By Emma Sloley
Fancy setting sail for a less-discovered all-American destination? Drop anchor on one of these enchanted isles, each with its own unique flavor and plenty of room to stretch out.
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Hatteras Island, North Carolina
This 42-mile-long Outer Banks gem, with its distinctive black-and-white lighthouse, is also big on water activities like surfing, kite-boarding and windsurfing. There’s a big sportsfishing scene—Blue Marlin is the prime catch—but if you prefer to let someone else do the work, waterfront joints like Dinky’s serve up old-school seafood platters and Carolina shrimp.
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Smith Island, Maryland
Slow down on this sleepy, salty island in the Chesapeake Bay, which has a tiny population (around 200 full-timers) but an outsized reputation for fresh crab and its famous Smith Island Cake, an eight-layer, chocolate-frosted extravaganza that stars as Maryland’s official state dessert.
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Get a taste of the aloha spirit in this under-the-radar spot dubbed “The Friendly Island.” The island is brimming with off-the-beaten-path discoveries—remote waterfalls, secluded rocky coastlines, and lush valleys—and calorific excellence, like the famous “hot bread” at Kanemitsu Bakery & Coffee Shop. (Insiders recommend ordering it filled with strawberry cream cheese.)
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Cedar Key, Florida
Travel back in time to this charming slice of Old Florida, where you can kayak on salt marshes, chill on the wraparound verandah of the classic Island Hotel, or just coo over the adorable houses, vintage fishing sheds, and stores perched on stilts over the Gulf of Mexico waters.
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Join the birdwatchers and nature lovers who flock to this Maine stunner’s 16 nature preserves to amble through forests of spruce and pine, and beach-comb along rocky shorelines. Situated 12 miles off the coast, the island is both an idyllic summer getaway and home to tight-knit communities of lobster fishermen.
Dauphin Island, Alabama
You don’t need to ditch the wheels to reach this family-friendly haven—there’s a 3-mile long bridge—but once here you’ll soon lose yourself in the laid-back charm. With 32 miles of white sand and turquoise water, an historic fort, a bird sanctuary, and an aquarium, what else could you need? (Well, maybe a plate of crawfish cakes at JT’s Sunset Grill.)
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Santa Cruz Island, California
The largest of Southern California’s Channel Islands is well worth the one-hour cruise from the mainland. Rugged cliffs, magical sheltered coves, and wildlife galore—not to mention that dreamy SoCal climate—make for a swoon-worthy weekend away
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Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Located between Hilton Head Island and Savannah, this gorgeous little speck punches above its weight when it comes to dazzling white-sand beaches, historic landmarks like the Bloody Point Lighthouse and the Silver Dew Winery, and finger-licking southern seafood.
Courtesy of AndersonIsland.org
Anderson Island, Washington
A 20-minute ferry ride whisks you to this captivating hideaway in Puget Sound, where you’ll be rewarded with two freshwater lakes and lovely driftwood-strewn beaches … with not a traffic light in sight. Order a microbrew and fish and chips while you keep a lookout for passing orcas from the deck of the Riviera Lakeshore Restaurant.
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Sapelo Island, Georgia
This 11 mile-long barrier island is rich in both natural beauty and history. Book a tour and ferry ride to check out highlights like the fabled town of Hog Hammock and the Reynolds Mansion, a sugar plantation-turned-ornate-Gilded Era residence.
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