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Stay close to home, but get a taste of island life
You don't need to hop a plane to the Caribbean to enjoy a relaxing island escape full of great beaches and far-flung adventures. We've put together 10 of the best island escapes in America that you can reach by car.
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Coronado: An island oasis minutes from urban San Diego
A laid-back island escape just a short drive from the heart of downtown San Diego, Coronado Island boasts a long stretch of award-winning beach that sparkles in the sun thanks to a mineral in the sand called mica.
The small beach town is the perfect place to rent a bike and explore the beautiful gardens. And if you're spending the night, the historic Hotel del Coronado is a must-stay.
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Tropical road tripping through the Florida Keys
The Florida Keys are a necklace of tropical islands connected by the Overseas Highway, running from Key Largo, just south of Miami, to the end of the road at Key West. In 2009, the famed highway was designated an All-American Road, the highest recognition under the National Scenic Byways program.
The drive offers a myriad of island escapes with a beautiful blend of emerald-green harbors, turquoise seas, swaying palms and wildlife-rich mangroves.
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Oysters and wild horses on Virginia's Chincoteague Island
Virginia's Chincoteague Island is best known for two things: sumptuously salty oysters and its unique population of wild ponies. The island is part of a 14,000-acre national wildlife refuge, which means it remains blissfully underdeveloped.
Tours offer the chance to see the wild ponies in their natural habitat, or visit during late July to watch the local "saltwater cowboys" move the herd on their annual pony swim.
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Georgia's best-kept secret: Tybee Island
The sleepy beach town on Tybee Island may be one of the best-kept secrets in all of the American Southeast. This under-the-radar barrier island sits along the pristine Georgia coast just 30 minutes from the historic colonial center of Savannah.
It makes the ideal spot for every sort of beach activity, from beach-combing for shells along the secluded northern beaches to kite surfing and kayaking with dolphins from the wind-swept south end.
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Florida's Marco Island, home to fine dining and fabulous beaches
Florida's Marco Island sits along the Gulf Coast between Naples and the mangroves of the Ten Thousand Islands as they stretch into the Everglades. Here you can find perfect white-sand beaches along with some of the best beachfront dining in the state.
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Whales, waterfalls and island rainforest on Washington's Orcas Island
Drive onto a Washington State ferry in Anacortes, and you'll soon land on Orcas Island, a rugged, rainforest-clad jewel in the San Juan Islands. Take a whale-watching tour to spot killer whales spy hopping in the emerald sea or hike through lush forests to visit Cascade Falls in Moran State Park.
A drive to the top of Mount Constitution offers exceptional views of the islands and snow-capped peaks in the distance.
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History and adventure on the Outer Banks of North Carolina
Off the coast of North Carolina, the barrier islands of the Outer Banks are connected by a coastal highway, offering easy access to many great beaches and attractions, from Cape Hatteras National Seashore to the site of the Wright brothers' first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk.
Not to mention, you'll find miles of off-road beach and opportunities for great fishing, surfing, scuba diving and many other watersports.
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Mount Desert Island, the jewel of Maine
Mount Desert Island, Maine's largest island, is a popular escape for those looking to truly get away from it all. Those looking to hobnob can stay in Bar Harbor to see the estates of Millionaire's Row and hike Cadillac Mountain. But nature fans should head straight to Acadia National Park, where you can explore remote beaches and glacier-cut canyons.
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The island castles of New York's Thousand Islands
The Thousand Islands in Upstate New York are the eponymous home of Thousand Island dressing, which you can sample at its birthplace in Clayton, and they also sit along the The Great Lakes Seaway Trail, an iconic and picturesque drive past Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
The region is chock full of activities, such as world-class fishing and birdwatching. And don't miss the chance to explore a unique pair of island castles, Boldt Castle and Singer Castle.
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Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island, the Key West of the Midwest
Nicknamed "Key West of the Midwest" for its eclectic characters and lively nightlife, Put-in-Bay is a town on South Bass Island in the Ohio section of Lake Erie. A car ferry makes it easy to drive onto the island, and once there you can rent a bike, golf cart or scooter to get around the friendly town.
Adventurers can take a kayaking trip on the lake or visit Crystal Cave to see the world's largest geode.