Summer means head-to-the-beach time, but how about taking that one step further? There are numerous islands located throughout the Gulf South and along the Atlantic coast that offer crystal clear waters and pristine beaches.
Here are five excellent ways to enjoy summer at the beach, literally surrounded by water, each destination unique in what it offers.
St. George Island, Florida
Travel writer Kathleen Walls, a native of New Orleans who now lives in Florida, raves about St. George Island. Part of the “Forgotten Coast” southeast of Panama City and opposite the town of Apalachicola, this Gulf barrier island offers 28 miles of rental properties — no high-rises — and secluded beaches.
“Nicest thing is it’s not crowded,” Walls said.
In addition to sunbathing and swimming in both the Gulf and Apalachicola Bay, visitors will enjoy fishing, birding, wildlife viewing in the marshes and hiking through trails in St. George Island State Park, itself a reason to visit.
Jekyll Island, Georgia
There’s much to love along Georgia’s Golden Isles, 15 barrier islands located between Savannah and Jacksonville, Florida. The four islands of Jekyll, St. Simons, Sea Island and Tybee near Savannah are easily accessible by car and include a variety of accommodations, historic attractions and unique ways to get on the water.
Jekyll Island includes two attractions not found anywhere — the historic Jekyll Island Club Resort, created to host America’s elite of the 19th and 20th century, namely the Vanderbilts, Pulitzers and Rockefellers, and Driftwood Beach, a stretch of Atlantic shore covered in trees killed by storms and erosion, which are ironically breathtaking in death.
Ship Island, Mississippi
The quickest way to access an island from New Orleans is to hop aboard Ship Island Excursions from Gulfport and enjoy the white sandy beaches and blue Gulf waters of Ship Island. The ferry usually passes dolphins, pelicans and other wildlife on the way, so the trip to Ship Island can be as entertaining as the hours on the Mississippi barrier island. Once there, be sure to visit Civil War Fort Massachusetts.
Ship Island was closed due to Gulf storms and the pandemic, but should reopen this summer. Check the ferry website for updates.
Galveston Island, Texas
If your idea of an island getaway includes vibrant city life, Galveston offers lots of amusements, from top-notch restaurants, museums and historic attractions to the historic Pleasure Pier with its Ferris wheel and other fun rides. There’s also Moody Gardens, the Schitterbahn Waterpark, a thriving arts and culture scene and great outdoors adventures, from world-famous birding to water sports.
Swansboro, North Carolina
Darryl Marsh takes visitors to the quaint town of Swansboro anywhere they want to go aboard his 23-foot Bay Rider Skiff. His “Marsh Cruises” shelling excursions aren’t exactly located on islands, but Atlantic water sandbars, but it’s still pretty darn awesome. He hands visitors bags and points them in the right direction and they spend the next hour and a half discovering some of the most beautiful shells on the Atlantic Seaboard while enjoying emerald-colored waters.
But if a bonafide island is required, the nearby Hammocks Beach State Park offers hiking, sunbathing, swimming and primitive camping, accessible by a daily ferry boat. Or if you’re really adventurous, rent a kayak and paddle out.