The Top 15 Islands in the Continental U.S. in 2020

This year’s World’s Best Awards survey closed on March 2, just before widespread stay-at-home orders were implemented as a result of COVID-19. The results reflect our readers’ experiences before the pandemic, but we hope that this year’s honorees will inspire your trips to come — whenever they may be.

The Eastern seaboard once again lays claim to the majority of the islands T+L readers voted as their favorites. Still, that’s not to say there haven’t been some shake-ups; six of the top 15 islands didn’t appear on last year’s list.

Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated islands according to their activities and sights, natural attractions and beaches, food, friendliness, and overall value.

St. Simons Island Village Waterfront in Golden Isles, Georgia
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Related: The World's Best Awards 2020

In the Northeast, summertime escape Martha’s Vineyard in Cape Cod took the No. 15 spot. Readers loved the fact that there are “plenty of places to explore and discover,” as one summarized. The half of the area dubbed Up-Island is a glorious, sleepy stretch of craggy coastline, farms, and the fishing village of Menemsha, while Down-Island includes the old whaling town of Edgartown and the village of Oak Bluffs, known for its gingerbread houses. Charming lodgings abound, including Up-Island favorite the Outermost Inn, which is owned by Jeanne and Hugh Taylor (James Taylor’s brother). The seven-room house is perched high on the Gay Head Cliffs, overlooking the Atlantic as well as Rhode Island and Block Island Sound, and is home to one of the finest restaurants on the island.

The opposite coast’s sole representation this year is Washington’s San Juan Islands, which move onto the list at the No. 2 spot. The archipelago, which includes Orcas Island, Lopez Island, and San Juan Island, is beloved for its dense pine-tree forests, breathtaking vistas, and abundant wildlife, which includes a robust orca population. “Each is beautiful in its own way,” reflected one reader, who added that “ferries are easy to negotiate between islands.”

But it was another cluster that sits just off the coast of Georgia that captured the most votes for the best islands in the continental U.S. Read on for the full list of the top U.S. coastal destinations.

1. Golden Isles, Georgia (Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island, Sea Island, St. Simons Island)

St. Simons Island Village Waterfront in Golden Isles, Georgia
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Score: 86.90

The four barrier islands draw wildlife fans keen to spot migrating North Atlantic right whales, swim with loggerhead turtles, and enjoy some of the country’s best bird-watching. That’s not to say one has to rough it on these isles, which are known for extraordinary golf courses, restaurants, and five-star resorts, including the 265-room Cloister at Sea Island, which has access to five miles of private beach. Jekyll Island earns devotees for its enchanting historic area, family-friendly vibe (there’s a miniature golf course), and lauded beaches. Wrote one fan, “So much to do and see!”

2. San Juan Islands, Washington

San Juan islands from summit of Mount Erie near Anacortes, Washington State, USA
Getty Images/Gallo Images

Score: 85.23

3. Hilton Head, South Carolina

A sail boat on Hilton Head Island
Courtesy of Hilton Head Island Visitor & Convention Bureau

Score: 84.66

4. Mount Desert Island, Maine

Coastline of Mount Desert Island, Maine on a beautiful summer day.
Getty Images

Score: 84.50

5. Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Kiawah Dunes at sunset on Kiawah Island
Miranda Osborn-Sutphen/Getty Images

Score: 83.11

6. Amelia Island, Florida

Sun setting on the horizon on Amelia Island Beach and the Atlantic Ocean, in Amelia Island, Florida
Getty Images

Score: 82.45

7. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Walkway on Mackinac Island, Michigan
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Score: 81.50

8. Florida Keys, Florida

Island and turquoise water with boats in Key West, Florida Keys
Getty Images

Score: 81.41

9. Captiva Island, Florida

Florida, Captiva Island, coastline and resorts
Jeffrey Greenberg/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Score: 81.30

10. Block Island, Rhode Island

Block Island North Lighthouse
Getty Images

Score: 81.05

11. Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Island, Florida beach scene with palm trees
Getty Images

Score: 80.70

12. Nantucket, Massachusetts

View of Nantucket village with American flag
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Score: 80.53

13. Longboat Key, Florida

Long Boat Key is next to Sarasota and Anna Maria Island Florida
Dennis Macdonald/Getty Images

Score: 80.00

14. Outer Banks, North Carolina

Aerial view of Outer Banks North Carolina with pier and beaches
Getty Images

Score: 79.87

15. Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Coastal dunes with house on Martha's Vineyard
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Score: 79.81

See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2020.

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