An island getaway is about as idyllic as it comes. You probably already know about a lot of the big-name options for an island-based family vacation. But here are 10 off-the-radar U.S. islands you may not have heard of before.
1. Chebeague Island, Maine
Located in Casco Bay and about a 15-minute ferry ride from Yarmouth, this 5-mile-long Maine island gives families a chance to unplug. Enjoy beach days, bike rides, or an easygoing round on the nine-hole Great Chebeague Golf Course. Walking trails help visitors explore the island, and a historical museum open during the summer tells Chebeague’s story. During low tide, kids will love walking across a sandbar to Little Chebeague Island (just head back before the tide comes in!). Chebeague Water Taxi can help families explore other islands in Casco Bay or learn about the life and work of local lobstermen.
Recommended Hotel: Chebeague Island Inn
2. Culebra Island, Puerto Rico
This 10-square-mile island, about 20 miles off the east coast of the main island of Puerto Rico, offers a true escape for nature-loving families. It’s home to the white sands of Flamenco Beach, which often winds up on “best beaches in the world” lists, and the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge, where families might spot sea turtles and more than 100 species of birds. Barrier reefs off the shores of Carlos Rosario Beach and Tamarindo Beach are prime snorkeling spots, while the Historical Museum offers info on the island’s ecosystems and its time as a U.S. naval bombing practice site.
Recommended Hotel: Club Seabourne
3. Ocracoke Island, North Carolina
On Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks, your kids can play pirate where Blackbeard actually hid out—and lost his life just offshore. The Blackbeard Museum at Teach’s Hole tells his story and boasts the largest collection of pirate paraphernalia on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Accessible by ferry or private plane, Ocracoke has been lauded by “Dr. Beach” and is an ideal spot for bike riding, kite flying, parasailing, kayaking, and standup paddleboarding. Families can explore the nature trail and watch for wildlife at Springer’s Point Nature Preserve or head to the Ocracoke Pony Pen to visit descendants of the island’s wild horses, said to have arrived on Ocracoke following shipwrecks from as far back as the 1500s.
Recommended Hotel: Ocracoke Harbor Inn
4. Oak Island, Minnesota
Oak Island sits in the middle of Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods, which is located in the state’s Northwest Angle, the northernmost point in the contiguous United States. There’s something outdoorsy to do no matter the time of year families visit, from hiking, kayaking, and swimming during the summer to snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in the winter. Fishing is big here, no matter the time of year, and there are lots of options on island for booking a guided fishing trip or renting an ice house during the winter. The island’s northern location near the U.S.-Canada border also makes it a great spot for stargazing in general and observing the Northern Lights specifically.
Recommended Hotel: Sunset Lodge
5. Cabbage Key, Florida
It’s all about getting off the grid at Cabbage Key. Once inhabited by Calusa Indians, this island off the Southwest Florida coast in Pine Island Sound is now home to a namesake inn where families can take a break from busy life. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the car- and road-free island offers nature trails to explore and a water tower that can be climbed for sweeping sunset views. Head to the onsite, open-air restaurant for a cheeseburger, rumored to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and add your own signed dollar bill to the already impressive collection taped to the wall. If you don’t have your own boat, the inn can connect you with shuttles to get you there and help arrange charters for families who want to go fishing or search for shells on nearby uninhabited Cayo Costa Island.
Recommended Hotel: Cabbage Key Inn
6. Fripp Island, South Carolina
Located off the coast of Beaufort, South Carolina, this barrier island has been designated a wildlife sanctuary and made appearances in movies like Forrest Gump and The Prince of Tides. Vacations here involve plenty of beach time plus wildlife watching, golf, tennis, biking, and kayaking. The Fripp Island Activity Center offers all kinds of family-friendly nature programs, while boat tours and fishing guides help visitors explore the local waters and other nearby islands. Golf carts are a popular mode of transportation on the island.
Recommended Hotel: Fripp Island Resort
7. Washington Island, Wisconsin
How’s this for a cool start to a family vacation? To get to Wisconsin’s Washington Island, you take a ferry across “Death’s Door,” a treacherous point where Lake Michigan and Green Bay meet and site of many a shipwreck in the past. Once safely on this Door County island, families head to spots like Schoolhouse Beach, one of the world’s few smooth limestone beaches, and Mountain Park Lookout Tower, which offers bird’s-eye views of the area. Take your Frozen fanatics to the island’s traditional Norwegian church Stavkirke, where Elsa and Anna would feel right at home. And Washington Island might be the only place you’d find yourself eating a lawyer, but in this case it’s a cold-water fish known as the poor man’s lobster.
Recommended Hotel: Sunset Resort
8. Put-in-Bay Island, Ohio
One of Ohio’s Bass Islands, Put-in-Bay is accessible by ferry and offers all kinds of family-friendly attractions on the easy-to-get-around island. Families can tour the namesake underground marvel at Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center, where visitors can also go gemstone mining, explore the Butterfly House, play mini-golf, and navigate a giant maze. South Bass Island State Park offers views of Lake Erie, a fishing pier, and a small beach for swimming. Put-in-Bay is also home to a circa-1917 carousel, batting cages, a go-cart track, and other classic family vacation activities. The Tour Train is a great way to get an overview of the island, and you can hop off at various attractions along the way.
Recommended Hotel: Bayshore Resort
9. Lopez Island, Washington
Part of Washington’s San Juan Islands, Lopez Island is known as the chain’s “Friendly Isle.” At 15 miles long, it boasts 63 miles of shoreline and views of nearby mountain ranges. Families can hike the 2 miles of trails at Spencer Spit State Park, cast a line at 80-acre Hummel Lake Preserve, or look for seals, sea lions, and otters at Shark Reef Sanctuary. For more wildlife spotting, book a whale watching tour with Outer Island Excursions. Lopez Village is home to shops, restaurants, and outfitters that rent bikes and kayaks, while the Lopez Island Historical Society & Museum features a Children’s Corner and other displays offering info about the island’s past.
Recommended Hotel: Lopez Islander Resort
10. Brigantine Island, New Jersey
This small New Jersey island is a popular spot for beach vacations and a well-known destination for both surfing and surf fishing. Primal Surf Shop offers lessons if anyone in the family is a novice at catching a wave. Lucky visitors might spot one of Brigantine’s barrier island red foxes during their stay, and animal-loving families can also attend one of the summer programs offered by the island’s Marine Mammal Stranding Center. You can let the kids exercise their imaginations and their bodies at the Shark Park playground or ride around the island on two wheels, such a popular mode of transportation that Brigantine hosts an annual Bike Rodeo. And the Atlantic City boardwalk and Steel Pier amusement park are just across the water.
Recommended Hotel: La Sammana Resort
Beth Luberecki is a Florida-based freelance writer who writes about travel, business, and lifestyle topics for a variety of publications and websites. She enjoys exploring destinations close to home and farther afield with her husband and tween-age daughter. Visit her website at bethluberecki.com or find her on Instagram at @bethluberecki.