The 13 best US islands to visit

  • Post last modified:December 5, 2022
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The best islands in the United States offer dreamy settings like made for relaxing vacations. Restful seaside towns, pristine beaches and rich nature contribute to the sought-after American island lifestyle. There’s truly something special about island trips, isn’t it?

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1. Martha’s Vineyard, MA – A US island with six towns

Martha’s Vineyard is located 35 minutes by ferry from Cape Cod. Home to six towns, and blessed with natural beauty, Martha’s Vineyard is an American island that makes visitors come back for more.

Edgartown boasts a rare elegance. In the northeastern Martha’s Vineyard town the many elegant white homes in Greek Revival style set a delightful backdrop for a US island stay.

If you prefer something livelier, the colorful Oak Bluffs is for you. Its eye-catching gingerbread cottages, once built for camp meetings, make the town on the US island colorful not only figuratively.

Vineyard Haven is the town that binds the island together. It’s the only Martha’s Vineyard town with a year-round ferry service.

Then there are three more towns to fall in love with: West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah. These are located in the much quieter Up-Island area, which in particular attracts visitors who look for solitude.

Where to stay

Edgartown and Oak Bluffs are popular places to stay in Martha’s Vineyard. In the two towns you find not only character but also the comfort you crave for.

Where to stay on Martha's Vineyard MA-US
The colorful Martha’s Vineyard, MA.

2. Nantucket, MA – A timeless US island

Nantucket, positioned off Cape Cod and next to Martha’s Vineyard, preserves its past like few other islands in the United States. Once the whaling capital of the world, the whole island today is a national historic landmark.

Although the first designation only encompassed its historic downtown and the village Siasconset, an expansion in 1975 was made to include the entire island.

When you visit Nantucket, cobblestone streets and lovingly preserved homes from the 18th and 19th centuries contribute to a unique ambience. The freezing of time on Nantucket is just remarkable.

If you want to get to know how the Nantucket we see today began its journey, the Whaling Museum happily shares the fascinating story.

On the rather small United States island you effortlessly get to not only the appreciated museum but also other spots of interest. Going by bike to a cozy beach or faithful lighthouse is a Nantucket vacation activity that never gets old.

Where to stay

Nantucket Town is home to some of the best Nantucket hotels and offers a superb location for exploring the US island. But look away from the main population center if you prefer serenity.

Golden beach on Nantucket
Timeless fun on Nantucket, MA.

3. Mount Desert Island, ME – A US island where the mountains meet the sea

Up in the northeastern corner of New England you find Mount Desert Island. On the US island, home to Acadia National Park, the mountains spectacularly meet the Atlantic Ocean.

There are several impressive summits on Mount Desert Island. However, Cadillac Mountain with its 1,530 feet (466 m) in particular stands out.

Its height makes Mount Desert Island the tallest destination along the entire Atlantic coastline of the United States.

On top of Cadillac Mountain the loop road in Acadia National Park is a mandatory attraction for Mount Desert Island visitors to explore. It’s one of the most scenic drives in New England.

A stone’s throw from the outdoor adventure the island’s biggest town Bar Harbor is a gem on its own. The island town offers tasty restaurants, top lodging and that special New England seaside vibe.

Where to stay

Bar Harbor ticks every box for a great stay at Acadia National Park. It’s a town that offers both top amenities and easy access to several Mount Desert Island highlights.

Sunset in Acadia National Park, ME
Mount Desert Island contrasts, ME.

4. Hatteras Island, NC – A far-reaching US island

The Outer Banks in North Carolina is home to an inspirational network of peninsulas, sandspits and islands. Its longest member Hatteras Island is at 50 miles (80 km) even one of the most far-reaching islands in the contiguous United States.

Thanks to Cape Hatteras National Seashore the long American island offers a flawless natural setting. Compared to other parts of the Outer Banks, Hatteras Island has remained undeveloped.

Its seven sleepy towns, Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras, embrace the traditional seaside lifestyle.

If you visit Hatteras Island a calm week you see no signs of it, but off the gorgeous shoreline you find the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”. Rough conditions have resulted in a high number of shipwrecks over the years.

But without dutiful lighthouses there would have been many more. Lighthouse hopping is a popular activity on an Outer Banks vacation, and on Hatteras Island you find the tall Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

Where to stay

The towns on Hatteras Island are some of the best places to stay in the Outer Banks. In the north you’re closer to the heart of the Outer Banks, while the towns in the south are further away from the action.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse pointing up towards the blue Outer Banks sky
The towering Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, NC.

5. Hilton Head Island, SC – A favorite US island

Hilton Head Island is constantly ranked as one of the best islands in the US. In the hospitable South Carolina it’s an island that has all you need for a superb getaway.

Its 12 miles (19 km) of beaches lay a stunning foundation for a vacation. The white shoreline, where it’s as easy as ever to unwind, impresses even Florida natives.

For more of a challenge the world-class golf courses and tennis facilities on the island call for your attention. Hilton Head Island is a true paradise for golf and tennis players of all levels.

Yet sometimes you just don’t want to keep score. For those times the US island invites you to explore its many miles of pathways, either by foot or bike.

As you work your way across the island, a real treasure to check out is the Coastal Discovery Museum. There visitors learn about the Hilton Head Island beyond its modern-day facade.

Where to stay

Part of the reason that Hilton Head Island is one of the most celebrated islands in the United States is the wide selection of accommodation. The island’s top hotels and resorts make sure that your island vacation fulfills its potential.

Boardwalk on Hilton Head Island, SC
The cherished Hilton Head Island, SC.

6. Kiawah Island, SC – A private US island bubble

Do you like the idea of a US island that’s also a luxury resort? Welcome to Kiawah Island, located 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Charleston.

Kiawah Island Golf Resort occupies most of the island, which boasts 10 miles (16 km) of pristine Atlantic coastline. On top of the beach the island’s river, marshes and maritime forests are appreciated natural features.

The island is also famous for its glorious golf courses. Next to the Atlantic Ocean the setting couldn’t be more jaw-dropping.

If you stay within the resort, you fully get to enjoy the island bubble that Kiawah Island is. People return year after year to get the private Kiawah experience.

But if you rather prefer a day trip to check Kiawah Island out, it’s absolutely possible to do so. Beachwalker Park provides public beach access so that anyone can enjoy the exclusive Kiawah Island.

Where to stay

Kiawah Island Golf Resort encompasses everything from a five-star hotel to resort villas and cottages. However, you can also choose to stay just a short drive away from the upscale US island.

Golf course on Kiawah island, South Carolina
Resort living on Kiawah Island, SC.

7. Mackinac Island, MI – A horse-drawn US island

Mackinac Island peacefully floats in the western part of Lake Huron. The Michigan enclave offers a car-free retreat from the hectic everyday life.

It’s an American island that feels like a time warp.

Cars were banned already in 1898. Instead the best ways to travel around Mackinac Island are by foot, bike or more uniquely so horse.

Taking a horse-drawn carriage tour is one of the most popular activities on the US island. Few things make you feel as much on vacation as a horse taxi.

As you tour the island, Mackinac Island State Park dominates the landscape. The inspiring park, once the second national park in the United States, covers more than 80% of the island.

Another highlight is the island’s alluring downtown area, where there’s an abundance of chocolates to try. Even called America’s Fudge Capital, Mackinac Island is the ultimate US island for fudge lovers.

Where to stay

Several places to stay on Mackinac Island give you effortless access to Main Street. There you find restaurants, shops and an in general pleasant vibe.

Waving American flag on Mackinac Island, MI
Welcome to the car-free Mackinac Island.

8. South Padre Island, TX – A US island for every break

Not far from the Mexican border South Padre Island is located. The Texas island has with its long beach and blue water established itself as a renowned beach destination.

Even though you find whiter beaches and clearer water elsewhere in America, the beauty of South Padre Island is undeniable.

With 34 miles (54 km) of soft sand it’s one of the US islands where it feels like the beach never ends.

The further north on South Padre Island you go, the quieter the island gets. If you venture far enough, it’s soon just you, the sun and the waves.

Yes, South Padre Island is a spring break party hub. Still even during the busiest spring weeks, when happy college kids arrive in masses, the expansive Texas shoreline makes it possible to find peace.

Where to stay

A central location gives you walking distance to the island’s entertainment scene. But if you look for peace and quiet, the northern part of South Padre Island demands your consideration.

9. Siesta Key, FL – A sugar-white US island

Siesta Key on Florida’s Gulf Coast stands out for its remarkable sugar-white coastline. As Siesta Key features close to 100% pure quartz sand, the US island is just about as white as it gets.

The quartz sand not only looks pretty but also feels soft and cool under your feet. That’s certainly appreciated, especially under the hot Florida sun.

On the unusually white US island the most famous beach is Siesta Beach. It’s a beach that has been named the best beach in America on several occasions.

But if you want to escape the crowds, Crescent Beach is an excellent spot further south on the island. There the sand is as white, but the crowds thinner.

North or south, Siesta Key is one of the best US islands for the beach lover.

Off the beach Siesta Village shows another side of Siesta Key. Its tasty restaurants and quirky shops makes the area the perfect place to have some fun away from the glistening dunes.

Where to stay

Regardless of where on Siesta Key you stay, you’re close to the celebrated white shoreline. Just remember that the Siesta Village area is where you find most restaurants and shops.

The sugar-white Siesta Key Beach, Florida
The sugar-white Siesta Key, FL.

10. Sanibel Island, FL – A US island made of shells

Sanibel Island, off Florida’s Gulf Coast, every day around the year scoops up new shells from the Gulf of Mexico. The shells beautifully add color to the lovely beaches on the idyllic Sunshine State island.

There certainly are no better US islands when it comes to shelling. Sanibel Island is known as the shelling capital of the world.

The fantastic shelling hints about the fact that Sanibel Island has managed to keep its natural charm throughout the years. It’s an American island where humans and nature have learned to coexist.

On Sanibel Island there are no high rises, and to keep light pollution at a minimum you neither find any street or traffic lights. This is an island in the US that gets really dark at night.

But before the sun starts to set, it’s a great idea to check out the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. In the refuge the Wildlife Drive, where you find tropical birds and wildlife, further showcases the untouchedness of the island.

Where to stay

Most of the Sanibel Island hotels and resorts sit in the popular East End and Mid Island areas. In contrast, the West End is quieter and away from most restaurants and shops.

Shelling on Sanibel Island, FL.

11. Marco Island, FL – A US island off the Paradise Coast

Marco Island boasts wide sand beaches joined by modern island resorts. Located in Florida’s remarkable Paradise Coast region Marco Island is one of the best islands in America for beach lovers.

Every day on Marco Island is a beach day. Its South Beach and Tigertail Beach are even whiter and bigger than they look in pictures.

The setting for fun in the sand and sun makes other US islands green with envy.

Still there’s a whole other dimension to a stay on the shiny US island too. Part of the charm with Marco Island is the easy access to the alligator-filled Everglades.

From hotels near Everglades National Park on Marco Island it’s just about 30 minutes to the untamed wetland. There the wild side of the Paradise Coast create fun memories to bring back to the beach.

Where to stay

There are several stunning Marco Island resorts right on the beach. But if you rather venture off the beaten path, don’t miss the quiet North End area.

Waves crashing in on Marco Island
Marco Island beach life, FL.

12. Key West, FL – A quirky US island

From the southern tip of Florida the sun-drenched Overseas Highway stretches out from key to key. At its very end, far away from the mainland pace, you find the quirky Key West.

So far down south the summer is known as endless. But the balmy weather is just one of many reasons to vacation in Key West.

On the loud Duval Street, which goes from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, visitors flock year round. Its many shops, restaurants and bars provide laid-back liveliness at its best.

The parallel but much quieter Whitehead Street is also home to several popular attractions. Truly the Hemingway Home, where the famous writer once lived and worked, has a captivating story to tell.

A proud tradition on the US island is the nightly sunset celebration. When the sun is about to disappear below the horizon, locals and visitors gather on the iconic Mallory Square to enjoy the most glowing show there is to behold.

Where to stay

Key West’s compact size certainly makes sightseeing easy. At Key West lodging in Old Town you effortlessly reach most island attractions by foot.

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
The quirky Key West, FL.

13. Hawaii, HI – US islands in the Pacific Ocean

In the heart of the Pacific Ocean the Hawaiian islands welcome visitors to a world of Aloha. These treasured American islands offer a world like no other.

The six major islands in the Hawaiian chain are: Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Maui, Lanai and the Big Island.

Even though Hawaii is one state, each island has its own personality. Thanks to that there’s something in Hawaii for every traveler.

Oahu’s Waikiki Beach is the most iconic beach in Hawaii. There the white sand, blue water and sprawling resorts invite you to live your best life.

For the national park lover Hawaii is home to both Maui’s Haleakala National Park and the Big Island’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Then there’s the dramatic Napali Coast on Kauai. With or without a national park designation, it’s one of the most spectacular places to visit in Hawaii.

Where to stay

Oahu is the most visited Hawaiian island and a good place to start your Pacific adventure. But to really get to know Hawaii you should also venture past the main island.

Narrow trail along the Napali coastline
The Napali Coast in Hawaii.

Find a hotel for your US island getaway

Use the booking tool below to find the best places to stay for your US island vacation. Browse the map for options in various areas, or click on the search button to get all Hilton Head Island options listed.

The best US islands FAQ

Here you find the answers to some frequently asked questions about the best islands in the United States to visit.

Which are the best US islands off the Atlantic Coast?

The best US islands off the Atlantic Coast include Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Mount Desert Island, Hilton Head Island and Kiawah Island.

Which are the best islands in Florida?

The best islands in the Sunshine State include Siesta Key, Sanibel Island, Marco Island and Key West. However, there are many more beautiful islands in Florida for the sunshine and beach lover to enjoy.

Which are the best US islands to visit in winter?

Siesta Key, Sanibel Island, Marco Island and Key West are US islands that offer beach weather year round. The same goes for the Hawaiian islands. Hilton Head Island, Kiawah Island and South Padre Island are other winter islands with mild temperatures but not necessarily beach weather.