America may not be the tropics, but its islands still enjoy sea breezes and panoramic ocean views from every direction, Main Streets flanked by coastal shores, exquisitely fresh seafood and welcoming small-town hospitality. When a town has miles and miles of beaches, the communities within the towns seem to be laidback – chalk it up to vitamin D. Next time you’re feeling beachy and landlocked by the grid, catch a train, a plain, grab your keys and hit one of these small-town islands.
Hilton Head is a thriving, bustling vacation destination, with pleasant year-round climate, gorgeous white sand beaches and an immense array of resort amenities. This small island is home to great restaurants and plenty of cultural attractions, but it shines as a golfer’s paradise, with a wide selection of world-class courses. But for all the island’s culture, fine dining and resort-style amenities, the heart of a vacation to Hilton Head is still the beach – with so many white sand stretches to choose from, locals favor Coligny Beach for it’s tiled paths and flower-strewn parks. Heaps of opportunities abound for outdoor adventure, as well, both on land and at sea. Off the island, Savannah, GA, is only a 40-minute drive south, opening up a whole world of sightseeing, celebrity restaurants, and other urban attractions. It is not surprising that Hilton Head has evolved into an immensely popular family vacation destination.
At the turn of the century, Jekyll Island was one of the most coveted vacation destinations for America’s jet-set luminaries. Today, the resort has opened its ranks to a much wider variety of holiday makers, with golf courses, year-round festivals and accommodation options to boot. However, this is a place that still bears the regal touch of class that has been one of its most defining features in the past and the historic district still stands as a beautiful example of 20th-century American high society. The Jekyll Island Club Hotel is perhaps the most enduring and iconic image of Jekyll Island’s historical place at the forefront of America’s vacationing elite, having hosted names like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt, Pulitzer and Morgan. Jekyll Island is also home to some quintessentially East Coast marshlands and beachfronts that have helped make it a favorite among families and couples looking for somewhere to relax.
Kodiak Island is a unique little slice of seafood heaven in Alaska. Located just off Anchorage in the Gulf of Alaska, this island, made up of seven communities, is the second largest island in the United States. Bursting with a cultural blend of both historical Russian monuments and orthodox churches as well as strong ties to its native American communities, Kodiak Island looks very little like the rest of America. However, it’s the local ecosystem that sets this area apart. Wandering around the state parks and along its shorelines, visitors can easily spot marine life and seabirds in their native habitats: whales, the famous Kodiak bears and fish of an impressive variety hang out with the humans on Kodiak Island. As well, history buffs can explore the ecologically diverse and historical Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, which remains from World War II when the island faced the threat of Japanese occupation.
Set between the Laguna Madre Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, South Padre Island is a popular beach resort on the southeastern tip of Texas. Those desirous of peace and quiet may wish to avoid Spring Break, but the rest of the year it’s a very family friendly destination. The main attraction is of course the beach, replete with opportunities for surfing, kiteboarding, diving and boating. But a perhaps less expected highlight, considering the level of development, is the island’s wildlife, which is abundant in the water, on the land and in the air .Find out about the wildlife that surrounds South Padre Island at the Sea Life Center, where abound touch tanks allowing for tactile encounters with octopi, starfish and crabs, and plenty of passionate staff to answer any questions. Still looking for more marine life? South Padre Island also offers Wild Dolphin Tours.
Like most destinations in Alaska, Sitka is remote. Very remote. Situated on a series of islands in the Pacific, miles off the coast of Juneau, the only way to reach Sitka is via ferry, cruise ship or plane. Because it’s so remote, most visitors choose to stay for at least a few days, which is good, because there’s lots to see. The Alaska Raptor Center, for example, is a famous bald eagle hospital and educational center where visitors can see iconic bald eagles up close. Sitka National Historic Park is another outdoor attraction in the area, which is famous for its abundance of historic totem poles. A highlight for many travelers is the Fortress of the Bear brown bear rescue center, where visitors can observe adult bears, and if they’re lucky, some very cute bear cubs. There are also some lovely and diverse restaurants where diners can sample fresh local seafood: try Ludvig’s Bistro, where the menu menu includes a wild Alaskan paella, which comes with prawns, scallops, salmon, rockfish, calamari, chicken and chorizo baked with saffron arborio rice and Spanish vegetables.
Bar Harbor is a small village on Mount Desert Island nestled between the lush green woods and mountains of Acadia National Park and the watery offshoot of the North Atlantic Ocean. Here, visitors and residents can enjoy fresh air and the sea breeze while taking in history, culture and the gorgeous views of downtown Bar Harbor, while brave souls can hang wild off a cliff over Frenchman Bay with the Atlantic Climbing School. A popular summer resort town, the area offers all the treats that Maine has to offer: fresh seafood, luxury Gilded Age resorts, sailing, fascinating wildlife and classic New England disposition, with its own distinct flavor.
People often visit the historic, scenic and action-packed Mackinac Island, Michigan, as a multi-day trip to spend some quality time enjoying the island’s relaxed, resort atmosphere. One of the island’s fudge shops, Joann’s Fudge, is so popular that many people know the island just for its fudge. But that’s not all travelers will find here, as there’s also plenty of historical and outdoor attractions to discover, like live re-enactments of the War of 1812 at Fort Mackinac, the oldest manmade structure in Michigan. Nature lovers can hike, bike or carriage ride through Mackinac Island State Park. Cars are not allowed on the island, and travel on Mackinac Island is only by walking, bicycle or horse and carriage. Thankfully, there are plenty of bicycle rental shops that cater to travelers coming in by ferry.
Known as Savannah’s Beach, Tybee Island has everything from sea turtles and dolphins to galleries and restaurants. Located 30 minutes from Savannah, Tybee Island is a popular day trip for Georgia residents. Visitors can Dine on local seafood in one of Tybee Island’s many great eateries, or party into the night at a lively bar. During the day, there are numerous water sports on offer at this laid back, seaside destination too, and touring families will find fun and educational forts, museums and a famous lighthouse. The dress code is flip-flops and shorts, and the locals are famously eclectic. One thing’s for certain: visit Tybee Island and you’ll notice that it has an eccentric identity all its own.
An hour out of Los Angeles is an island built to rival the craters of the moon, replete with ridges, canyons and deep mountains surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. Once a getaway for starlets of the golden years of Hollywood, Catalina Island is now a comforting resort destination in which to soak in some nature and walk among the souls of a bygone era. Everything is beautiful on film, and everything is beautiful on Santa Catalina Island, from the resplendent architectural marvel that is Catalina Casino to the groves of exotic berries, the boats dotting the harbor and the vibrant wildlife. The island is only 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles, accessible by ferry, and makes the perfect weekend escape. In Los Angeles County, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Twelve miles off the coast of Rhode Island, Block Island has been an island getaway for more than a century. With its rolling hills, miles of beaches and quaint Victorian buildings, this tiny island attracts avid fishers, beach loungers, seafood enthusiasts and New Yorkers who just feel like unwinding by the sea. Everything on Block Island is accessible by bike, and depending on the routes you ride, there’s always a spectacular view of the ocean. Visitors coming in can see the sandy shores miles before they hit the coast as the ferry glides towards Block Island. Block Island is a summer destination for at least as many reasons as there are water sports, plus lounging in a plastic recliner, plus tanning, plus fishing, the list goes on. There are beaches, 17 miles of them, which are suitable for every purpose. Swimming with the kids? State Beach and Ballards Beach have on-duty lifeguards. Crave more scenic thrills? The cliffs north of Mansion Beach provide an intimidating but exciting way to hunt for rocks and shells.