George HH Huey/Age Fotostock
If you're having fantasies about an island getaway, but don't have the time or money to travel to an exotic spot in the tropics, that's OK. Consider a vacation at one of these U.S. islands, each with its own unique attractions.
Marco Island, Florida
At the southwestern tip of Florida, Marco Island is located in the Gulf of Mexico and is known for its pristine mangrove estuaries. The tropical getaway is a prime destination for shell collectors, who fill their pockets with sand dollars and flat scallop shells.
Santa Cruz Island, California
Managed by the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy, Santa Cruz is off the coast of Santa Barbara and is home to indigenous wildlife not seen anywhere else on the planet. Near the more famous island of Catalina, Santa Cruz — with 96 square miles — has its own distinct charm. Recently, scientists were able to successfully breed endangered bald eagles on the island.
Grand Isle, Vermont
Looking for an off-the-beaten-track fall destination? Near Plattsburgh, New York (site of a historic Olympic Village) on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain, Grand Isle's autumn foliage and 18th-century log cabin museum make for a quiet but memorable fall vacation.
Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
This southern island community was recently named one of the world's best surf towns, and visitors can enjoy its water sports practically year-round. Fishing enthusiasts book charters to hook mackerel and mahimahi.
Jekyll Island, Georgia
You can golf, kayak and swim on this island, which is halfway between Jacksonville, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia. Its Sea Turtle Center is a can't-miss destination for ecology lovers.
Long Beach Island, New Jersey
Devoted visitors would like to keep this Jersey Shore destination a secret, but now that the world has rallied around Hurricane Sandy victims, the whole shoreline has been in the spotlight. In the quaint fishing town of Barnegat Light, there's a historic lighthouse called Old Barney, where people enjoy evening climbs in summer.
Mustang Island, Texas
With 18 miles of uninterrupted public beaches, Mustang Island (near Port Aransas) is an idyllic spot for all things beach. Visitors can also enjoy oceanside golf, wild dolphin encounters and some of the best coastal seafood in the country.
Pawley's Island, South Carolina
If Myrtle Beach is too busy for you, the weather on nearby Pawley's Island is just as perfect, but the pace of life is much slower. The starting point for day trips is an inlet fishing village where even novices can catch bass, flounder and trout.
South Bass Island, Ohio
Take a ferry into Lake Erie to South Bass Island, home to Put-in-Bay, a resort town where most visitors get around by golf cart or moped. Sure, you can visit the chocolate or butterfly museums, but Put-in-Bay is most famous for its taverns. The Roundhouse Bar has been serving up libations since 1873; just be sure to visit after parasailing, not before.
Block Island, Rhode Island
There's always lots of fanfare about Martha's Vineyard (President Obama's favorite vacation spot) and Nantucket, but New Englanders in the know take the ferry over to much-less-fussy Block Island. The lobsters are cheap and plentiful, many of the beaches are all but deserted, the inns are storybook Capes and Victorians, and the quiet roads are heaven for bicyclists.
Orcas Island, Washington
Many tourists visit the San Juan Islands off the coast of Seattle, but many never make their way to Orcas, one of the less famous of the islands. Its misty mountaintops are a hiker's dream, and the whale watching can't be beat (hence the island's name). In town, check out the farmers' market and the many tiny art galleries.
Lisa McElroy is a travel writer for AARP Media.