Sweet summertime beckons us to the coast, and we’ve found a few destinations with ample shorelines. These islands are surrounded by water and accessible only by boat (or plane, in a few cases). Whether you wish to unwind at an ultra-luxurious resort or explore the wildlife within a tech-free ecological paradise, there is something for everyone on these Southern isles — once you’ve ditched the car!
The moment you step off the ferry on Daufuskie Island, you’re enveloped by Spanish moss and a rich Gullah history. Without large stores, gas stations, stoplights, cars, or hotels, it’s as if the island is stuck in a simpler time to which the mainland wants to return. A few hundred residents welcome intrigued tourists to their magical, tiny island — just five miles by three miles — on the southernmost tip of the Carolinas. Mother Nature shows off for Daufuskie sightseers: Bottlenose dolphin fins dot the horizon, loggerhead turtles nest each spring on the shore, and rare Marsh Tacky horses roam the island (dating back 500 years in the area).
The Strachan Mansion at Haig Point was originally built in 1910 on St. Simons Island, GA, as a summer retreat. In 1986, it took three days for developers to move the mansion across treacherous water to Daufuskie Island using two barges. It’s now a well-appointed four-suite inn. Image: Haig Point
Made up mostly of dirt roads and conservatory land, the car-free island has two historic accommodations available to book — The Strachan Mansion and 1873 Lighthouse — both at Haig Point, the island’s only private, residential community. Soak up the sun on pristine white sand beaches, play the top-ranked golf course, and ride horseback on the beach. Daufuskie is also home to the best-preserved tabby-walled Civil War era single slave dwellings in the South and one of only two island distilleries in the country. There is even an open-air art gallery that operates on the honor system, where you might find a memento to take home.
Work began on the Haig Point Lighthouse in 1873, but the Daufuskie Island’s history dates back to 1735. Read up on it here. Image: Haig Point
Hop aboard the 20-minute ferry from Southport, NC (a charming destination in itself!), and let the salty wind in your hair welcome you to Bald Head Island. The unspoiled, secluded barrier island is part of North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands and has attracted curious sojourners since its pirate days. Climb the 108 steps to the top of the state’s oldest lighthouse, Old Baldy, for stunning views of the island, then tour the Smith Island Museum of History to learn about Bald Head Island’s seafaring history.
North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse, “Old Baldy,” has signaled the mouth of the historic Cape Fear River since its construction in 1817. Smith Island Museum is housed in a charming replica of the 1850s lighthouse keeper’s cottage. Image: Bald Head Island
Enjoy delicious coastal cuisine at Delphina and Jailhouse Provisions, then ice cream at Mike’s Bites or Sandpiper. Bald Head is filled with top-notch golf courses, lush nature trails, and lots of places to take out canoes and sailboats. With ample relaxing and laidback vibes, this island boasts some of the most vibrant sunsets you’ve ever seen.
Sapelo is one of the largest barrier islands in the chain of coastal Georgia islands between the Savannah and St. Mary rivers. Reachable only by ferry, Sapelo has a slew of fun activities, educational resources, and primitive lodging options for curious visitors willing to make the trek. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources operates the ferry service and connects the two ecological education and research institutions with the civilian Hog Hammock community: a permanent home to fewer than 100 full-time residents, many of whom are descended from Sapelo’s plantation slaves.
After its original construction in 1810, Reynolds Mansion was restored by automotive pioneer Howard Coffin in 1925 and tobacco heir Richard J. Reynolds in the 40s. Image: Georgia State Parks
The striking structure on the island is the R.J. Reynolds Mansion, built by Thomas Spalding in 1810. Groups can stay in the mansion (they host many weddings!), set up camp on the public beach campground at Cabretta, or rent one of the few vacation rentals. An underwater park of sorts, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary champions the area’s Loggerhead turtles, endangered North Atlantic Right Whales, and 200 fish species through boating, fishing, scuba diving, and aquatic critter education.
Aside from the mansion and can’t-miss striped lighthouse, explore the island’s 200-year-old homes rich with Gullah-Geechee culture and heritage. Image: Georgia State Parks
The country’s only private island resort, Little Palm Island is a swanky, adults-only paradise off the coast of Florida’s Little Torch Key. As soon as you step off the yacht transfer that’s included in your stay (or a seaplane, if you wish), you are surrounded by tropical elegance and every amenity you’d ever need.
The thatched-roof bungalow suites, open-air lounges and bars, tiki torches and firepits, and vibrant, jungle-like landscaping transport you out of the U.S. and to the British West Indies. Image: Little Palm Island
Beyond the beach and pool, there are paddle boards, snorkeling gear, kayaks, sailboats, and four Boston Whalers to take out to the nearby reefs and sandbars. Water activities, a luxe indoor-outdoor spa, and delicious cuisine will keep you happily unplugged and occupied for as long as you wish … at quite the splurge-y nightly rate.
The island is the resort, and the resort is the island. Image: Little Palm Island
Just north of Charleston sits a remarkably private, 1,200-acre oceanfront island filled with protected parkland, miles of private beach, and a cultural community. Abundant in wildlife, Native American tribes like the Sewee (which loosely translates to “Islanders”) called Dewee one of their Hunting Islands. A 20-minute ferry ride from Isle of Palms plops you onto a dock of golf carts where a simpler pace of life begins.
You need to be a homeowner, renting a home, or invited by someone to stay on Dewees. Currently, about half of the maximum 150 appointed lots on the island are developed or in progress. Image: Judy Fairchild for Dewees Island, SC
A well-appointed clubhouse has a pool, rotating art shows, cocktail hours, barbecue cookouts, book clubs, and more. Even though it’s not even two square miles, the island has many places to fish, canoe, kayak, jog, and spot wildlife. This gem remains unknown and unexplored by many Carolina locals, and it could be your new home.
The Huyler House is the center of the Dewees community and offers four suites for future property owners or current residents’ guests. Image: Dewees Island, SC
Let’s set our watches to island time this summer!