Best of America

The 12 Best Island Vacations to Take Without Leaving the Country

Itching for a tropical vacation, but don't want to deal with getting a passport, the currency exchange, and any language barriers? Lucky for you, there are plenty of islands that are part of the U.S.—so no passport (or hassle) required!

Maui, Hawaii

Muaitropicdreams/ShutterstockThis one is obvious, but that doesn't mean it's overrated! Maui is full of natural beauty, and temperate enough for outdoor adventures any time of the year. You can go snorkeling or whale watching on the coast, or simply soak up the sun all day on one of the many pristine beaches. Rent a car and drive along the northeastern coast to Hana for a breathtaking ocean vista, or hike through the Haleakala National Park, full of sunlit bamboo forests. Don't forget to sample some of the delicious native street food! You'll love how these Hawaiian phrases put you in a state of zen.

American Somoa

American-SamoaBrenda-Smith-DVM/ShutterstockIn the heart of the South Pacific, the American Somoa islands are home to tropical rainforests, beautiful beaches, and huge coral reefs. You can stay at one of several lovely beachfront resorts or find a unique vacation rental. On the island of Apia, visit the Samoa Cultural Village to learn about Samoan traditions, and hike to the beautiful Papapapaitai Falls. Water transport between the two main islands of Upolu and Savai'i is provided by Samoa Shipping. Just make sure to protect yourself from sunburn while you're out on the water!

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac-Island,-MichiganOstrows2/ShutterstockNot all the best island vacations are in the tropics! Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, Michigan, combines Midwestern charm with resort vacationing. The small island was home to a British fort in the Revolutionary War, and the entire island still retains the look and feel of a Victorian town. It's an ideal vacation spot for history buffs, families, and those who want to sample famous locally made fudge from the dozens of fudge shops on the island. Late spring through the summer is the best time to visit Mackinac, as the island does tend to stay Michigan cold through most of the spring.

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St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

St.-John,-U.S.-Virgin-IslandsBrocreative/ShutterstockThe third largest of the Virgin Islands, St. John has fewer tourists but just as many white sand beaches as the more popular St. Thomas. Here, you can take a kayak or sailboat tour of St. John's bays and swim or snorkel in the crystal clear ocean (where you may see some sea turtles). Enjoy the beautiful, pristine nature on the island (60 percent of which is a preserved National Park), but also set aside some time for shopping and dining in the lovely Mongoose Junction downtown district. These are the things airlines don't want to tell you (but every flier should know).

Anna Maria Island, Florida

Anna-Maria-Island,-FloridaAHPix/ShutterstockForget Key West. For a leisurely island vacation with smaller crowds and sunny weather all year around, head to Anna Maria Island, just a short drive from Tampa. Stay in a cottage on the beach and eat fresh-caught seafood and tropical cocktails right on the sand at Sandbar. Nature paths run the length of the barrier island, providing excellent opportunities for strolling along the waterfront. In the evening, head to Bean Point at the northern tip of the island for a phenomenal view of the sun setting over the ocean. As you'll soon discover, it's no wonder that Florida is one of the country's happiest places to live!

San Juan Island, Washington

San-Juan-Island,-WashingtonAnna-Abramskaya/ShutterstockJust this side of the Canadian border, in the strait between Vancouver Island and Seattle, lies San Juan Island. Like Seattle, San Juan Island is rainy for most of the year—but in the summer, mild temperatures and endless outdoor adventures make it the perfect place for adventurers and nature lovers. You can walk or bike down one of the scenic byways, go sailing, or take a drive down the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway. For the foodies in your family, consider taking the San Juan Island Food & Farms Tour!

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Block Island, Rhode Island

Block-Island,-Rhode-IslandMona-Makela/ShutterstockAnother trip ideal for outdoorsy types, Block Island is a unique New England paradise with lighthouses, white sand beaches, miles and miles of hiking trails and very little else. There's only one town on Block Island—New Shoreham—and it's quite small. Spend your day sea kayaking, surfing, or taking a yoga class, then head into town in the evening for some casual dining (including fresh caught lobster when it's in season!) and live music at the Yellow Kittens Tavern.

Hilton Head, South Carolina

Hilton-Head,-South-CarolinaSean-Pavone/ShutterstockThough Hilton Head is certainly no secret anymore, it's one of America's favorite beach vacation spots for a reason. This sunny southern island is a legendary destination for golfers, but it also offers opportunities for tennis and volleyball players—and for those who just want to relax on the sidelines. If participatory sports aren't your thing, you can hike through the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, bike along many seaside trails, or take in the view from the top of the Harbour Town Lighthouse. After you've worked up a sweat, sleep in the lap of luxury at the highly-rated Sonesta Resort and book yourself a spa day.

Santa Catalina Island, California

santa-catalinaRodolfo-Arpia/ShutterstockOver on the always-temperate West Coast, Santa Catalina Island is a Los Angelean's favorite place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Located just an hour's ferry ride from the city, Santa Catalina is a perfect getaway for the whole family, with sandy beaches, fine restaurants, and plenty of outdoor activities. Go parasailing, take a glass bottom boat tour to see all the unique marine wildlife, or get a bird's eye view of the island on a zip line tour. You can stay in one of the several world-class resorts on the island, or camp right on the beach at the Two Harbors Campground.

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Mount Desert Island, Maine

Mount-Desert-Island,-MainePhilipp-Dase/ShutterstockOn the other side of the country, Mount Desert Island is filled with evergreen forests and rocky seaside cliffs. Outdoor adventurers can visit the iconic Acadia National Park which stretches across the middle of the island and includes Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the East Coast. Visit Mount Desert Island in the fall to see the beautiful autumn color of the leaves, but pack for chilly (35-50 degree) weather. Stay at the quaint Bayview Hotel in Bar Harbor for sweeping views of the ocean right from your room. To get the best travel deals, here's the best day of the week to book tickets.

Shelter Island, New York

Shelter-Island,-New-YorkROBERT-SBARRA/ShutterstockShelter Island is a great getaway for the summer and autumn, when the temperatures are warmer and all the seasonal businesses are open. Book a beachfront vacation rental for a romantic weekend, and have a candlelight Italian dinner at the set-menu 18 Bay restaurant. Families with children can visit the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm to learn about farm life and where food comes from. For some afternoon libations, visit the Shelter Island Craft Brewery to sample some locally made brews.

Lanai, Hawaii

Lanai,-HawaiiLynn-Y/ShutterstockAll of the Hawaiian Islands make for wonderful beach vacations—this is a known fact. But Lanai has some unique attractions that are beacons to adventurous travelers. You can visit the Garden of the Gods, a strange, Mars-like desert landscape stuck in the middle of tropical paradise, or take a trip to the Lanai Cat Sanctuary, which is exactly what it sounds like. There are also, of course, dozens of breathtaking beaches for sunbathing and swimming, and plenty of luxurious resorts to really get the paradise experience. Wherever you end up going, here's how to take the stress out of air travel.

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