Travel insights from Andrea Sedlacek, editor of The Compass

Get Those Island Vibes on These 5 Stateside Islands

Island escapes aren't just for the Caribbean. The U.S. has some amazing islands that are just begging to be your next vacation destination. Here are some from Travel + Leisure’s list of top 10 islands in the continental U.S., plus hotels popular amongst travel agents on each one.

1. Kiawah Island

kiawah island beach

Kiawah Island in South Carolina is beautiful, with preserved maritime forests (meaning a forest on the coast of an ocean), sand dunes and marshes with plenty of wildlife. It’s a gated community offering private beaches to its residents, but tourists can stay in one of the two hotels or choose from a vacation or villa rental. Beachwalker County Park, on the west end of the island, is open to the public and has a boardwalk, picnic areas and seasonal amenities like lifeguards and a snack bar. Fun fact: the Town of Kiawah Island recently banned businesses from distributing plastic carryout bags, plastic straws and products made from Styrofoam.

Visitors to Kiawah Island should fly into Charleston International Airport (CHS). Andell Inn is just a 30-minute drive away and is a stylish new boutique hotel full of island charm.

2. Amelia Island

amelia island harbor

Just off the coast of northeast Florida, Amelia Island is known as the enchanted island, with 13 miles of beaches, native wildlife and beautiful water. The charming, historic downtown Fernandina Beach is home to independently run shops, restaurants focused on fresh, local ingredients and a 50-block national historic district.

If you fly into the Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), you’ll be only 20 miles from Amelia Island and its welcoming hotels. Amelia Island Williams House is a bed-and-breakfast within walking distance to the Fernandina Beach Historic District and offers complimentary bikes for guests. For a true beachside experience, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island surrounds you in the natural beauty of the barrier island.

3. Mackinac Island

mackinac island harbor

It’s easy to see why Mackinac Island, nestled in Lake Huron between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, is number 5 on Travel + Leisure’s list. It’s just 3 square miles but it’s incredibly charming with a lot to do. No cars, no chain hotels and no worries make this an idyllic spot. Visit Fort Mackinac, located on a bluff overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. Rent a bike for a more active tour of the island. Explore the straits on a kayak. Or just find a quiet place to sit and watch the ferries come in.

Pellston Regional Airport (PLN) is your best bet to fly into, then take the Mackinaw Shuttle up to the Mackinaw City ferry docks. Mission Point Resort has three restaurants, a full-service spa and incredible views. Lake View Hotel fuses historic charm with island spirit.

4. Golden Isles

jekyll island driftwood on beach

Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island, Sea Island and St. Simons Island make up the Golden Isles in Georgia, and each has its own historic appeal. Jekyll Island is the southernmost and the most-visited. It’s home to the iconic Driftwood Beach, with a dramatic and other-worldly landscape of driftwood and trees strewn about (a great spot for photos). Little St. Simons Island is on the north end and only accessible by boat. It’s only 11,000 square acres and has six cottages visitors can rent. Sea Island is a resort property and is the only resort in the world to achieve four Forbes Five stars 11 years in a row. St. Simons Island is the largest of the Golden Isles and offers lots of opportunities for outdoor adventure.

Flying into the Brunswick, GA airport (BQK) gives you access to the Golden Isles. Jekyll Ocean Club on Jekyll Island is right on the ocean and makes a beautiful backdrop for a wedding or just a relaxing vacation. The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort puts you right in the historic district on St. Simons Island. It’s close to St. Simons Island Pier and about 20 miles from Driftwood Beach.

5. Orcas Island

house on orcas island

Part of the San Juan Islands off the coast of the state of Washington, Orcas Island is known for, as you may have guessed, the orca whales that visit the area and is one site on The Whale Trail that runs along the Pacific coast. Orcas Island has it all: whale watching, a mountain (Mount Constitution), a fjord (in East Sound), hiking, kayaking and charming villages with restaurants, art galleries and cafes.

Bellingham International Airport (BLI) or Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) are good options, giving you access to the Airporter Shuttle for a ride to the island. Outlook Inn on the northern side of the island is just a 10-minute drive to Moran State Park and Cascade Lake and has accommodations in a historic building or modern luxury suites in a new building.

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