No Passport Required: 7 Incredible Island Getaways in the U.S.

See recent posts by Erin Raub

We love to dream about incredible vacations in far-flung locales. It's all so alluring: tropical weather, international cuisine, and never-seen-before sights, offered in exotic destinations with even more exotic languages. Swoon.

But that allure fizzles quickly, as soon as we start researching prices. Because often, before you've even gotten past the airfare, your credit card is straight-up cowering in a corner. And even though you've only practiced how to say, "does this have snail in it," you're already frustrated with the language barrier. 

Friends, welcome to what we call "No Passport Required" travel: vacations to absolutely amazing places you can visit with just your U.S. driver's license. Because lest you forget, there are tropical islands and lakeside locales and seaside towns to be found here in the U.S. -- all perfect for your next big trip. To get your research started, here are seven of our favorite islands in the U.S.

1. Puerto Rico

Villa Montana Beach Resort in Puerto Rico; the CDC advises that pregnant women do not travel to Puerto Rico.

Beach at Villa Montana Beach

It’s probably no surprise that Puerto Rico makes our list of U.S. islands: it’s spectacularly beautiful, it’s just a few hours’ flight from the East Coast, and it’s a U.S. territory. And while the Isla del Encanto feels like another world (or at least another country), the official language is English and the U.S. dollar the currency. In this scenic port-of-call, a salty island breeze perfectly compliments the 80-degree average year-round temperature. We love the miles and miles of white-sand beaches, Spanish colonial architecture, and breathtaking natural wonders, including a beachfront rainforest and phosphorescent bay. 

Where to Stay:

2. Nantucket Island, Massachusetts

View of The Wauwinet from the beach

The Wauwinet

If you like a little more New England in your island, you’re going to love the small enclave of Nantucket. Thirty miles south of Cape Cod and decibels quieter than Martha’s Vineyard, its popular neighbor, Nantucket is an island escape in the northeastern U.S. With more than 100 miles of sandy coastline, a ridiculously quaint downtown, postcard-perfect colonial architecture and the softest, most photogenic sand dunes, Nantucket is one charming addition to our list.

Where to Stay:

3. Florida Keys

Beach at Chesapeake Beach Resort

Beach at Chesapeake Beach Resort

Slow down. No, slower. There you go — total tranquility. Because in the Florida Keys – also known as the “Winter White House,” thanks to its popularity with U.S. presidents — life moves at its own pace. Slowly, in other words. It’s just the right speed to leisurely stroll miles of powder sands, ankle-deep in aquamarine sea. For spending an entire day diving or exploring or sunbathing or swimming. For visiting art galleries or dolphin-watching or fishing or restaurant-hopping. For doing everything or nothing at all. 

Pro Tip: For a less kitschy, more authentic Florida Keys experience, stay somewhere other than Key West or Key Largo.

Where to Stay:

4. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Street at Grand Hotel

Bet you didn’t see this coming: Mack-a-what? An island in Michigan? You got that right.

Charming Mackinac Island is like Hollywood’s version of an old-fashioned seaside town. (Jay Gatsby would have loved it here.) We’re talking pastel, Caribbean-esque facades and homemade fudge, water-view golfing and Victorian everything. The 3.8-square-mile island is an ideal place to swap the car for a bike (there are no cars on the island), to explore limestone bluffs and waterfront hiking trails along picturesque Lake Huron. Spend a week here, and you may never again want to crack open your passport.

Where to Stay:

5. U.S. Virgin Islands

St. Thomas

View from Skyline Drive in the Virgin Islands

You may think you know the tropical side of our lovely nation, but you haven’t seen paradise until you’ve visited the U.S. Virgin Islands. This Caribbean trio — St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John, to be specific — are home to transparent turquoise waters, lush greenery and pillow-soft beaches white enough to be called pearlescent. And did we mention, the weather in the U.S. Virgin Islands is perfect: 77 to 83 degrees on average, and slightly warmer (86 to 91 degrees) at the beach — just the right inducement to take a dip in the Caribbean. And if you like shopping, the capital city of Charlotte Amalie offers excellent duty-free goods. 

Where to Stay:

6. Outer Banks, North Carolina

Beach at Days Inn Kill Devil Hills Oceanfront - Wilbur

Beach at Days Inn Kill Devil Hills Oceanfront – Wilbur

If you grew up on the East Coast, chances are you have at least heard of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. But for those who live mid- or west-, and for those who haven’t ever visited, welcome to a slice of pure, seaside Americana. The Outer Banks are a nostalgic string of islands enamored with their own mountainous sea dunes, iconic lighthouses, wide beaches and fabled history. And what a history it is: not only did the pirate Blackbeard fight his last battle on Ocracoke, and not only did the Wright Brothers take their first flight at Kitty Hawk, but the OBX are also said to have been home to the Lost Colony — the stateside version of Atlantis, if you will. 

Where to Stay:

7. Hawaii

Snorkeling in Maui

Oh, Hawaii. We definitely did not forget about you. Joined in harmony as our 50th state, the Hawaiian Islands are unlike any other place in the nation. Active volcanoes — we’re talking honest-to-goodness, red-hot, molten lava — jagged cliffs, plunging waterfalls and a lot more spectacular somethings are found here. Oh, and did we mention the beaches? They’re mind-blowing. Not to mention, the luaus and the water sports and the hula and the fishing and the food and the… well, everything. The trick is picking the island that best suits your vacation personality, be it ready-to-partayOahu, or visually stunning Kauai, or luxe Maui, or the super-chill Big Island

Where to Stay: 

NOW WATCH: 7 Incredible Island Getaways in the U.S.

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