This year's World's Best Awards survey was open for voting January 11 through May 10, 2021, as destinations around the world were lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Survey rules have always allowed readers to reflect on their travel experiences over a three-year period. We hope that this year's honorees will inspire your own travels as you get back out into the world.
From coast to coast, the best islands in the Continental U.S. attract all types of travelers, but readers seem to have a soft spot for the eastern seaboard — especially when it comes to Florida, which lays claim to five of the top islands. Still, there's a Midwestern haven that continues to draw fans from every corner of the country.
Every year for our World's Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated islands according to their activities and sights, natural attractions and beaches, food, friendliness, and overall value.
Mackinac Island (No. 9), located on Lake Huron, has been the site of so many important happenings — a major battle in the War of 1812, for starters — that it's been designated a National Historical Landmark. And while 80 percent remains protected as a state park, it also has a plethora of galleries, restaurants, and sites to explore on foot, bike, or in a horse-drawn carriage (no automobiles are allowed). "What a different place to visit," said one voter. "It's like its own little world."
Courtesy of South Carolina Office of Tourism
Also coveted for its sense of isolation is Maine's 108-square-mile Mount Desert Island. Landing in the No. 8 spot, it is home to the majority of Acadia National Park, where nature lovers can hike the tallest mountain on the East Coast and explore the rocky beaches. One reader called it the "best biking spot ever!" There are also several lively towns, including Bar Harbor, which hosts annual music and fine-arts festivals. It has a walkable downtown packed with shops, restaurants, and bars.
But this year's No. 1 island, Hilton Head, has been a familiar favorite for years. Read on to learn why readers continue to vote for it as the best island in the continental United States.
1. Hilton Head, South Carolina
Aurora Open/Getty Images
With 12 miles of pristine beaches, 33 golf courses, 60 miles of walking trails, as well as outstanding restaurants, museums and galleries, this South Carolina island has been popular with voters for years. For longer stays, many visitors choose to rent houses, but comfortable hotels abound. The Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort, which has three swimming pools, a spa, and four restaurants, is an ideal option for families; for a more serene experience, there is the 60-room Inn & Club at Harbour Town, which was recently refurbished and offers tennis and golf. "We can be as busy as we like or just relax and take in all the beautiful beaches and sea life," said one voter.
2. Kiawah Island, South Carolina
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3. Amelia Island, Florida
Deremer Studios/Courtesy of The Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau/ameliaisland.com
4. San Juan Islands, Washington State
Jason Hummel/Courtesy of Washington Tourism Alliance
5. Long Boat Key, Florida
Courtesy of Visit Florida
6. Nantucket, Massachusetts
Courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Tourism & Travel
7. Golden Isles (Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island, Sea Island, St. Simons Island), Georgia
8. Mount Desert Island, Maine
Deb Snelson/Getty Images
9. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Gerard + Belevender
10. Florida Keys, Florida
Paradise Media/Courtesy of Visit Florida
11. Captiva Island, Florida
Stacy Hilton/Courtesy of Visit Florida
12. Block Island, Rhode Island
Courtesy of Rhode Island Commerce Corporation
13. Sanibel Island, Florida
Peter W. Cross/Courtesy of Visit Florida
14. Outer Banks, North Carolina
Courtesy of Outer Banks Visitor Bureau
15. Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Kenneth Wiedemann/iStockphoto/Getty Images
See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2021.