We love to dream about incredible vacations in far-flung locales. It's all so alluring: tropical weather, international cuisine, and never-seen-before sights, offered in exotic destinations with even more exotic languages. Swoon.
But that allure fizzles quickly, as soon as we start researching prices.
Friends, welcome to what we call "No Passport Required" travel: absolutely amazing places you can visit with just your U.S. driver's license. Because lest you forget, there are tropical islands and lakeside locales and seaside towns to be found here in the U.S. -- all perfect for your next big trip. To get your research started, here are seven of our favorite islands in the U.S.
It's probably no surprise that Puerto Rico makes our list of U.S. islands: it's spectacularly beautiful, it's a short flight from the East Coast and it's a U.S. territory. And while the Isla del Encanto feels like another world (or at least another country), the official language is English and the U.S. dollar is the currency. In this scenic port-of-call, a salty island breeze perfectly compliments the 80-degree, year-round temperature. We love the miles and miles of white-sand beaches, Spanish colonial architecture and breathtaking natural wonders, including a beachfront rainforest and phosphorescent bay.
Where to Stay: Villa Montana Beach Resort, Aguadilla
If you like a little more New England in your island, you're going to love the small enclave of Nantucket. Thirty miles south of Cape Cod and decibels quieter than neighbor Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket is an island escape in the northeastern U.S. With more than 100 miles of sandy coastline, a ridiculously quaint downtown, postcard-perfect colonial architecture and the softest, most photogenic sand dunes, Nantucket is one charming addition to our list.
Where to Stay: The Wauwinet, Nantucket
Slow down. No, slower. There you go -- total tranquility. Because in the Florida Keys – also known as the "Winter White House," thanks to its popularity with U.S. presidents -- life moves at its own pace. Slowly, in other words. It's just the right speed to leisurely stroll miles of powder-like sands. Spend an entire day diving or exploring or sunbathing or swimming. There are art galleries and dolphin-watching and fishing and restaurant-hopping.
Where to Stay: Chesapeake Beach Resort, Islamorada
Bet you didn't see this coming: Mack-a-what? An island in Michigan? You got that right.
Charming Mackinac Island is like Hollywood's version of an old-fashioned seaside town. (Jay Gatsby would have loved it here.) We're talking pastel, Caribbean-esque facades and homemade fudge, water-view golfing and Victorian everything. The 3.8-square-mile island is an ideal place to swap the car for a bike (there are no cars on the island), to explore limestone bluffs and waterfront hiking trails along picturesque Lake Huron. Spend a week here, and you may never again want to crack open your passport.
Where to Stay: Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island
You may think you know the tropical side of our lovely nation, but you haven't seen paradise until you've visited the U.S. Virgin Islands. This Caribbean trio -- St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John, to be specific -- are home to transparent turquoise waters, lush greenery and pillow-soft beaches white. And did we mention that the weather in the U.S. Virgin Islands is perfect: 77 to 83 degrees on average, and slightly warmer (86 to 91 degrees) at the beach -- just the right inducement to take a dip in the Caribbean. And if you like shopping, the capital city of Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas offers excellent duty-free goods.
Where to Stay: The Buccaneer -- St Croix, Christiansted
If you grew up on the East Coast, chances are you have at least heard of North Carolina's Outer Banks. But for those who have never visited, welcome to a slice of pure, seaside Americana. The Outer Banks are a nostalgic string of islands enamored with their own mountainous sea dunes, iconic lighthouses, wide beaches and fabled history. And what a history it is: not only did the pirate Blackbeard fight his last battle on Ocracoke, and the Wright Brothers take their first flight at Kitty Hawk, but the OBX are also said to have been home to the Lost Colony -- the stateside version of Atlantis, if you will.
Where to Stay: Days Inn Kill Devil Hills Oceanfront - Wilbur, Kill Devil Hills
Oh, Hawaii. We definitely did not forget about you. Joined in harmony as our 50th state, the Hawaiian Islands are unlike any other place in the nation. Active volcanoes -- we're talking honest-to-goodness, red-hot, molten lava -- jagged cliffs, plunging waterfalls and a lot more spectacular somethings are found here. Oh, and did we mention the beaches? They're mind-blowing. Not to mention, the luaus and the water sports and the hula and the fishing and the food and the... well, everything. The trick is picking the island that best suits your vacation personality, be it ready-to-partay Oahu, or visually stunning Kauai, or luxe Maui, or the super-chill Big Island.
Where to Stay: Royal Lahaina Resort, Maui