Although the world is beginning to open back up again, some destinations still have restrictions. Or, understandably, travelers are still wary about venturing too far off the beaten track. But that doesn't mean island getaways are off-limits.

In fact, the US is filled with quaint, remote, and even tropical islands that are easily accessible via the mainland. Yes, that means no air travel or passport is required. From New England to California (and even the Midwest), these are the best US islands you can reach without flying.

Editor's note: During COVID-19, please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government health advice. Events may be subject to change.

Nantucket, Massachusetts

Best for history lovers

Nantucket has long been a hotspot for those looking for a classic New England summer. The island, located 30 miles off Cape Cod's coast, was a fishing village and whaling capital in the 1600s and has since become the epitome of laid-back elegance. Spend your time walking along cobblestoned streets and past shingle-clad mansions that retain 18th and 19th-century charm.

A view of upper Main Street, Nantucket.
Main Street, Nantucket, lots of fine dining options © John Santoro/Shutterstock

Or, lounge along the some 82 miles of coastline with white sandy beaches galore. Fine dining is plenty, and the limited accommodations include the classic White Elephant and new luxury newcomers like Faraway Nantucket, which the owners described as Gertrude Stein's 1920's Paris apartment with details reminiscent of a ship. And this quaint paradise is all accessible via a ferry from Massachusetts or New York. 

Marco Island, Florida

Best for beach lovers

Several bridges grant you access to this tropical island just north of the Everglades, making it an easy destination to explore in southern Florida. As the most developed portion of the state's Ten Thousand Islands, visitors can find crystal blue waters, pristine beaches, and plenty of options to stay busy. There are golfing, boating, and even mangrove swamps with American alligators and crocodiles at nearby Collier-Seminole State Park.

Marco Island Beauty
The tropical feel of Marco Island © Getty Images

As far as hotels, you choose between big name brands like JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort and Hilton. And don't forget to grab some delicious seafood at spots like Bistro Soleil at the Olde Marco Inn.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Best for lake lovers

You don't need an ocean to enjoy an island escape. The 4.35 sq mile Mackinac Island is perched in the middle of Michigan's Lake Huron. There you'll find one of the most enchanting destinations thanks to its car-free policy, turn-of-the-century architecture, and a bustling Main Street.

Mackinac Bridge with Family on Grassy Shore
Mackinac Bridge. also known as the Mighty Mac © Lokibaho/Getty Images

The island is small in size and is home to just 500 full-time residents, but Mackinac Island has some of the country's most remarkable hotels (think the longest porch in the world). Life is simple, with bikes or horses and buggies as the only means of transportation. Simply pedal over to Pink Pony for a famous rum runner and call it a night in one of the stately rooms at the Grand Hotel.

Thimble Islands, Connecticut

Best for solitude

It's hard to imagine that there's an archipelago of more than 100 islands just north of New York City.

Dusk at the Pier Thimble Islands.
Thimble Islands archipelago in Connecticut © Getty Images/iStockphoto

While only one of these – Outer Island – is open for day visitors as it's part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, many others have private homes available for rent. That means you can have a Victorian estate with a private beach or a modern farmhouse complete with paddleboards all to yourself. Thimble Islands Cruise is available for private charter to reach your vacation rental or enjoy a narrated tour of the unique destination. 

San Juan Islands, Washington

Best for nature lovers  

Speaking of archipelagos, the other side of the country is home to a picturesque one too. You'll find the San Juan Islands are home to vibrant reefs, rocky beaches, and classic Pacific Northwest forests off the coast of Washington state. In short, it's an outdoors' lovers paradise. Go whale watching, boating, paddling, cycle around Lopez, or climb Mount Constitution on Orcas.

USA, Washington, San Juan Islands, Lopez Island, Watmough Head
San Juan Islands, Lopez Island, Watmough Head © Purestock/Alamy Stock Photo

But there's also a lively seaside town—Friday Harbor—to enjoy art galleries and restaurants like Tina's Tacos. Other highlights include Pelindaba Lavender Farm and the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway that are home to a mix of beaches, harbors, vineyards, and alpaca farms. Arrive by ferry and then scoot around by bike, boat, bus, car, or trolley.

Catalina Island, California

Best for water enthusiasts

Marilyn Monroe once called this Southern California island home, and it's easy to see why. Though it's just a quick ferry ride from Long Beach, San Pedro, Dana Point, and Newport Beach, it feels as if you've escaped to the Meditteranean. Choose between the two main ports – Avalon and Two Harbors – where you can stroll through the historic downtowns or go on an outdoor adventure of zip lining, hiking, diving, and bison spotting.

Catalina Island
The Casino in Avalon, Catalina Island © AndrewHelwich/Getty Images

After a day of exploring, rest your head at Mt Ada, which was once the Wrigley (yes, like the gum) mansion.  There are also private villas to rent and campgrounds if you want to sneak away from the crowds. 

Golden Isles, Georgia 

Best for family meet-ups

Travelers have their choice of Instagram-worthy beaches along Georgia's coast. The barrier islands of St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island have various laid-back options like the popular East Beach, untouched seven-mile beach, and Driftwood Beach, famous for its large pieces of driftwood. Plus, the marshes make for another picturesque setting perfect for bike riding, kayaking, fishing, and more. Of course, there's plenty to do aside from exploring nature.

Dawn on Driftwood Beach - Jekyll Island
Jekyll Island, Georgia © Getty Images/iStockphoto

Visit Jekyll Island, home to the 240-acre National Historic Landmark District with over 30 historic structures. Or, pick up some designer duds at Redfern Village and dine at  The Georgian Room. If the budget allows, stay at Sea Island Resort. There's also no shortage of more low-key options like The Grey Owl Inn or campgrounds at Blythe Island Regional Park

Long Beach Island, New Jersey

Best for a low-key vacation

The Jersey Shore is famous for its many busy beaches, but Long Beach Island is a much quieter one. There is a busy shopping and dining district at the south end, complete with a mini amusement and water park called Fantasy Island. The rest of the 18-mile-long island is primarily residential with some scattered mom-and-pop shops like the Harvey Cedars Ice Cream Parlour and fine dining restaurants like Yellowfin.

walkway to beach
Jersey Shore is littered with sandy beaches © Dan Hallman/Lonely Planet

The north end is home to the famous Barnegat Lighthouse and Viking Village, where you can catch a boat to go fishing or on a sunset tour on Miss Barnegat Light. Accommodations can be limited, but you have a choice of Victorian bed and breakfasts like the historic Gable's Inn or new modern builds like Hotel LBI. And it's all reached via a single bridge from the mainland.

Mount Desert Island, Maine

Best for hiking

At a whopping 108 sq miles, Mount Desert is actually the 52nd-largest island in the United States and happens to be one of the most beautiful spots in New England. Most of the island is covered by Acadia National Park with incredible oceanfront cliffs and hiking trails.

The coastal scenery of Whistler Cove on Maine's Great Cranberry Island. Near Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park.
Whistler Cove on Maine's Great Cranberry Island. near Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park © Alamy Stock Photo

In fact, there are 18 mountains here with quintessential New England villages – Bar Harbor, Bass Harbor, Northeast Harbor, and more –lining the island's coast. Indulging in some seafood is a must at spots like Lompoc Café and spend the night at the recently renovated historic property (dates back to 1884) The Claremont is located at the mouth of Somes Sound, the East coast's only fjord.

Little Palm Island, Florida

Best for romantic getaways

Private islands aren't just reserved for VIPs in the South Pacific. Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is the only private island resort in the US where you'll feel a million miles away. The beachfront bungalows have a British West Indies aesthetic, while the spa has Balinese vibes. A private boat or ferry (or seaplane) is your only means of transportation to the hidden gem, and once there, guests are treated to fine dining, crystal blue waters, private white-sand beaches, and top-notch service.

SAMMY Pond 1.jpg
Island paradise in the Lower Florida Keyes. © Little Palm Island Resort & Spa

They even recently launched "Dinner on the Sandbar," a private dining experience where you can enjoy a five-course tasting menu atop one of the island's stunning sandbars. Yes, paradise is just a hop, skip, and boat ride away from southern Florida.

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