Islands have a special mystique that’s been capturing the minds and hearts of dreamers and tourists for millennia. All over the world, islands tend to be places of relaxation where time seems to move slowly or even come to a standstill — the phenomenon known as “island time.” There are tens of thousands of islands on our planet ranging from large and populated — like Montreal — to tiny, remote and deserted. While such islands are found in some of the world’s most exotic locations, there are also plenty to be found in U.S. territory.
You may never have heard of these five beautiful American islands. They are unique, inviting and relatively uncrowded, and all of them have something quirky and memorable to offer. Tourists enjoy the seclusion and beauty of these islands while avoiding the hustle and bustle of more populated island destinations.
- Tybee Island on the Georgia Coast: an island and a city, this destination beckons with its historic district and its windy beaches. Steeped in American history and unique architecture, Tybee Island is also called “Savannah Beach.” The island’s annual Beach Bum Parade attracts thousands who flock to enjoy the festivities. The island boasts a famous and often-photographed light house as well as picturesque piers and extremely wide swaths of sand. Tybee is a great example of an overlooked American gem featuring a balanced blend of culture and wildlife. Home to hundreds of species of seabirds, Tybee is frequented by birdwatchers and beachgoers alike.
- Orcas Island, Washington State: The northwestern corner of Washington state boasts some of the most magical and enigmatic islands in the U.S. The San Juan Islands are emerald-hued gems glistening atop the state’s unique waterway, Puget Sound. Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands, and was originally owned by the native Lummi tribe. Orcas is accessible by small airplanes, although most visitors come via the Washington State Ferry system or by private watercraft. In the rainy shadows of the Olympic Mountains, Orcas gets far less rain than most of the rest of western Washington state, which is famous for being spectacular but soggy. One of the main attractions for visitors to Orcas is the possibility of viewing pods of killer whales, also known as Orca whales. These creatures frequent the waters near the island to breed. Camping in the summer is popular as are the several quaint bed-and-breakfast establishments that welcome tourists. The land of the island is mountainous and features Mount Constitution, which is the highest point in the San Juan Islands at 731 meters.
- Santa Catalina Island, California: Known simply as Catalina Island by most, this rocky island sits 34 kilometers off the southwest coast of Los Angeles, California. Catalina is one of the Channel Islands and officially lies within Los Angeles County. Its proximity to the exciting bustle of the City of Angels makes it an enticing getaway option. Originally settled by Native Americans, Catalina Island was later claimed by the Spanish Empire. Its history is eccentric and fascinating — the island was developed into its current status as a destination for tourists by William Wrigley, Jr., the chewing gum tycoon. The island’s sheer cliffs are home to multiple species of rare seabirds. If you have the chance to take a weekend flight to Los Angeles, make sure Catalina is on your itinerary for a serene excursion.
- South Padre Island, Texas: A destination for the intrepid and active, South Padre Island boasts a bustling aquatic sports community, favoured by Jet-Ski riders and speed boaters. The island has a strip of hotels offering entertainment and luxury, but the natural beauty of the region still shines through. The island offers year-round fishing as well as stunning ocean views at sunrise and sunset.
- Sanibel Island, Florida: Sanibel is a barrier island off of Florida’s Gulf Coast. The island’s beaches are teeming with beautiful shells of all sizes, making it a popular spot for nature lovers. The island’s wildlife refuges cover over half its territory, and it also features a historical village and several museums and theaters that celebrate the rich natural history of the area.
Santa Catalina Island Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons by Ken Lund; About the Author: Shane Dunwhip is a freelance travel writer who loves nothing more than taking in the sun on a beach.