Through the simple act of hopping on a ferry, crossing a bridge, or boarding a very short flight, these islands off of the U.S. shoreline—also off the well-trodden paths of island seekers who flock to destinations like Cape Cod and Catalina Island—transport you to what feels like a different world. And although the food and physical settings may vary on each—from lobster rolls on Block Island to ahi poke on Lanai—one thing they all have in common is a leisurely approach to living. Get ready to slow down, engage the senses, and savor the spirit of each of these under-the-radar islands.—Kristine Hansen
Mount Desert Island
Made up of four towns—Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, Tremont, and Southwest Harbor, plus Acadia National Park—much of the “urban” activity is in Bar Harbor (home to the West Street Hotel, with a rooftop pool) while other areas keep a slower pace. Just 10,000 people live in on the island, which is the second biggest along the Eastern seaboard.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island Guide
This rural Door County island flaunts a lavender farm with a gift shop and café (with macarons imported from Paris), 80 miles of paved cycling trails, and a good cup of joe at Red Cup Coffee House. Overnight accommodations are sparse but a ferry from Jackson Harbor makes several trips per day. Don’t leave without walking across Schoolhouse Beach’s smooth stones for some rustic reflexology.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Door County Guide
Within the Kodiak Archipelago, this is an island best suited for those who really want to get away—but you can easily find luxury (plus salmon fishing and bear sightings) at the Kodiak Raspberry Island Remote Lodge. Kodiak is the closest town, reachable through a 30-minute ride on a float plane or 90-minute ferry ride.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Southcentral Alaska Guide
The largest of the San Juan Islands (with 4,500 residents), it’s easy to get here from Anacortes on a ferry. Tour working artist studios using this handy map, and check out the horseshoe-shaped island’s highest point, Mount Constitution, in Moran State Park. Get a taste of local life at Once In A Blue Moon Farm’s lodging, two miles from the ferry.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Orcas Island Guide
St. George Island
A perk in booking a vacation here is the large waterfront accommodations—thanks to the island’s thriving vacation-home market. Stroll the white-sand beach at St. George Island State Park, surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico, and when you feel “called to the city,” escape over the St. George Island Bridge to Apalachicola, a tiny town with namesake oysters, art galleries, and antique stores.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Emerald Coast Guide
WHERE: Rhode Island
Access the island (pop. 1,000) via the year-round ferry from Point Judith, a small plane from Westerly, or seasonal ferries from Newport, R.I. In addition to 17 miles of beach, there’s the Block Island Historical Society Museum, Water Street shopping, and lots of lobster rolls. Forty percent of the island is protected through conservation; rent a bicycle or moped to explore.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Block Island Guide
Chincoteague ponies roam this island that’s home to around 3,000 residents. Two museums—the Museum of Chincoteague and Beebe Ranch—explain local history while the latest arrival to the food scene is the two-year-old waterfront Jackspot. Quite a few hotels are on or near the shoreline: Refuge Inn is just a few blocks in and rents out bicycles.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Virginia’s Eastern Shore Guide
WHERE: North Carolina
Just-caught seafood is in abundance at this Outer Banks island: dig in at Howard’s Pub & Raw Bar. Ocracoke Harbor Inn—with private decks on most rooms—is one of the many family-owned small hotels. About 90 percent of the island is part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a good spot for birdwatching.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Ocracoke Island Guide
Most Lower Gulf Coast travelers drive to Sanibel and Captiva, overlooking this nearby island with its more laid-back feel (and no traffic lights). Despite a lack of beaches, mangoes and lychee thrive here and fishing is the top draw. Outdoorsy types can go for a hike at Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Pine Island Guide
WHERE: New York
Off the coast of Long Island, Fire Island offers celeb-chef dining (Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Le Dock) and splendid beaches. Take in the island from a bird’s-eye view via Fire Island Lighthouse’s tower and sink your toes into the sand at Fire Island National Seashore. Follow the ferry schedule here.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Fire Island Guide
Sea Island and Georgia’s Golden Isles are 83 miles south of Savannah. Pamper yourself by checking into the Cloister at Sea Island, a Mediterranean-esque luxury property with a spa and five miles of beach. Immerse yourself in nature either horsebackriding on the beach or a kayaking through marshes and inlets.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Golden Isles Guide
Hawaii’s smallest inhabited island—often dubbed “the pineapple island”—welcomed the posh and re-imagined Four Seasons Resort Lanai earlier this year. From the inland Garden of the Gods’ rock towers to Shipwrecked Beach (so named for an offshore wreck), plus green turtles on Polihua Beach, there’s something for every nature lover.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lanai Guide
This artificial island was built for the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco Bay. Considered a San Francisco neighborhood complete with MUNI access, there’s a flea market (with food trucks) the last weekend of the month and the Treasure Island Music Festival each October.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Bay Area Travel Guide
WHERE: South Carolina
Located 21 miles southwest of Charleston, Kiawah is all about low-country luxe. A golfer’s paradise with five championship courses, there are also 10 miles of beach and 30 miles of bike paths. Spend the night at the boutique Andell Inn and check out the shops at Freshfields Village next door.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s South Carolina Guide