Top 30 island escapes
Plot your escape to one of the West's best islands--places so lovely you won't want your time there to end
More: Explore Catalina
Warm, calm, turquoise waters and white sandy beaches baked by the sun in, get this, Canada. You’ll find no paved roads, no electricity, and no ferry service. (Water taxis zigzag over from the mainland, carrying families, dogs, luggage, and canoes to their summer rentals.) Clams are plentiful, as are huckleberries and blackberries. The stylishly simple Savary Island Resort has four rooms with a shared bath and two suites. From $133 U.S.; savaryislandresort.ca.
Best known as a U-pick paradise for Portlanders, this sandy cork in the Columbia River lets city mice go country for a day or two simply by crossing a bridge. Its biggest selling point is solitude, which may help explain why Collins Beach, on the island’s eastern side, is clothing optional. When it’s cloudy, head to Sauvie Island Lavender Farm, where you can inhale 14 varieties of the shrub. There’s not a hotel in sight, but you can book a floating home on Airbnb. From $60; airbnb.com.
The Kamakou Preserve, maintained by the Nature Conservancy, holds the island's essential adventure. A narrow boardwalk leads visitors back to the Jurassic, when brilliant green ferns, alien insects, and other fascinating creatures ruled the Earth. They are still here … though inhabiting a fragile, easily disturbed ecosystem. That’s why these high-demand guided walks happen just once a month. nature.org. Plan B: Sign on for a five-hour, two-waterfall hike into Halawa Valley with Molokai Fish and Dive. $75; molokaifishanddive.com. Stay at the working Pu‘u O Hoku Ranch, which has two slopeside cottages. From $225; puuohoku.com.
Okay, so this isn’t technically an island, or even an archipelago—it’s a ferry service that runs 3,500 miles over seven days from Bellingham, Washington, to Unalaska Island, calling in many island ports without road access, such as the seafood-processing town of Kake on Kupreanof Island, gateway to the Petersburg Creek–Duncan Salt Chuck Wilderness. From $31 one-way; dot.state.ak.us/amhs. Point of interest: Kupreanof Island also claims the second-smallest incorporated city in Alaska: 25 residents. In Petersburg Creek, you can rent a public-use cabin, complete with rowboat. That’s the sort of secret you discover when you ride Alaska’s version of the bus. $35; 1.usa.gov/1n8kvsy.
The 206-square-mile island (population 6) remains remote. No grocery store, no gas station. What it does have, along with great surfing: snowy mountains, pristine rain forests, and all kinds of wildlife, from sea lions to timber wolves, black bears to bald eagles. In short, the elements of the perfect Western island.
In a fir forest near the southern tip of Nootka is Tatchu Adventures lodge, a hot ticket among surfers. It could just as easily be a romantic escape, though: You can shack up in one of two treehouses, lit by oil lamps. Everyone gathers at the main lodge for meals (pizza with chanterelles, perhaps—local, of course). You can hike, fish, beachcomb, and read by the fire. You don’t have to be an expert to surf here, but novices should opt for the calm summer months. From $1,185 U.S./person/3 nights, all-inclusive; tatchuadventures.com.
Along 22 miles of the island’s west coast runs the Nootka Trail. It can take up to five days to hike and may require some bushwhacking. But, as Carole Sine, co-owner of Air Nootka, says, “Camping on Nootka has been life altering for people.” Sine, whose favorite spot is Calvin Falls, finds the nights most memorable. “There’s no light pollution. You see the way the world was before we built it up.” Hikers usually fly into Louie Bay and end in Friendly Cove. Drop-offs can be arranged through Air Nootka (airnootka.com) or Get West (getwest.ca).
This island is a throwback to the 1940s. “Family” get-togethers comprise your fellow guests at the only place to stay, the Guemes Island Resort. It’s big enough to support a monthly paper but small enough for opinions to still differ as to whether the 1983 opening of the general store was a good thing. From Anacortes, a ferry motors you over in five minutes. From $90; guemesislandresort.com.
This place is like Northern Exposure, only more civilized. Seven yurts on stilts on a private island (below) in Resurrection Bay. Kitchens and bathrooms: yes. Phone, TV, Internet: no. There’s no restaurant; you pack in your own food. A water taxi leaves Seward every afternoon at 12:30 for the 30-minute trip. From $239/person/night, including water taxi; orcaislandcabins.com.
Known for the Penn Cove mussel (which truly warrants its festival, held each March). Why wait? Front Street Grill, in Coupeville, serves it nine ways every day. $$; frontstreetgrillcoupeville.com. Work it off: Whidbey Island Kayaking Company’s Paddle and Pedal package provides both modes of transport. $98; whidbeyislandkayaking.com. The five-room Historic Crockett Farm is part of an 1851 homestead with Puget Sound views. From $115; crockettfarmbnb.com.
An anomalous summertime playground within tony Newport Harbor. Boats ply the Grand Canal, the landmark Ferris wheel spins at the Fun Zone, and lines trail out of the ice cream parlors—especially Sugar N Spice, which is famous for its Balboa bars: vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate and topped with, say, sprinkles or toffee. The density on the three manmade islands that constitute Balboa is said to be higher than that of San Francisco. Waterfront two-bedroom cottages typically run about $3,000 per week. balboaislandvacations.com.