Seaside getaways: Five unusual island escapes

By: Virgin Atlantic

June 8, 2018

Santa Catalina Island, California © Shutterstock / Chris Grant

Whatever your taste in travel, you’re likely to dream of an island getaway at some point: the remoteness and romance, and the chance to really get away from it all. There’s still time to book an escape for the summer or even further ahead, so why not look beyond the tried and tested and towards some more unconventional islands? Here are five ideas for superb side trips from some of our favourite destinations…

Block Island, New England

Blissful Block Island, in the Atlantic Ocean, is part of the US state of Rhode Island.

A skip and a hop from Boston, in this neck of the woods it’s normally Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket that hog the limelight, but tiny (and often overlooked) Block Island packs a scenic punch that belies its three-by-seven mile size.

Block Island © Shutterstock / Mona Makela

The island is famous for its free public beaches, miles of hiking trails, historic lighthouses and the dramatic ocean views from its precipitous cliffs or ‘bluffs’, not to mention the two fine harbours which make it one of the region’s premier yachting destinations.

Best of all though are its cosy B&Bs – book a stay in a traditional clapboard guesthouse with white picket fence and wraparound porch for the quintessential New England experience.

Carriacou, Grenada

Making up one third of the ‘tri-island’ nation of Grenada (along with its little sister island Petite Martinique) is the dependency of Carriacou. It’s the largest of the Grenadines chain and the archetypal vision of what a Caribbean island should be.

Carriacou © Shutterstock / otorongo

Probably due to its impressive natural harbours and population of master boat builders, a flourishing sailing tradition has evolved on Carriacou, adding another string to its tourist industry bow.

The island’s annual Regatta in late July/early August is now the biggest summer festival in the region, attracting participants from throughout the Caribbean and visitors from across the world.

Sanibel, Florida

An easy side trip from Orlando, Sanibel is a small tropical island a couple of miles from Fort Myers on the Gulf coast of Florida, linked to the mainland by a causeway.

Many people head there for the bird-watching opportunities – a number of bald eagle pairs call Sanibel home, and herons, egrets and pelicans are everywhere.

American White Pelicans on Sanibel Island © Shutterstock / Susan Rydberg

Sheltered white sand beaches are accessible via wooden boardwalks through the tall grassy dunes that border them, and more than half of the forested interior is given over to wildlife refuges.

Fishing, boating, cycling, low-key beachside inns and excellent seafood are also big draws, though Sanibel is actually best known for its unique ecology. As a barrier island its beaches are abundantly strewn with pastel-coloured seashells, attracting visitors from miles around.

The island’s Bailey-Matthews Museum is, in fact, the only museum in the world dedicated solely to the science of shells and conchology.

A beautiful beach and cove on Santa Catalina Island, California © Shutterstock / EpicStockMedia

Santa Catalina Island, or plain Catalina as it’s more commonly known, is a rugged, rocky island off the coast of California, easily reached by ferry from various points south of Los Angeles.

One of California’s Channel Islands archipelago, Catalina was once owned by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr.

He fell head over heels in love with the place, investing millions in its infrastructure and opening an Art Deco casino in 1929, in the main harbour town of Avalon.

Nowadays, those in charge are more likely to promote the island’s undeveloped natural landscape, native wildlife and mountainous interior than its built up bits, but that’s not to say that visitors need to rough it – there are several five star resorts and spas to choose from

Vashon Island, Washington

A 20-minute ferry ride from Seattle, forested Vashon Island lies in Puget Sound and makes a great overnight – or longer – side trip from the city.

Vashon Island with Mt Rainier in the background © Shutterstock / JA Uppendahl

With one main town, also called Vashon, and a handful of smaller communities dotted along its length, it’s an ideal destination for those in search of solitude and space to unwind. Popular activities include sea kayaking and cycling, but it’s also home to yoga studios and retreat centres, art galleries and walking trails.

Also popular are the organic farmers and other makers who’ve opened their doors to the public, some who offer tours combined with workshops, cooking classes, or lunches made from farm-grown ingredients.

If you don’t quite make it in time for summer, winter is just as appealing. This is the best time of year for whale watching, and you might even spot an orca alongside the ferry.

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