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 Harnish Poirot
Texas isn't all cattle ranches and hill country. It's island near Houston screams family fun with surfing lessons, sandcastle competitions, aquariums, mini-golf courses and resort swimming pools just ripe for splashing in when the long stretches of soft-sand beaches lining the Gulf shores fail to entertain (not possible). Schlitterbahn Waterpark features 32-family-friendly rides and attractions in an indoor/outdoor (think convertible) park that welcomes water lovers year-round. When ice cream cones no longer satisfy the sweet tooth, visit La King's Confectionery, which dates back to the 1920s and to this day uses 19th century methods for creating candies, malts and fountain drinks -- a Galveston staple.

Recommended Hotel: The Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa and Convention Center

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; glide by the red setting sun on a sailboat or from a Mallory Square perch to take in the island's famous and breathtaking sunsets; and go on eco-tours in area parks and waters. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and Beach 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: Hyatt Key West Resort & Spa

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

The larger of the two summer island destinations off the coast of Massachusetts is "The Vineyard," consisting of three distinct areas: Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, as well as other small communities with their own charm and appeal. Kids can explore lighthouses, kayak freshwater ponds, and bike the miles upon miles of trails through the island's most picturesque towns and vistas. Of course, a trip to our nation's oldest operating carousel is a must; the Flying Horses Carousel is even listed as a National Historic Landmark. The island is rich in music festivals; just bring a blanket to enjoy music under the stars, as well as movies on a town green.

Recommended Hotel: Winnetu Oceanside Resort

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: Roche Harbor Resort

Nestled off the coast of northeastern Florida, just over the border from Georgia, is the last of the southern barrier islands that are made up of pristine, dune-filled beaches. Four major state parks and a national park are within reach of this quiet, preserved stretch of land where hiking, biking, horseback riding and camping helps your family escape our technology-filled world. There's history here, as well, with Fort Clinch reminding of Florida's place in the Civil and Spanish American Wars. Moss-draped, centuries-old oaks pave the way into Fernandina Beach, a historic town filled with boutiques and homes. Amelia Island has 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.

Recommended Hotel: The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island

These two southwestern Florida islands feature empty expanses of white-sand beaches, pink- and purple-hued sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico, and pastel-colored shells for shell seekers of all ages (there is even a shell museum on Sanibel!). The sub-tropical climate makes the area a year-round vacation spot, where families enjoy water sports like parasailing and kayaking, as well as fishing and biking the quiet, less-traveled Florida shores. Miniature golf, tennis and golf fill in the daily activities, before gathering around a table for pink shrimp direct from the waters surrounding you.

Recommended Hotel: South Seas Island Resort

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.

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10 Best Islands in the U.S.
Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa & Convention Center Reviews
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Inn at Harbour Town - Sea Pines Resort Reviews
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Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa Reviews
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Grand Hotel Reviews
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Winnetu Oceanside Resort Reviews
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White Elephant Hotel & Residences Reviews
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Roche Harbor Resort Reviews
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The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island Reviews
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South Seas Island Resort Reviews
vcrissien - Jun 17th, 2013

We stayed at this resort last year for four days and we truly were so sad to leave! My girls do not stop telling us they want to go back again this summer. This resort exemplifies the perfect location for families. It is not only peaceful, there is ... read more
Otto324 - Oct 6th, 2011

This resort is incredibly family friendly. There's something for all ages. Kids could never get bored here. The pool area with the water slides is beautiful but make sure you go early to get a chair. There are other pools around the resort but this ... read more
South Seas Island Resort reviews

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