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15 Best Islands in the Continental U.S. — Beautiful Views, Serene Nature, and Laid-back Vibes Included

15 Best Islands in the Continental U.S. — Beautiful Views, Serene Nature, and Laid-back Vibes Included

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It’s hard to wrap your mind around just how wide-ranging and varied the American experience can be, but this year’s list of the best islands in the continental U.S. captures it well. You’ll find tony, old-fashioned Americana on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in Massachusetts, wild pine forests and rocky overlooks on Mount Desert Island in Maine, and easy, breezy, toes-in-the-sand beach vibes in the Florida Keys. Head to Washington’s San Juan Islands to dabble in sea kayaking and orca spotting, or get dolled up for an evening of fine dining and chamber music on Amelia Island in Florida. The islands here are a testament to just how much natural and cultural diversity our own backyard has to offer.

How Voting Works

Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Over 186,000 T+L readers completed the 2024 survey. A total of more than 700,000 votes were cast across over 8,700 properties (hotels, cities, cruise lines, etc.).

Islands were specifically rated on the criteria below:

  • Natural attractions/beaches
  • Activities/sights
  • Restaurants/food
  • People/friendliness
  • Value

For each characteristic, respondents could choose a rating of excellent, above average, average, below average, or poor. The final scores are averages of these responses.

What Readers Loved

For every spot on this year’s list, there was a chorus of impassioned T+L readers eager to share what made it so special — in fact, the main commonality of the 15 islands and archipelagos featured here is just how beloved they are among travelers. Of the San Juan Islands (No. 7), one reader called them “absolutely breathtaking” while another highlighted the “beautiful nature,” calling it “relaxing and peaceful.” A third revealed a soft spot for one in particular: “Orcas Island is my favorite and I visit there eight to 10 times a year,” they wrote. “Natural beauty, lots to do, friendly folks, and the food is good at every restaurant around the island.” Amelia Island (No. 2), by contrast, was as much a draw for its in-town buzz as its wild spaces. “Amelia Island is a must-stop destination for anyone that appreciates history, small town feel, and something off the beaten path,” wrote one reader. “[It’s] the only place in America that’s been occupied by four district cultures: native Americans, French, Spanish and British, all of which can still be seen in the architecture and layout of the town.” And Mackinac Island (No. 3), in Michigan, brought out the superfans, who can’t get enough of its quaint old-fashioned charm. “We love the fact that there are no cars — just horses and bikes,” says a reader. Regardless of what kind of island lifestyle appeals, you’ll find it somewhere in the list ahead.

The Winner

Golden Isles, Georgia (Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island, Sea Island, St. Simons Island)

Marc Romanelli/Getty Images

Though they’re often regarded as a cohesive entity, longtime visitors and locals know that these four islands off the Georgia coast each have their own singular culture and character. Southern prep reigns on glitzy Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island is all untrammeled coastal preserve but for a single 16-room luxury lodge, St. Simons is home to a thriving community (and some of the best barbecue the region has to offer), and Jekyll Island marries a bit of all three, with remnants of Gilded-Age splendor and family-friendly beaches nestled up against swathes of undeveloped forests and tidal marsh. And it seems every reader has their go-to isle. Of Jekyll Island, one reader says “There is not a better place to go for total peace and relaxation and fun. It’s a total package. The whole area is perfect.” Another voter rhapsodized about Little St. Simons, calling it “truly a magical place. It’s wonderful to be able to unplug and connect with nature.” And a couple readers captured the pleasures of seeing more than one: “Jekyll island is my favorite for a laid-back day. St. Simons is my favorite for nightlife,” said one, with another writing simply “Absolutely gorgeous islands! Some of the most beautiful I’ve been to.”


Orcas Island in the San Juans has natural beauty, lots to do, friendly folks, and the food is good at every restaurant.


The Full List

1. Golden Isles, Georgia (Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island, Sea Island, St. Simons Island)

Reader Score: 90.29

2. Amelia Island, Florida

Reader Score: 86.93

3. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Reader Score: 86.73

4. Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Reader Score: 84.17

5. Florida Keys, Florida

Reader Score: 83.48

6. Cumberland Island, Georgia

Reader Score: 83.20

7. San Juan Islands, Washington

Reader Score: 83.10

8. Nantucket, Massachusetts

Reader Score: 83.06

9. Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Reader Score: 82.61

10. Sanibel Island, Florida

Reader Score: 82.32

11. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Reader Score: 81.97

12. Mount Desert Island, Maine

Reader Score: 81.33

13. Fire Island, New York

Reader Score: 81.03

14. Captiva Island, Florida

Reader Score: 80.78

15. South Padre Island, Texas

Reader Score: 80.54

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