9 Vacation Worthy American Islands
Instead of leaving the country for an island vacation, there are U.S. coastal retreats with sailing cultures, historic seafood industries, and locally sourced cuisine quick drives from your backyard. Skip the baggage fees and customs lines by seeking a weekend of paradise on one of these domestic islands.
Amelia Island, Florida
Located three hours from Orlando, Amelia Island was the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry. For over six decades, nearly 100 shrimp boats docked in Fernandina Beach. The island remains known for its fresh, local-caught shrimp available on the island year-round at numerous seafood spots, like Timoti’s Seafood Shak, Lulu’s, and The Crab Trap. Biking through the historic oak-canopy drive Fort Clinch State Park or hiking the 6-mile off-road multi-use trail is popular for outdoor enthusiasts. The park offers a guided nature walk at the Willow Pond Nature Trail every Saturday at 10:30 AM. In the walkable downtown Fernandina Beach, The Palace Saloon on Centre Street has been a fixture since 1878 and Is the oldest saloon in Florida still remaining in its original location.
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
For a weekend retreat in South Carolina, take an hour and a half ferry ride from Hilton Head to Daufuskie Island. A total of 10 square miles and no cars allowed on-island, golf carts are used as a primary mode of transport. When you’re not carting around buying local wares like metalworks by young sculptor, Chase Allen at the Iron Fish Gallery, you can also take the golf carts around the 20-hole Championship Signature Reese Jones golf course. Outdoor enthusiasts can bike through the nature conservancy or take a ride on horseback along Haig Point’s white beaches. Although there is no air conditioning and it can be buggy if you eat outside, Marshside Mama’s fills your seafood fix with dishes like Low Country Gumbo with fish and shrimp. Or you can partake in the island’s popular local catch- deviled crabs- at the Old Daufuskie Crab Company. Beachfront stays can be booked at the Strachan Mansion and 1873 Lighthouse overlooking the Calibougie Sound.
Sea Island, Georgia
Located an hour and a half from Jacksonville, Sea Island is a 90 year-old resort island and was the honeymoon destination of choice for President George H.W. Bush and Barbara. Bush in 1945. Sea Island’s Beach Club has private poolside cabanas, complete with an air-conditioned sitting area next to the adult pool and a flat-screen TV for sports games. There are also tennis and squash centers on island, as well as a yacht club, shooting school, salt marsh nature tours, horseback riding, three championship golf courses. The 65,000 square-foot spa offers men’s treatments like hot stone and deep tissue massages. The destination offers seven restaurants, including the Forbes Five-Star Georgian Room, which has flavorful Southern cuisine like Maine lobster, scallops, and beef Rossini. For accommodations, The Lodge at Sea Island is the Island’s best kept secret. Called the “the greatest locker room in golf” by PGA touring pros, the Men’s Locker Room at The Lodge contains a full bar, cigar room with views of the ocean, a practice putting green, and steam room.
Antelope Island State Park, Utah
The camping-only Antelope Island State Park is a quick, 20 minute drive from Salt Lake City. The island is the largest in the Great Salt Lake, and is home to a herd of 500 free-roaming bison, mule deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and 250 species of birds. The 28,000 acre island welcomes hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders with the park’s 36 miles of backcountry trails. Recently designated a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association, it’s the perfect place to pitch a tent and camp for a weekend under a star-filled sky, or walk along sandy beaches and kayak the salty waters with Gonzo Boat Rentals & Tours. Dust off the Stetsons for the one-day, annual Bison Round-up every October or pay a visit to the Historic Fielding Garr Ranch, a restored 150-year old ranch open year round. For dining, visit the Island Buffalo Grill because, well, you have no choice — it’s the only eatery on the island
Brunswick Islands, North Carolina
Brunswick Islands are located just over three hours from Charlotte, sitting along the southernmost coast of the state. The chain of five islands offer 45 miles of beaches, along with the Intracoastal Waterway and scenic marshland in view of wildlife and pristine nature local ecosystems, best viewed by kayak or paddleboard. You can cast a line into one of the southeast’s finest fishing spots with pier, kayak and offshore fishing throughout the Brunswick Islands or charter a boat with Ollie Raja Charters where catches can include tuna, marlin, and mahi-mahi. Appropriately, the town of Calabash is called the “Seafood Capital of the World,” where the famous style of Calabash seafood originated- shrimp, clams, fish and oysters are coated in a light batter and quickly fried to lock in their freshness. Check Six Brewing Company in Southport offers 10-12 varieties of craft beer on tap. For beachfront accommodations, stay at the Winds Resort Beach Club or Sea Trail for golf lovers.
Newport Island, Rhode Island
Home to North America’s Volvo Ocean Race (and at one point, America’s Cup), Newport is one of the top sailing destinations on the planet. A 40 minute drive from Providence and situated on the southernmost tip of Aquidneck Island, Newport’s legendary Ocean Drive (also known as Ten Mile Drive), includes a journey past elaborate mansions and Fort Adams State Park, which is home of the iconic summertime Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals. Also on Ocean Drive, you past Hammersmith Farm, where JFK and Jackie celebrated their 1953 nuptials. But you’re here for the sailing: If you didn’t bring your own, be sure to hop aboard an authentic America’s Cup 12-meter yacht with America’s Cup Charters. Unwind later at the Hotel Viking for Top of Newport Spirits & Stogies’ curated dinner experience, which has a rotating weekly spirit and cigar selection paired with a three-course menu.
Padre Island, Texas
Padre Island is located about 40 minutes south of Corpus Christi and is home to the Padre Island National Seashore — the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. Many choose to set up camp for stargazing on this shore. Canoe or kayak in the salt water of the Laguna Madre and the in freshwater of the Gulf of Mexico. From mid-June through August, visit Padre Island National Seashore to witness newly hatched sea turtles being released into the wild. After a day at the beach, unwind and watch the sunset on the deck at Doc’s Seafood & Steaks and end with a desert at BJ’s German Bakery & Café featuring German-style pasties, croissants and pies. To keep the kids entertained, a day can be spent at the new Schlitterbahn Waterpark, where attractions include high thrill rides and wave pools.
South Bass Island, Ohio
An hour from Cleveland sits South Bass Island, planted in the western basin of Lake Erie, accessible by the scenic Miller Ferry. This is one adventure-filled spot. You can kayak through Ohio’s few remaining natural arches, Needle’s Eye on Gibraltar Island, go birding at Scheef Point Nature, or spelunking in a limestone cave that is actually the world’s largest geode. After, try The Goat Soup & Whiskey which serves up fresh, golden brown lake perch tacos and, yes, whiskey. We suggest you stay the weekend at Bodee’s Bungalows, located just far enough off-the-beaten path that you feel secluded but still within walking distance to downtown.
San Juan Islands, Washington
It might be warmer elsewhere, but Washington State’s San Juan Islands have all the fun. This is a place for paddling, along the short or in the open was from island to island: Lopez, Orcas, Shaw, and San Juan. Early summer is prime time for humpback whales on their way to Alaska, and orcas have been known to come close enough to be seen underwater as they forage and play in the kelp (so you’ll want to paddle in a group, with a guide if you’re inexperienced). Locally grown island food can be found at spots like Orcas Island’s Doe Bay Café, whose produce comes from their one-acre onsite garden, or dine at Hogstone’s Wood Oven, co-owned by Chef Jay Blackinton, who was recently named one of Food & Wine’s 2017 Best New Chefs. If you choose to pack your own picnic, toast the island sunset with a bottle of San Juan Vineyard’s Siegerrebe or Westcott Bay apple brandy. Stay overnight on a farm like Pebble Cove Farm on Orcas or Midnight’s Farm on Lopez.