The Mediterranean and South Pacific are great and all, but one needn’t leave the U.S. to enjoy island life. Here are some of the country’s coolest island destinations.
The Hawai’ian Islands
Obviously, it’s impossible to choose the best Hawaiian island ― they’re all pretty awesome. So in order to help you make an informed choice, we’ll refer to Lonely Planet’s tutorial, ‘Hawai’i for first-timers: how to choose an island‘. If you’ve got your heart set on museums, restaurants, and other urban attractions, O’ahu is your best bet. If you’re hoping to hike or check out the local wildlife, the volcanoes and rainforest trails of Hawai’i (aka, the ‘Big Island’) will suit you just fine. Surfers should check out Maui, isolationists will probably prefer Lana’i, history buffs will dig Moloka’i, and photographers will appreciate the breathtaking lanscapes of Kaua’i.
The barrier island of Kiawah can be found roughly 15 miles off the South Carolina coast. Much like Hilton Head (another popular S.C. island that lies roughly 110 miles to the southwest), Kiawah is home to some prime turf. Some of the notable golfers to design courses on the island include Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Tom Fazio; another venue, simply known as the Ocean Course, has previously hosted tourneys like the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship. If golf’s not your game, no worries ― Kiawah also boasts roughly 10 miles of public beaches and 10,000 acres of accessible woodlands.
Yeah, it’ll be swarming with tourists during the summer months. But lively Martha’s Vineyard, located a few miles south of Cape Cod, has plenty to offer visitors year-round. The island hosts numerous film festivals throughout the year, as it boasts a good number of residents who are members of the Hollywood elite. Other attractions include golf clubs, museums, and a handful of breweries. And if you visit during the cold season, be sure to visit Aquinnah Cliffs, which are at their most majestic during wintertime storms.
According to The Seattle Times, visitors to this largest member of the San Juan Island chain can “eat naturally and play hard”. The pristine scenery is arguably Orcas Island’s strongest attribute; Mount Constitution, the island’s highest point, is nestled within the highly accessible Moran State Park, while Turtleback Mountain is a popular destination for hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders. Doe Bay, the former site of a sizable hippie commune as late as the 1980s, is today home to cabin rentals and clothing-optional hot tubs.
The Keys get all the glory but Sanibel Island, which is connected by causeway to Florida’s western coast near Fort Myers, is a fantastic tourist spot in its own right. A host of native animal species ― from spoonbills and bobcats to the elusive American crocodile ― can be spotted at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and the Baily Matthews Shell Museum is the world’s foremost (read: only) museum devoted to conchology, or the study of seashells. Sanibel is also home to some top-notch bars and eateries; when your tummy starts rumbling, hit up Mad Hatter Restaurant or Melissa’s Cafe for some quality grub.
Until 2000, Santa Cruz was the country’s largest privately owned island; former proprietors include Captain Andrés Castillero (aide to Governor Juan Alvarado) and San Francisco businessman William Barron. Today, Santa Cruz is a federally operated nature conversancy considered part of Channel Islands National Park; native animal species include the golden eagle, feral pig, and island fence lizard. The island also has plenty of coves, caves, and secluded beaches to explore. And don’t worry about trouble from the locals; according to the most recent census report, only two people permanently inhabit the island.