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America’s 11 Most Magical Island Vacation Destinations

With thousands of large and small islands in the continental United States, the magical ones are not necessarily the typical tropical heaven that one pictures, but paradises nevertheless. This list offers a choice of both the conventional and surprising magical island destinations.

Block Island, Rhode Island

A beach in Block Island, Rhode Island.

The unpretentious little heaven of Block Island is only accessible via ferry or a small plane for a true getaway feeling from everyone and everything. Bursting with New England flavors, there are scenic strolls with lighthouse sightings and lobster-feasting over a glass of wine. A great day-start with hiking or biking along the seaside paths and through the charming town’s center strip can be followed by some fun at the beach with a picnic until sunset. Comprising only ten square miles, the island features an expansive shoreline where one is guaranteed a private spot with all the vistas. The beaches vary in landscapes and sights, from the dramatic cliffs of the Mohegan Bluffs to the calm waters of the Baby Beach to the sea glass- and sea shell-strewn West Beach. Following a scavenger hunt for orb-shaped glass floats, a unique tradition started by a local, the town awaits with more delicacies to dive in at supper, including lobster-topped nacho towers, beer-battered fish and chips, or quick-and-tasty lobster rolls. 

Channel Islands, California

Channel Islands, California
Avalon Harbor in Santa Catalina Island.

Featuring one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world on the surface and under the sea, Channel Island is a real treasure cove of magical experiences. Off-the-radar yet, only 90 miles from Los Angeles, the locale comprises an eight-island archipelago that many call the “the Galapagos of the North.” The Ventura offers an excellent base for an extended stay, perfect for island-hopping. One can take a relaxing hour-worth ferry ride to the stunning and rare habitat of rare plants and animals on the Santa Cruz, including the smallest fox species on the planet, bald eagle chicks, and scrub jays found nowhere else on Earth. The Scorpion Canyon comes with an established campsite for many days of scenic hiking. One can scuba dive and snorkel to explore the fascinating undersea world or peddle in the “kelp forests” near the shores. The Painted Cave is a plunging opening deep into the side of the island for a real magical experience of entering the darkness via a kayak and discovering unexpectedly vibrant natural compartments underground. 

Chincoteague Island, Virginia

Chincoteague Island, Virginia
Chincoteague Island, Virginia. Editorial credit: The Old Major / Shutterstock.com

A place to obtain a real legal high, the majestic barrier island on Virginia’s Eastern shore is known for its back-to-the-Earth atmosphere, restorative powers, and truly magical sights of horses roaming the shores. With more horses than people around, one can have some real R&R swimming and basking on the beach while sighting the running beauties around. A boat tour with Captain Dan offers first-hand experience of the spectacle, followed by a more laid-back time on the scenic beaches of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. For more charming things to do, the BYOC lets one “build your own cookie” or summon an enchanting concoction treat crowned with ice cream and toppings. The welcoming Miss Molly’s Inn is a homey stay known for packed to-go beach lunch picnics to spend full days where it matters most absorbing the magic. 

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac island
Vacationers take on Market Street on Mackinac Island. Editorial credit: Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock.com

Comprising 3.8 miles of floating land in Michigan’s Lake Huron, Mackinac Island is home to some-500 year-round residents for a real small-town feel. There is an instant jaunt of nostalgia from the unmistakably Americana and enchanting early 1900s atmosphere. There are horse buggies in the place of cars, monumental historic hotels, and the longest porch in America, along with the Main Street brimful with bright, columned general stores, inns, artist markets, and a tasty restaurant scene. The Pink Pony comes with a pretty waterfront patio, while the Cuppola Bar is known for drinks, live music, the Carleton Varney decor, and a chandelier that is a sight to behold. The Inn At Stonecliffe enchants with its Tudor Revival mansion decor of new-and old-world touches, including the original stained glass windows, clawfoot tubs, and a bar space that once held a library. For more 19th-century vibes, one can visit the crafts markets and the original fudge shop, Murdick’s Fudge, which first opened in 1887.

Maui, Hawaii

maui, hawaii
The Garden of Eden in Maui, Hawaii.

The magical paradise of Maui is world-renowned for mesmerizing volcanic beaches, oceanfront resorts, and expansive sunsets. One can stay at the towering Mount Haleakala to crawl out onto the salt-air-infused beach each morning and soak up the sun all day long while sipping on a refreshing drink in between swims. The wide range of pastimes includes snorkeling, hiking, and enjoying local delicacies at one of the terraced restaurants with all the views. Family-friendly resorts come with activities for children, like zip-lines and luaus, as well as turtle-spotting canoe tours and a goat farm for those kiddos who love animals. The island’s trademark sunset viewings from the beach are also legendary via the Road to Hana, a 52-mile scenic route inclusive of dramatic waterfalls and spectacular Seven Sacred Pools for a multiplier effect. 

Mount Desert Island, Maine

Mount Desert Island
Bar Harbor in Mount Desert Island, Maine.

Mount Desert Island is the sixth-largest among the thousands of inhabited and otherwise islands in the continental United States. Renowned for its town of Bar Harbor with a New England vibe, outdoor enthusiasts also flee there to stroll in the fresh air at the Acadia National Park, the beautiful Somes Sound, and hike the Cadillac Mountain at sunset for unforgettable sights. One can spend days exploring in-town or the wild parts of the island, featuring beautiful panoramic views. For a magical stay, the rustic Acadia Yurts comprise eco-friendly tents on the remote part of Mount Desert Island, where one can make the trips into town as part of their daily exercise. The water-bound Bar Harbor Inn comes with a Terrace Grille restaurant serving straight-from-the-sea mussels, clams, and lobster. 

Oahu, Hawaii

oahu
Aerial view of Oahu Island.

The most-visited of the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu is the home of the famous Honolulu, Waikiki Beach, and the North Shore, known for some of the best surf breaks on the planet. The island is also home to the two attractions every person should experience in a lifetime, the Pearl Harbor and Doris Duke’s Shangri La. North Shore’s Mokulei Beach Park comes with calm waters excellent for snorkeling, whale watching, and swimming and basking in the sun without crowds. The must-grubs on the island include fresh and scrumptious garlic shrimp and shaved ice for a particularly hot day from the beach stands. The “red-hot” Chinatown in Honolulu is a real food scene with renowned pork buns at the Char Hung Sut Restaurant and a perfect bacon cheeseburger at the Livestock Tavern.

Prince of Wales Island, Alaska

Prince of Wales Island Alaska
Drone view of Davidson Landing at Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

If the legendary “Elysium” afterlife paradise existed, it would be the Prince of Wales Island in Alaska. Not the typical hot-tropics destination, the 140-miles-long island set just off the coast of Ketchikan is a wildlife utopia for sightings of bald eagles, black bears, and humpback whales. The In-town comprises a real respite from the Seattle urbanism, only an hour and a half away. In between self-guided explorations of the unconventional paradise, The U.S. Forest Service rangers offer summertime tours to the El Capitan impressive cave, while the rustic Lagoon Saloon awaits with freshly caught seafood on the menu for the evening banter over a stiff drink, a round of pool, and ping pong. The Waterfall Resort is known for talented guides who coach anglers, as well as rooms with forest and ocean views.

Revillagigedo Island, Alaska

Ketchikan, Alaska.
Ketchikan, Alaska.

Set at the south-eastern tip of the state, the remote island is home to the unspoiled environment and the port of Ketchikan. The “salmon capital of the world,” where salmon is most ample in mid-summer, one can also catch a sight of bears standing mid-creek snatching salmon with their teeth for an overloaded cute, and hard-core spectacle. There are also plane tours for spotting bears in the region, zip-lines over streams, and treks through the world’s largest temperate rainforest. The downtown is brimful with shops selling quintessential finds such as sculptures, jewelry, and Native Alaskan clothing, while the stroll-worthy Creek Street is home to colorful houses propped on stilts. The atmospheric vibe also calls for walks late into the evening, with chance of Northern Lights in the sky. 

Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Island
Aerial view of the historic Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Par

Nothing seems as magical as strolling along the famous shell-strewn beaches of Sanibel Island with a chance of finding the large polka-dotted but oh-so-rare Junonia seashell. One can spend days-on souvenir-hunting, swimming in the calm waters, and basking on the soft sands, while the two annual National Seashell Days offer a real celebration of the island’s trademark. The Bennett’s Fresh Roast is state-known for homemade doughnuts to go along with a cup of Joe or a tea. A tour with Tarpon Bay Explorers offers sightings of natural wonder at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge”, including birds, reptiles, and mammals. The Casa Ybel comprises a popular stay, while the many spa-treatments on the island will relax, refresh, and rejuvenate with a hot stone massage or a water lily facial.

Tybee Island, Georgia

Tybee Island, Georgia, USA
Tybee Island, Georgia, USA.

Set just an 18-mile drive from historic downtown Savannah, Tybee Island is a barrier island with wide, sandy beaches, small carnival-town vibe, and a nostalgic atmosphere. The island’s long and frisky history as a hideaway for pirates in the 1500s is commemorated through an annual Pirate Fest since 2005, comprising a parade, a market, live music, and drinks. One can hear more about the town’s history in Civil War and the nearby Fort Pulaski over a beer with a local at one of the lively bars. A truly Atlantic coast experience comprises grabbing an ice cream or an old-fashioned malt to enjoy on the pier at sundown with sightings of sea turtles from May to October. Tybee Island’s own Mardi Gras is an Irish Heritage Celebration, while the Sand Art Festival is beloved by all groups and ages. The first-ever Days Inn is also set on this easternmost point of Georgia for a thematic stay with all the modern comforts.

The United States has many islands speckling off-coast and within the mainland’s waters, each with a unique atmosphere, environment, and attractions to enchant one into wanting to stay forever. The remote paradises guarantee magical experiences and timeless memories for some R&R away from crowds and steel megalopolises.