A Guide to Urban Islands in the U.S.

Who needs the Seychelles when you have Bainbridge Island?

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Jetting off to island somewhere doesn’t have to mean emptying your wallet on flights and beachside lodgings. If you start by rethinking what an “island vacation” means to you, there can be all kinds of them in your future that are inexpensive and don’t force you to take your full two weeks off at once. Instead of saving up for a trip to Bali or the Maldives, with their trite white sandy beaches and been-there all-inclusive resorts, start planning a trip to one of the islands off the coast of your nearest, or favorite, U.S. city. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/themikebot)

Urban islands abound in the U.S., with such coveted landmasses lying off the coasts of Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Seattle, and Boston, among others. Big and small, great for overnight stays or quick day trips, each of these islands has developed their own style, pace, and scene, from New England chic on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to low-key California eats on Catalina Island.

A stone’s throw from the lower tip of Manhattan, Governor’s Island doesn’t allow cars, meaning the honks and screeching brakes of taxi cabs are left far behind. Scooters and bikes get you around the island, which is a bright, open contrast to the tall buildings of the city. What’s more, Governor’s Island plays host to a number of events throughout the year. A quick, easy, and free ferry ride from Manhattan or Brooklyn (with picnic in tow?) can put you in position to try to make par on the mini-golf course, check out the NY Electronic Arts Festival, and rent bikes with the kids. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/ccho)

Another beloved East Coast island is Sullivan’s Island off the coast of Charleston. It is an upscale, though still rustic, destination for locals and visitors to Charleston. No cars are allowed on this island, either — the preferred mode of transport is golf carts, which get you from Fort Moultrie to some delectable Southern cooking and back. Poe’s Tavern is a favorite restaurant on the island, with repeat visitors lauding the homemade burgers, while High Thyme Cuisine has many a popular vote for their fresh seafood.

Then there are larger urban islands, like Key Biscayne off the coast of Miami, where day trips and overnighters are equally appealing. The vivacious nightlife of Miami does carry-over to Key Biscayne some, but outdoor activities are the order of the day, which makes the island also ideal for families. Crandon Park is a leisurely (and clean) beach, while mouth-watering seafood can be found at Rickenbacker Fish Company. Head to the Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne’s RUMBAR for a cocktail and a taste of Old Havana.

The West Coast is not without its island destinations. Off the coast of Long Beach, Calif., Catalina is a small, but fascinating island. The latest hot spot on Catalina is the Descanso Beach Club, which offers cabana rentals on their private beach and perfect beachside fare from barbecue on weekend nights to signature burgers, fresh fruits, and cocktails. If lounging isn’t what you’re looking for, there is any number of hikes, kayak expeditions, zip line tours, and sea treks to keep any traveler occupied. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/scmtngirl)

Likewise, Bainbridge Island off the coast of Seattle is a West Coast treasure. About 30-minutes from Seattle, Bainbridge is impeccably charming and quaint with unique activities like horseback riding through historic parts of the island, the Bainbridge Gardens, a Salmon Run Loop to see local salmon streams, and bike tours. Wineries and breweries represented on the island make for great pit-stops as well — the Bainbridge Island Vineyard and Winery, Der Blokken brewery, and Hoodsport Winery are all worth a taste.

Bostonians are lucky enough to have two urban islands within reach — Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Both are easy day trips just as they are luxurious overnight stays with sweet bed and breakfasts, and some historic grand hotels, dotting both islands. Places to indulge in lobster and seafood abound on both, from Larsen’s Fish Market and the Bite on Martha’s Vineyard to The Summer House and Corazón del Mar on Nantucket. Both harbor an array of activities like renting mopeds to one-of-a-kind boutiques and from homemade ice cream shops to farmers markets. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/ganleycreativearts)

Whether you feel like hopping on a ferry some Saturday morning to discover the quiet island you can see from your porch or adding one of these to a trip itinerary, they make for a quick and easy escape from the day-to-day. Work up an appetite, sample some local fare, and snag treats to take home — island life has never been so easy.