An escape to a beautiful island to get tuned into its slower and more relaxed pace of life close to nature amidst breathtaking views is often our idea of a dream vacation. And we do not have to wander too far from home for that. The long coastline of USA is dotted with islands and there are some islands even in the lakes. Then there is Hawaii and the US Virgin islands. We are actually spoiled by so much choice. Though tastes differ, here is a selection of 10 best US islands each of whom has something special.
1) Maui, Hawaii
Why go there: Maui is the 2nd largest (727.2 sq miles) and the most diverse of all Hawaii islands. Thousands of humpback whales migrate to Maui’s warm waters each year. The island is sparsely populated with 80 beaches including the world’s best beach at Wailea. The west coast is famous for world class resorts like Kapalua, Kaanapali and Wailea. The tiny town of Hana in the secluded east coast still provides the charms of the old Hawaiian lifestyle.
What to do: Hike along the numerous trails. Pipiwai trail takes you through numerous waterfalls and finally reaches the Waimoku Falls, where water falls 400 feet down a lava rock shaped like a horse shoe. Go to the Oheo Gulch Kipahulu. Dozens of pools and waterfalls give the place a strange magical touch. Drive along the Hana highway. Green cliffs, lush valleys watered with numerous waterfalls & views of the coastline make it the highway to heaven.
What to eat: Don’t miss the chance to eat at a Luau, the Hawaiian feast. Go to the small intimate luau, the Feast of Lele. Large families with children prefer the Kaanapali Beach Luau. If your interest is Hawaiian culture and history, the Old Lahaina Luau is better.
Where to stay: A wide range of accommodation is available. You can book from Hawaii tourism according to your preference.
2) Block Island, Rhode Island
Why go there: 12 miles from the Rhode Island coast, this is one of the 12 great places in the western hemisphere. The houses have no street numbers. It has 17 miles of pristine ivory colored beaches protected by lighthouses and surrounded by winding paths. Nearly half the island is preserved open space. Many beaches are isolated and offer breathtaking views.
What to do: Just walk and you will reach a beach. Relax. Go for biking, parasailing, kayaking and horseback and moped riding. Go to the Settler’s Rock at Cow cave. This is the place where the first settlers landed and brought the first cows to the island; attached to the rock is a plaque naming the first settlers.
What to eat: There are a variety of restaurants and many seafood options. No reservations are required. Captain Nick’s is a popular nightclub.
Where to stay:Options range from b&bs and cottages to big hotels. The National Hotel and Spring Home are remarkable for their setting and luxury. But you can also rent a house and be closer to the locals.
3) St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
Why go there: St. Croix, the largest of US Virgin Islands has a rich history and a vibrant and unique culture. Powerful nations of the world, Spain, Great Britain, France, Netherlands, Denmark and USA, have their share in this beautiful islands history and culture. From the regal 18th and 19th century homes in Christiansted to the tropical rain forest in Frederiksted, St. Croix offers diverse attractions.
What to do: Relax at the fantastic beaches or take a stroll. Explore the numerous museums, churches and historic sites. Enjoy a variety of festivities and live music shows. Go horse riding, kayaking or kite flying.
What to eat: There is a wide choice of restaurants that offer food from various parts of the world from French to Thai to Caribbean fusion.
Where to stay: There are lots of options.
4) Key West, Florida
Why go there: Key West is the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys. Discover the beauty that lured Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. The island has real estates that date back to Kings of Spain. Key West is close to Havana and has much Cuban influence in its culture. The vibrant Bahama village represents Key West’s African cultural heritage. The Sun shines brightest when it sets in Key West. People gather on the Mallory dock everyday to enjoy this spectacular sunset and raise a toast to it.
What to do: Follow the trails of great people, see the Ernest Hemingway house, shop, dine and enjoy the night life. Go for diving, fishing, water sports and golfing at the Key West Golf Club. Go for kayaking or sunset cruises or on a glass bottom boat to watch dolphins and sea life.
What to eat: You can dine in style on one of the gourmet cruises, in one of the waterfront verandas or rooftops. Caribbean, Italian and many other specialties are served in the island’s unique style.
Where to stay:Accommodations range from high end hotels to private houses, inns and guesthouses. Check out La Pension Inn, which dates from Key West’s Victorian age. It was a private residence of the Vice-President of Cortez Cigar Company.
5)Orcas, San Juan Islands, Washington
Why go there: Orcas, the horse shoe shaped hilly island is bigger and less populated than other San Juan Islands. It is called the “emerald island” for it is almost always green. The island has a mild climate and a magical mix of lush forest, farm valleys, placid lakes and stunning mountains.
What to do: Whales are a daily sight in summer. Don’t miss the panoramic view from the top of Mount Constitution. A farmers market is arranged between May and September. Enjoy golfing, hiking, kayaking, mushroom hunting and making your own potteries. A popular kayaking trip is from Orcas to the Yellow islands.
What to eat: There are quite a few restaurants. The Boardwalk on The Water near the ferry landing provides waterfront dining and lodging options.
Where to stay: The Orcas village, Westsound, and Deer harbor at the western side of the island offer lodging and dining facilities.
6)Mackinac Island, Michigan
Why go there: This island is not on sea but on Lake Huron. It is also car free since 1898. Its unspoilt secluded nature is its main attraction. Its history is no less interesting. According to Anishinaabe-Ojibwe tradition, the Island is a sacred place populated by the first people and was home to the Great Spirit Gitchie Manitou. Its location and great fish population also attracted French and Jesuits.
What to do: Take a horse carriage or a horse ride to tour the island. Each year, there is a Festival of Horse in July. Visit the arch rock, skull cave, sugarloaf, British landing, and devil’s kitchen.
Where to eat: Regional fresh fish from the great lakes is the island’s specialty. There are a variety of restaurants to choose from.
Where to stay: There are hotels, resorts, cottages and historic inns. Check out the Inn on Mackinac built in 1867 as Chateau Beaumont in memory of the famous Mackinac army surgeon.
7)Santa Cruz, California
Why go there: Situated 20 miles from Ventura harbor, it is the largest and most diverse of the Channel Islands. The island has two mountain ranges, deep canyons with year round springs and a rugged shoreline with pebbled beaches. It has 600 plant species, 120 bird species and the largest and deepest sea cave in the world, the Painted Cave. Millions of years of isolation resulted in the island’s unique flora and fauna. The island scrub jay and eight plant species are found only on Santa Cruz and nowhere else in the world.
What to do: Take a deep breath and just spend a day doing nothing. Walking is the only option available. Watch the numerous birds or take a kayak to see nearby islands. This is a true escape from civilization. So keep emergency kit with you and relax.
What to eat: There are no restaurants or stores. Take your own food.
Where to Stay: Camping is the only option. There are no hotels. This is a really secluded place, so close to South California, yet so far away.
8)Anna Maria, Florida
Why go there: This island’s specialty is its private island feel. Yet all the amenities of life are just close to you. It’s white coastline, emerald waters and breathtaking views of sunrise and sunset without the associated crowd makes you feel it is just made for you.
What to do: Walk, bike or take the island’s free trolley to explore the island. Go kayaking, parasailing, scuba diving or bird watching. There are also museums, theaters and other cultural outlets.
What to eat: Dine at a rustic restaurant or an elegant one, but a seat with a view is the first priority. Seafood and gourmet cuisine at their best are served in a special way.
Where to stay: Enough options are available. Try beachside cottages or restored old houses.
9)Little St. Simons, Georgia
Why go there: It is a private barrier island which boasts of centuries of virgin beauty and allows only 32 people to stay at a time. It retains the charm of coastal life with its extraordinarily beautiful beach, untouched mossy oak forests and wildlife. Only 20 acres of this 10,000 acres island is developed. Having a whole beach just to you is the rare luxury that this island offers.
What to do: Explore the island yourself or with the naturalists who lead daily adventure and activities.
What to eat: Regional cuisine is served at three meals daily and all beverages are included in all guest rates. On Saturdays lunch is served at seaside.
Where to stay: Lodge, cottage and suites are available and can be booked from their site. You can even book the entire island!
10)Bald Head island, North Carolina
Why go there: You have to leave your car behind. Isn’t that reason enough? North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse, Old Baldy stands there. Though tiny, the island played part in two American wars. During the American Revolution, it was home to Fort George, a British Fort. During the Civil War the same served as Fort Holmes.
What to do: Explore the island, its protected creeks and maritime forests. Tours are available. Shopping and golfing are the other options.
What to eat: Beside various restaurants, there are options to get groceries delivered to your door.
Where to stay: Property rental is a popular option available in both per night and weekly prices.
From “sea to shining sea” there are a variety of islands in USA. Go to one of them, unwind and learn the art of doing nothing but relaxing for a few days. Bon voyage.