The New England coastline is dotted with idyllic islands where pristine beaches abound and natural beauty is at every turn. Low-key island pleasures include swimming in the salty sea, sunset walks on the sand, and eating fresh seafood in laid-back lobster shacks.
It’s a low-impact getaway, as the bike or your two feet are preferred modes of transportation. The islands have a rustic, secluded feel and a feeling of seclusion that is a balm for this era. In truth, they are easily accessible via the causeway or a windy ferry ride.
If you’re looking to satisfy your travel urge on a getaway with plenty of nautical charm, consider these 10 scenic islands, all of which have hotels for a comfortable overnight stay.
Mount Desert Island, Maine
Rocky shores of Acadia National Park – Photo courtesy of Visit Maine
Island of Mount Desert is the largest coastal island in Maine. Home to Acadia National Park, its beauty is so intense that it borders on mystique. Hikers, cyclists and horse riders will find trails interwoven with wide carriage roads carpeted with crushed stone, winding past ponds and woods.
These Atlantic waters are a bit chilly for many swimmers, although nature cruises and lobster boat rides put you in pole position to spot seals, porpoises and frolic whales.
Stay: Overlooking Frenchman’s Bay in Bar Harbor, Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina is a relaxed retreat on the doorstep of Acadia National Park.
Block Island, Rhode Island
Mohegan Bluffs – Photo courtesy of Visit Rhode Island
Block Island is a boating paradise with 17 miles of sandy beach, hundreds of freshwater ponds, and water so blue you might think you are in the Caribbean. With over 250 species of birds landing here each year, it is an avian wonderland. A network of footbridges connects kilometers of preserved habitat with breathtaking views. Meditate on the vastness of Mohegan Bluffs and travel the rolling trails of Rodman’s Hollow.
Foodies shouldn’t miss a meal at Champlin’s galley, where the chef turns the magic on freshly caught seafood.
Stay: Overlooking the beach of the crescent, Block Island Beach House offers vintage-inspired rooms with sea views and a wraparound porch. Warm hospitality envelops her in an arch.
Big Diamond Island, Maine
Great Diamond Island – Photo courtesy of Colwen Hotels
Big Diamond Island was once a retreat for great American literaries such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Today visitors can explore the landscapes of Casco Bay and the maritime tranquility of this gem without a car by bicycle or golf cart. Sheltered beaches, old growth forest and historic Fort McKinley are just a short ferry ride from Portland’s Old Port district.
Stay: Inn at Diamond Cove offers 44 condo-style units. A heated swimming pool, fire pit, tennis courts and a restored turn-of-the-century bowling alley are surrounded by peaceful hiking trails.
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Edgartown Lighthouse – Photo courtesy of Brand USA, Amon Focus
Old-fashioned lighthouses and pristine beaches are some of the Martha’s Vineyard seaside charms. Enchanting villages include Edgartown, its narrow lanes framed by Greek Renaissance-style houses once inhabited by whaling captains.
Kids (and kids at heart) will enjoy a ride on a painted pony at Oak Bluff’s Flying Horses Carousel and a nostalgic snack at Murdick’s Fudge, where they’ve used the same delicious candy recipes since 1887.
Stay: Edgartown Inn’s the location of the village and the aesthetics of the farm are a winning combination.
Peaks Island, Maine
Rocky Beach on Peaks Island – Image courtesy of Visit Maine
Just 17 minutes by ferry from Portland, Peak Island feels a million miles away. It is a tight-knit community with rocky and sandy beaches and a Umbrella Cover Museum, which is exactly what it sounds like. Swim or kayak to Catnip Island from Sandy Beach for an easy adventure.
Simple pleasures include a cup of roasted island coffee at Peaks Island Coffee Roasters and a freshly baked cinnamon bun at Peaks Café.
Stay: Hostel on the peaks offers seven cottage-style rooms with Jacuzzi tubs and private terraces.
Steps Beach – Photo courtesy of Jamie Holmes
Nantucket cranberry bogs and windswept cliffs paint a dreamlike panorama. Understated elegance and 82 miles of enviable coastline explain why loyal beachcombers return every year.
The shaded cycle paths are ideal for cycling. Pedal to Siasconset, a fairytale hamlet lined with rose-covered cottages. Stop at Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum and admire the unique hand-woven rattan and wood baskets that have been made here for centuries.
Stay: Occupying a privileged location in town, boutique Greydon House offers 20 elegant rooms.
Monhegan Island, Maine
Monhegan Island Chalets – Photo courtesy of Visit Maine
Monhegan Island is a rocky haven where lobster pots line unpaved roads leading to old-world villages, lush green meadows and high ocean cliffs. Known for its strong artistic community, watch artists create in their studios, visit a craft cooperative and explore Monhegan Art and History Museum. Whet your appetite as you hike miles of hiking trails and sample some of Maine’s freshest lobsters.
Stay: Fall asleep to the sound of the sea at Monhegan House, a simple bed and breakfast with 26 rooms and a view of the lighthouse.
New Castle, New Hampshire
View of the New Castle – Photo courtesy of Wentworth by the Sea
Located off the 17 mile shoreline of New Hampshire, New castle captive. Visit the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse at Fort Constitution and soak up the history, as the first victory of the American Revolution took place here. Stop at Great Island Common, a green space by the sea with sailboats passing by.
Connected by a bridge to neighbors Rye and Portsmouth, it is perfectly situated for exploring Portsmouth’s vibrant food scene or jumping the waves at Jenness State Beach.
Stay: Top of the line Wentworth by the sea is nestled on a flowery plot with views of the harbor, swimming pools and delicious restaurants.
The Granite Shores of Vinalhaven – Photo courtesy of Visit Maine
In the middle of Penobscot Bay lies Vinalhaven, an oasis of pink granite that was once used to build important monuments across America. Home to one of Maine’s most lucrative lobster fleets, it’s a working island with a vital year-round population that swells in the summer.
Known for its commitment to conservation, the island’s patchwork of hiking trails are a great way to soak up suggestive landscapes. When it’s time to cool off, take a dip in the crystal-clear water at one of the two refreshing swimming spots, Booth’s Quarry and Lawson’s Quarry.
Stay: The tide offers welcoming rooms, some with private terraces.
Chebeague Island, Maine
View from the Inn porch – Photo courtesy of Chebeaugue Island Inn
Postcard-pretty Chebeague Island is the largest unconnected island in Casco Bay. Crab pots hang from the dock, local children fish for striped bass, and harbor seals sunbathe on nearby rocks. At low tide, walk to Little Chebeague Island via a sandbar. Come in the summer and pick wild blueberries in abundance until your fingers are stained purple.
Stay: Chebeague Island Inn has been carefully restored to capture Maine’s commitment to craftsmanship. Stone fireplaces and local artwork give a sense of place.