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The Best US Islands For Families

Growing up in Rhode Island, I’m so used to seeing water. I feel centered when I see the ocean, rivers, and lakes. Traveling to international islands isn’t always feasible, however. It can be expensive and time consuming. If your family loves islands, but doesn’t want to travel abroad, here are a collection of the best US islands for families to visit. Since we haven’t been to many of these, we asked some of our family travel friends to provide their favorite islands in the United States. These would all be a great vacation destination for a quick island getaway.

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The Best US Islands for families, including islands in George (St Simons), Massachusetts (Martha's Vineyard), and South Carolina.

The Best US Islands For Families

California

Catalina Island
Photo credit: Leslie from Bucket List Publications

Catalina Island by Leslie from Bucket List Publications

Catalina Island is a picture perfect paradise just 22 miles away from mainland California. The air is refreshing, the water is clear, the adventures are abundant, the food is delicious, the community is casual and friendly, and there’s not one traffic light on the whole Island. Some Catalina musts include SNUBA diving with Catalina Scuba Luv, The Taste of Catalina food tour for a sneak peek into six different restaurants and specialty food shops, and the Zip Line Eco Tour to travel over five consecutive zip lines at heights of 300 feet above the canyon floor at speeds pushing 40 mph.

See hotels in Catalina Island here.

Florida Islands
Marco Island Florida

Marco Island

White sand beaches, water sports, warm weather, and delicious Gulf seafood? You can experience all of this on Marco Island, Florida. Located near Fort Myers and Naples, Florida, Marco Island is a nice, quiet getaway for families. During our stay, we enjoyed experiencing the Dolphin Explorer tour. It’s the perfect way to experience nature during your family vacation.

See hotels in Marco Island here.

Photo credit: Family Food and Travel

Sanibel Island by Kerrie @ Family Food and Travel

Sanibel Island off the coast of Florida is perfect for a family travel paradise. Located close to Cape Coral and Fort Myers Sanibel offers you pristine white beaches, millions of shells, dolphins, fishing and more. Whether you head to Sanibel for a day or a week there is so much to do.

Our favorite things to do are: early morning shelling, fishing off the Sanibel Pier, enjoying the white sand beaches around the island and we always have a meal at the Island Cow. If you are looking for somewhere in the U.S. to visit that feels like the Caribbean, Sanibel is our favorite destination.

See hotels in Sanibel Island here.

Key West

Key West, Florida, located in the Florida Keys, is an island accessible by bridge that is the southernmost city in the continental United States. It has a fun, casual vibe, and features lots of great things to do with kids, including water sports, touring the Ernest Hemingway House, Dry Tortugas State Park, and so much more. Key West also features some delicious restaurants, and lots of fun bars.

Georgia

St Simons Island
Photo credit: Sue Rodman

St. Simons Island by Sue from 365 Atlanta Family

Many people don’t realize that Georgia has a coast, but St. Simons Island, part of Georgia’s Golden Isles, is the perfect mix of seaside fun and small town charm. Seaside biking is easy on the hard-packed sand, or bike along the miles of paths in search of tree spirits. These hand carved works of art bring the islands beautiful live oaks to life in a unique way.

For the history minded, Fort Frederica has one of the best Junior Ranger programs we’ve ever seen, and don’t miss the Harrington School for a look at African American life on the islands. Since St. Simons is a year round home to many, there are lots of restaurants. The smell of bbq from Southern Soul will lure you into this award winning restaurant. Ecco at the beachside King and Prince Resort is the perfect pick for a nightcap.

See hotels in St. Simons island here.

Sea Island
Photo credit: Robin Hutson

Sea Island by Robin from Luxe Recess

Sea Island is part of the Golden Isles of Georgia along with St. Simons Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island. Each island has its own personality in terms of vacation options but all of them share the spectacular ocean and salt marsh views views of the areas, natural dolphin encounters, and a kayakers paradise. Most islands have a tourism history dating back to the Gilded Age.

The Sea Island Resort is one of Georgia’s and the South’s most impressive 5-star beach resorts. It’s a fabulous mix of Southern hospitality, Spanish Colonial architecture, and rich tradition for the families who have been coming here for decades. The Cloister is it’s grand hotel, and we still talk about its famous family tradition, the most raucous Bingo night you have ever attended. A ballroom full of yelling and hollering guests standing on chairs in a sea of navy blazers, khaki pants, and Lily Pulitzer shift dresses is worth experiencing.

Here’s a full review of our resort experience. https://luxerecess.com/cloister-at-sea-island-family/

See hotels in Sea Island here.

Jekyll Island from Global Mouse Travels

We fell in love with Jekyll Island on our autumnal trip there. It isn’t big, you can cycle around it, which just adds to its charm. There’s something about the island that makes you feel as though you have gone back a couple of hundred centuries, it’s very evocative and the Spanish Sea Moss draped over the trees give it a cosy look.

We spent hours on Driftwood Beach which is full of the bleached arms of fallen trees, it’s such an atmospheric stretch of sand and one of my favourites ever and the sunsets are just beautiful, bathing the whole island in orange. Jekyll Island is somewhere to really get away from the world, feel yourself relax and unwind and enjoy the simple pleasures of yesteryear. It’s beautiful.

Hawaiian Islands

Photo credit: Mary from the World is a Book

The Big Island by Mary from the World is a Book

The Big Island or Hawaii is filled with natural attractions and family-friendly activities. Families can learn how land is formed, see an active volcano and marvel at lava flowing at Volcanoes National Park. Luau shows provide the best way to experience the local culture and food.  Adventures await including ziplining, biking, surfing, hiking, ATV tours and snorkeling with manta rays at night.

There is no shortage of white sand beaches but also black and green sand beaches. Hawaiian green sea turtles are usually sunbathing on the sandy shores. And if you just want to relax, Hawaii also has many resorts with sparkling pools and fantastic kids clubs. See more here.

See hotels in Hawaii here.

Photo credit: Claudia Laroye

Kauai by Claudia from The Travelling Mom

The Hawaiian island of Kauai embodies the true aloha spirit of this tropical island chain. As the oldest and greenest of the islands, Kauai combines lush beauty with a relaxed atmosphere that invites families to hang ten and embrace a slower pace of travel. Whether families have wee babes or active tweens and teens, visitors to the Garden Isle will find plenty of ways to keep as busy, or as relaxed as they wish.

From hiking on Kauai’s rugged Na Pali coast, to body boarding next to sea turtles at Poipu Beach Park, eating shave ice and tuna poke in Waimea, or zip-lining through the jungle, family travel paradise can be found on Kauai. Aloha! See more here.

See hotels in Kauai here.

Photo credit: Colleen Lanin

Maui By Colleen Lanin, Founder/Editor of TravelMamas.com

With 120 miles of coastline and over 30 beaches, Maui is the ultimate island for a family vacation. It offers a perfect blend of kickback-island vibe with plenty to see and explore. Adventurous families will enjoy surfing lessons, zip-lining, helicopter rides or even paragliding on Hawaii’s second largest island. Of course, there’s also plenty of golf, shopping, and enticing dining options, too. N

o trip to Maui is complete without a drive on the famous Road to Hana, along which you should stop often to take photos, purchase fresh fruits and homemade banana bread from local stands, or explore the Garden of Eden Maui Botanical Gardens and Arboretum. Everyone likes a party, especially when that party includes the hip-shaking hula, fire dancing, and mai tais for mom and dad so be sure to take in a luau while on the Valley Isle.

The best shows on Maui, though, are the brilliant sunsets for which locals and visitors alike gather along the ocean’s shore and applaud a beautiful ending to a day in paradise. See more here.

See hotels in Maui here.

Photo credit: Lisa Grabelle

Oahu by Lisa Grabelle

Family fun awaits on the famed Hawaiian tropical island of Oahu.  The most famous city in Oahu is  iconic Honolulu, known as “The Big Pineapple Town,” where your gang can delight in distinctive and delicious Hawaiian cuisine, sun and surf on the most iconic beach in the world – Waikiki, and spend time absorbing the Aloha spirit while shopping on Kalakaua Avenue and strolling down the Waikiki Historical Trail.  Honolulu also boasts a super family-friendly Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium.

A “must-do” for families with older children includes a visit to historic Pearl Harbor with its well-curated museums and the emotionally charged USS Arizona Memorial. Make time to explore the spectacular shoreline of this island, including the cliffs of Nu’uanu Pala and Diamond Head, and the laid-back North Shore with kid-friendly Laniakea or “Turtle Beach” and the Dole Pineapple Plantation.  

Whether you chose to relax by the beach while sipping pina coladas or zip-line through the lush scenery, your family will find its own unique paradise in Oahu!  See more here.

See hotels on Oahu here.

Massachusetts

Martha's Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard

Off the coast of Cape Cod are two popular summer vacation destinations – Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Martha’s Vineyard, the larger of the two islands, is the flashier destination, thanks to the number of celebrities and US presidents who vacation there. It’s the quintessential summer getaway spot, and you can enjoy biking, beach days, shopping, and much more.

See Martha’s Vineyard hotels here.

Nantucket

Nantucket

A little further past Martha’s Vineyard is Nantucket. Like the Vineyard, it offers beautiful beaches, biking, shopping, and so much more. There’s also a wonderful Whaling Museum in the center of town. One weekend each December, Nantucket is home to a charming holiday stroll, complete with a Festival of Trees, caroling, and so much more.

See hotels in Nantucket here.

Michigan Islands

Photo credit: Nedra McDaniel

Mackinac Island by Nedra from Adventure Mom

Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan is a great option for families who want to slow down and explore. You arrive at the island by a 15-minute ferry ride and then your transportation options are either walking, bicycle, or by a horse. You can either bring your own bikes or rent bikes when you arrive. There are no cars permitted on the 8-mile island which makes time feel like it goes by slower in a good way.

There are great places to eat (make sure that you sample the fudge), historical sites to see like Fort Mackinac, view the Arch Rock at Mackinac State Park, or take a walk on the porch of the Grand Hotel that was a filming location for the movie “Somewhere in Time.” You can stay overnight or just enjoy a visit for the day. You will experience gorgeous views around every corner and take back lots of great memories…and don’t forget to also take home some of their famous fudge. See more here.

See hotels in Mackinac Island here.

New York Islands

Manhattan

Manhattan

It’s quite different from what you may typically think of as a US island, but Manhattan is another fantastic option for a family vacation. Although you won’t be going to the beach as part of your travel itinerary, there are thousands of things to do in NYC, including museums, shows, restaurants, parks, and zoos.

See hotels in New York City here.

North Carolina

Outer Banks by Eileen Gunn at FamiliesGo!

Everyone knows the Outer Banks of North Carolina a family beach vacation spot. But there is so much more to do than just play in the sand. Rent a mini catamaran, kayak or SUPs from Nor’Banks Sailing for easy water excursions on the calm, shallow bay side. Jockey’s Ridge has giant sand dunes you can climb up, slide down and watch hang gliders launch from.

The Wright Brothers Memorial and Visitors’ Center is inspiring for kids and adults. There’s lot of good mini-golf and inexpensive dining nearby. Regardless of where you stay, be sure to grab breakfast one morning at one of five Duck Donuts shops. Pick your glaze and topping (I’m partial lemon and coconut) and watch your donuts emerge fresh from the fryer for you.

See Outer Banks hotels here.

Photo credit: Leigh Powell Hines

Other North Carolina Islands by Leigh Powell Hines

400;”>North Carolina’s Outer Banks gets the most media attention, but North Carolina has a coastline with family-friendly beach communities that offers unique and fun experiences. Bogue Island includes the beaches of Atlantic Beach and Emerald Island along with the charming inland town of Beaufort. It’s pronounced (Bo-fort). Emerald Isle gets its name for its beautiful emerald green waters. Topsail Island is a like vacations of yesteryear with ice cream shops, and fishing.

North Carolina’s Wilmington-area beaches is known as the Hollywood of the South with a movie studio nearby. Wrightsville Beach, a strong surfing town, is a community for the active family whereas Carolina Beach and Kure Beach have a boardwalk, a fort, and an aquarium. Oak Island in Brunswick County, North Carolina is a lovely island where the beach is the primary star.

North Carolina’s most secluded and natural islands is Bald Head Island, which is only accessible by boat. Golf Carts are your main mode of transportation while vacationing here. Two-beach clubs give this island a resort feel.  Learn more about North Carolina travel by following Leigh Powell Hines, the founder of OutaboutNC community on Instagram.

Rhode Island

Newport with kids

Aquidneck Island (Newport)

Contrary to popular belief, Rhode Island isn’t entirely an island. Its full official name, the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, refers to both the island and mainland portions of the state.

The largest island, Aquidneck Island, is home to one of the most popular summer destinations of New England – Newport. Visitors to Newport can enjoy tours of the popular Newport Mansions, sailboat rides, nature hikes, shopping, and beautiful beaches.

See hotels in Newport here.

Washington State Islands

Photo credit: E Ashley Steel

San Juan Islands by E. Ashley Steel from www.familyontheloose.com

The Washington State ferry system accesses four of the San Juan Islands,an archipelago tucked in a sheltered nook along Washington State’s Pacific Coast.  Each island has its own character but they are all stunning, slow-paced, and great for families.  In summer there is sun (usually), cold waves, hiking trails, and great biking.  In winter you can expect rain (usually), storm-watching, and empty beaches. 

San Juan Island is the biggest of these islands with a charming port town full of shops and restaurants designed for browsing and lingering.  Drive the country roads exploring lavender farms, wineries, lighthouses, and even a national park famous for The Pig War.   Just being able to say you learned about The Pig War is worth a trip!  Orcas Island is a bit quieter with what seems to be a higher density of artist galleries and a bigger emphasis on local organic foods.  Lopez Island, also known as “slowpez” is ringed with sandy spits and wide-open vistas.  There are just a few shops on Lopez island.  The Chimera Artist Cooperative Gallery may be small but it is packed with sculpture, jewelry, glass and more and it’s just next door to a coffee shop and a bookstore that allows dogs inside and encourages browsing.  Shaw Island is the very quietest and tiniest island with a general store, a county park, and a monastery. 

When visiting the San Juans, consider a sea-kayak adventure and don’t miss the chance to spot local orca whales.  Look from shore, pay attention on the ferry, or book a half-day cruise; peak season is May-September.  There’s traditional lodging on all the islands except Shaw; house rentals and camping are options on all four islands. The ferry system now takes reservations for vehicles, making a getaway easier than ever.

See hotels on the San Juan Islands here.

Caribbean Islands

Photo credit: Sandra Foyt

St. John by Sandra from Getaway Mavens

Imagine an island where more than half the terrain is designated as a national park. Then add in long stretches of pure white beaches, colorful coral reefs, and translucent seas in vivid shades of blue. That’s the recipe for St. John, the smallest of the US Virgin Islands. Kids love exploring reefs in warm shallow waters, while parents appreciate the island’s laidback vibe.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

is still recovering from Hurricane Maria. As the resorts begin to once again welcome guests, it’s sure to regain its position as a great place for a family vacation. Although it’s in the Caribbean, you won’t need a passport since it’s part of the United States.

See hotels in Puerto Rico here.

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Susan Easterday

Thursday 12th of April 2018

Hi Jodi, Great list--but you missed Hilton Head Island, SC. Beautiful, bike friendly (117 miles of shared use paths), ecologically interesting, the beach, etc. And they have a Disney resort. Hard to beat!

Jodi Grundig

Thursday 19th of April 2018

Definitely on my list to visit!