Best Southern US Islands

From North Carolina to Texas, America’s coastline is home to hundreds of islands. Pack your sunscreen and your swimsuit -- we’ve tallied a list of the best islands for a tropical island getaway.

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Clearwater, FL
Clearwater, FL

Clearwater, FL

Blessed with tranquil Gulf breezes and true-to-its-name crystal-clear waters, Clearwater's status as one of America's best shorelines has lured vacationers to the year-round beach town for over a century. Families and couples tend to avoid the heavily developed and at-times-raucous neighbor St. Pete's Beach (if not the traffic) by crossing the soaring bridge to the slim barrier island of Clearwater Beach. 960 1280

  

South Beach, Miami

South Beach, Miami

The American Riviera, SoBe or the Art Deco District — whatever you call it, Miami's South Beach is hot year-round. After all, these time-tested nicknames were rightfully earned by its notorious party scene (drinks flowing, filled with celebrities — when they're not aboard their super-yachts, of course), its part-American, part-Cuban cultural heritage, and its eccentric, candy-colored architecture along palm-lined streets. 960 1280

  

Ocracoke, NC

Ocracoke, NC

Visitors on the East Coast and beyond looking for a peaceful escape will find 16 miles of enchanting, untouched beaches and a charming, close-knit village (about 1 square mile) on Ocracoke Island. In place of high-rise hotels or a business district, you'll find quaint rental cottages, elaborate gardens tucked behind picket fences and commercial fishermen’s yards — marked by their nets and crab pots. 960 1280

  

South Padre Island, TX

South Padre Island, TX

Every year the sunny shores of South Padre Island beckon to rowdy spring breakers to cross over the 2.5-mile Queen Isabella Causeway from the Texas mainland in mid- to late March. The rest of the year, however, it appeals to budget-conscious families and honeymooners looking for access to water sports, restaurants, bars and shops — without a big price tag. 960 1280

South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau  

Cannon Beach, OR

Cannon Beach, OR

Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Mountain Range, Cannon Beach is named for a cannon that washed ashore in 1846. Its forested headlands, towering monoliths, charming art town and 3.5 miles of serene beaches make it one of the most beautiful places in the US.  960 1280

  

Honaunau Bay, HI

Honaunau Bay, HI

Honaunau Bay is one of a series of tranquil, turquoise bays tucked into the Big Island's South Kona coast. The adjacent Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Park is nicknamed "City of Refuge," with 238 acres of land and plenty of seaside picnic tables and barbecues. For snorkeling, head to nearby 2-Step Beach (named for it's easy-in, easy-out, 2-step entry into the water), which is also known for dolphin encounters. 960 1280

  

Hilton Head, SC

Hilton Head, SC

Just 45 minutes from Savannah and Beaufort, SC, this boat-shaped island — one of the largest on the East Coast — is perfect for both families and individuals who are looking for a large resort area with more to do than just relax by the shore (although this isn't a bad place to do that, too). Hilton Head is home to countless trails for biking and running, more than 30 golf courses and 300 tennis courts.  960 1280

  

Little Palm Island, FL

Little Palm Island, FL

The resort at Little Palm Island, FL, is one of the best in the country, with one of the best beaches in the entire stretch of the Keys. Just a scenic 30-minute drive from Key West, you'll find a marina, exquisite accommodations (with ocean views from each suite), gourmet meals and a full-service spa. 960 1280

  

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach

As the largest beach along South Carolina's 60-mile Grand Strand, Myrtle Beach is the East Coast's ultimate vacation hub. While travelers come first and foremost for the extensive white-sand beach, Myrtle Beach also boasts amusement and water parks, restaurants (1,700 of them!), live entertainment, nature preserves, outlet shopping and more than 100 golf courses (most open to the public). 960 1280

  

Poipu Beach, HI

Poipu Beach, HI

Poipu Beach is a series of 3 white crescents curving beside turquoise waters along Kauai's south coast. Poipu Beach is a near-perfect destination for multigenerational vacations, where older kids and active adults can head closer to the rockier coastline to catch some surf, while younger waders can stick to the crescents' middle beaches, where the water tends to be calmer. Or make a day of it at Poipu Beach Park, where you'll find picnic tables, restrooms, showers and a lifeguard on duty for your convenience. 960 1280

  

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The road to Hana is long and winding, with interesting stops along the way. Four miles into your trip will bring you to the colorful town of Paia where you can get a fish burger at the popular Paia Fishmarket, then head to Hookipa Beach, also known as the windsurfing capital of the world. 960 1280

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Located on the mid-slope of Maui's Haleakala volcano, Makawao has one foot in its plantation past and another in its thriving arts community. It's also the biggest little town in the area known as Upcountry Maui and is famous for its Hawaiian cowboys, known as paniolo. 960 1280

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From the air, the Hana Highway looks like a zigzag line drawn by a three year old. It twists and turns for 52 miles and takes anywhere from two to four hours to traverse depending on how many cars you meet on the one-way bridges. In fact, there are 54 bridges and 600 curves to make sure you're paying attention. And please do, because in addition to the traffic, the flowing waterfalls, plunging pools, scenic rainforests and the town of Hana are well worth the drive. 960 1280

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There are rewards in life that are all the sweeter because of the effort it took to get there. Hana is such a place. Separated from the rest of Maui, you'll feel as if you stumbled upon the land that time forgot. Spend a few nights in Hana and soon you'll have trouble remembering where you came from and wondering why you'd ever go back. 960 1280

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Take a farm-to-table culinary journey at Oo Farms in Upcountry Maui. Located along the slope of Haleakala, the fertile soil of Upcountry is home to some of Maui's finest farmland. Oo Farms is owned and maintained by I'O and Pacific'O restaurants in Lahaina, so their perfect peppers, hearty greens and even local asparagus go straight from harvest to your favorite dish. 960 1280

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Every evening on the northernmost cliffs of Maui's Kaanapali Beach, a cliff diver lights the torches then dives off Puu Kekaa, or Black Rock. This dramatic show is a reenactment of a feat performed by Maui's revered King Kahekili. Surrounded by restaurants, the ceremony also takes on a modern twist, signaling the end of the day and the start of your own private celebration. 960 1280

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Maui has always been a magnet for those who love the sea, from Hawaiian voyagers to whaling ships and modern-day catamarans that glide upon the water. Complete your Maui vacation with a few hours offshore, tacking up and down the coastline with the West Maui Mountains in your view. Add a splash of champagne or a frosty mai tai and there's nothing else like it. 960 1280

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It doesn't matter how old you are'when you walk 'through an ocean,' the little kid in you comes out to play. Fantasy mixes with reality as you come nose to nose with wide-eyed tuna and white-tip reef sharks. Yellow butterfly fishes flutter like leaves around coral, while slick stingrays glide by without a care in the world. 960 1280

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Molokini is a small, crescent moon-shaped atoll off the coast of Maui. It's in a State Marine Life and Bird Conservation District, which means fishing is prohibited, so it's teeming with life. Take a snorkel or scuba tour and you'll be treated to a kaleidoscope of over 250 colorful varieties of tropical fish. Tours are available out of Maalaea Harbor and Lahaina. Insider tip: Early morning is best because the water is clear. 960 1280

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Maui might be for lovers, but it's also for golfers. And if you love golf, that's even better still. There are 14 courses on Maui, with several ranked at or near the top of the 'world's best' list. The PGA TOUR's Hyundai's Tournament of Champions is held here each year, so you never know who you might see on the course. This particular breathtaking beauty is the Makena North Course. Now that's a view that'll challenge your concentration. 960 1280

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Artist Peggy Hopper is known for her distinctive paintings of island women, with soft tones and gentle shapes that welcome you like a warm embrace. Her gallery is just one of many you will discover on Oahu. The Honolulu Academy of Arts and The Contemporary Museum feature enviable collections from around the world. On the First Friday of every month, the Chinatown district of Honolulu explodes into an urban block party with niche galleries and art shows practically on every corner. 960 1280

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What's a pink Spanish-Moorish hotel doing in Waikiki? The answer: stealing your breath away. The Royal Hawaiian opened in1927 when the era of luxury travel to Hawaii was just beginning. After a five-day sea voyage, passengers would move into the 'Pink Palace of the Pacific,' bringing with them steamer trunks, servants, and even their Rolls Royce vehicles. In 2008, this classic gem underwent an extensive restoration to become the Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort. Gorgeous. 960 1280

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A trip to Pearl Harbor will fill you with pride and also humility. The Arizona Memorial is dedicated to the USS Arizona's 1,102 sailors who were killed when Japanese Imperial forces attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Nearby, the USS Battleship Missouri Memorial honors the battleship where Japan's Emperor Hirohito surrendered to end World War II. A bit of trivia: the Missouri's bow is placed to convey that the battleship now watches over the Arizona so that her sailors may rest in peace. 960 1280

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Oahu is a shopaholic's paradise. Where else can you find Hawaiian-style coffee mugs in a big box store, hand-carved tikis made by those who understand the meaning of each groove, the latest designer brands, warehouse outlets with summer styles 365 days a year, plus, swap meets and farmer markets that offer foods and gifts you might not find anywhere else? 960 1280

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What's the best place to surf on Waikiki Beach? Just ask the 'Duke.' Duke Paoa Kahanamoku was Waikiki's best known beach boy, the 'Ambassador of Aloha' who introduced surfing to the world, and always, the consummate gentleman. He was also an Olympic champion who won three gold, two silver and one bronze medals. Today, residents and visitors alike drape leis on his statue as a gesture of aloha. And if you're searching for Waikiki's most perfect waves, Duke marks the spot. 960 1280

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There's an indescribable something special about Waikiki Beach when the sun goes down. It's an energy, an undercurrent of nightlife that's about to unfold. Sophisticated nightspots. Island music scenes. Mai tais with flavors like lychee, li hing and mango. This is Waikiki Beach--the one and only. 960 1280

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If you can stand on two feet, you can surf. Perhaps not well at first, but that's half the fun. Waikiki beach boys will show you what you how. You'll start with a lesson on the sand followed by a gentle push in the waves, and off you go. If you're serious, start early in the morning before the crowd shows up. After your lesson, you can rent a board and keep practicing. Watch out. It's addicting. 960 1280

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Haleiwa Town on Oahu's North Shore is part country, part chic, and all fun. It started as a beach town on the outskirts of the cane and pineapple fields and has retained its rustic roots. It's a must-stop for shaved ice, shopping, art galleries and crafts, and of course, good eats. It's also the perfect excuse to move a little slower and linger a little longer. Whether you're on your way to Pipeline and Waimea, or heading back to your hotel, Haleiwa is a 'no hurry, no worry' kind of place. 960 1280

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'One paddle, two paddle, three paddle. Four to take me home.' These famous song lyrics are synonymous with outrigger canoes and paddling on Waikiki Beach. Hop in and you'll feel the thrill as your canoe glides out to sea. The best part of the ride is when you turn back toward shore and ride the waves in. It's like surfing while sitting down. In paddling there are two words you won't want to mix up: 'hui' means to switch paddling to the other side, while 'huli' means to turn over. Fun, but wet. 960 1280

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Ask anyone who lives on Oahu's Windward side where the best beach is located, and they'll say 'Kailua.' It's a thriving beach town where you can wear your pareo (wrap around) into the grocery store and flip flops (we call them 'slippers') are the only locally-approved footwear. And the beach, let's just say that it's the second-most photographed stretch of sand on the island. Kailua has several kayak rental and surf stores. If you're into kite boarding, this is also the beach of choice. 960 1280

The Hawaiian Islands  

In the days before Hawaiians had a written language, their history was preserved through the storytelling art of hula. Ancient chants told of lineages, legends, and the traditions that reached far back to the beginning of time when gods created the islands and the Hawaiian people. While it is great fun to learn a few hula moves at a local shopping center or luau, as with any art form, it can take years to master and a lifetime to perfect. 960 1280

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Stretching 14 miles long, one mile wide and 3,600 feet deep, the Waimea Canyon is often referred to as the 'Grand Canyon of the Pacific.' The main road, Waimea Canyon Drive, leads you to several lookout points where time seems to stand still and the only movement you see is the shadows of clouds as they pass over the valley. At the end of the road is Kokee State Park with 45 miles of hiking trails. The road is slow and winding, and there's no food or water'just you and nature¬'so start out early and bring everything you'll need. 960 1280

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On the south side of Kauai, the Koloa district stretches from rustic Old Koloa Town all the way to the sunny shores of Poipu Beach. Quaint restaurants and charming shops greet you, and like everywhere else on Kauai, life is slow and meant to be savored. Lappert's Ice Cream is a Kauai original with waffle cones that will bring out the kid in you. To and from Old Koloa Town, a lacy tunnel of trees serves as your gateway, reminding you that beauty is everywhere. 960 1280

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Perched at the northernmost tip of Kauai, the 53-foot Kilauea Lighthouse was built in 1913 as a beacon for traveling ships. Although its light was turned off in the 1970s and has been replaced by an automatic beacon, you might say it still calls out to travelers with its incredible view. From December to May, humpback whales are often seen breaching off shore, so be sure to bring binoculars. 960 1280

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Hanalei Pier equals romance. From the song Hanalei Moon to the passion of Roger and Hammerstein's South Pacific, who can resist holding hands while lost in a painted sunset? If the end of the pier could talk, we know it would have many tales of whispered proposals and sparkling engagement rings. 960 1280

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One of the nicest ways to explore Kauai is under your own steam in a one-man or tandem kayak. The beaches surrounding Mount Makana (nicknamed 'Bali Hai' after the island in Roger and Hammerstein's South Pacific) are gentle and inviting, and especially welcome after paddling in the sun. 960 1280

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It's debatable as to which view of Wailua Falls is more beautiful'from the above where you can appreciate its majesty, or from below where the cool mist from the waterfall nourishes the hanging ferns and tropical foliage that create Kauai's popular Fern Grotto. You just might have to find out for yourself. 960 1280

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Oh go ahead. Take off your shoes, roll up your pants, hike up your dress and get your feet wet. As cliché as it sounds, it's simply irresistible. Our suggestion for such frivolous frolic is on Poipu Beach where you'll find a wonderful array of restaurants, and a long stretch of sand where you can either work up an appetite or walk off dessert. 960 1280

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On Kauai, beauty is everywhere, which makes a simple bike ride a non-stop photo opportunity. Pack your camera and a map and set off to explore. You'll see sights you wouldn't see any other way. 960 1280

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It's hard to describe the sheer majesty of Kauai's Napali Coast, with its sheer, razor-sharp ridges that seem to drop straight to the earth. By helicopter, you're privy to cascading waterfalls and hidden inlets, and depending on your pilot, you might even swoop down into a cave. If you thirst for the sea, catamaran cruises and zodiac tours are the way to go. For experienced hikers, the multi-day hike along the rugged coast is among Hawaii's most scenic. 960 1280

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