August 3rd, 2015

America's Coolest Islands: Where to Beach Yourself this Summer

It’s time to escape to one of these sand-lined paradise isles.

There’s plenty to explore within America’s shores. Read on for our list of the United State’s coolest islands, from tropical to charming, laid back to blowout, and sea to shining sea.

1. Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

A summer vacation destination to several U.S. presidents as well as families from around the country (and world!), Martha’s Vineyard is anything but below the radar. Still, this small island just seven miles off the coast of Cape Cod manages to maintain a laid-back, clapboard charm. With six distinctive towns — each with its own history, landscape, and character — and more than nineteen beaches on this 100-square-mile island, it’s no wonder everyone from the Obamas to the Joneses vye for summer ferry reservations!

2. Maui, Hawaii

The 50th state’s second largest island pulses with a culture, cuisine, and climate that’s almost irresistible. Maui’s more than 120 miles of coastline is ripe with gorgeous beach resorts perfect for those looking to soak in the sunshine. Like adventure? Head to Halaleakalā National Park and revel in its varied landscapes, from rainforest to mountain. 

3. Key West, Florida

Though first-time visitors are often surprised to find it mostly beach-less, Key West is home to the southernmost point in the U.S., and it has the tropical vibes to prove it. But it’s not all “Margaritaville” covers and spring break-style debauchery. The island has been called home by literary legends such as Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, and for good reason: It’s a perfect spot for a reinvigorating escape.

4. Catalina Island, California

Just 22 miles from Los Angeles, Catalina Island (sometimes referred to as Santa Catalina Island) is worlds away from the Hollywood hustle and bustle. Owned by the Wrigley family, this popular day-trip destination has something for everyone: It’s a frequent filming spot for movies and TV shows, is home to a herd of 150 bison, offers hiking, camping and diving adventures, and is a former spring training home for the Chicago Cubs.

5. Galveston Island, Texas

Dripping in equal parts sunshine and southern charm, Galveston Island is the perfect Texan getaway. Just an hour from downtown Houston, it’s home to 32 miles of tawny, sand-strewn beaches. But there’s more beyond the shore: The Strand Historic District boasts shopping, dining, and nightlife.

6. Orcas Island, Washington

Nicknamed “The Rock” by the protective locals who call it home, Orcas Island is the gem of the San Juan archipelago. Its distinctive Northwest flavor shows in the island’s many evergreens, rather than palms. And from May through October, tourists won’t be the only ones you’ll jostle for a sea-space — orcas and minke whales can often be spotted offshore.

7. Chincoteague Island, Virginia

Here’s what you won’t find on Virginia’s rustic Chincoteague Island: sprawling resorts, boardwalks, tacky t-shirt shops, or over-development. You will, however, encounter bird watching, horseback riding, swimming, and biking opportunities abound. And most famously, you’ll find wild horses. Summer visitors are in for a special treat: In a tradition that’s been alive and well since 1925, the horses are rounded up for the famous Pony Swim from nearby Assateague to Chincoteague.

8. Sanibel Island, Florida

More family-oriented than Key West, Florida’s other contender on our list, Sanibel Island, is a favorite among those seeking kid-friendly amenities in their tropical paradises. Here, bikes are favored over buses and beach rentals are favored over resorts — and no one white sand beach is more idyllic than another.

9. Long Island, New York

Who says a summer vacation island has to be palm-fringed? New York’s own Long Island is the longest and largest in the continental U.S., extending a full 118 miles east to west. From the near-to-Manhattan Rockaway Beach, to the trendy Hamptons, to the far-flung shores of Montauk, Long Island has something for everyone. Bonus: All corners can be easily accessed, thanks to the Long Island Railroad.

10. Hatteras Island, North Carolina

One of the famed Outer Banks islands lining North Carolina’s coast, Hatteras Island is linked to its neighbors by bridges and ferries. Hatteras, which is on the south end of the island chain, has a protected seashore and offers a full range of aquatic adventures, from sport fishing to windsurfing and kiteboarding.

Did we miss any of your favorite U.S. islands? Tell us in the comments below!

Alexandra Baackes is a traveling writer, designer, and underwater videographer. She is currently in her fourth year of living as a full-time nomad — follow along at alexinwanderland.com

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