12 U.S. Islands to Add to Your Bucket List—No Passport Required
Escape to a beautiful island paradise without passing through customs.
You don't need a passport to plan the vacation of a lifetime. In fact, you might not even need to board a plane. Traveling domestically means you don't have to deal with customs and international airfare—and you might be surprised to learn how far U.S. borders stretch. From Caribbean islands to retreats in the Great Lakes, these destinations are as beautiful and diverse as they are convenient to visit. It's time to pack your suitcase, but leave that passport at home. You're going to want to add all of these 12 U.S. islands to your bucket list.
Puerto Rico has everything you could want in a tropical paradise: tall palm trees, turquoise waters, and ancient mountains covered with canopies of lush vegetation. It's the perfect place to sit on some of the best beaches in the U.S. and soak in the sun with a piña colada in your hand.
There's something for everyone in Puerto Rico, Andrew Helling, founder and editor of Travellersworldwide.com, tells Best Life—whether you want to explore idyllic beaches, mountains, or the nightlife.
"With over 36 nature reserves and 19 state forests, you can hike, zip line, swim, and more, all in the same day," Helling says. "I love the rich history and architecture of Old San Juan, with its colorful homes and cobblestone streets."
If you drive about 90 minutes from San Juan, you'll find Caguana Indigenous Ceremonial Park featuring stone monoliths, petroglyphs, and artifacts from the 14th and 15th centuries. Equally fascinating is Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a Spanish fort that took a staggering 250 years to build and completed in 1790.
Stay right on the water at the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino in the Condado area, famous for its vibrant dining, shopping, and nightlife scene.
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Daufuskie Island is less than an hour's ferry ride from the South Carolina mainland, but it couldn't feel further away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Sandy beaches stretch as far as the eye can see, while dolphins splash in the water and alligators raise their heads from deep green lagoons.
The island is rich in history with well-preserved tabby ruins, a small Gullah museum, and historic lighthouses. There are few cars on the island—most people get around by golf cart, which are legal to drive on the public roads.
There are no hotels on Daufuskie Island, so the best way to experience this magical place is to book a Haig Point Discovery Package, which includes accommodations in a historic mansion or lighthouse, a golf cart, and ferry transportation to and from the island, plus activities tailored to your interests.
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Assateague Island, Maryland
Another must-see U.S. island is right off the coast of Maryland—and it's perfect for travelers who want a mix of salty air and adventure.
"Assateague Island National Seashore is a beachy wildlife paradise full of wild horses!" Samantha Linnett, travel planner and the blogger behind Discover with Sam, tells Best Life. "A fun day or weekend trip for beach-goers, hikers, and kayakers, you can stay in lodging outside of the island (Ocean City, Maryland, is the closest big city) and visit for the day, or camp at one of the island's beach- or sound-side campsites."
If you do decide to camp, you'll have some horses for company, Linnett explains. "One fun pro of camping is the horses love to walk through the campsites just before sunset to see what's for dinner (though it's very important not to feed them!)."
San Juan Islands, Washington
Located between Washington State and Canada in the sparkling waters of Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands are rich in natural beauty.
There are three main islands—San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez—and according to Laura Witt, founder of Amateur Adventure Journal, they offer something a little different from the typical "island" experience.
On San Juan Island, seals sun themselves on the beach, pods of whales swim offshore, and bald eagles circle overhead. The ferry dock is in the heart of Friday Harbor, a charming small town filled with boutiques, galleries, and incredible restaurants. At the other end of the island, a small airport accommodates visitors who arrive by seaplane. It's the perfect place to spend your days hiking, kayaking, or reading a book on a bench by the water.
If you want to get active, head to Orcas Island for unforgettable hikes or explore rural "the rolling hills of rural Lopez Island" on your bicycle, Witt recommends.
"The San Juan Islands offer a different experience from the tropical islands that most tourists think of," Witt says. "These islands are located off the coast of Washington state, putting them in a unique environment from what you'll find anywhere else in the U.S. The beautiful islands are easily accessible using Washington state's ferry system, making them the perfect vacation destination for people who want to travel without a passport."
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The U.S. Virgin Islands
You don't need a passport for an amazing island vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), which is comprised of St John, St Thomas, and St Croix.
A perfect day in St Croix, the largest island of the three, includes a walk on white sand beaches, underwater diving at the Buck Island Reef National Monument, and exploring colonial-era churches, before taking in the sunset in one of the area's many romantic restaurants. Come hungry, because this area is famous for fresh seafood.
Immerse yourself in local culture with a stay at The Buccaneer Beach and Golf Resort, a modern luxury hotel that traces its roots all the way back to 1653.
You can also take a day trip via ferry from St Croix to St John, exploring more of what the USVI have to offer.
"St John is the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, but it packs the most serenity and beauty into its petite package," Rachel Means, of the travel blog Means to Explore, tells Best Life. "Two-thirds of the island is protected Virgin Islands National Park and the majority of the surrounding water is protected marine preserve."
Similar to St Croix, the views on St John are spectacular and the beaches are a must, and unlike nearby St Thomas, it's not as developed, Means says.
"No high-rise all-inclusive resorts hogging the beaches here!" Means says. "Boutique hotels and local restaurants make you feel like you're living in St John for a while, rather than just visiting."
Mackinac Island, Michigan
When you step onto Mackinac Island, you'll be forgiven for wondering if you somehow managed to stumble back in time. Located in Lake Huron in Northern Michigan, there are no cars on the island.
Both locals and visitors get around by foot, bicycle, or horse and carriage. The architecture on the island spans three centuries and includes Victorian, Colonial, and early Indigenous structures. Whether you spend your day hiking, kayaking, or at one of the island's fudge shops on the island's historic Main Street, it's one of the most unique vacation destinations in the country.
For lodging, the beautiful Mission Point Resort is a short walk from the ferry dock and can't-miss attractions like the Monarch Butterfly House and Arch Rock.
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Coronado Island, California
Beautiful Coronado Island is a short distance from San Diego and extremely easy to reach by bridge, ferry, or water taxi. The beaches are soft and white with stunning views of the San Diego skyline. The island is known for historic buildings, charming shops, and walking and biking paths along the water. Coronado Island is famous for its dog-friendly attitude, so feel free to bring your furry best friend along for the trip.
The Hotel del Coronado was made famous in the movie Some Like It Hot, with Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon, and it remains one of the most luxurious and sought-after places to stay on Coronado Island today.
Washington Island, Wisconsin
In Door County, Wisconsin, Lake Michigan stretches so far it seems to melt into the sun. It's easy to see why this Great Lakes region is often referred to as the "Cape Cod of the Midwest."
While visiting Door County, hop on a ferry to Washington Island. This enchanting hideaway is a must to explore the beaches, dine on fresh seafood, and wander through orchards and fragrant lavender farms. The island only has 600 residents and downtown is a quaint collection of shops and galleries.
Mark Stoneman, founder of destination website HelloDoorCounty.com, adds that this island has a "rich cultural heritage heavily influenced by its Scandinavian roots." You'll see this reflected in different parts of the island, including local shops, restaurants, and festivals, Stoneman adds.
For a truly unforgettable stay, Dejardin's Island Cottages offer full kitchens, washers and dryers, and everything you need to live like a local within walking distance of the shops, restaurants, and bars downtown.
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Bald Head Island, North Carolina
It only takes twenty minutes to reach Bald Head Island by ferry. Cars aren't allowed on the island, so islanders get around via bicycle, golf cart, or tram. Once you arrive, be sure to explore the views from Old Baldy, North Carolina's longest-standing lighthouse. The island is home to a spectacular golf course, unique shops, and amazing restaurants. Ten thousand of Bald Island's 12,000 acres are undeveloped, making it an irresistible retreat for nature lovers.
Isle Royale, Michigan
Another Michigan island to make the list is Isle Royale, which is also a U.S. National Park. The beauty of this destination is that you're not limited to one spot—the park is an archipelago of over 400 islands.
"Isle Royale is for the adventure travelers among us," Linnett says. "Located in the middle of Lake Superior, it is a national park and almost completely undeveloped. It's a natural paradise for hikers, kayakers, canoers, and backpackers alike. There are multiple ferries that make trips out to the island, or if you're feeling fancy, you can take a seaplane!"
You can also camp on these islands, but you don't have to stay put. "Visitors can backpack between them on their round-the-island hike or make a base camp at one and do day hikes," Linnett explains. "There's also the Rock Harbor Lodge and Windigo Camper Cabins for those less fond of tents."
Linnett recommends exploring Isle Royale in the summer, when the air is warmer—and Lake Superior—are warmer, for those who want to swim. The park itself opens in mid-April, but you'll probably have more luck with ferries and lodges if you wait until May or June to book your trip.
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Amelia Island, Florida
Amelia Island's 13 miles of pristine beaches offer sand so pillow-soft you'd swear you were walking on air. The Amelia Island Historic District makes a case for one of the most beautiful small towns in the state, with colorful Victorian architecture and historic homes, many of which have been converted into Bed and Breakfast establishments. Amelia Island State Park offers more than 200 acres of coastal forests, salt marshes, and long stretches of sand for scrolling and beachcombing.
Some of the best views and restaurants can be found at the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island, which employs an on-staff naturalist who has created programs for guests interested in adventures like shark tooth hunting, kayaking, or birding.
"The Big Island," Hawaii
Hawaii is equally famous as a romantic getaway and a great place to visit with kids. On the island of Hawaii ("The Big Island"), you'll find Waimea, a quiet spot filled with undulating green velvet hills and cattle ranches. Don't miss the farmer's markets or the chance to take a horseback or ATV tour of the local landscape. You won't have to choose between white or black sand beaches here—Waimea is a short distance from both. In winter, the area is famous for surfing, while in summer, snorkeling and swimming are more popular activities.
"The Big Island has much to offer," Jami Dale, author and creator of Celiac Travel Pack, says. "You can drive around the lava fields and feel like you're driving on another planet."
Dale recommends checking out Hawaii Volcanoes National Park while you're there—and if you go at night, you may catch a glimpse of "lava bubbling and glowing in the darkness." You won't get bored on the island of Hawaii either, as you can swim with manta rays or just kick back on the beach.
"There really is something for everyone," Dale says. "Hawaii is amazing but The Big Island is a must visit."