April 22, 2024 | Allison Robertson

Little-known Island Paradises in America


Lesser-Known Island Paradises

These stunning islands in the United States have always been kept on the down-low to avoid disturbing their peaceful nature and minimal tourism.

They have now surfaced as some of America’s best hidden gems that can no longer be kept hush-hush.

Islands split image

Santa Catalina Island, California

This rocky island off the California coast offers an array of outdoor adventures, from zip-lining and hiking to snorkeling and scuba diving in its crystal-clear waters.

Landscape Photo of Santa Catalina Island in CaliforniaRon Cogswell, Flickr

Santa Catalina Island

The island gives off a Mediterranean charm, with waterfront promenade, quaint shops, a museum, a theater, as well as remote beaches and coves—making it a perfect place for both adventure and relaxation.

Panoramic Photo of Settlement at Santa Catalina Island, CaliforniaRoman Eugeniusz, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

With no bridges connecting to the mainland, Daufuskie Island is only accessible by ferry—making it more of a challenge for some people, ultimately limiting the tourist population.

Dock on Daufuskie Island in Beaufort, South CarolinaAdam Colick, Shutterstock

Daufuskie Island

With stunning secluded beaches, art galleries, a rum distillery, and historical sites, the tight-knit community on Daufuskie Island is a must-visit for those looking for an authentic lowcountry holiday.

Shells washed up on the beach on Daufuskie Island in South CarolinaBill Pearmain, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Block Island, Rhode Island

Block Island is a serene escape, 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. With conservation efforts in place, much of the island remains undeveloped—making it a nature’s paradise.

Aerial view of Block Island in Rhode Island, USA.eatswords, Flickr

Block Island

Block Island is known for its 17 miles of sandy beaches and numerous cycling and hiking trails. Dramatic cliffs offer stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Great Salt Pond is a wonder for boaters and kayakers.

With a small-town charm, this island is perfect for those seeking a quiet getaway.

Landscape Photo of Sand Beach an the Block Island North Light LighthouseHeather Katsoulis, Flickr

Channel Islands, California

Channel Islands is actually a group of five beautiful islands off the coast of Southern California, with each one offering a unique landscape. These islands are isolated from the mainland and are only accessible by boat—adding to their allure.

Aerial photograph of Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Southern California.filippo_jean, Wikimedia Commons

Channel Islands

The islands are known as the breeding grounds for the California sea lion, several other species of seals, and a variety of sea birds. Visitors can explore rugged hiking trails, secluded beaches, and crystal-clear waters filled with sea caves and vibrant marine life.

Sea lion with satellite tag and pupNOAA Fisheries West Coast, Flickr

Monhegan Island, Maine

Monhegan Island is a small, rocky island with a population of only 70 people. It is accessible only by boat, and is primarily a walking island—not allowing cars.

View from the lighthouse at the Monhegan Island, MaineJR P, Flickr

Monhegan Island

This charming and quaint little isle offers hiking trails, lush forests, and a long, dramatic coastline. It is home to one the oldest art colony in the nation.

This is where time slows down, offering a peaceful escape from the hustle-and-bustle of daily life.

Landscape of the Monhegan Headland Trail and the CoastlineTimothy Valentine, Flickr

Vieques, Puerto Rico

Vieques is an island municipality of Puerto Rico known for its bioluminescent Mosquito Bag—the brightest in the world—where kayakers can experience the glowing waters at night.

Aerial View of The secluded and undeveloped beaches of Vieques Island, Puerto RicoU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, Flickr

Vieques

The island used to be a naval base, which left it with unspoiled beached that are now wildlife refuges. Wild horses roam freely in the absence of large hotels or resorts, making it a more intimate experience for visitors.

Don’t miss Playa Negra—a stunning beach with black sand.

Horses on Playa Negra Beach at Vieques Island, Puerto Rico.karlnorling, Flickr

Fire Island, New York

Fire Island is a slender barrier island off the coast of Long Island. It is known for its vibrant LGBTQ+ community, unique natural habitats, and secluded beaches. It’s also another car-free community—making it a quiet getaway away from big city lights and horns.

Sea view from top of Fire Island LighthouseSTUDIO MELANGE, Shutterstock

Fire Island

With soft, sandy beaches and stunning boardwalks, Fire Island is where you go to find solitude during the day and vibrant night-life later. It’s the perfect place for a celebratory getaway with a side of relaxation.

Landscape Photo of Sandy Beach on Fire Island, U.S. state of New YorkPatrick Gruban, Wikimedia Commons

Chincoteague Island, Virginia

Chincoteague Island—famous for its wild ponies—is a tranquil beach destination offering beautiful landscapes, miles of unspoiled beaches, and an abundance of wildlife.

An aerial photograph of west/bayside Chincoteague Island at sunriseMbinebri / Matthew Binebrink, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Chincoteague Island

This is another island that offers that small-town charm, encouraging visitors to slow down and take in nature. With cozy accommodations, local shops, fresh seafood restaurants, and intriguing community events—like the annual Pony Swim—this destination is a perfect contender for your next vacation.

Panoramic Photo of Chincoteague Island Coastguard facility in Virginia USADavid Broad, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Orcas Island, Washington

Orcas Island is the largest island of the San Juan Islands, and is renowned for its diverse landscape from the old-growth forest of Moran State Park to the summit of Mount Constitution—giving panoramic views of the surrounding islands.

An aerial view of Orcas Island, one of the islands that make up the San Juan Islands in northern Puget SoundUnited States Government, Wikimedia Commons

Orcas Island

The island’s main village is a hub of activity, including shops, restaurants, theaters, festivals, museums, and restaurants—making it a perfect vacation spot for those seeking both adventure and relaxation.

Orcas Road coming into Orcas Village, Orcas Island, WashingtonI, Jmabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Pelee Island, Ontario, Canada

Pelee Island is located in the western half of Lake Erie and is the largest island in the Lake. Although it is technically on the Canadian side, it shares a close connection with the U.S. both geographically and culturally.

Aerial photo of Pelee Island, in the Canadian province of Ontarioscattered1, Flickr

Pelee Island

The island is known for its wineries, vineyards, quiet beaches, hiking trails, and a rich diversity of flora and fauna. It’s laid-back atmosphere and mild climate make it an ideal destination for a peaceful retreat.

Tourists near The Pelee Island LighthouseRichard Hsu, Flickr

Diomede Islands, Alaska

The Diomede Islands are fascinating due to their location. Consisting of two islands, Little Diomede (U.S.) and Big Diomede (Russia) sit in the middle of the Bering Strait separated by the International Date Line. So close together, yet they have a time difference of 21 hours.

Landscape Photo of Big Diomede IslandAnsgar Walk, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Diomede Islands

Little Diomede is home to the Ingalikmiut Eskimo community, and is one of the most remote and challenging environments on Earth. It offers traditions and lifestyles to that of Arctic conditions.

Landscape Photo of Little Diomede Island, Alaskanaql, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Diomede Islands: Visitors

For visitors, the island offers a unique perspective on the complexities of international borders, the resilience of indigenous communities, and the stunning beauty of the Arctic landscape.

Landscape Photo of Little and Big Diomede in AlaskaRay Muzyka, Flickr

Culebra, Puerto Rico

Culebra is a small island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. It’s Known for Flamenco Beach—often ranked among the world’s best beaches for its white sands and crystal-clear waters.

Aerial view of Culebra Island Puerto RicoLauren Orr, Shutterstock

Culebra

The stunning island with turquoise waters has resisted large-scale tourism, preserving its natural beauty and serene atmosphere. It’s a haven for snorkelers and divers, with rich marine life and vibrant coral reefs.

Landscape Photo of beach at Culebra Island Puerto RicoThomas Shahan, Flickr

Lopez Island, Washington

Lopez Island is the third largest of the San Juan Islands in Washington State. It is often dubbed, “The Friendly Isle,” for its welcoming community and laid-back vibe.

Landscape Photo of Iceberg Point, southern tip of Lopez IslandLee LeFever, Flickr

Lopez Island

Lopez Island is known for its rolling farmlands and open spaces, offering scenic shorelines and a natural retreat for hikers, cyclists, and nature lovers. Its charm lies in its simplicity, with farm-to-table dining, small businesses, and art galleries.

Landscape Photo of a Hiking Trail near the sea at the Lopez IslandVirginia Hill, Flickr

Kodiak Island, Alaska

Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the United States. It’s known for its rugged beauty and plentiful wildlife, particularly brown bears. With dense forests, alpine meadows, and a bear sanctuary, there is no shortage on wild beauty here.

Aerial View of the the Marina boats and harbor on Kodiak IslandReal Window Creative, Flickr

Kodiak Island

The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge covers most of the island and it provides a home for bears, bald eagles, and an abundant of other wildlife, making it an optimal location for photographers and nature enthusiasts.

Brown bear looking for salmon in the river Kodiak Kodiak National Wildlife Refugebobby20, Shutterstock

Nantucket, Massachusetts

Off the coast of Massachusetts is Nantucket Island, known for its pristine beaches, historic lighthouses, and charming cobblestone streets. Nantucket offers a beautiful blend of natural beauty and rich history.

Aerial Shot of Nantucket MassachusettsD Ramey Logan, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Nantucket

The island’s conservation efforts protect its landscapes, allowing visitors to take in unspoiled beaches, dune-backed shores, and rare wildlife habitats.

Town center boats charming boutiques, galleries, and restaurants, reflecting the upscale yet laid-back vibe.

Viewed from harbour, Nantucket, Massachusetts, United StatesBilly Wilson, Flickr

Lanai, Hawaii

Lanai was once known as the Pineapple Island because of its past pineapple plantation, but it is now a place of luxury resorts and untamed wilderness—a stark contrast to other popular Hawaiian islands.

Aerial view of Lanai, Hawaii featuring Hulopo'e Bay and beachFrederick Millett, Shutterstock

Lanai

The island boats beaches filled with shipwrecks, and luxury resorts with world-class amenities. With only 30 miles of paved roads, most of the island remains wild and untouched, offering the perfect blend of serenity and exploration.

A rusty shipwreck off the coast of ShipWreck Beach on the Island of LanaiRaulCano, Shutterstock

Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Martha’s Vineyard is an island known as a summer haven for celebrities and presidents alike. With stunning beaches, rolling farmlands, art galleries, local cuisine, and a laid-back lifestyle, the island is a sought-after community with much to offer.

Aerial View of Oak Bluffs at Martha's Vineyard IslandCJ Larsen, Flickr

Martha’s Vineyard

The island’s diverse communities including the cute gingerbread cottages of Oak Bluffs and the historic whaling town of Edgartown, offer a unique charm blended with history and cultural depth.

Photo of Edgartown Harbor on Martha's Vineyard Island taken from seaMassachusetts Office Of Travel & Tourism, Flickr

Dry Tortugas, Florida

Dry Tortugas National Park is an archipelago of seven islands known for its crystal-clear waters, stunning coral reefs, and the historic Fort Jefferson. The 100-square mile park is mostly open water and only accessible by boat or seaplane—offering an isolated solitude.

Aerial view of Fort Jefferson at the Dry TortugasU.S. National Park Service, Wikimedia Commons

Dry Tortugas

Full of adventure, the islands boast unparalleled waters filled with underwater treasures and unique marine wildlife are perfect for diving, snorkeling, and swimming. Fort Jefferson offers an intriguing look into history, and the quiet islands are a paradise for many species of birds.

Photo of Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National ParkRon Cogswell, Flickr

Molokai, Hawaii

Molokai is another beautiful island known for its friendly nature, often being dubbed, “Friendly Isle,” similar to Lopez Island. It is the fifth-largest island in the Hawaiian chain, and is known for its native Hawaiian traditions.

Landscape Photo of Halawa Valley, Molokai Island, HawaiiRose_Braverman, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Molokai

Molokai is not as developed as its neighbors. It does not have any traffic lights or high-rise buildings—giving a glimpse into Hawaii’s past. The island landscape boasts stunning beaches, the world’s highest sea cliffs, and the historic Kalaupapa National Historical Park, making it a perfect spot for those looking for an authentic Hawaiian experience.

Landscape Photo of Kalaupapa National Historical Park.Lisa Sasser, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Isle Royale, Michigan

Isle Royale National Park is located in the cold waters of Lake Surperior, offering an isolated wilderness retreat that encourages low-impact camping and backcountry exploration. It’s only accessible by boat or seaplane.

Landscape Photo of Isle Royale National ParkRay Dumas, Flickr

Isle Royale

The rugged island is encompassed in a rich forested wilderness with scenic shorelines and a diverse range of wildlife, including moose and wolves. With over 165 miles of hiking trails, the dense forests open up to crystal-clear lakes with breathtaking views—making this island a top destination for nature enthusiasts looking to unplug for a while.

Moose Swimming In The Rock Harbor ChannelNPS, Wikimedia Commons

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