These beautiful but little-known islands could be your next getaway.
The well-known island getaways across the U.S. get all the glory, but there are plenty of hidden gem islands which offer an equally stunning escape but with a little more peace and quiet. If you’re wanting a secluded and intimate getaway, look no further than these 11 lesser-known U.S. islands.
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Visitors to Sanibel Island off the coast of Florida will find themselves surrounded by pristine, uncrowded beaches and lush tropical foliage. Sanibel is known as one of the most bike-friendly islands in America, where guests can pedal along 25 miles of trails for an active explorative experience, hitting a number of local nature preserves and historic landmarks. It’s the “seashell capital of the world” due to its unique geography, which means locals and visitors alike will be seen “shelling” along the shores day and night. After embarking on a seaside adventure, wind down at the quaint Castaways Cottages, which sits on the tranquil strip of land that separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Pine Island Sound and hosts guests in one, two, and three-bedroom cottages.
Caja de Muertos, Gilligan’s Island, and Vieques
WHERE: Puerto Rico
Most people think of Puerto Rico as one large Island, but the U.S. territory is more than that, with the surrounding outer islands having much to offer. The coffin-shaped Caja De Muertos is located off the southern coast, boasting stunning beaches, hiking, and bird watching in the protected bird nesting areas. Gilligan’s Island features clear blue waters and soft sands perfect for snorkeling. And finally, there’s Vieques, the larger and more residential of these islands, located off the eastern coast. Vieques is home to a pristine wildlife refuge and the world’s brightest bioluminescent bay, Mosquito Bay. There’s also Puerto Rico’s famous black sand beach, Playa Negra, and a wide variety of farm-to-table restaurants that serve fresh seafood and traditional Puerto Rican cuisine, such as mofongo. In the evening, visitors can retire to the Bravo Beach Hotel which offers private beach access and design-forward guest rooms.
Whidbey and Camano Islands
Off the mainland of Washington, travelers can find two of the most accessible and scenic island destinations in the Pacific Northwest. Camano and Whidbey sit just north of Seattle and are a short trip via bridge or ferry. These islands offer a different experience with each season, including locally-inspired shops and restaurants to explore, dynamic events fitting for a variety of interests, and rich history. Lodging options range from nationally-renowned hotels with farm-to-table dining to top-secret B&B spots which are ideal for a quiet retreat. The Bluff on Whidbey, a must-book B&B, features amazing views of Puget Sound and direct access to a hot tub, garden, and private decks.
Visiting Mackinac Island off the coast of Michigan feels like taking a trip back in time. This car-free island runs on old-fashioned horsepower and bicycles—in fact, hundreds of horse-drawn carriages fill the streets each day alongside the zooming bikes, which are available for rental at a variety of shops in town. A local favorite is a ride around the entire island, an eight-mile trip with scenic views of Lake Huron, Arch Rock, forests, and historical landmarks. Off-road, discover the sites of the Botanical Trail in Mackinac Island State Park. After a day of activity, indulge in the favorite local culinary creation, homemade Fudge. Finally, retire for the evening to Grand Hotel, which recently underwent a renovation that increased the outdoor space on-site. A few standout amenities on-site include the water jet play area and water slide, as well as a private adults-only pool area featuring an infinity edge with magnificent views of the island.
Alaska’s Fox Island offers beautiful surrounding waters that are a rich blue-green and hosts a wealth of marine wildlife. Guests of the island commonly see sea lions, otters, whales, Dall’s porpoise, and an endless number of seabirds such as eagles, puffins, cormorants, and murres. Guests can stay at the Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge, the only accommodation on this remote island. The all-inclusive lodge consists of eight guest cabins situated on a narrow peninsula of land just south of Kenai Fjords Tours’ Day Lodge.
North Haven, Maine, is one of the only islands on the coast of Maine that hosts year-round residents. It’s located approximately 12 miles off the coast of Rockland and is accessible via ferry. Must-stop shops on the island include North Haven Brewing Co., which was launched by three locals in 2016 and serves small-batch beers at the brewery’s own small tasting room, as well as Calderwood Hall, a food hall that hosts a small farmers market and a bakery where visitors can grab a coffee, fresh-made pastries, and sandwiches. After a day of adventure, visitors can spend the night at Nebo Lodge, a recognized landmark filled with history and memories. In fact, each room is named after an individual island off the coast of Maine.
Southern California’s Catalina Island is accessible by boat, plane, and helicopter (for those who are feeling especially fancy). The two towns to visit on the island include Avalon and Two Harbors. Travelers who are feeling adventurous can embark on a diving trip with Catalina Divers Supply and those who prefer to stick to land can explore with Catalina Backcountry on a naturalist-led hike. Want to try to do it all? Catalina Tours is a one-stop reservation service to book all activities in one place. Finally, Catalina Taxi and Tours offers private tours in the island’s remote interior, as well as a taxi service in Avalon to see the village from a different point of view. After a day of adventure, retire to Avalon’s Aurora Hotel, a relaxing retreat with an ocean view rooftop deck ideal for soaking in the island ambiance (while enjoying a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, of course).
Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia is a coastal nature haven hosting many beautiful, oceanfront lodging amenities including the famous Jekyll Island Club Resort, which dates back to the late 1800s. The internationally-acclaimed Georgia Sea Turtle Center is a must-see for visitors wanting to learn all about the local ecosystems and the animals that call the island home. Visitors can get up close and personal with sea turtles undergoing the rehabilitation process, or take a beach walk to get a look at these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. There are five distinct beaches on the island to check out. On Driftwood Beach, explorers will encounter ancient fallen trees which create a scenic, romantic backdrop. Visitors craving an active adventure can explore miles of bike paths, kayaking and paddleboarding tours, playgrounds, or the Summer Waves Waterpark.
Ocracoke Island and Hatteras Island
WHERE: North Carolina
The Outer Banks of North Carolina is made up of several barrier islands, a standout few of which include Roanoke Island, Hatteras, and Ocracoke. These hidden gems give visitors a glimpse of island life, Southern hospitality, and untouched beauty all in one destination. Ocracoke Island is a beautiful escape enveloped by natural beauty and protected largely by the National Park Service. Hatteras Island is the perfect destination for those looking for a quiet, yet beautiful island escape with roughly 50 miles of scenic coastline and seven small villages offering locals and guests alike peace and seclusion with some of the best views on the East Coast.
Big Bay Beach at Town Park, Madeline Island
Travel north to Lake Superior at the northernmost tip of Wisconsin and you’ll find Madeline Island, the largest of the 21 Apostle Islands—a place where the phrase “island time” takes on a truly “timeless” meaning. The island’s boardwalk offers guests the chance to embark on a guided walk along popular Big Bay Beach. Here, visitors will encounter the relaxing, rhythmic sound of the waves crashing along the shore while taking in the spectacular view of Lake Superior through the towering trees. There are more than two miles of sand beach with ample swimming and fishing at this park that are both secluded and free. After a day at the beach, visitors can shop the town’s galleries, hike, bike, kayak, swim, golf, dine, and retire to The Inn on Madeline Island for a quaint and restful stay.