Craving an island vacation but don’t have a passport? You don’t need one, nor do you even need to hop on a plane to visit these amazing islands in the United States that you can reach by car.
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Orcas Island, Washington
The San Juan Islands feel like their a world away from the mainland, but you can drive right to them, simply by heading to Anacortes and driving onto one of the Washington State ferries. Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juans, offering tons of things to do. It’s known for its magical laid-back mix of arts and culture, lush forests, tranquil lakes and endless outdoor adventure options. This green paradise, referred to by locals as the “gem of the San Juans,” is home to the highest mountain in the islands, and Moran State Park hosts miles and miles of hiking trails, including a trek to the summit of Mount Constitution, the island’s highest point. Here you’ll find stunning panoramic vistas of the island-dotted waters and snow-capped Mount Baker. You can also join a whale-watching tour, via boat or kayak, to check out the orcas that spy hop and swim through the emerald waters.
Mount Desert Island, Maine
Mount Desert Island, which has been named America’s No. 1 island to visit by Travel + Leisure, is the largest island in Maine, is home to Acadia National Park, with more than half of its 47,000 acres found right here – the rest is located on the Schoodic Peninsula and Isle Au Haut. Many people who have never visited are surprised to find that despite its name, this island is connected to the mainland by a bridge. In addition to being filled with a beautiful, rugged coastline, lakes and woodlands, Mount Desert boasts the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast, Cadillac Mountain. By driving the winding 3.5-mile road up to the 1,530-foot peak, you’ll be able to take in jaw-dropping views of coastal Maine, Frenchman Bay, Bar Harbor and the Porcupine Islands – arrive just before dawn and you can view the first spot the sunlight hits the United States on most mornings. If you’re up for a bigger challenge, you can also hike to the summit. While summer means crowds, hiking the trails is one of the best ways to enjoy more seclusion if you plan to come during the busy tourist season.
Marrowstone Island, Washington
Even most Washingtonians have never heard of Marrowstone Island, but that’s a big part of the reason it’s remained so wonderfully tranquil. Accessible via a road bridge southeast of Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula, the long and narrow strip of land retains its rural solitude and offers spectacular shoreline views. It’s home to just a little over 800 residents and is mostly made up of parks and public lands, like Flagler State Park, a 784-acre marine and camping park with a lighthouse, miles of trails and walkable saltwater shoreline, as well 19th-century historic military fort buildings. You can rent kayaks or other watercraft to paddle around Mystery Bay, bike peaceful roads and even check out a local vineyard. Marrowstone Vineyards offers an impressive hilltop setting, overlooking the Puget Sound, the Cascade Mountains and Whidbey Island. It also has a tasting room where you can sample fine handcrafted wines and a gallery which displays the works of local artists. By calling ahead. you can tour the Mystery Bay Goat Farm and taste award-winning goat cheese. Fishing, clamming and a variety of water sports like parasailing, are popular here too.
Tybee Island may be a sleepy isle, but some consider it to be one of the best-kept secrets in the American Southwest. There is plenty of white sand and lots of outstanding seafood eateries, including the Crab Shack, which claims to be the place “where the elite eat in their bare feet,” as well as North Beach Bar & Grill with its tasty sautéed shrimp and crab cakes. Visitors can also take tours to see the resident dolphins and explore two military forts. One of the best island experiences involves rent a beach cruiser from Fat Tire Bike Rentals and cruising around at a leisurely pace. You can also check out the 239-year-old Tybee Lighthouse and ride the flat McQueen’s Island Historic Trail. This ideal barrier island sitting along the pristine Georgia coast can be reached in just 20 minutes from the historic colonial center of Savannah, and it makes for the ideal destination for nearly every type of beach activity too, from combing for shells to kite surfing and kayaking with dolphins.
Jekyll Island, Georgia
Jekyll Island is the smallest of Georgia’s barrier islands but boasts plenty of family-friendly activities. It’s separated from the mainland by a six-mile causeway and is probably best known as the home of the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel, once the winter retreat of notable families like the Rockefellers, Goodyears, Vanderbilts and Pultizers, which was considered to be “the most exclusive social club” in the country. Now it’s a stunning landmark, open to the public. If you’re into history, you’ll also appreciate the island’s museums, prehistoric archaeological dig areas and historic homes like the Horton House one of the oldest buildings in Georgia. Visitors can take guided or self-guided tours, carriage tours and walking tours.
Outdoor activities are the main attraction, however. There are 10 miles of beaches for soaking up the sun, swimming and kite flying, as well as saltwater and freshwater fishing areas stocked with tarpon, various trout species, striped mullet and sheepshead. Other options include cycling, horseback riding and nature walks through the marine forests.
Chincoteague Island, Virginia
This small, serene island off the Virginia coast is best known for its unique population of wild ponies, and its sumptuous oysters. It’s part of a national wildlife refuge and offers the opportunity to view the ponies in their natural habitat, or even see the local “saltwater cowboys” move the herd on the annual pony swim in late July. In addition to being home to wild ponies, you’ll discover foxes and a bird watchers’ haven with over 320 species of birds, including herons and woodpeckers. You can also enjoy filling up on baskets of fried seafood like shrimp, scallops and flounder at the Chincoteague Diner after a day of play on the beach.
Big Pine Key, Florida Keys
The Florida Keys are a string of sunswept islands, with the major ones accessible by road. Stretching for about 120 miles, they’re home to beautiful beaches, outstanding water sports and glorious sunsets. While some are disappointed to learn that there aren’t endless stretches of pristine sands here, the Keys does boast two-and-a-half miles of fabulous sandy coastline at the 524-acre Bahia Honda State Park, just 40 minutes north of Key West on Big Pine Key. This island offers the opportunity for snorkeling among underwater sealife like queen conchs, tropical fish and soft coral that sit just a few hundred feet offshore too. While kayaking, swimming, snorkeling and boating are the biggest draws to Big Pine Key and the park, it also hosts the Silver Palm Trail, where visitors can view rare West Indies plants and a number of species that can’t be found anywhere else in the nation.
Coronado Island, California
Discover a true island oasis, just minutes from downtown San Diego by visiting Coronado Island. Coronado Beach, frequently ranked the finest in the entire country, with its powdery, soft sands that glisten in the sun due to its high mineral content can be found right here. It’s also an ideal place to rent a bike and explore impressive gardens and mansions on two wheels.
If you plan to stay the night, the historic Hotel del Coronado is a must. This legendary hotel sits across 28 oceanfront acres and was built in 1888. Designated a National Historic Landmark, it’s a true historic treasure with vibrant red turrets. Its picturesque seaside setting has been visited by dignitaries, U.S. presidents and a host of celebrities, and it was the filming location for the 1959 classic, “Some Like It Hot,” starring Marilyn Monroe. In addition to enjoying amenities like an award-winning spa, beachfront dining and upscale shopping, guests can take surfing or paddle boarding lessons, roast s’mores at a private beach bonfire and much more.