There is a special place in my desert-dwelling heart for islands. I’ve taken to believing that this has something to do with my ancestry – a good chunk of which came from Sicily and Ireland. Whatever the case, I have a deep love for islands, and I have a goal to visit as many of them as I can in my life. This page will primarily be focused on gathering my guides to non-nation/state islands (e.g. Florida Keys, the California Channel Islands), but I will also keep a list of nation/state islands at the bottom of this post as well. If you love islands as much as me, this is the page for you!
This little strip of islands south of Florida are famous for the interisland highway that allows you to drive from one end of the chain to the other. Key West, the beautiful town at the southern end of the chain, is also the famous former home of Ernest Hemingway. The diving here is amazing, and so are the opportunities to explore and hike. Learn more in our guide to the Keys.
Spanish Virgin Isles
The Spanish Virgin Isles include two islands just off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico – Culebra and Vieques. These small islands are accessible from Puerto Rico via ferry and small planes, and they offer some very unique experiences, including out-of-this-world beaches, beautiful hikes, and historic places. They are also a living legacy of the impact that the US military has had on “territorial” islands, as both have suffered from navy testing that undermined the local ecology and communities. Now, thanks to the work of local activists, both islands are healing from this history, but they are faced with new challenges.
Culebra is home to the famous Flamenco Beach, and has a low-lying, arid environment. Visit the small town on the coast and enjoy the islands rolling hills. But make sure to support local people while visiting – avoid large hotel chains and short-term rentals. Read my short guide to the island to learn more.
Vieques is a place of wild beauty, where human history and nature collide to make for a landscape of impressive vistas and memory-making escapes. Whether you want to support turtle conservation, or experience a bio-bay for yourself, Vieques has it all. However, with the intense pressures of large-scale tourism, it is important to visit carefully, as with Culebra. Read my short guide to the island to learn more.
The California Channel Islands include 8 islands that are located off the shore from Los Angeles and its suburbs. They are home to unique plant and animal species, and they are perfect for hikers, kayakers, and divers. Many of the Channel Islands are part of the Channel Island National Park, with two belonging to the US military, and one having towns, cities, and camps. These have a special place in my heart because they were the first islands that I was able to visit as a child.
It is my goal to visit all of the islands (some are harder than others, or maybe impossible to get to). Here is my guide to the California Channel Islands chain, and below is the list of each of the islands, along with links to the guides I have developed so far:
Anacapa is the smallest CA Channel Island, and the first one that I was able to visit. This island is close enough to Ventura, CA that you can do a day trip here, and you can also camp if you want to explore by kayak. The part of the island that you can visit on foot is a small, spit of rock with cliffs on all sides. There is a picturesque lighthouse on one end, and birds nesting elsewhere. Below the waves there are beautiful kelp forests, and there are even rugged beaches that you can visit by kayak. See our guide here.
This is a military-owned island. I have not visited.
San Miguel is managed by the U.S. National Park Service, but it is one of the harder islands in the chain to visit. I managed to make it out here in 2022, and it was such an adventure. We saw seals and sea lions, we hiked across the island, and we even got to see some of the old ranching grave sites on San Miguel. It was a wild trip, and I am so grateful I got to see this beautiful place. Learn more about my experience here!
San Nicolas is the Island of the Blue Dolphins (from the book!). It is currently owned and managed by the military, and they are working hard with partners like Channel Islands Restoration to restore and care for the land there. This unique place is nearly impossible to visit, but as a conservation volunteer, working on plant restoration, I had the privilege to see this amazing place. Learn more about San Nicolas.
Santa Barbara is the most remote part of the Channel Island National Park. It is a small island, surrounded by cliffs, which is known for its playful population of sea lions. Unfortunately, the infrastructure needed to land on the island was destroyed by storm damage and there seem to be no plans from the NPS to fix it. I hope this changes in the near future.
This is the second largest CA Channel Island, and has two towns on its shores – Avalon and Two Harbors. There are also camps for kids here and a 30+ mile, cross island trail. This island is lively, accessible by ferry and helicopter, and is a great place for more culture-focused travelers to visit.
Santa Cruz is the largest of the CA Channel Islands, and it is a hiker’s wonderland. There is so much to see on this island, and while trekking across the island’s landscapes of rolling hills and grasslands, you will experience wild California like almost no where else. Thanks to conservation work endemic animals like the tiny island foxes can be seen by almost any visitor, whether you are there for the day or camping. See my guide to Santa Cruz here.
Santa Rosa is a wild, windy, and beautiful place. There are forests to explore here, and sandy beaches to comb and even camp on. There is loads of hiking on this island, where you can explore all elements of the varied ecosystem here. Learn more from my guide.