Life on an island can be a compromise. On one hand, you get the peace and quiet that comes with living miles away from the mainland. Depending on the area, you may even get tropical beaches, palm trees, and exotic wildlife. On the other hand, you also get the crushing isolation that comes with living miles away from the mainland, shipping costs driving grocery prices through the roof, and swarms of tourists may descend like locusts every year.
So what’s an island lover to do? Rather than move to that amazing island, just visit instead. Join the happy locust swarm and get your fix of island adventure without having to deal with all the inconvenience of actually living on one year-round. Check out one (or all!) of these incredible American islands and get the best of both worlds.
1. Hawaii: Mokoli’i
Also known as Chinaman's Hat, this charming island just off the coast of Kaneohe Bay has an interesting origin story. According to Hawaiian mythology, Mokoli’i is actually composed of the remains of a huge lizard. In the story, this lizard offended the Hawaiian goddess Hi’iaka, who had the lizard's tail chopped off and thrown into the sea. In addition to its great natural beauty, the island is a wonderful place to kayak, boat, or surf.
2. Massachusetts: Martha's Vineyard
Though its smaller sister island, Nantucket, was recently named the top island in the world by National Geographic, Martha's Vineyard has plenty of its own charms to offer. It's the third largest island on the East Coast and is home to one of the first deaf communities in the country. During the summer months, the island's population of 16,500 people balloons to over 100,000, but you shouldn't let the crowds keep you away. This place offers some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, quaint cobblestone streets and the oldest carousel in the country.
3. Louisiana: Chandeleur Islands
Located close to Breton Island, this island chain may vanish in the coming decades due to erosion. That means that those wishing to explore this beautiful collection of islands need to move fast! These isles are great for fishing and water recreation.
4. Pennsylvania: Big and Little Indian Rock
These islands are as mysterious as they are beautiful. Big and Little Indian Rock are located in the Susquehanna River near Safe Harbor in Lancaster County. They are covered in hundreds of Native American petroglyphs that are estimated have been carved into the stone thousands of years ago by the indigenous peoples of the area. The petroglyphs are best viewed in the early morning or evening, as the high sun of the afternoon makes the shallow inscriptions quite difficult to spot. The waters around the islands are great for kayaking, though less-experienced boaters may want to bring along a veteran guide.
5. Connecticut: Thimble Islands
This cluster of islands is located near Branford. They are said to be named for the thimbleberry, but the islands are actually home to more blackberry and raspberry bushes. Horse Island, the largest in the the archipelago, is owned by Yale University and houses an ecological laboratory. The other islands are home to a total of 81 houses, with Money and Governor Islands having the greatest population. Hop on the Sea Mist Thimble Islands Cruise to enjoy a 45-minute guided tour around the islands.
6. South Carolina: Fripp Island
This barrier island is a lesser-known resort island located about 21 miles from Beaufort. Conservation efforts have kept Fripp looking effortlessly natural and beautiful, and have also led to golf carts being the predominant means of transportation around the island. Biking is also popular, and there are plenty of great spots to cycle and hike. Though this island is technically a gated community, it's still an amazing spot to visit if you ever get the opportunity.
7. New York: Fire Island
Located just off the southern shores of Long Island, this gorgeous isle is renowned for its beautiful and fearless wildlife. The resident deer are known to be particularly friendly and curious, often approaching visitors on the beach and strolling along paths without being alarmed by passerby. Also worth exploring is the stunning Sunken Forest, a woodland and beach area that is full of rolling sand dunes, unique insect life, and a rare coastal holly forest.
8. Georgia: Cumberland Island
Cumberland island should be on every American's island bucket list. With countless miles of pristine beaches and herds of wild horses that roam the rugged landscape of the island, visitors can be sure that their trip will be one to remember for years to come.
9. Tennessee: Rock Island
Rock Island State park is an enchanting isle located in both Warren and White Counties. The park's 883 acres are crisscrossed by two rivers that feed countless stunning waterfalls and lovely streams. Great Falls Gorge and Twin Falls are probably the island's most majestic cascades, and have even earned comparisons to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. With over 60 campsites and 10 cabins for rent, this island is a great spot for a weekend of exploration.
10. Washington: San Juan Islands
These islands eschew Washington's reputation for being a bit damp. Due to their position in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, the San Juan islands enjoy an average of 247 sunny days per year. Lopez Island is nicknamed the "Friendly Isle" due to its welcoming local population. Friday Harbor, on San Juan Island, offers some of the best lodging and dining options on the islands. There are also a number of great galleries that will keep art lovers entertained. All of the islands offer picturesque places to roam, including rocky beaches, rolling farmland, and dramatic cliffside trails.
11. Florida: Captiva Island and Sanibel Island
Florida has no shortage of incredible islands, but Captiva and Sanibel are particularly appealing due to their balance between natural conservation and a great nightlife. Check out the Bubble Room on Captiva for fun drinks and food, and don't forget to make friends with the animals at the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Captiva Island's tourism site proudly announces that the island has 250 kinds of shells, 230 kinds of birds, 15 miles of beaches, and zero traffic lights.
12. Ohio: South Bass Island
South Bass Island is sometimes called the "Secret Midwest Playground." There's lots to do in the island's town of Put-In-Bay, including touring the Butterfly House, visiting the antique car museum, riding the attractions at Adventure Bay Amusement Park, and even visiting the town's marvelous Chocolate Museum. If outdoor fun is more your style, the island offers lots of boating and hiking opportunities, too.
13. Mississippi: Horn Island
This stunning island is known for inspiring Mississippi artist Walter Anderson, and it's easy to see why the area made such an impact. Horn Island is full of raw, sandy beaches and beautiful coastal marshland. The island isn't serviced by ferry or bridge, so it's the perfect spot for intrepid kayakers to spend a day or two enjoying some peace and quiet. Boats to the island can also be chartered, if you don't feel like paddling out there yourself.
14. North Carolina: Hatteras Island
This gorgeous island runs almost half the distance of the Outer Bank islands. A popular destination for vacationers, great villages to visit on the island include Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo. Beach lovers will definitely appreciate Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where undeveloped beaches and beautiful sand dunes make for the perfect day by the seashore.
15. Utah: Antelope Island
This island is connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway, which makes reaching its stunning shores convenient for walkers, cyclists, and motorists. The island is full of diverse wildlife, and is an especially great place to spot deer, antelope, and bison. The Fielding Garr Ranch is a the perfect vantage point from which to catch a truly spectacular island sunset.