Is an island paradise calling your name? If so, consider sticking close to home with a number of exciting U.S. islands scattered across the country and beyond. You won’t have to travel far to visit these destinations and you could offset your travel costs by using the best travel credit cards.
If quick flights and a debt-free dream trip sound good to you, here are 18 U.S. islands to use for travel inspiration.
Amelia Island, Florida
Located in Northeastern Florida, Amelia Island is a 13-mile long island that’s known for its sandy beaches and year-round mild temperatures. It’s away from the hustle and bustle of popular South Florida destinations, but you’re still only 30 miles from Jacksonville if you’re interested in city activities.
Visitors to Amelia Island can enjoy a horseback ride along the beach or picturesque views from one of the many bed and breakfasts in the area. Amelia Island has been ranked as one of the best islands in the U.S. by both Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler.
Sanibel Island, Florida
Just a few hours south of Tampa lies Sanibel Island. This island along the Gulf of Mexico is famous for shelling, or searching the sandy beaches for different kinds of shells. In fact, the practice has become so popular here that people call the act of leaning over to pick up shells the “Sanibel Stoop.”
Between Sanibel Island and nearby Captiva Island on the Gulf Coast, you have over 15 miles of Florida beaches to explore, whether you’re shelling or simply enjoying a sun-soaked vacation.
Cumberland Island, Georgia
Many U.S. islands can be reached by road or bridge, but Cumberland Island, along the borders of Georgia and Florida, is accessed by ferry. Add in the fact that the island is part of the National Park Service (NPS) as the Cumberland Island National Seashore, and you’ve got a unique destination on your hands.
Cumberland Island is a prime spot for camping and exploring, with plenty of NPS campsites and miles of beaches and marshes waiting for a visit. Bikes are a good and recommended option for exploring the island and looking for glimpses of wildlife, which could include wild horses.
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Hilton Head is a large island located close to the Georgia border in southern South Carolina, less than an hour’s drive from Savannah, Georgia. The area is perfect for family vacations or couples getaways because you have loads of activities to choose from. This includes visiting beaches, golfing, biking, and participating in plenty of water sports and activities.
Apart from your typical beach island experiences, you also have the opportunity to golf, have a spa day, or enjoy the local nightlife. At Hilton Head, there’s truly something for everyone.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
Why choose one U.S. island for your travels when you can experience multiples on the same trip? The Outer Banks, often shortened to OBX, are a string of barrier islands in North Carolina that can be the perfect destination for a relaxing getaway.
The sandy beaches are ideal for any ocean-goers, though you might be interested in visiting Jockey’s Ridge State Park as well. It’s a 426-acre park with the largest natural living sand dune on the East Coast. Visitors can enjoy the dunes, take hang-gliding lessons, and hike through the park.
Assateague Island, Virginia and Maryland
Assateague Island is located in both Virginia and Maryland, stretching 37 miles between the two states along the Atlantic Coast. Parts of the island are split into the Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park, so you have the opportunity to visit two states, a national seashore, and a state park all during the same trip.
If you’re a fan of wildlife viewing, don’t miss out on the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which is also on Assateague Island. The refuge and other parts of the island are home to wild ponies, bald eagles, pelicans, deer, foxes, and more. Be sure to bring your binoculars and camera if you’re planning a visit here.
Mount Desert Island, Maine
You may have heard of Acadia National Park in Maine, but have you heard of Mount Desert Island? This island in Maine is where the majority of Acadia National Park is located, as well as the town of Bar Harbor.
The island is a prime destination for many outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, kayaking, and camping. The best time to visit would typically be during the summer months because it gets so cold during winters in Maine. But if you’re up for an adventure, winter activities, such as snowmobiling and cross-country skiing, are also available.
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
To the south of Cape Cod and a short 45-minute ferry ride away from the mainland lies the island of Martha’s Vineyard. This island has everything you might want in a charming New England destination. But it’s also an island. That means you get sandy beaches and ocean views all around, plus historic lighthouses and other landmarks.
The activities on Martha’s Vineyard are plentiful and largely revolve around the outdoor environment. They include biking, hiking, birding, fishing, sailing, and kayaking. However, the real treat of staying on the island may be the uniquely New England food you get to eat. Hint: Think seafood.
Goat Island, New York
If you’ve ever seen an aerial view of Niagara Falls, you may have noticed an island sitting in the middle of the Niagara River along the U.S. and Canadian border. That’s Goat Island, and it’s likely a stop along your travels if Niagara Falls is on your bucket list.
This island, which is where Niagara Falls State Park is located, is accessible only by car from the U.S. side of the falls. The main attraction here is Niagara Falls, which you can spot from different viewpoints around the island. In addition, don’t miss out on the Cave of the Winds experience, which allows you to view the waterfalls from close up along wooden walkways. Just be warned: You’ll likely get wet.
Block Island, Rhode Island
This island off the coast of Rhode Island, and not too far from Long Island, is accessible by ferries from both Rhode Island and Connecticut. Block Island is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, whether you want to engage in activities or simply enjoy ocean breezes anywhere you go.
Activities include hiking, biking, kayaking, sailing, fishing, and more. For a truly unique experience, don’t miss out on visiting Mohegan Bluffs. At this historic site of a 16th-century battle between Native American tribes, a set of 141 steps leads to a beautiful beach overshadowed by 200-foot cliffs. Whether you enjoy history or lovely scenery, it’s worth a visit.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan is a popular destination if you’re interested in getting away, but not too far away. It’s about a four-hour drive from Detroit and over three hours from Grand Rapids, so you aren’t necessarily close to any major cities. In addition, the border of Canada is just an hour’s drive to the north, which makes this a unique spot to visit.
Camping isn’t allowed on the island, but you have your choice of hotels, inns, or bed and breakfasts to choose from for lodging. Activities on the island include biking, horse-drawn carriage tours, and golfing.
Madeline Island, Wisconsin
Welcome to Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior in Wisconsin. Lake Superior may not be an ocean, but it’s one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. This gives you plenty of space for boating and other water-based activities, such as canoeing, swimming, and kayaking.
And even though Wisconsin isn’t seen as a big beach destination, you still get sandy beaches on Madeline Island for relaxing and having fun in the sun. When you’re not sunbathing, consider a hike through Big Bay State Park, located on the island, or check out a local restaurant for some delicious fare.
Santa Catalina Island, California
The Los Angeles area is known for Hollywood, theme parks, and plenty of beachfront property. But if you want a change of pace from the hustle and bustle of this west coast city, head out to sea and visit Santa Catalina Island.
This island is located about 22 miles off the Los Angeles coast, and it’s a popular destination among California’s Channel Islands. It’s accessible by ferry, private boat, or private plane, with ferry being the most common option.
Santa Catalina is full of adventures, from ocean excursions to zip lining tours. Other activities include playing the Catalina Island Golf Course or visiting the Catalina Casino historic landmark.
San Juan Islands, Washington
The San Juans, or San Juan Islands, are a grouping of 172 islands and reefs in San Juan County of Western Washington. The three most well-known and largest islands of the bunch are Lopez Island, Orcas Island, and San Juan Island.
Each island has its own unique activities and options for entertainment, so it’s hard to go wrong with selecting an island to visit. Kayaking, hiking, and fishing are fun pastimes on the islands, but it might be worth your time to book a whale-watching tour if you’ve never had this type of unique experience before.
Orcas, or killer whales, are year-round inhabitants of the San Juan Islands, but it’s possible to see other types of whales and wildlife as well, such as humpback whales or Steller sea lions.
Whidbey Island, Washington
Whidbey Island is located north of Seattle in the Puget Sound and offers picturesque scenery for anyone visiting the area. A few main highways, 20 and 525, cut across the island from north to south, which makes it easy to visit different parts of the island. This includes crossing the Deception Pass Bridge to Pass Island and Fidalgo Island in the north or ending up at the Clinton Ferry in the south.
The largest attraction on the island for many people is the outdoors. You have windswept cliffs and beaches, as well as six different state parks to explore. The largest city on the island is Oak Harbor, which has a population of about 23,000 people. So if you’re looking for leisurely island life in the Pacific Northwest, look no further.
Visiting Hawaii is a travel bucket list destination for many travel enthusiasts, but you have to decide which island(s) to visit before you go. For some, a stop on Maui is a no-brainer.
Maui is the second largest Hawaiian island and is sometimes called, “The Valley Isle.” When you think of island paradises, Maui could easily fit anyone’s imagination because of its sandy beaches and pristine waters. With more than 30 miles of beaches, including white, black, and red sand beaches, you get to surf, snorkel, and swim to your heart’s content.
For a change of pace, go hiking or horseback riding through the countryside and enjoy the dense, green forests in the area.
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
St. Croix is one of the U.S. Virgin Islands located in the Caribbean and is the type of place most people would typically imagine when thinking about where to have a laid-back island experience. The island has white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and plenty of sun for anyone dreaming about heaven on Earth.
St. Croix is also a big destination for snorkeling and scuba diving if you’re interested in exploring the world underneath the water. Buck Island Reef National Monument, one of three underwater national monuments in the U.S., is located here and offers visitors the chance to explore this protected area.
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
For a more fast-paced island lifestyle compared with St. Croix, consider another U.S. Virgin Island with St. Thomas. This island offers loads of dining options, a golf course, a water park, and plenty of shopping selections.
If you don’t like to be disconnected from entertainment options, but still want to be on a beautiful island, St. Thomas is likely the U.S. Virgin Island for you. You get to enjoy shopping and dining one day and relaxing at the beach the next. It’s the perfect combination of entertainment and nature.
4 best credit cards to help you save on travel
Not all credit cards are created equally, so be sure to compare credit cards to find the best one to enhance your travel experiences. Here are a few to consider.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers the opportunity to earn valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points on all your eligible purchases. These points can be redeemed for travel through the Chase portal, including for flights, hotels, and rental cars. Points redeemed for travel are worth 25% more on this card.
Learn more about this card in our Chase Sapphire Preferred review.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is similar to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but it offers a 50% bonus to your points on travel redemptions, which makes it easier to get more bang for your buck when planning an island getaway. You also get premium perks, such as Priority Pass airport lounge access and $300 in annual travel credits.
Learn more about this card in our Chase Sapphire Reserve review.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Amex Platinum is a premium travel card with luxury benefits that can help enhance your overall travel experiences. This includes airport lounge access and annual credits, such as $200 in airline fee credits and up to $200 in Uber credits. Certain benefits require enrollment.
Learn more about this card in our American Express Platinum review.
American Express® Gold Card
The Amex Gold earns Membership Rewards points like the Amex Platinum. However, this card is more focused on dining, which can be helpful for a hungry traveler. You get up to $120 in annual dining credits and up to $120 in annual Uber credits. Certain benefits require enrollment.
Learn more about this card in our American Express Gold Card review.
The bottom line
If you want to visit an island, but don’t want to travel halfway around the world, the U.S. has plenty of beautiful island destinations to choose from. Whether it’s the U.S. Virgin Islands or an island off the coast of Washington, the locations are varied, interesting, and filled with things to do.
Remember to research different ways, such as using travel credit cards, if you want to help take the debt out of paying for a dream island vacation. Many credit cards offer helpful rewards that can reduce your spending on expensive travel components, such as flights or hotel stays.
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