island hopping

Imagine vibrant sunsets, turquoise waters and tropical drinks alongside your love. While it’s dreamy to escape to exotic places abroad, fantasies for your next couples retreat can come true much closer to home. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are 18,617 named islands that are part of the United States and its territories. Crazy, huh?!?

That means there are plenty of opportunities to island hop without leaving the country and without a passport! So pack your bags…

Key West, Florida

The southernmost point of the United States is found at Key West’s famous red, yellow and black anchored concrete buoy just steps from the ocean. It is 150 miles from Miami and 90 miles from Cuba, but worlds apart from traditional island life.

Most of the Florida Keys are known for outdoor activities; and while Key West offers such pastimes, many visitors are drawn to Duval Street, the city’s vibrant walkable strip lined with restaurants, galleries, boutiques and a mix of conchs (locals), street performers and tourists. Explore Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State ParkErnest Hemingway House & Museum, Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters Museum and Dry Tortugas National Park. Located about 70 miles west of Key West, the remote100-square-mile Dry Tortugas National Park is comprised of seven small islands and is only accessible by boat or seaplane.

island hopping
Photo credit: National Park Service | Dry Tortugas

Shelter Island, New York

Perhaps you’ve already explored the wonders of New York City. Well, head out to the eastern end of Long Island to discover a four-by-five mile stretch known as Shelter Island. Not as costly as the Hamptons and accessible via ferry, about a third of the area is comprised of forests, meadows, salt marshes and pine swamps with bird-watching aplenty. Meander over to Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, a nonprofit organic farm, historic plantation and vibrant arts and education center. Beach bum it in the summer and, in the winter, grab your galoshes for clamming!

Big Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

The Big Island is, well, big! So rent a car to maximize vacation time and perhaps make Kailua-Kona your home-base where lazy lei days await, along with spectacular beaches, cultural sights and authentic cuisine. Visit Anaehoomalu Bay, ideal for swimming, windsurfing and discovering ancient fishponds. Immerse yourselves in Hawaiian history on the main drag of Alii Drive to see the Ahuhena Heiau temple, Hulihee Palace, Mokuaikaua Church and ancient graves. Then, head to Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area to catch the amazing “green flash” sunset! Perhaps day-trip to Panaewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens in Hilo to venture into “the only natural tropical rainforest zoo in the United States,” featuring native birds, monkeys and more; or trek to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where fun erupts on an 85-mile road trip to the Kilauea volcano.

island hopping
Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority

Mount Desert Island, Maine

About 108-square-miles of rocky shoreline, lush forests and picturesque lakes make up Mount Desert Island, the largest island off the coast of Maine and sixth largest island in the contiguous United States. Book a quaint bed-and-breakfast stay and make outdoorsy fun the focus of your itinerary. Hike Acadia National Park, boat Bar Harbor and admire Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands 

Get a splash of the Caribbean coast, cuisine and culture in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Kick-start island time at Coral World Ocean Park with a unique snorkel-scuba adventure to pet baby sharks and swim with sea lions. Dig your toes into the white sand of Magens Bay, where you can sunbathe, paddle board, kayak or camp by the coconut groves. If you’d prefer some Caribbean-style cardio over beach bum status, climb the beautiful stairs — 103 steps — in downtown Charlotte Amalie, built with bricks from Denmark in the 1700s. And island time is sure to fly by at Tree Limin’ Extreme Zip Line, where you can soar over St. Thomas on cables and rope bridges including a “yo-yo” line.

island hopping
Photo credit: Tree Limin’ Extreme Zip Line

Outer Banks, North Carolina

This barrier island paradise may be a popular tourist spot but you’ll find plenty of ways to escape the crowds for quiet time with one and only. Try a new adventure in the Outer Banks by renting pedal boards – a blend of stand-up paddle boarding and bicycling. Head to the beach to light a bonfire or join a beach horseback ride tour. But don’t forget to check out the wild mustang ponies too – amazing! When the sun goes down, opt for a narrated ghost tour or climb the steps of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on a Full Moon Tour.

St. Simons Island, Georgia

Move over “Hotlanta,” aka Atlanta… because St. Simons is an even hotter destination for couples. It’s an 18-square-mile barrier island off the Atlantic with white-sand beaches, ancient oaks and plenty of southern charm. Hop on the town trolley, then take a leisure bike ride, wander old plantations, gaze up at the 104-foot-high iconic lighthouse built in 1872 and climb aboard a charter fishing boat. Lastly, head to Pier Village for restaurants, shops and entertainment.

island hopping
Photo credit:

Isle Royale, Michigan

The National Park Service describes Isle Royale as “a rugged, isolated island far from the sights and sounds of civilization.” If you’re looking to rough it with your partner in crime, book boat or seaplane transportation to discover the untouched natural beauty on this island. Hike the wild trails overlooking Lake Superior but stay alert for wolves and moose! In addition to camping options, Isle Royale has full-service lodging amenities at the Rock Harbor Lodge complex.

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Nancy DeVault is the managing editor of Date Night Guide. She also contributes to publications such as Babble, AmeriDisability Services Magazine and Orlando Magazine. She enjoys outdoor adventures with her husband and toddler.