This Top-Rated U.S. Island Will Make You Question Every Beach Vacation You’ve Ever Taken

Ah, island living. It’s warm, it’s laid back, and, most importantly, it’s easy-breezy. But an island vacation worth taking surely requires a passport, right? Wrong. While far-flung trips to the tropics may be out of reach, these spots are not. In fact, there are plenty of islands right here in the U.S. And no, we’re not talking about Hawaii.

Turns out, carefree island living may be closer than you think.

15. Amelia Island, Florida

Amelia island

Amelia Island is an idyllic beach community. | Dawnamoore/iStock/Getty Images

The Sunshine State has no shortage of dreamy beaches, so we’re kicking things off with one of the best the state has to offer. Home to pristine beaches, luxury resorts, and a bustling music and arts scene, Amelia Island leaves little to be desired in the way of ideal beach getaways.

As the state’s northernmost barrier island, this quaint seaport community boasts activities such as kayaking, river cruises, and wildlife viewing. Oh, and there’s also one activity you really won’t find everywhere else: Horseback riding on the beach.

Next: The smallest state in the country happens to have a little something hiding up its sleeve. 

14. Block Island, Rhode Island

Block Island, Rhode Island

Complete with postcard ready cliffs | Randydellinger/iStock/Getty Images

Anyone looking for the ultimate in peace and quiet should look no further than Block Island. Leave it to the tiny state of Rhode Island to seamlessly serve up a serene summer destination just off its coast. Boasting 17 miles of beaches, Block Island offers plenty of options ranging from lounge-worthy beach to rugged coastline. And, of course, this tiny island wouldn’t be a Rhode Island getaway without historic inns and stunning lighthouses.

Next: An unexpected spot is much more than your average beach vacation.

13. Chincoteague Island, Virginia

Assateague island wild ponies

Visitors can come face to face with wild ponies. | Sbonk/iStock/Getty Images

Totally void of high rise buildings, busy boardwalks, and noisy traffic jams, Chincoteague Island is Virginia’s only resort Island, and it’s one you’ll want to visit. You won’t find run-of-the-mill beaches packed to the brim with beach chairs and umbrellas there. Rather, you’ll be treated to a different kind of beach vacation.

At only seven miles long, this little fishing village is known for much more than its oysters and clams. Most notably, the island serves as the gateway to Assateague Island, which is home to the famous Chincoteague Wild Ponies. Visitors can expect a truly unspoiled view into the native wildlife, an experience that’s certainly worth the trip.

Next: This Gulf Coast retreat is well worth the visit. 

12. Marco Island, Florida

Marco Island, Florida

Marco Island is the largest of Florida’s islands. | ChristinLola/iStock/Getty Images

Situated on the Gulf Coast, Marco Island is the largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands. The tropical climate and warm water attracts visitors near and far, and the island offers accommodations ranging from luxury resorts to budget-friendly spots.

Is camping more your thing? They’ve got that, too. You can find camping locations just a few miles from Marco Island at Collier Seminole State Park.

Next: This island is just off the Golden Coast. 

11. Santa Catalina Island, California

Catalina Island

You’ll feel like you teleported to the Caribbean. | Pablo_K/iStock/Getty Images

Offering far more than its contribution to the movie Stepbrothers — the famous Catalina Wine Mixer should ring a bell — Santa Catalina Island is more than deserving of its spot on this list. In fact, some even consider it the crown jewel of California.

Located just off the coast of Southern California, you can reach the island by way of ferry (an hour ride) or helicopter (a 15 minute ride). Once you’re there, West Coast ease is the name of the game, allowing visitors to have their fill of parasailing, ziplining, and soaking up the sun. Additionally, the adventurous types can even sleep under the stars at one of the many designated campgrounds on the island.

Next: The Sunshine State strikes again. 

10. Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Island, Florida

The island is a perfect getaway for families. | AgentAssist/iStock/Getty Images

Sanibel Island, along with its sister island of Captiva, includes 15 miles of beaches and absolutely no traffic lights, making it the ideal family getaway. Located off Florida’s Gulf Coast, Sanibel Island is known for its seashell-strewn beaches and quiet, relaxing atmosphere. It’s a family-favorite, and for good reason.

Next: A South Carolina staple claims the next spot. 

9. Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Kiawah Island

An easy escape from Charleston | Scott Long/Wikimedia Commons

Laid back and low-key, South Carolina’s Kiawah Island is located just 21 miles from downtown Charleston, yet it feels millions of miles away. Offering a luxurious retreat along the Carolina coast, Kiawah Island is a sophisticated spot where natural beauty comes to life. In fact, the area is so stunning that it doesn’t need much more than a handful of championship golf courses and the Kiawah Island Golf Resort in order to claim a spot on this list.

Next: Let’s see how New England does the beach scene. 

8. Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Martha's Vineyard

Full of undeniable New England charm | Rolf_52/iStock/Getty Images

Whether picking berries as a family or taking it all in from a sailboat, Martha’s Vineyard delivers a wholesome beach vacation every time. Located just a few miles off Cape Cod, this quaint little island has no trouble attracting tourists. In fact, it’s a beloved family tradition of many New Englanders. Boasting 19 beaches, Martha’s Vineyard is chock-full of charm, history, and splendor.

Next: Time to head back down south

7. Florida Keys, Florida

Florida Keys

Take your pick of the beautiful islands. | Bertl123/iStock/Getty Images

Stretching 120 miles off the southernmost tip of the contiguous U.S., the Florida Keys has a lot to offer. Key West, the Lower Keys, Marathon, Islamorada, and Key Largo make up the chain of islands, each with its own flair.

Just 90 miles from Cuba lies Key West, which delivers a bustling nightlife scene along the city’s famous Duval Street. And then there’s Key Largo, which attracts expert anglers looking to try their hand in the deep blue waters of this fisherman’s paradise.

Next: These islands aren’t the first to come to mind, but they are certainly worth the trip.

6. San Juan Islands, Washington

San Juan Island, Washington

A different kind of island experience | Rachael Griffin/iStock/Getty Images

The Pacific Northwest often conjures up images of dense forests and debilitating fog, but there’s so much more to it than that. The San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington are the perfect example of just that.

Offering the ideal getaway for anyone looking for a wild and rugged escape from everyday normalcy, these islands feature lush greenery. There’s also an abundance of orcas, dolphins, and sea otters, making the Suan Juan Islands a top whale-watching destination. Often blanketed in a gentle mist, the waters are perfect for sea kayaking along the rocky shores.

Next: A lesser-known island makes the list at No. 5. 

5. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island, Michigan

The island is known for not allowing motorized vehicles. | iStock/Getty Images

Michigan is famous for its lake culture, so it’s no wonder the little-known island of Mackinac made the list. Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron and sits between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. With more than 70 miles of trails ready and waiting for hikers and bikers alike, the picturesque town features a Historic Downtown, complete with 18th century architecture.

Next: This group of islands deserves its name. 

4. Golden Isles, Georgia

Golden Isles, Georgia

Four islands make up this golden group. | SSI-DUKE/iStock/Getty Images

Just off the coast of Georgia lie four barrier islands: St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island. Collectively, these islands make up the Golden Isles, and the name says it all. Originally discovered by Spanish explorers looking for gold, this cluster of islands got its name thanks to its natural beauty and stunning glow.

Surrounded by stretches of marshland and lively rivers filled with birds and fish making their way to the Atlantic Ocean, the Golden Isles are home to pristine beaches, natural and historical attractions, and, of course, genuine Southern hospitality. Not to mention the world-renowned golf courses, to boot.

Next: We head up north.

3. Mount Desert Island, Maine

Mount Desert Island, Maine

Perfect for the adventurous island-goer | Atlantic_Adv/iStock/Getty Images

Despite its cooler temperatures (even in the summer), Mount Desert Island still manages to attract millions of visitors each year. One of the island’s biggest draws? Undoubtedly, its lion’s share of Acadia National Park, where you can have your fill of hiking, whitewater rafting, and wildlife tours.

The island is the largest off the coast of Maine and second largest on the eastern seaboard. However, the combined year-round population of its four towns — Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor, Tremont, and, most notably, Bar Harbor — is only about 10,615. Despite this, Mount Desert Island claims the No. 3 spot, and for good reason. One look at the staggering waves crashing against the rocky shoreline, and it’s clear to see how breathtaking this place really is.

Next: This quintessential summer town is a long-time favorite. 

2. Nantucket, Massachusetts

Nantucket Lighthouse

The ideal high-end retreat. | Grantreig/iStock/Getty Images

Located off Cape Cod, Nantucket hardly needs an introduction. The tiny island, which has attracted beach-goers near and far, is the quintessential New England beach town at its finest. High-end restaurants line the town’s cobblestone streets, while historical lighthouses and sandy dunes await longtime Massachusetts locals and visitors alike.

Next: And the No. 1 spot goes to …

1. Hilton Head, South Carolina

Hilton Head Island

The island also snagged the No. 2 spot for the best in the world. | Designheid/iStock/Getty Images

According to Travel + Leisure‘s World’s Best Awards survey, Hilton Head doesn’t just rank as the best island in the U.S. — it ranks the No. 2 island in the entire world. The rankings, which were determined by readers’ opinions on places around the globe, were based on activities and sights, natural attractions and beaches, food, friendliness, and overall value.

Hilton Head successfully snags the No. 1 spot in the U.S. for several reasons. First of all, there really is something for everyone on this South Carolina island. With white sand beaches lining 12 miles of the coast, 30 golf courses, and a wide array of water sports to choose from, it’s clear to see why Hilton Head is a top family-friendly resort year after year.

Read more: 5 Budget-Friendly Islands to Visit for Your Next Vacation

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