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Outdoors

5 U.S. Islands You Can Drive To

By Fiona Mokry
Read time: 4 minutes

The United States is a land of diverse landscapes, ranging from canyons to mountains, arid deserts, and windswept beaches. While the mainland offers plenty of attractions, the U.S. also boasts more than 18,000 islands — including some that you can conveniently reach by car. So, forget hopping on a boat or a plane and check out these top five islands in the U.S. that you can drive to.

Padre Island – Texas

Empty, sandy beach along the Gulf of Mexico on Padre Island in Texas
Credit: PaaschPhotography/ iStock via Getty Images 

Stretching 113 miles along the Gulf of Mexico, Padre Island in southern Texas is the world’s longest barrier island. The island — located about a 30-minute drive from Corpus Christi — is connected to the mainland by Park Road 22, which leads to the JFK Causeway. That makes it quick and easy for visitors to access its miles of pristine beaches and warm waters year-round.

Padre Island National Seashore offers excellent opportunities for camping, stargazing, hiking, and bird-watching within a pristine and protected area of the isle. Both Padre Island and its sister island, South Padre, are popular spring break destinations, so it’s advisable to avoid visiting in March unless all-night parties are on your agenda. 

Jekyll Island – Georgia

Driftwood on beach on Jekyll Island in Georgia
Credit: Elena Simona Craciun/ Shutterstock 

Connected to the mainland via the Jekyll Island Causeway, Jekyll Island is less than a 90-minute drive from both Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida, and around two hours from Hilton Head, South Carolina. It’s this easy accessibility which makes the island so popular — as well as its stunning beaches. The most well-known are Driftwood Beach (famous for its eerily beautiful driftwood trees), St. Andrews Beach (a popular area for birding), and Glory Beach (loved for its pristine and expansive sandy shores). There are also hiking and biking trails that cater to more active visitors, along with paddleboarding and kayaking for those who want to explore the surrounding waters. 

In the 19th century, Jekyll Island was a popular destination among some of America’s most affluent families, including the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers. The island experienced an injection of wealth during this time that can still be observed today. Many visitors enjoy exploring the historic center, now a National Historic Landmark District, and admiring the 19th- and 20th-century buildings such as the Jekyll Island Clubhouse, which once served as the social and recreational center for the island’s wealthiest residents and is still in operation today. 

The Keys – Florida

Aerial view of palm trees, homes, and sandy beach in the Florida Keys
Credit: Andreas Vogel/ Shutterstock 

Known simply as “the Keys,” the Florida Keys are a string of approximately 1,700 islands off the southern tip of the Sunshine State. Only 43 of the islands, however, are accessible by car. U.S. Route 1 — which runs all the way from Fort Kent, Maine, to the last island in the chain, Key West — links the islands to one another and to the mainland. The most well-known islands are Key Largo (the longest in the Keys), Islamorada (known for outdoor recreation and marine life), Big Pine Key (famous for its population of friendly Key deer), and Key West (a historic isle noted for its beauty and nightlife). 

While many of the islands are developed and boast resorts, shopping plazas, restaurants, bars, and infrastructure, there are still some lesser-developed isles that provide a more tranquil atmosphere. These include Lower Matecumbe Key, Long Key, and Duck Key. Although each of the Keys is unique, they all offer tropical waters, bountiful marine life, and plenty of sun-soaked beaches. 

Long Beach Island – New Jersey

Pier overlooking marina and waterfront homes on Long Beach Island in New Jersey
Credit: andykazie/ iStock via Getty Images 

Accessible from the mainland by the Route 72 Causeway, Long Beach Island (LBI for short) is a year-round residential island and summer hot spot for East Coast mainlanders looking to soak up the sun on the Jersey Shore. The 18-mile island comprises six towns, each with its own unique features and character. Surf City, Ship Bottom, and Long Beach Township are among the busiest and most popular towns on the island. Each offers a vibrant restaurant and bar scene, entertainment venues, parks, and ample opportunity for water and recreational activities.

The northern tip of Long Beach Island, Barnegat Light, and the southern tip, Beach Haven, are both noted for their quiet atmospheres and historic attractions — such as the namesake Barnegat Light in the north and Victorian-style homes in the south. Harvey Cedars is a family favorite for its blend of recreation and residential vibes, plus amenities, restaurants, shops, and pristine beaches.  

Chincoteague Island – Virginia

Wild horses grazing on Chincoteague Island in Virginia
Credit: Sacred Shots/ iStock via Getty Images 

Located on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and connected to the mainland by Route 175, Chincoteague Island is home to a herd of about 150 wild ponies that roam freely on and between neighboring Assateague Island. The adult ponies are famous for their swimming skills and are often observed swimming the channels between the islands. 

The swimming ponies captured the attention of many over the years, leading to the establishment of the Pony Swim in the 1920s. Officials round up the ponies on Assateague Island and drive them across the channel to Chincoteague Island for the event that raises money for the local volunteer fire department. Wild ponies aside, Chincoteague offers plenty of nature-focused activities for visitors to enjoy, including the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, swimming beaches, fishing, and a small yet vibrant town with restaurants, shops, and artisan goods. 

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