10 Most Popular U.S. Islands for Summer Vacations


A famous marine wildlife artist known only as Wyland once wrote, “The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination, and brings eternal joy to the soul.”

My best friend Katie once famously remarked, “Everyone loves the beach so much that they tolerate something as annoying as sand just to be there.”

Islands really move us to explore, party, reflect, and revive, whether you’re an artistic, wistful soul or a pessimist who finds optimism in a great slice of coastline … despite the inevitable sand in your sheets.

This year, sign up for a marathon in Maui or a crazy fishing tournament in Grand Isle, La., that’s held entirely in kayaks.

Adventure is waiting at these islands, which are getting the most searches on Yahoo:

10. Orcas, Washington


Orcas Island coast in the San Juan Islands in Washington State. (Photo: Nik Wheeler/Corbis)

The northern United States offers stunning island experiences, and Orcas is part of the San Juan Islands in northwestern Washington state. Nicknamed “The Emerald Isle” for its intensely verdant forests and outright named Orcas because — you guessed it — you can see orcas there, it’s also a driver’s or biker’s natural paradise. There are nearly 60 miles of curving, mountainous passages to explore. Doe Bay is an ideal resort option for nature lovers, featuring an outdoor music festival in August and heated soaking tubs perched overlooking the other San Juan Islands year-round.

9. Grand Isle, Louisiana


A fishing rodeo at Grand Isle. (Courtesy: Calmwater Charters)

Grand Isle is roughly 8 square miles, with only a few thousand residents. Be forewarned, however, because the locals know a good time when they see one on this sunny barrier island. It’s a perfect choice for the sportsman. Sign up for one of the annual fishing rodeos like the Tarpon Rodeo, July 23-25, or the crazy Ride the Bull Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament in mid-August.

Grand Isle also offers the first-ever saltwater Cable Park in the South. Wake Side has Jet Skis, Flyboarding, paddleboat and paddleboard rentals, and kayaks for all ages.

Related: Abandon Us Here, Please: TripAdvisor Users’ Top-Rated Islands

8. Marco Island, Florida


The boardwalk on Marco Island. (Photo: Jenny Adams)

Not nearly as touristy as the Keys, Marco is perfect for a week spent alligator watching in the nearby Everglades or boating and tanning on the tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico. For fishing fanatics in particular, this island is rife with boutique outfitters servicing the Gulf and the smaller waterways. “We have many different species to catch here,” says captain Bubby Hail, whose company Florida’s Finest Fishing offers daily excursions. “The most common offshore catches would be grouper, snapper, sharks, tarpon, permit, and cobia,” he says. Those opting for backwater tours often land redfish, snapper, and trout. Either way, Hail will clean and bag your day’s catch, sending you off ready for your evening’s barbecue.

7. Key West, Florida

Immortalized by the pens of Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, as well as the catchy songs of Jimmy Buffett, Key West is an American island that everyone knows something about. Why not get the full picture? “Since the water is so clear, there is an opportunity to see wildlife in the water from our planes, such as dolphins, turtles, rays, and manatee,” says Julie Ann Floyd, pilot and co-owner of Key West Seaplanes. “We also island hop the length of the Keys and fly 365 days a year. The options are infinite.”

If walking is more your speed, this year there’s a big land draw for those who love the culinary arts. The Southernmost Food Tour sends you through five Cuban and Bahamian restaurants along a 1.3-mile, three-hour walk through Key West’s historic streets.

Related: Under-the-Radar Caribbean Islands Your Family Will Love

6. Key Largo, Florida


Snorkeler swimming past the Christ of the Abyss statue in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. (Photo: Image Source/Corbis)

One of the biggest draws in the Florida Keys is Key Largo, thanks to its proximity to Miami and an incredible wealth of activities. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was America’s first underwater preserve and is part of the overall Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which will mark its 25th anniversary in 2016. The sanctuary covers roughly 2,900 square nautical miles of thriving coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove swamps on both sides. Want to get up close and personal with marine life? Stop by the Dolphin Cove Research & Education Center and book a bottlenose dolphin swim. If you’re around the Upper Keys from Aug. 20-23, you can join in the Upper Keys Reef Crawl including diving, snorkeling, and kayaking.

5. Maui, Hawaii


Sunrise at Secret Beach, Kihei, Maui, Hawaii (Photo: Henk Meijer / Alamy)

Wake up early for the Hawaiian sunrise, grab a pastry at the farmers’ market, and then spend the afternoon snorkeling with turtles or whale watching. If this sounds like your dream package, Maui is on the money.

This year, runners from around the world have their eyes on the island. Combine your vacation with a challenge and sign up for the 45th annual Maui Marathon in September. The official home for the run is the Westin Maui Resort & Spa — famed for its signature, 25-minute HydraFacial and Maui’s only extreme fire-knife dance show, the Wailele Polynesian Luau.

4. Nantucket, Massachusetts


Brant Point Lighthouse on Nantucket Island (Photo: Tetra Images / Alamy)

It’s a rare island that offers you as much variety as Nantucket. You can head to Great Point, rent a four-wheel vehicle, and spend the day driving over the sand dunes. Stroll the stylish furniture and textile stores in town or enjoy a lighthouse and historic architecture tour. Or simply rent a place and live the leisurely life of a local for a week. The price is right. We suggest gathering 16 friends and securing this stately seaside home with a pool for less than $90 per person, per night.

3. Mackinac Island, Michigan


An aerial view of Mackinac Island. (Courtesy: Chippewa Hotel)

Your fun starts before arriving at this four-mile stretch of land located in the tranquil waters of Lake Huron. In the summer, you’ll get there by taking the Shepler’s ferry — a company celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2015 — and in winter, snowmobiles will shuttle you over the island’s ice roads. Upon arrival, you’re rewarded with carriage tours, kayaking, sailing, live big band performances, or a visit to the new Peace Garden, which honors two centuries of peace between the U.S. and Canada. The illustrious Grand Hotel is also offering package weekends this year in conjunction with New York interior design house Dorothy Draper and Company.

Related: The World’s Most Irresistible Islands

2. South Padre Island, Texas


South Padre Island, Texas (Photo: j-No/Flickr)

South Padre Island has 34 miles of coastline offering a world of options from camping to condos and luxury hotels to budget accommodations, plus such activities as fishing, sailing, skydiving, and shopping and hundreds of restaurant/nightlife venues. The island is most famous for two things: spring break for Texas university students and the fact that you can drive right up on the sand. If you are hoping for the latter, head north on Padre Blvd., look for Access No. 5 or 6, and make sure to throw it into four-wheel drive.

1. Hilton Head, South Carolina


Tiny sailboats near Hilton Head. (Courtesy: Hilton Head Island Visitor & Convention Bureau)

Coming in hot as our number-one-searched island, Hilton Head is a quaint, charming, genteel place, known in equal proportion for Southern hospitality and 12 miles of protected, white-sand coastline. This iconic American island town is seeing a boom lately, with $400 million invested in tourism innovations and renovations. This means updates to the region’s two-dozen championship golf courses — from a new, world-class, 19,000-square-foot clubhouse at the Harbour Town Links course to a $100 million expansion plan for the famous Inn at Palmetto Bluff.

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