fine dining, or practice that swing at premier island golf courses like the Pete Dye-designed Ocean Course, the Jack Nicklaus-designed Turtle Point, and the Gary Player-designed Cougar Point
Boating, fishing, and bicycling are also popular.
The Andell Inn, part of Residence Inn by Marriott, features a swimming pool, a business center, fitness facilities, and meeting space on a lakefront setting.
Some guest rooms have a kitchenette, extra seating space, living area, and dining space. It’s close to Cougar Point Golf Course and Kiawah Beachwalker Park.
See Related: Best Pink Lakes in the World
12. Hilton Head Island – South Carolina
Hilton Head, South Carolina is one of the most popular vacation islands in the U.S. The Atlantic Coast island is famous for its golf courses and 12 miles of pristine sandy beaches. Discover golf courses, arts and culture, luxury resorts, and Lowcountry cuisine.
Check out sites such as the Harbour Town Lighthouse and Museum, Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the Coastal Discovery Museum.
For a relaxing and luxurious stay, consider the Sonesta Resort – Hilton Head. It has a bar, meeting and event space, on-site dining, free Wi-Fi, two swimming pools, and a full-service spa. The Van Der Meer Tennis & Shipyard Golf Course is across the road.
13. Jekyll Island – Georgia
Jekyll Island is part of Georgia’s Golden Isles and includes Sea Island, St. Simons Island, Little St. Simons Island, and the city of Brunswick on the mainland. Accessible by the Jekyll Island Causeway, Jekyll has 10 miles of shoreline and is the southernmost of these isles. It’s found north of Florida’s Amelia Island.
Amid a setting of saltwater marshes and tropical palm trees, the whole family can enjoy a variety of activities and attractions such as the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, the St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum, a 25-mile Historic District bicycle trail, and horse-drawn carriage rides.
Jekyll Island dolphin tours are great fun for the whole family.
Jekyll Island Club Resort is a luxury stay in a 19th Century Victorian resort. Guest rooms have seating areas, free Wi-Fi, and luxury furnishings.
There’s a swimming pool, a fitness center, a bar, a putting green, and a restaurant at this pet-friendly resort. It’s not beachfront, but there is a free shuttle to and from the beach.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in the US
14. The Florida Keys and Key West – Florida
For a whole string of tropical isles in the U.S. to explore at your leisure, you can’t beat the Florida Keys.
Whether it’s Key Largo, Islamorada, and Marathon, or Big Pine and Key West, they all offer the natural beauty and tropical ambiance of palm trees, warm breezes, and lots of water-based activities and attractions along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Coast.
Some of the Keys have a more party persona (we’re looking at you, Key West) with world-famous bars, live music, and nightlife, but all make an excellent family vacation, honeymoon, or group island trip.
To explore all of the Keys, you may want to drop anchor in the middle section of Marathon. It’s centrally located to easily travel north or south. You can visit sites like Bahia Honda State Park, Theater of the Sea, the Dolphin Research Center, and more.
Located near Florida Keys Country Club on Marathon, Skipjack Resort & Marina has an outdoor pool, a poolside tiki bar, on-site tennis courts, and a marina. Guest rooms have a mini-fridge, a microwave, cable TV, and a balcony.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Miami, Florida
15. Marco Island – Florida
Just off the southwest Gulf Coast of Florida, Marco Island is near Naples on the mainland.
The island is dotted with golf courses, resort hotels, trendy boutiques, and a long sandy beach along the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the only developed island among Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands and features a network of waterways and canals throughout the island.
Check out Briggs Nature Center, Marco Island Historical Museum, Marco Island Center for the Arts, and Collier Seminole Park. Tigertail Beach Park is popular for kayaking, paddle boarding, and swimming. You can also book Marco Island’s Dolphin, Birding, and Shelling tour.
The beachfront Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa has a pool, event space, a bar, an on-site restaurant, a full-service bar, and a fitness center. Suites have a mini-fridge, a coffee maker, a sleeper sofa, and a private balcony. Golf courses, shops, and restaurants are nearby recreation options.
16. Sanibel Island/Captiva Island – Florida
Islands in America include the nature-loving isles of Sanibel and Captiva. Technically, they are two separate islands, but they’re so close together, you really don’t notice when you’re entering one and leaving the other.
The tropical isle of Sanibel is filled with cute pastel homes, palm-tree-lined pathways, and pristine beaches topped with seashells. It’s connected to mainland Florida by a causeway near Fort Myers and Cape Coral. You’ll enter Captiva at Blind Pass.
The J.N “Ding” Darling Natural Wildlife area takes up a large part of the eastern side of the isle.
These laid-back islands in America appeal to nature enthusiasts and beachgoers for their calm waters. Of course, kids are welcome, but they may be happier at one of the more thrilling vacation islands in the US. You can always add a little excitement to the trip with a Sanibel Island sunset sail or jet ski tour.
17. Santa Catalina Island – California
One of the best islands in the U.S. for an island getaway, Santa Catalina Island is located about 20 miles off the coast of Newport Beach, California.
It’s part of the Channel Island chain and features wildlife, diving sites, seafood restaurants, and stunning scenery. It’s approximately 22 miles long. It’s eight miles wide at the widest point.
From Two Harbors to Avalon, there are a variety of beaches, campgrounds, and parks on Santa Catalina Island.
Spend a fun day on a zipline eco-tour high above the island, visiting Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, lounging among cabanas and palm trees of Descanso Beach, snorkeling at Lovers Cove, or strolling around the postcard-perfect Mediterranean-inspired town of Avalon.
Don’t miss the Semi-Submarine Tour of Catalina Island.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Monterey, California
18. San Juan Islands – Washington
You’ll even find ideas for island vacations in the Pacific Northwest. The San Juan Islands archipelago, made up of 172 isles and reefs, is located in Washington state between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada.
Ferries are available to three of the main islands: Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan. Bill Gates is rumored to own a home on one of the isles.
Adventure-seeking San Juan Island lovers can visit old-growth forests at Moran State Park, go whale-watching at Lime Kiln State Park, or check out Friday Harbor. You can also enjoy whale watching as well as book a sea kayak tour.
Looking for accommodations on Orcas Island?
Deer Harbor Inn, located in Eastsound, is a good selection. There’s a lounge, a garden, outdoor BBQ facilities, and free Wi-Fi. All guest rooms have a coffee maker, and some have a kitchenette.
19. Oahu – Hawaii
You knew Hawaii was going to land on this list somewhere, right?
Hawaii is worth visiting. It’s one of the most famous islands in the U.S. The chicer of the Hawaiian isles, Oahu is home to Waikiki Beach, the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and the state capital of Honolulu.
The island has been featured in movies and was the home of the Hawaiian monarchy. There aren’t any active volcanoes (bummer) on Oahu, so if you’re into that, it’s best to choose a different island.
Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa is the perfect anchorage for your Oahu vacation.
While the kids will love the cuddly characters and Disney-themed surroundings, the grown-ups can indulge in luxury accommodations, local culture, and the world-class spa. The spa offers treatments for every member of the family.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Waikiki, Hawaii
20. Maui – Hawaii
The second largest of the Hawaiian islands, Maui features a romantic setting with the adventure of volcanoes, waterfalls, the Haleakala National Park, and the Hana Highway.
Whether your kids are teens or tots, they’ll find a wide array of activities to suit them because there are many fun and best things to do in Maui.
Snorkeling at Kapalua Bay Beach, searching for sea turtles, zipline adventures, hiking in the Iao Valley, and dolphin sailing adventures are just a few ideas to get you started.
See Related: Warm Winter Backpacking Destinations
21. Hawaii Island (the Big Island) – Hawaii
The Big Island of Hawaii is the largest island in the United States. It is one of the best islands in Hawaii to visit.
Volcanoes National Park and its hiking trails and tropical rainforests draw visitors of all ages to the Big Island of Hawaii. Two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, are located there.
Activities for the whole crew include the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach (How cool is black sand!), the green sand of Papakolea Beach (Could green sand be even cooler?), zipline adventure, horseback riding, ATV tours, and eco and agriculture tours.
From farms, coffee, and macadamias to bees and honey, the Big Island grows it all (and wants to teach you all about it).
The Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel has a pool, a fitness center, two on-site restaurants, and a private beach area. Guest rooms have a mini-fridge and free Wi-Fi. Watersports facilities and bicycle rentals (for an additional charge) are on-site.
See Related: Best Places to Travel in December on a Budget
22. Kauai Island – Hawaii
The fourth in our stream of Hawaiian island love, Kauai offers the beauty and thrill of crashing and cascading waterfalls like Wailua, Uluwehi, Opaekaa, Hanakapiai, Ho’opi’i, Kipu, and Kalihiwai Falls. Ironically, it’s also the fourth largest Hawaiian island at 553 square miles.
Nicknamed the Garden Island, Kauai is covered by tropical rainforest, the Mount Waialeale Rainforest. Hike to the top or take a guided 4-wheel drive adventure. Couples and families can go on kayaking in the Wailua River, ziplining through tropical valleys, enjoy a food tour, or snorkeling on Poipu Beach.
Of course, you should not miss Kauai helicopter tours.
Looking for accommodations on Kauai?
Kauai Shores Hotel has two outdoor swimming pools, a six-acre courtyard, a beachfront restaurant, and a private beach. Guests can enjoy free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, a mini-fridge, and a Keurig machine. Choose from mountain, garden, pool, and ocean views. Opaekka Falls and Lydgate State Park are nearby.
See Related: Places Similar to the Maldives to Visit
23. South Bass Island – Ohio
Situated about 22 miles offshore from Sandusky, Ohio, the small island of South Bass is about 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. Put-In-Bay is a popular spot at this Lake Erie island destination.
Visit the Put-In-Bay Winery, go fishing for walleye, explore Victorian hotels, or go swimming, picnicking, and camping at South Bass Island Park.
Nicknamed the Key West of the North, there’s a replica of Key West’s iconic buoy at the island’s northernmost bar, The Keys – Put-In-Bay. That’s a bucket lister right there.
For accommodations on South Bass, Put-In-Bay Resort & Conference Center is an excellent choice. It’s within easy access to dining and nightlife.
Amenities include an outdoor pool with a swim-up bar, a fitness center, an on-site nightclub, event, space, daily continental breakfast, and free Wi-Fi. Guest rooms have a mini fridge, a seating area, and a desk.
24. Mackinac Island – Michigan
Another Great Lakes island destination, Mackinac Island bobs about in Lake Huron between mainland Michigan and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. At less than five square miles, the isle has wooded trails, rock formations, and horse-drawn carriages, making it a favorite among couples and families.
Speaking of horse-drawn carriages, horse fans, in particular, will love Mackinac for its equine scene. Go horseback riding, visit carriage museums, or rent a private carriage. Cars aren’t allowed on Mackinac. In fact, motorized vehicles have been banned since 1901. So horses sound like a great option.
Outdoor activities include kayaking, sailing, and sunset boat cruises as well as bicycling around the 8.2-mile exterior rim of land. Go hiking at Fort Holmes, the highest point, or visit the famous Arch Rock, which spans more than 50 feet wide above the water.
For Mackinac accommodations, the charming (and quite grand) Grand Hotel offers on-site dining, a pool, a salon and spa, the Jewel Golf Course, and the longest front porch in the world (660 feet, in case you were wondering).
Which U.S. island is the most family-friendly?
If kids are in your crew, the OBX, Mackinac Island, Emerald Isle, and the Big Island of Hawaii are all great family-friendly destinations.
What is the most romantic U.S. island?
For a romantic setting, luxury accommodations, and secluded beaches, Maui, Hilton Head, Sanibel/Captiva, and Kiawah are excellent choices for honeymoons, anniversaries, and other special occasions.
What U.S. islands are best for thrill seekers and outdoor recreation?
If your group is all about watersports, hiking, fishing, and everything adventurous, consider Kauai, Mount Desert, the FL Keys, and San Juan Island.
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