travel

America's best islands: a starter guide

By Jordan Rane

Published July 3, 2019

Getty Images/Bike_Maverick

Amelia Island, Florida

Visit Victorian mansions, old paper mills, a Civil War-era garrison, and indie art galleries. The island hosts Florida's emptiest beaches and an assortment of fishing-sailing-manatee-watching outfitters.

Courtesy Amelia Island CVB

Catalina Island, California

Nearly 90% of the island remains a rugged preserve -- featuring a wild, frothing coastline and over 40,000 acres of undeveloped interior for backpackers, eco-jeep tourists and bison herds.

Shutterstock

Cumberland Island, Georgia

Tour the Carnegie mansions, spot feral horses, and visit the famous First African Baptist Church.

Channon Hodge/CNN

Fire Island, New York

Go hiking, paddling, fishing and camping along the National Seashore. The island is also famous for its July 4th Invasion of the Pines, attracting hundreds of drag queens and spectators. Deer still live on this pristine barrier island.

Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography

Kodiak Island, Alaska

America's second largest island is a mountain-encrusted, spruce-carpeted, fjord-injected Alaskascape. Over 3,000 Kodiak bears roam the archipelago, and nowhere else.

Shutterstock

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Rent your own bike, horse buggy or kayak to explore this National Historic Landmark with its dramatic limestone bluffs, thick forests and Great Lake waters. Cars have been banned here since 1898.

Shutterstock

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

The famous isle has pristine beaches, iconic clay cliffs, soulful ale houses, and some of the smoothest coastal bike paths on either end of the Atlantic.

Getty Images/Michael Eudenbach

Maui, Hawaii

Watch the sun rise at Haleakala National Park -- home of the world's tallest dormant volcano and all-downhill 26-mile bike tour. Go snorkeling at crystal clear Molokini Crater -- Hawaii's only island marine sanctuary. And spend sunset at Kaanapli Beach -- complete with a daily cliff-diving spectacle.

Getty Images/Bike_Maverick

Mount Desert Island, Maine

Relax at tony inns, nosh on shellfish, gallery hop, and stargaze in one of the darkest available skies in the northeast. The island is also the earliest spot in continental America to catch the first direct rays of daylight.

Getty Images/Alan Copson / robertharding

Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

No bridge. No crowds. Put life on blissful pause at this wafer-thin shore and former Blackbeard hideout.

Shutterstock

Orcas Island, Washington

Drive into Moran State Park and to the top of 2,409-foot Mt. Constitution for views of Mt. Rainier, British Columbia and everything in between on a clear day. Neighboring San Juan Island is your best bet for shopping and paddling through killer whale country.

Shutterstock

Sanibel Island, Florida

The sands are strewn with amazingly intact shells—and folks of all ages hunched over looking for them, doing the well-known "Sanibel Stoop." Visit the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum and craft shops to admire the many shell figurines.

Shutterstock

St. John, US Virgin Islands

A tropical preserve that suffered devastating hits from Category 5 hurricanes in 2017. All beaches and trails are open for visitors, along with the Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins.

Shutterstock