We all dream of island getaways: White-sand beaches where the kids can play in the surf as warm sun warms our skin; intimate towns meant to be explored by bicycle, with stops for homemade ice cream and family-friendly dinners with water views. Something about an island getaway whispers "relaxation," and "quality time." But you don't need a long plane ride to bring you to an island paradise. The continental U.S. has its own islands of paradise, some of which may only be a few hours from your hometown.

Written by Lissa Poirot
Texas isn't all cattle ranches and hill country. At its jutting tip near the border of Mexico is an island filled with family fun like surfing, mini-golf and swimming, especially along the long stretches of soft-sand beaches lining the Gulf shores. Schlitterbahn Waterpark features more than two dozen family-friendly rides and attractions in an indoor/outdoor (think convertible) park that welcomes water lovers year-round, and outdoor lovers will really enjoy the 70 miles of National Seashore.

Recommended Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn South Padre Island

This Southern island is made up of 30 acres of Spanish moss-draped trees, 14 miles of dune-covered beaches and 100 miles of bike paths and walking trails, making it a playground to many looking for a beach getaway that combines nature and charm, as well as world-class golf and tennis. Dolphin discovery cruises, lighthouse tours, the Sandbox Interactive Children's Museum, miniature golf, and sing-a-longs beneath the giant oak at Shelter Cove -- singer Gregg Russell has been entertaining families for more than 20 years -- make this island perfect for families. Walk the tan beaches in search of nesting sea turtles or grab a net and go "crabbing" for dinner.

Recommended Hotel: Inn at Harbour Town -- Sea Pines Resort

The southeastern-most tip of the United States is also an eclectic island escape for families. With year-round warm temperatures, Key West is an all-year celebration of sunny weather. Families can play on the beach; hop a charter for deep-sea fishing, snorkeling or diving adventures; take in the the island's famous and breathtaking sunsets from a sailboat or from a Mallory Square perch; and go on eco-tours in area parks and waters. Dry Tortugas National Park is ready for exploration, and kids will have fun watching the street performers in Mallory Square before the entire family dines on fresh seafood, including fresh-from-the-ocean lobster.

Recommended Hotel: Southernmost on the Beach

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Step back in time in this Lake Michigan island, where cars are rare and horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are the vehicles of choice. The island is a summer playground (the winter months can be unbearably cold) and family-friendly festivals abound, from July's Festival of Horses and August's Fudge Festival. The Grand Hotel is the island's grand dame, and after a starring role in Hollywood, attracts visitors from around the world to this intimate island. The hotel's Esther Williams Swimming Pool is open to guests and non-guests and is a must-visit when not dipping a toe into the lake's rock-lined waters.

Recommended Hotel: Grand Hotel

Nestled into the rocky Atlantic coastline and Acadia National Park, one of the country's most beautiful national parks, is Mount Desert Island, better known for its seaside town of Bar Harbor. Just a quick bridge away from the mainland, Mount Desert Island is the perfect place to sample just a small portion of the 41,000-acre park, including a walk along the Shore Path. Be sure to visit Diver Ed to learn about all that lives deep within in the depths, and let the kids get up-close-and-personal with sea life like lobsters and sea cucumbers.

Recommended Hotel: Bar Harbor Inn

Cobblestone streets, blue waters filled with sailboats, and tiny beaches just beckoning your kids to frolic on make up the intimate island of Nantucket, just an hour by ferry from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The former whaling capital of the world evolved into a summer destination nearly 100 years ago, and with its strictly enforced building codes, remains much of what it had been in the early 1900s, with more homes and buildings listed on the National Registry of Historical Places than any other location in the country. Kids will do exactly what generations of children did before them: play in the sand, ride a bike, devour ice cream, nosh on lobster, then repeat.

Recommended Hotel: White Elephant Residences

Off the coast of Washington state awaits 172 named islands, and plenty more that have yet to be named, all offering exploration. The three main islands for family visits include Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Island, each reachable by ferry, boat or seaplane. This is a water-lover's playground, from canoeing to kayaking to sailing to fishing to whale watching. Rocky shores and sandy beaches top a day's visits, while biking and hiking trails afford expansive views. Stop by the Funhouse, a children's hands-on museum/science center/art studio/game center, for hours of fun -- you'll barely be able to drag your little ones away. Friday Harbor provides a plethora of restaurants and boutiques to enjoy when the quiet of nature gets to be too much.

Recommended Hotel: West Beach Resort

Georgia's small stretch of coastline is its summer jewel and referred to as the Golden Isles due to its dune-covered beaches that turn golden during sun sets. The most popular of the barrier islands are Tybee, which is closest to Savannah; St. Simons, which is home to the wonderful and uber family-friendly Cloisters; and Jekyll, which is protected as park land. The islands have a mild climate throughout most of the year, growing hot and humid in the summer months, which makes ideal weather for canoeing, kayaking and sailing. Spend time island hopping and visit each lighthouse.

Recommended Hotel: TheCloister Sea Island

Known as the Outer Banks, this stretch of land off the coast of North Carolina is a series of barriers islands, including Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island, making up nearly 100 miles of coastal dunes. This is where the first Colonialists lived in the 1500s and the Wright Brothers first learned to fly, and today, the islands are highly protected park land with zoning and building laws protecting the landscape and the views. Enjoy the scenic drive from end to end, and visit historic sites, museums and lighthouses along the route. Guided tours will bring your family closer to the wildlife on the islands and the ocean, including the wild horses of Corolla. Of course, beach time is a given for all families who visit.

Recommended Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Outer Banks

Catalina Island, California

Hop a ferry from the Los Angeles area to visit this tiny treasure located just 22 miles off the Southern California coast. Instead of lines at the Anaheim theme parks, your family can follow a single-file line while hiking the hilly terrain and join in wildlife adventure tours. Snorkeling and semi-submersible trips provide a glimpse into the Pacific waters and its under sea world. Ride an open-air Unimog during a canyon tour, kayak the island's isolated beaches and dive in hidden coves. The island is an outdoor-lovers' playground, and its charming town of Avalon will serve as a place to shop, dine and sleep when day is done.

Recommended Hotel: Hotel Vista Del Mar

1 of 12

10 Best Islands in the U.S.
Hilton Garden Inn South Padre Island Reviews
SONOMACHK - Jun 29th, 2013

We stayed for three days at The Hilton Garden Inn this month (June). Here is our honest feedback. DOWNSIDES. 1. We were stunned when we found out that we were charged a $4.00 per day "resort fee." This was never mentioned by Expedia or ... read more
Hilton Garden Inn South Padre Island reviews
Inn at Harbour Town - Sea Pines Resort Reviews
Be the first to write a Inn at Harbour Town - Sea Pines Resort review!
Southernmost on the Beach Reviews
rcbaird - Apr 27th, 2011

My daughter, age 12, and I recently returned from our first trip to Key West and a four-night stay at Southernmost on the Beach. This hotel is every bit as nice--and even better--than all the rave reviews indicate. From the moment of our arrival to ... read more
Southernmost on the Beach reviews
Grand Hotel Reviews
Supermom70 - Jun 8th, 2014

The hotel is beautiful, but a bit stuffy and uptight. I understand they are trying to recapture a part of history, but recruiting most of their wait and housekeeping staff from Jamaica and the Philippines was done intentionally to provide the look ... read more
Grand Hotel reviews
Bar Harbor Inn Reviews
Be the first to write a Bar Harbor Inn review!
White Elephant Hotel & Residences Reviews
Be the first to write a White Elephant Hotel & Residences review!
West Beach Resort Reviews
Be the first to write a West Beach Resort review!
The Cloister Sea Island Reviews
joshnix - Oct 27th, 2011

Hotel The Family Greats: The tennis club, for my wife and children. They played twice during the week. If you have children (we do 6 and 9) let them enjoy the Camp Cloister and Club Sea Island. They had a great time and made a few new friends. Our ... read more
The Cloister Sea Island reviews
Hampton Inn & Suites Outer Banks Reviews
Be the first to write a Hampton Inn & Suites Outer Banks review!
Hotel Vista Del Mar Reviews
Be the first to write a Hotel Vista Del Mar review!


  •  
    FREE Family Travel Newsletter
  • Family Travel Tips   (4 New)

    Family Planning and Tips

    • 10 Best Orlando Resorts for Families
      So many hotels and resorts to choose from! Which ones really are the best for families in terms of theme-park access, amenities, and accommodations? Here are our favorites in the Orlando area! 1. Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creak Maybe it is the Hilton's water park with two zero-entry pools, a 3-acre ...
    • Skip This: Do That!
      Deciding where to go for your next family vacation? Often it's the most popular destinations -- from mega theme parks to world-famous beach towns -- that come to mind first. It's tempting to pick a familiar place and just go with what you know, but do this and you could be missing out on some fantas...
    • Disney Wonder Alaskan Cruise
      Join us onboard Disney Wonder's first exploration into Alaskan waters and ports as Family Vacation Critic Editor Lissa Poirot and her two tots take you on a tour. Be the first to see a sample of Disney's Alaskan Port Adventures, as well as glimpse the Disney Wonder's onboard fun, in our first-ever d...
    • Family Volunteer Vacations
      Away from the hectic pace of our everyday lives, any vacation is a chance for families to reconnect. There's no soccer game, no piano recital, no working late, so finally you have that precious day together. Yet, if you really want a meaningful break from your usual schedule, one that might change t...
  • Twitter
  • Facebook