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Does “adulting” wear you out? Between work and home responsibilities, you could be dreaming of white sand beaches and a frozen cocktail. Fortunately for you, some of the best islands to visit are right here in the United States — no papers, no expensive plane ticket and no translator needed.
It’s time to trade your PTO for a vacation and pack your flip-flops and sunscreen. These five domestic islands are calling your name.
1. Key West, Florida
Where is one of the first places you think of when you hear “beach getaway”? Raise your hand if it’s somewhere in Florida. You’ll forget you’re still in the U.S. when you venture to the country’s southernmost point.
Key West is synonymous with tropical escape, boasting extraordinary nightlife, a vibrant community and famous haunts. Once an energetic buccaneers stop — including Blackbeard, who frequented the island between 1716 and 1718 — this town has become celebrated for its free-spirited quirkiness.
Listen to local music on Duval Street, stop by Mel Fisher Maritime Museum or — if you’re really bold — dine nude at the Garden of Eden, where clothes are optional and the drinks keep flowing. Of course, you can’t miss other famous hot spots like Sloppy Joe’s or Margaritaville.
During the day, tour Ernest Hemingway’s house, marvel at Old Town’s architecture and soak up rays at Smathers Beach.
2. Oak Island, North Carolina
Are you looking for a slower pace? Oak Island might be one of the best islands to visit for a lowkey holiday. It’s also possibly North Carolina’s best-kept secret.
Oak Island — or OKI as the locals call it — is a 12-mile strand of coastline located about 40 minutes from Wilmington. Driving through town, you might feel a sense of nostalgia with its many ice-cream shops and mini-golf.
Some might consider it a sleepy beach town, but don’t let it fool you. There is plenty to do no matter what season you visit. Some of the hottest attractions and activities include the following:
- Touring the Oak Island Lighthouse in Caswell Beach
- Casting a line off the Yaupon or Ocean Crest Fishing Piers — the latter being one of the longest piers on the East Coast
- Days spent putting at the Oak Island Golf Club
- Kayaking in the Intracoastal
- Visiting the Oak Island Nature Center
- Shopping at Eagles and Beach Life OKI for souvenirs
Oak Island also has several delicious eats, whether you’re in the mood for fine dining or something more casual. Many say the Lazy Turtle is like the island “Cheers.” Meanwhile, you’ll want to make reservations for dinner at Island Way Restaurant or Salt 64. Of course, Southport is only 10 minutes away, with more restaurants and shops to keep you entertained.
3. San Juan Islands, Washington
Island living doesn’t have to equate to tropical landscapes. Some U.S. islands have traded palm trees for pines. The San Juan Islands are located in the Puget Sound of northwest Washington — an archipelago of over 170 islands accessible only by ferry.
Visitors typically visit the three main islands — San Juan, Orcas and Lopez — for outdoor recreational activities, rich history and relaxation. Albeit small, San Juan Island has the Pelindaba Lavender Farm, the Whale Museum and the enchanting, walkable seaport, Friday Harbor.
On the other hand, Lopez Island has become a popular bicycling spot due to its flat, winding terrain and breathtaking views. Of all the islands, though, Orcas is where you want to visit to see whales.
The Southern Resident killer whale population comprises three orca pods listed as endangered. As of December 2021, only 73 killer whales were left — a decline from 98 in 1995. If you’re lucky, you might find yourself rowing alongside them when you rent a kayak during your visit.
4. U.S. Virgin Islands
Did you forget the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) are indeed domestic destinations? That’s right — St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John deliver the Caribbean flair you’ve always wanted without technically leaving U.S. soil.
St. Thomas is home to most island living — the perfect place to savor local eats, rum drinks, Calypso music and local artwork. Meanwhile, St. Croix and St. John have some of the most beautiful, untouched natural areas you’ve ever seen.
Spend your days snorkeling or scuba diving. Nearly 92% of USVI locals agree coral reefs are essential to their culture and have taken special care to preserve them. No matter where you end up, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy this tropical paradise.
5. Martha’s Vineyard
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, is one of the best islands to visit if you’re searching for a postcard-worthy destination that feels like home. You might regard Martha’s Vineyard as a place where celebrities and politicians spend their summers — but you’re going to find a warm community welcoming everyone with open arms.
The island has 19 beaches. Of course, not all of them are accessible to the public, but you still have plenty of options for a day in the sun. Otherwise, why not take a sailboat excursion or embark on one of the many tours?
You can sign up for a small-group island tour to learn about the island’s history and feast your eyes on some of Martha’s Vineyard’s historic homes and landmarks. When you’re done, stop by Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluff — a renowned street of shops and restaurants. If you want to live like the locals, Linda Jean’s Restaurant is a must.
End your trip with a visit to Morning Glory Farm — a family-owned farmstand, bakery and kitchen in Edgartown. The Athearns started the farm in 1975, which spans 65 acres across the island. The best part is they’re open year-round and host special events every season, such as the Pumpkin Festival in October or the annual Strawberry Festival in June.
No Passport Required for Visiting the Best U.S. Islands
Pack your bags for the domestic vacation of your dreams. There is no need to worry about getting your papers in order. Your next trip could be one of the best islands to visit in the U.S.
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