Movies about islands always seem to take place in the summer. Yet for many travelers, fall is a much better time to visit an island destination. The air might be a tad more brisk, but you can avoid the crowds that otherwise plague popular restaurants and venues in the summer, you’ll have the beaches all to yourself, and cost for travel and accommodations are usually cheaper.
In short, just because the season most associated with an island vacation has come and gone doesn’t mean you should avoid an island vacation. From Florida’s Marco Island to Kauai, these are the US islands that you should visit in fall.
Nantucket is a classic New England summer destination. Located just off of Cape Cod, the island is shrouded in a somewhat misleading air of exclusivity that can discourage many from actually visiting. If you want to brush shoulders with hundreds of well-heeled tourists and wannabe Instagram influencers, by all means visit in the summer. If you favor a more relaxed pace and the peaceful island getaway the brochures always promise (but never quite deliver on in the summer) visit Nantucket in the fall.
Just 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, Nantucket is accessible by ferry from the Cape’s Harwich Port, as well as New Bedford, Mass.; New York City, and Highland, New Jersey. Apart from Nantucket’s historic cobbled streets and iconic beach homes that look straight out of a New England postcard, the island is known best for its beaches. Steps Beach, a quiet public beach, features trails lined with crab apple trees and beach grass that winds through the dunes. Cisco Beach and Surfside Beach are the island’s best surf beaches if you’re not afraid of the chilly water.
Fall is peak cranberry season on Nantucket. There are several cranberry bogs on the island, and visiting them to watch the harvest is an island tradition. Milestone Bog has been the epicenter of cranberry farming on Nantucket for the past 150 years, and a visit means catching views of the surrounding rolling hills and grasslands. Windswept Bog on Stump Pond is home to 231 acres of retired cranberry bogs, hardwood forests, and ponds, and hikers will enjoy the bog’s miles of walking trails.
Tybee Island, Georgia
It would be an understatement to say that summer in Georgia is hot. Even by the ocean, there’s simply no getting around the humidity hanging in the air. Unless you visit in fall, of course. Just 18 miles from downtown Savannah, Tybee Island is best enjoyed with a side of brisk autumn breeze.
On this barrier island, summer and fall are sea turtle season. While you’re sitting on the beach or strolling down the pier, keep an eye out for sea turtles and their nests. You can also spot wild bottlenose dolphins off the coast. Take one of Captain Mike’s Dolphin Tours if you want better odds of catching a glimpse of the wildlife. The island is also a popular birdwatching destination thanks to the North Beach Birding Trail. Located at the mouth of the Savannah River, the trail is perfect for viewing herons, egrets, American oystercatchers, ospreys, pelicans, and willets.
It wouldn’t be a fall vacation without a little haunted history, would it? Though not quite as spooky as Savannah, Tybee Island still has its share of skeletons in the closet. Every October, the Tybee Island Historical Society conducts tours of the island’s haunted lighthouse and Battery Garland.
Kauai is already one of Hawaii’s less visited islands with less upscale shopping and fewer luxury resorts than the more frequented Hawaiian islands. That might sound discouraging, but these qualities are also what make Kauai such a desirable destination for travelers looking to avoid crowds. This is especially true in the fall.
You don’t need to be a surfer to enjoy the oceans of Kauai. The island’s Ka Lea O Kaiwa beach, Poipu beach, and Hanalei bay are known for boogie boarding. You can also snorkel in the waters off Lawa’i Beach. Kayaking to the Na Pali cliffs or down the Hanalei River are also popular pastimes on Kauai. If you’d rather stay on land, rent bikes to cruise along the shoreline. Bikes can be rented at an affordable rate for either beach cruising or mountain biking. The bike culture here doesn’t exactly parallel Amsterdam, but it’s one of the best ways to explore Kauai.
On Kauai’s west side sits Hanapepe, a community of artists with several galleries, an Art Walk, food trucks, and live music venues. The galleries are filled with the work of local artists inspired by the natural beauty of Hawaii, and it’s up there among the best places for souvenir shopping in all of Hawaii.
Marco Island, Florida
Marco Island, just south of Naples in the Gulf of Mexico, is the ideal fall escape in Florida.
Connected to the mainland by a series of bridges, Marco Island offers visitors the natural beauty of Collier-Seminole State Park. The park’s Everglades-esque landscape is full of mangrove swamps and salt marshes, as well as wildlife like alligators, crocodiles, and Florida black bears. You can explore the Everglades themselves by taking a kayaking tour through the Wilderness Waterway of the Ten Thousand Islands and the Everglades. You’ll come across deserted barrier islands with some of the most beautiful beaches in Florida.
Speaking of beaches, Marco Island is home to Tigertail Beach and Sand Dollar Island — two of the best beaches in southern Florida. Tigertail Beach is split by a lagoon, where you can swim, kayak, or paddleboard. Sand Dollar Island can be reached by wading across a shallow part of the lagoon. There, you’ll find an observation tower perfect for spotting birds like egrets, herons, sandpipers, plovers, and terns.
Catalina Island, California
When you hear about Catalina Island off the coast of California, your mind might immediately jump to the “fucking Catalina Wine Mixer” from Step Brothers. Well, you should also associate the island with diving, hiking, paddle boarding, and exploring sea caves.
Catalina Island is easily accessible via a one-hour ferry from Long Beach, San Pedro, Dana Point, and Newport Beach. A welcome reprieve from the glitz and bustle of LA, Catalina’s notably slower pace of life makes it the perfect weekend escape for friends and families. The most efficient way to explore the island is by golf cart, which you can rent right from a golf cart rental shop when you disembark the ferry. Take your cart and cruise to Avalon’s Descanso Beach, one of the only beaches in Catalina that allows alcohol, and then drive up to Buena Vista Point for the best views of the island.
For more adventurous excursions, zipline through the eucalyptus trees with Zip Line Eco Tour, hike the Trans-Catalina Trail, or go kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, or parasailing. Whale watching tours are also a must. These bring you nerve-wrackingly close to the ocean’s most majestic creatures. The tours also allow you to board smaller boats for exploring the local sea caves, which are home to seals and sea lions.