Summer vacation season is finally upon us. While we may be envious of all the glamorous European villas filling our Instagram feeds, most of us would be happy with just a good bit of R&R that doesn’t drain our savings accounts. Satisfy your wanderlust and your wallet by embarking on one of these last-minute island vacations that won’t set you back more than $500 for a round-trip flight. Just grab a pair of sandals, your favorite swimsuit, and a beach read, and you’re good for well-deserved fun in the sun.
01. Santa Catalina Island, California
Starting at $320 nonstop from D.C. to L.A.
In the words of the 1958 song by The Four Prets, “Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is waiting for me.” This beautiful nature preserve just a ferry ride across from Los Angeles is the perfect escape if you're seeking fresh air, sunny beaches, and easy hikes with breathtaking views. Explore the island by backpacking or kayaking along the shore. If that isn't for you, Catalina Island's hotels are abundant and affordable.
02. Prince Edward Island, Canada
Starting at $455 with one stop from Chicago to PEI
Kindred spirits of Anne of Green Gables, this one is for you. Known as “Canada’s Food Island,” PEI is not only famous for its literary significance as author Lucy Maud Montgomery's hometown, but also for its farm- and sea-to-table dining. Its top-rated restaurants, wineries, and stunning red sandstone bluffs in its national park are easily toured by car or bike.
03. Sea Island, Georgia
Starting at $353 with one stop from L.A. to Jacksonville, FL
Must-do: Saint Simons Lighthouse
The mossy oaks and marshes that dot this historical part of Georgia's Golden Isles remind us of Jamie and Landon's unforgettable love story in A Walk to Remember. History buffs will be most interested in its historical eighteenth-century lighthouse, monuments, and key battle site during the American Revolution. From Saint Simons, you can easily travel to the other Golden Isles: Saint Jekyll, Little St. Simon, Cumberland, and Sapelo Islands.
04. Bradenton/Anna Maria Island/Longboat Key, Florida
Starting at $273 with one stop from NYC to Sarasota Bradenton
Must-do: Holmes Beach
Lonely Planet says Anna Maria Island "appears to be beached in a 1950s time warp, with sun-faded clapboard houses, teenagers hanging outside ice-cream stores, and a clutch of good seafood restaurants.” Enjoy some private sunbathing on the white sands of Holmes Beach while indulging in your summer reading under a vintage wide-brimmed hat and cat eye sunglasses.
05. Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Starting at $320 with one stop from SFO to Boston
Must-do: Flying Horses Carousel
Lying just off the coast of Cape Code, celebrities and socialites alike have retreated to Martha's Vineyard for generations. Visit its beautiful beaches, historical sites (including the “nation’s oldest platform carousel”), and charming restaurants. See a show at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse or visit the indie bookstores and coffee shops. Good thing we've already found the perfect pied-à-terre to stay in while you're there.
06. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Starting at $356 with one stop from Dallas/Fort Worth to Traverse City, MI
This quaint island off the coast of Michigan’s upper peninsula is best known for its award-winning Grand Hotel Resort and delicious chocolate fudge. It can only be reached by ferry, and is car free—all visitors explore on foot, bicycle, or in a horse-drawn carriage. Built in 1887 with its first rates starting between $3 to $5, the Grand Hotel is still operating and open to guests, though it's normal to see visitors dressed in 19th century costume. A trip to Mackinac is like traveling back “Somewhere in Time,” a 1980s romance filmed in the historic hotel.
07. Isla Cozumel, Mexico
Starting at $454 from Las Vegas to Cozumel
While popular with tourists, Lonely Planet describes Cozumel as “an island of quiet cool and genuine authenticity” with a Caribbean energy. Take advantage of some of the clearest diving and snorkeling opportunities and certainly visit the world-famous Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza while you're there.
08. San Juan, Puerto Rico
Starting at $434 nonstop from Charlotte, N.C., to San Juan
Must-do: Visit El Morro
San Juan is the second oldest European-founded city in America. It deftly mixes the old and the new, preserving its complicated and proud history while maintaining a lively modern bar and restaurant scene and vibrant street art. Visit its warm blue beaches, nature preserves, and the star of Old San Juan, El Morro fort dating all the way back to 1539.
09. Block Island, Rhode Island
Starting at $285 from Denver to Providence
Must-do: Maze and Clayhead Preserve
Peaceful and largely unchanged since 1895, this darling East Coast Island offers quaint activities like bird watching, tranquil coastal walks, and adorable lighthouses galore. Peruse the tiny gift shops in New Shoreham and hike along the windy bluffs of Maze and Clayhead Preserve.
10. San Juan Islands, Washington
Starting at $228 with one stop from Atlanta to Seattle-Tacoma
Must-do: Visit Pelindaba Lavender Farm
Don’t be put off by Washington’s tendency toward chilly weather. San Juan Island is something out of a fairytale, home to one of the largest self-sustaining, organic lavender farms, Pelindaba. Top it all of with spectacular Orca whale-watching from Lime Kiln Point State Park or via boat excursions.
Photo Credit: Danka & Peter