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Camping at Ruckle Provincial Park on Saltspring Island
Getty/jackcreative

Top Most-Visited North American Islands

April 4, 2013

Island Time: It’s Closer Than You May Think... If you’re considering making your next getaway an island experience, you need not think only of far-flung destinations with long, often expensive flights. North America has a surprisingly large number of islands immediately off its coasts. Following are Andrew Harper travelers’ Top 10 Most-Visited North American islands, as provided by the Andrew Harper Travel Office (in alphabetical order), along with insight provided by area Harper Alliance hotels and other partners.

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Located on a barrier island 33 miles south of Charleston, the 10,000-acre Kiawah Island not only has about 10 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, it also boasts the Kiawah River as well as marshes and lagoons, allowing guests ample opportunities to enjoy nature. “Kiawah has been so thoughtfully developed,” says Natalie Payne, director of leisure sales at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. “While you have all of the modern conveniences and luxury at your fingertips, you may still enjoy a very natural setting with very active wildlife. Most people do not realize how much Kiawah has to offer.”

Sixteenth hole at Pete Dye's Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, site of the 1991 Ryder Cup and the 2012 PGA Championship Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Five Must-Do Experiences on Kiawah Island

  • See Kiawah Island from the water on a dolphin encounter, sunset cruise or kayaking excursion.

  • “Play a round of golf on the Pete Dye-designed links-style Ocean Course, named by Golf Digest as the most difficult course in the country and site of the 2012 PGA Championship,” Payne recommends.

  • Explore the island from tip to tip via bike.

  • “Enjoy the sunset with a cocktail and fresh local seafood at the Atlantic Room at the Ocean Course,” Payne says.

  • “From Easter through Labor Day, experience the Mingo Point oyster roast, which includes freshly roasted oysters, barbecue and Southern sides,” suggests Payne. “Mingo Point overlooks the Kiawah River marsh and guests can dance the night away to a bluegrass band,” she adds.

Five Words that Describe Kiawah Island

“Pristine, Serene, Private, Exclusive, Natural”

Interesting Facts about Kiawah Island

  • The island was named after the Kiawah Indians, who occupied the island for a brief time in the 1600s. Kiawah is one of the few places in the world where dolphins strand feed.

  • An estimated 700 alligators can be found on the island, according to Payne.

Miami Beach, Florida

Although “beach” is in the city’s name, the appeal of Miami Beach extends well beyond its scenic coastline. “Miami Beach combines the beach and southern Florida weather with culture, art, fashion and culinary experiences,” says Erin Macho, account director for luxury sales at St. Regis Bal Harbour. “While Miami Beach has always been known for its beaches and nightlife, in the last few years art, culture and entertainment have become the new focal points with events like the South Beach Food & Wine Festival, Art Basel Miami Beach, and a few different film and music festivals.” Located between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Miami Beach also is a major city, Macho says, making the island a destination that “offers guests both relaxation and plenty of activities to keep their minds and bodies busy.”

The Art Deco Design District of Miami, South Beach

Five Must-Do Experiences on Miami Beach

  • Walk the beach and check out the historic architecture in Miami Beach’s Art Deco District, which is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.

  • “Visit the Design District for gorgeous galleries and unique furniture and fashion,” Macho advises.

  • See a show at the Frank Gehry-designed New World Symphony or view the concert sitting in the world-renowned outdoor theater.

  • “Shop in some of the world’s finest stores at Bal Harbour Shops,” Macho recommends.

  • Take a short drive to the Everglades National Park or down to the Florida Keys.

Five Words that Describe Miami Beach

“Multicultural, Gourmet, Fashion, Art, Nightlife”

Interesting Facts about Miami Beach

  • In 1895, as an unprecedented freeze destroyed orange crops throughout the South, a woman named Julia Tuttle convinced railroad tycoon Henry Flagler to extend his railway from Central Florida to the Everglades, and to build a town where the line ended. “Tuttle persuaded Flagler by mailing him a healthy orange blossom in the middle of the freeze, thus becoming the only woman to found a major U.S. city,” Macho says.

  • The first suntan lotion was invented in Miami Beach in 1944 by pharmacist Benjamin Green.

Oahu, Hawaii

The most populous of Hawaii’s islands, Oahu offers plenty of urban amenities, particularly in the buzzing state capital of Honolulu. Yet Oahu, the third largest of Hawaii’s islands, has “a decidedly remote feel” as well, says Charlie Aldinger, public relations manager at The Kahala Hotel & Resort. “Oahu has all the refinements of a great American city, like fine arts and cultural organizations, diverse cuisine and international retail outlets,” he says. “Yet it also has all the natural assets and amenities of a rural tropical island: fabulous beaches, remote mountain hikes, unique rural communities — like Laie, Kailua and Haleiwa — that are full of local color and characters, and street food from a variety of cultures.” Glynis Esmail, vice president for marketing and e-commerce at Landmark Hotels Group, which manages The Kahala Hotel & Resort, says the name Oahu captures the island perfectly. “For me, Oahu is exactly what it means in Hawaiian: ‘the gathering place,’” she says. “It’s a hub of all the diverse cultures represented in the islands, and this makes everyone feel at home on Oahu.”

Aerial view of Kualoa Point and Chinamans Hat at Kaneohe Bay, Oahu Getty/PB57photos

Five Must-Do Experiences on Oahu

  • Experience living history at the USS Arizona Memorial.

  • Climb Diamond Head, also known as Leahi, and go inside the 760-foot tuff crater.

  • “Take in the majestic scenery and surfing beaches of the North Shore, then stop in Haleiwa for lunch,” Esmail suggests.

  • Spend the day shopping in Waikiki.

  • “Visit Iolani Palace, a national historic landmark and the only official state residence of royalty in the United States,” Esmail recommends.

Five Words that Describe Oahu

“Exhilarating, Beautiful, Diverse, Relaxing, Inviting”

Interesting Facts about Oahu

  • “Electric lights illuminated Oahu’s Iolani Palace four years before the White House in Washington, D.C. had them,” Aldinger says.

  • Hawaii is the only U.S. state whose land area is increasing (from volcanic eruptions).

  • The Hawaii state flag has the British Union flag on it. “The state was named the Sandwich Isles by the British,” according to Esmail.

  • Hawaii is the only U.S. state that grows coffee. Coffee plantations in Hawaii cover 6,200 acres. “In 2003, 8.5 million pounds of coffee were produced,” Aldinger says.

Puerto Rico

At an ample 110 miles long and 40 miles wide, “Puerto Rico, located in the northeastern Caribbean Ocean, is a diverse island with a lively culture,” says Gina Morales, luxury marketing manager at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort. Wilhelm Sack, general manager at The Horned Dorset Primavera, agrees, noting that Puerto Rico — which forms part of the Greater Antilles, along with Cuba, Hispaniola and Jamaica — is “so close to home, yet a world by itself with its own culture.”

San Juan, Puerto Rico historic Fort San Felipe Del Morro Getty/SeanPavonePhoto

Five Must-Do Experiences on Puerto Rico

  • Visit El Yunque, “the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest system,” suggests Sack.

  • Explore the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

  • Sample the local cuisine, including plantain-based dishes. Morales recommends mofongo, which consists of fried green plantains, garlic and pork cracklings.

  • “Marvel at one of the glowing, blue-green bioluminescent bays in Fajardo or Vieques,” says Morales.

  • Drive the panoramic route through the Central Mountains.

Five Words that Describe Puerto Rico

“Exotic, Paradise, Gorgeous, Festive, Happy”

Interesting Facts about Puerto Rico

“The islands of Puerto Rico — with Puerto Rico as the largest — are actually an archipelago, with more than 143 islands, cays, islets and atolls,” notes Morales. One of the larger islands, Mona, is “our own Galapagos,” she says.

Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Located in the Strait of Georgia between the mainland of British Columbia and Vancouver Island, Salt Spring Island is the largest of the Southern Gulf Islands. Yet despite its proximity to the major urban areas of Vancouver and Victoria, Salt Spring Island “is a respite from the hectic lifestyles of the city, a place to relax, disconnect and decompress,” says Kelly McAree, general manager at Hastings House. Indeed, McAree says people return time and again to Salt Spring Island. “The natural landscape, freshest food and the ‘island time’ attitude — as well as the close proximity to major urban centers — blends the best of two worlds,” she says.

The Manor House at Hastings House Country House Hotel Hastings House Country House Hotel

Five Must-Do Experiences on Salt Spring Island

  • Visit Mount Maxwell Provincial Park, the highest point on Salt Spring Island, with views stretching from Victoria to Vancouver.

  • Go on a crabbing expedition with Hastings House staff, who also show guests how to prepare the crab. Then enjoy a four-course dinner featuring the crabs you trapped.

  • “Take a kayaking adventure with Island Escapades to explore the islands through Ganges Harbour,” McAree suggests.

  • Visit three distinctive wineries on Salt Spring: Mistaken Identity, Garry Oaks and Salt Spring Vineyards.

  • Take a self-guided “Studio Tour,” visiting weavers, potters, jewelers and other notable local artisans.

Five Words that Describe Salt Spring Island

“Natural, Organic, Peaceful, Artistic, Beautiful”

Interesting Facts about Salt Spring Island

  • Salt Spring Island’s original settlers included English as well as Hawaiians, “who came on merchant ships and escaped slavery from the United States,” according to McAree. Another influx of immigrants came in the 1960s, when draft dodgers came to the island. “Among these three groups, a unique cultural environment exists on the island to this day,” she says.

  • The island has natural, organic farms and quaint artists’ studios that mix with Ganges, the island’s busy urban center.

Sea Island, Georgia

Sea Island lies just off the southern Atlantic Coast, forming part of the Golden Isles of Georgia together with Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island and Little St. Simons Island. This island is “a perfect destination for couples, families, girlfriends’ spa trips and golfers,” says Sasha McNeal of the Andrew Harper Travel Office.

Aerial view of the pool at The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club

Five Must-Do Experiences on Sea Island

  • Take an early morning walk along the beach.

  • Dine at Colt & Alison, recommends McNeal.

  • Listen to the bagpipes at sunset at The Lodge.

  • Grab a bike and cycle around the island.

  • Play a round of golf on one of three championship golf courses.

Five Words that Describe Sea Island

“Genteel, Charming, Unhurried, Hospitable, Refined”

Interesting Fact about Sea Island

Sea Island hosted the G8 Summit in 2004.

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