16 Best Tropical Vacations in the U.S.

These U.S. destination prove you don't need to travel far for a tropical vacation.

sunset hawaii beach in wailea
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The tropics are known for two things: year-round heat and a humid wet season. Tropical vacations, then, have lots to offer, from lush flora to soft island beaches and glittering waves. This equatorial region stretches from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn, and it's overgrown with orchids, bougainvillea, and birds-of-paradise — not to mention the sugarcane that keeps resort bars stocked in rum.

While the continental U.S. is too far north to be considered truly tropical, you can still find American destinations that boast the balmy weather, sugar sand beaches, and icy rum runners of tropical lore. Southern reaches of the lower 48 sit within the just-as-pleasant subtropical and Mediterranean climate zones, and off the mainland, you can escape to the literal tropics in spots like Hawaii and Puerto Rico without having to renew your passport. (The territories of American Samoa and Guam also lie within the tropics, but passports are required for those more distant isles.)   

sunset hawaii beach in wailea
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Whether they're geographically tropical or not, these U.S. islandsbeach towns, and resorts make for the perfect tropical-style vacation

Key West, Florida

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

Florida is the land of sun tan oil and daiquiris. With 1,300 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of MexicoFlorida is an ideal vacation destination. It's also home to Key West, the southernmost point in the continental U.S. This palm-lined paradise is known for its sugar sand beaches and Bahamian-inspired conch-style architecture. The scents of key lime and cigar smoke draw you into the boozy, laid-back atmosphere that attracted the likes of Ernest Hemingway once upon a time. Rest your head in an oceanfront room at the Casa Marina Key West, which has been hosting the likes of Rita Hayworth, Gregory Peck, and Robert Frost since 1920.   

Kauai, Hawaii

Scenic aerial views of Kauai from above
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For a true U.S. tropical destination, head to Hawaii. Home to some of the world's best islandsHawaii is all blue lagoons and fragrant hibiscus. Kauai is resplendent in rainforests, waterfalls, and beaches best seen on a hike or from your candy-striped beach towel. Lay down on the shore outside the Ko'a Kea Resort on Po'ipu Beach for the ultimate tropical respite. 

Amelia Island, Florida

Waves crashing against breakers along the pier on the northern end of Amelia Island, Florida
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Find shorelines fringed in beach grass and barnacle-covered piers on this quiet barrier island off the northeast coast of Florida. Hunt for sea turtle nests in the morning and then head to the quaint downtown for a strawberry ice cream cone to beat the rising heat in the afternoon. When you’re not gathering shark teeth and seashells on the flat, wide beach, hit the glittering blue waves in a fishing boat. Or, kick back at the The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, where you can receive a massage while lounging in a hammock with one of the hotel's signature spa treatments.

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Aerial view of Frederiksted, St Croix
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Welcome to the U.S. Virgin Islands. The sugar-sand archipelago in the Caribbean is made up of three islands, and St. Croix, the largest, has a more relaxed atmosphere for those who want to take an actual vacation on their vacation. That’s not say there isn’t a range of historical sites, fine dining, and shopping to explore in the island’s candy-colored towns. St. Croix is awash with colorful reefs, white beaches, and hidden coves to discover. Fly in for the beaches; stay for the hiking, championship golf courses, snorkeling, and scuba diving. And with both intimate hotels and all-inclusive resorts, you can choose from barefoot luxury or just luxury-luxury on this trip off the U.S. mainland. 

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama

Aerial view of Orange Beach, Alabama at sunset
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Most U.S. beaches can’t hold a flame to the aquamarine waters and soft sands of the Gulf Coast. And, with summer (never mind water) temps in the 80s, the southern shore of Alabama is also a bona fide tropical vacation destination. Recline on fluffy white beaches with a rum punch, go deep-sea fishing, hit the waves in a speedboat, and pick up an airbrushed T-shirt to remember it all when you go. Catch some sun by your own private pool when you rent a house from Kiva Dunes Resort and Golf

Maui, Hawaii

Black Beach Honokalani Wainapanapa Maui Hawaii
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Travel the scenic road to Hana on the Hawaiian island of Maui to see the area's black sand beaches, upcountry farms, and plush resorts. Or, if sightseeing by foot rather than behind the wheel is more your style, take advantage of the island's legendary hiking so you can discover the misty waterfalls, and bright, bold rainbows yourself. This tropical destination is known for its golden strips of shore and cliffs every shade of green.

Found on one of the state’s largest nature preserves, The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua has all the palm shade, rocky shoreline, and championship greens you could ever want. 

Dauphin Island, Alabama

Aerial views of a harbor, Fort Gaines and a bird sanctuary on Dauphin Island, Alabama
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Be on the lookout for a dolphin’s fin cutting through the glassy waters of this barrier island three miles south of Mobile Bay in the Gulf of Mexico. First, you’ll have to traverse a three-mile-long bridge to get to its white sands and vibrant, Gulf sunsets. Local accommodations include beachfront rentals and popular pastel resort condominiums. When you need to nurse that sunburn, spend a day exploring life under the water at the aquarium, in the air at the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, or from the past at the Indian Shell Mound Park.

South Padre Island, Texas

Sunrise at Isla Blanca Park, South Padre Island Texas USA
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This barrier island off the southern tip of Texas is a year-round oasis. The island features 34 miles of white-sand beaches, clear, warm water, mild weather, and lots to do. Fishing, boating, and visiting the Birding, Nature Center, and Alligator Sanctuary are just a few ways to enjoy the island. Enjoy a house margarita while the sun sets at the beachfront cafe at Isla Grand Beach Resort, where you'll get views of the bright waters of the Gulf from your beachfront cabana.  

Catalina Island, California

Aerial view of Avalon Harbor, Catalina Island, California
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Located off the coast of Southern California, Catalina Island is both hot and lush, with beaches, mountains, and plenty of places to stay, from resorts to campsites. The Hotel Atwater has been putting up Catalina Island guests in Avalon since 1920, while over at Banning House Lodge in the Two Harbors area, you’ll find chic, bed-and-breakfast accommodations and views of Catalina Harbor. Snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, diving, boating, mountain biking, zip lining, and hiking are just a few activities to keep you entertained on the island.

Oahu, Hawaii

Aerial view by drone, Waimanalo beach, Oahu Island, Hawaii, United States of America, North America
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From the sophisticated capital of Honolulu to the massive swells on the North Shore and Waikiki’s picture-perfect hikes, Oahu is a little paradise in the Central Pacific. Have a shave ice before heading out to Diamond Head (Leahi), one of the area’s most famous volcanic craters. Glittering, blue-green waters stretch out beneath Halepuna Waikiki by Halekulani, where the guest rooms are as heavenly as the signature coconut cake. 

Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara skyline on a sunny day, California, USA
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Though it's often called the "American Riviera," Santa Barbara could be taken for a tropical island thanks to its abundant palm trees, lush gardens, sandy beaches, and boat-filled harbor. Visitors enjoy the sunny climate, Pacific views, and outdoor adventures like hiking, biking, fishing, and golf. Rest in the shade of a palm at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara, set on the rugged cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Enjoy the breezy, tropical nights around a private fire pit on your room’s patio, or breathe in the calming scent of the eucalyptus steam room.  

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

Daufuskie Island
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The Spanish moss, salt marshes, and coastal waterways of the South Carolina Lowcountry color this idyll sandwiched between Savannah and Hilton Head Island. The lush landscape is as rich as the flavors on your plate as you’ll be dining on fresh seafood boils, shrimp and grits, and gumbo. The pristine island is only accessible by ferry, so all you’ll hear is the buzz of mosquitos as you bike under a canopy of trees down to the shell-strewn shore where you’ll find boating, horseback riding, and guided tours. The island’s barefoot charm carries over into its oceanfront cottages and vacation homes available to rent.

Tybee Island, Georgia

Golden hour near North Beach, Tybee Island, Georgia, USA
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Grassy sand dunes and a historic black-and-white striped lighthouse bring a quaint coastal feel to Tybee Island, about 18 miles from Savannah. Order a basket of fresh shrimp and a cold Tropicália IPA in the shade of an umbrella at a beachfront restaurant while you watch the sun descend behind pink and orange clouds. Loggerhead turtles nest on the barrier island, and a variety of programs are in place to protect their habitats. Day trippers can stay in a charming hotel off one of Savannah’s mossy, cobblestone streets, like the boutique accommodations at the Olde Harbour Inn or the midcentury trappings of the Perry Lane Hotel.  

Molokai, Hawaii

Aerial view of Molokai coast and mountain, Hawaii
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Tucked behind a barrier reef, about a 25-minute flight from Maui, the remote Hawaiian island of Molokai is a great tropical vacation option. It has the world's highest sea cliffs, as well as Hawaii's tallest waterfall, so you’ll never want for outdoor adventure in its tropical environs. Check into Hotel Moloka’i to stay in its Polynesian-style bungalows. 

San Juan, Puerto Rico

View of the coast line along Old San Juan

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With palm trees, white-sand beaches, and the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system, Puerto Rico is the Caribbean getaway of your dreams. It’s only 1,000 miles south of Miami, and you won’t need a passport to get into the U.S. territory. Take rainforest hikes, sunbathe on the island’s humid beaches, or tour Old San Juan. When you’ve had your fill of ceviche and piña coladas, head back to the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, where the popular resort treats guests to five-star accommodations and oceanfront views. 

Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas City At Sunset
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That’s no mirage — just the palm-lined pool at the resort of the same name where you can dine in a Polynesian-style café. Yes, it's in the middle of the Nevada desert, but in Las Vegas, you can find tropical oases around every corner. At Mandalay Bay, for instance, a sandy beach, wave pool, lazy river, and aquarium bring the South Pacific to you. 

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