These islands in the U.S. are easily accessible from the mainland — and you may not even need a plane ticket to reach them. Here’s what to do, how to get there, and what it’ll cost.
You don't have to go as far as the Caribbean for your next getaway. These islands in the U.S. are easily accessible from the mainland — and you may not even need a plane ticket to reach them. Here’s how to see them, what to do when you get there, and what it’ll cost.26
Amelia Island offers a slice of history: Victorian mansions, a Civil War–era fort, and Florida’s oldest lighthouse and saloon. Meanwhile, its sandy shores host dolphins, osprey, the endangered right whale, and nesting sea turtles. Every March, the Amelia Concours d'Elegance dazzles classic car collectors; and in May, a festival celebrates its historic shrimp industry — don’t leave before ordering a plate.
Getting there: Amelia Island is a 45-minute drive from downtown Jacksonville and 30 minutes from Jacksonville International Airport (service from JetBlue, Southwest, and Delta, among others). The island is connected to mainland Florida by two bridges. Hotels on Amelia Island average out to around $160 per night, depending on the season.
The largest of the San Juan Islands gets only half the rainfall of nearby Seattle, making it easy to enjoy the splendid scenery. Soak it up while sipping wine at the island’s vineyard, or whale watching at Lime Kiln State Park. Stop to see the island’s adorable alpacas, then sit for a picnic at the brilliant 20-acre lavender farm. End the day by dining, shopping, and strolling in Friday Harbor.
Getting there: Washington State Ferries operates between islands and to the mainland, which will cost you $13.75 round-trip. From the port at Anacortes, Washington (90 miles north of Seattle or south of Vancouver on Interstate 5), it is two hours to San Juan Island. Alternatively, you can take a half-hour flight from Seattle to San Juan Island on Kenmore Air. Hotels on San Juan Island average out to around $130 per night, depending on the season.
North Carolina’s easily navigable barrier islands offer endless open-sea beaches and state parks. While you're there, be sure to check out the popular Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head, where you can see the tallest natural sand dune system in the eastern U.S. (you can hike, hang-glide, and sand board down the dunes). If you love history, be sure to venture out to Roanoke Island, the first English colony; or, if you're looking for some R&R, stake out your perfect spot on any of the secluded beaches of Hatteras.
Getting there: The Outer Banks is a scenic drive from Norfolk International Airport (82 miles north) or Raleigh Durham International Airport (192 miles west). The islands are connected by a series of drivable bridges and by ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke, which will take about an hour and is free, and between Ocracoke, Swan Quarter, and Cedar Island, which will take about two and-a-half hours and is $1 for pedestrians, and $15-$45 for cars. Hotels on the Outer Banks average out at about $180 per night, depending on the season.
Just 20 miles from L.A., Santa Catalina is home to swanky hotels, beach clubs, and even a historic casino-turned-movie theater and museum. But, the real appeal here is the protected reserve (nearly 90 percent of the island). Bike or hike some 40 miles of trails, or join a Jeep Eco Tour to see the diverse animal population, including a herd of American bison whose ancestors were brought here in 1924 as extras for a movie.
Getting there: You can reach Santa Catalina island by ferry from San Pedro, Long Beach, Dana Point, and Newport, which will take you about an hour and costs $75 round-trip. You can also take a 15-minute helicopter ride from Long Beach, which will cost you around $270 round-trip. Hotels on Santa Catalina Island average out to around $142 per night, depending on the season.
Hilton Head’s shell-lined shores, vast selection of rental properties, and shallow, gentle water make it an ideal family destination. Its postcard red-and-white lighthouse is a launch point for sightseeing cruises, water sports, and, is the perfect spot for dolphin-watching. Off the coast, tee-off at some two dozen golf courses, and visit the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge to see deer, alligators, and birds.
Getting there: Hilton Head Island is 45 minutes by car from Savannah, Georgia, and two hours from Charleston, South Carolina. Visitors can fly to either city, or take Amtrak or a bus from Savannah. Alternatively, there are daily flights to Hilton Head Island Airport via Charlotte (USAIR Express) and via Atlanta (Delta). Hotels on the island average out to around $130 per night, depending on the season.
East of New York City, Long Island is easily overlooked but, it's dense with its own fair share of attractions. In the summer, Jones Beach springs to life with nightly concerts. The island's North Shore boasts mansions (once owned by the Vanderbilts and President Roosevelt), which, fun fact, inspired The Great Gatsby. On the East End, tour the wine trail of the North Fork, and see and be seen among the rolling dunes and chic eateries in the Hamptons.
Getting there: Visitors can fly into either John F. Kennedy International Airport or LaGuardia Airport and either rent a car or take the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) to various points across the island. Fares start around seven dollars for a one-way ticket. Hotels on the island average out at $130 per night, depending on the season.
This remote and untamed island on Lake Superior is worth the trek for those seeking to get in tune with nature. Pack hiking boots and binoculars: Moose, wolves, and rare birds roam freely throughout some 165 miles of forested trails. Experienced divers can explore nine haunting shipwrecks, and in spring and fall you may even see the Northern Lights. Best of all: There are never any crowds.
Getting there: Fly to Thunder Bay International Airport in Ontario or Houghton County Memorial Airport in Houghton, Michigan. Then, book a ferry from Houghton (five hours, $53 one-way); Copper Harbor, Michigan (three-and-a-half hours, $65 one-way); or Grand Portage, Minnesota (one-and-a-half hours, $67 one-way). Alternatively, Isle Royale Seaplanes offers service from Houghton (35 minutes, $310 RT). Hotels on the island average out to around $110 per night, depending on the season.
This East Coast island is known best for Acadia National Park — home to the highest seaside summits on the Atlantic north of Rio de Janeiro. Sheer granite peaks overlook crashing waves and more than 120 miles of hiking trails, white-water rafting, and tons of wildlife, so there's plenty to explore. After your action-packed day, unwind over fresh lobster and shopping in the charming seaside village Bar Harbor.
Getting there: Mount Desert Island is a five-hour drive from Boston, or, you can also fly from Logan Airport (Boston) via Cape Air, which will cost you around $190 round-trip. However, although the drive is long, a car allows you to explore Acadia National Park more thoroughly (plus, it's more affordable than flying). Accommodations on the island range from historic waterfront hotels to small B&Bs. Hotels on Mount Desert Island average out to around $130 per night, depending on the season.
With year-round warmth and plenty of tennis, golf, and biking, Sanibel Island is an ideal, low-key getaway for athletic travelers. The island boasts nearly 15 miles of beaches that are among the best in the country for collecting seashells. Tour the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, with some 6,000 acres of marshlands, and home to more than 300 species of mammals, reptiles, and birds, including the elusive bald eagle.
Getting there: Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers is just 20 miles from Sanibel Island via Interstate 75 (approx. 50 minutes by car). Alternatively, Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport is a two-hour drive from the island. Sannibel Island is connected to the mainland by the Sanibel Causeway ($6 toll), which offers sweeping views of the Gulf. Hotels on the island average out to about $310 per night, depending on the season.
This Texas barrier island is an unsuspecting paradise for bird lovers. The Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center is home to Roseate Spoonbills and Reddish Egrets, and hosts the annual Whooping Crane Festival in February. The warm waters surrounding the island are home to more than 600 species of fish, and is ideal for a deep sea fishing. Shop and dine in Port Aransas and explore the island by golf cart.
Getting there: Fly into Corpus Christi International Airport, with connections to Dallas and Houston. From there, take the Highway 261 and the causeway. Alternatively, fly into San Antonio and drive (about three hours by car). What's more, the Port Aransas Ferry System provides free transportation seven days a week between Mustang Island and Port Aransas. Hotels on the island average out to about $90 per night, depending on the season.
In the 19th century, this Lake Michigan retreat was integral to the global fishing industry (the island's two museums and lighthouses tell its history). Today, the walkable town center is packed with various shops and eateries for travelers to explore. Though not essential, a car lets you access the sugar maple forests and sparkling lakes on the island’s undeveloped side. At night, there’s excellent star gazing and, occasionally, you can even see the Northern Lights.
Getting there: Beaver Island Boat Company operates a two-hour ferry from Charlevoix, Michigan, from early April through mid-December (twice-daily in peak season). Accommodations on the island are primarily B&Bs and small, no-frills hotels, which average out to about $150 per night, depending on the season.
On the largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, it’s all about nature. Kayak through the marshes and waterways of a supreme nature reserve to Key Island, home to a pristine beach and floating food stalls. The East River and Isles of Capri reveal spooky mangrove tunnels, where archeologists recently unearthed Pre-Columbian artifacts, now on display at the free Marco Island Historical Museum.
Getting there: Marco Island lies about 20 miles (30 minutes) from Naples Municipal Airport and 50 miles (one hour) from Ft. Myers Southwest Florida Airport. The northern entrance to Everglades National Park is a 40-minute drive, and Miami is a little more than two hours by car on US Route 41, which cuts through the Everglades. Hotels on the island average out to about $350 per night, depending on the season.
There’s a reason “The Vineyard” has been favored by American presidents and elites for centuries. While the east side is home to charming seafood restaurants, pubs, and shops, the sleepy, scenic west side is the perfect place to go off the grid. Bike to the Jaws Bridge, where scenes from the movie were filmed before heading to the sheer cliffs at Aquinnah (formerly called Gay Head), where you can walk the trail to Moshup Beach for idyllic sunset views.
Getting there: Martha’s Vineyard is accessible by ferry from Woods Hole ($8.50), Hyannis ($30), New Bedford ($40), Falmouth ($14), Nantucket ($36) in Massachusetts; North Kingstown, Rhode Island ($56); and Manhattan, New York ($165) — all prices one-way. Hotels on the island average out at about $130 per night, depending on the season.