A Guide to the South’s Most Beautiful Islands

Destinations

Ocean breezes, warm sand between your toes, dining al fresco on the shoreline – this must be paradise. And here in the South, paradise isn’t hard to come by. Vacationers have their choice of stunning island destinations that cater to every interest, whether you’re looking for unspoiled beaches, historic architecture, fresh seafood, or family-friendly activities.
What follows are our area’s best island escapes for some fun in the sun.

By Mary Beth Wallace

Photos Courtesy of Haig Point

Daufuskie Island 

South Carolina

Live oaks dripping in Spanish moss are a common sight on Daufuskie Island, a remote retreat that invites visitors to step back in time. Just off the coast of Hilton Head Island and accessible only by boat, Daufuskie is steeped in Gullah culture – in fact, the entire island is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Birdwatching, biking, kayaking, and oceanfront horseback rides are some of the most popular activities on the island, although a guided tour is the best way to explore while learning about Daufuskie’s unique history. Seafood aficionados, take note: While only a handful of dining establishments dot the island, their selection of fresh catches is sure to please. 

 

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Photos Courtesy of Hunter McCrae and Gabriel Hanway

 

Cumberland Island

Georgia

Hop on the Cumberland Island Ferry to reach an island celebrated for its tranquil scenery and storied history. The first thing to note is that lodging options are limited – unless you’re planning a day trip, your choices are a camp site or the posh all-inclusive Greyfield Inn, a former Carnegie residence. Cumberland Island is also home to a population of wild horses that roams freely along the sandy, undeveloped beaches. Opportunities for swimming, fishing, hiking, and biking abound on the island, and several points of interest, including the Dungeness Ruins and 22,000-square-foot Plum Orchard Mansion, are not to be missed. 

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Photos Courtesy of Bald Head Island Limited

 

Bald Head Island

North Carolina

Leave the car behind when you venture to Bald Head Island, where golf carts, bicycles, and trams are the primary forms of transportation. With 12,000 acres to explore – including 10,000 acres of untouched beach, marsh, and maritime forest preserves – this subtropical island is ripe for adventure. Rent a kayak or standup paddleboard, sail through the island’s waterways, play a round of golf at the Bald Head Island Club, or simply soak up some sun on one of three beaches. No matter how you choose to spend your hard-earned vacation time, don’t head home before climbing 108 stairs to reach the top of Old Baldy, North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse. 

 

Egret standing in front of lighthouse on Bald Head Island

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Photos Courtesy of Chad Hatcher, Xtreme Heights Productions

 

Sanibel Island

Florida

Although a longer drive than our other destinations, Sanibel’s seashell-filled beaches are worth the extra mileage. These captivating white beaches have even popularized the “Sanibel Stoop” – a posture taken on by visitors in search of the perfect seashell souvenir. While more shell action can be found at The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, Sanibel has more to offer beyond these pastel beauties. The island is also a nature lover’s paradise with bird-packed wildlife refuges, blooming botanical gardens, and miles of bike paths. Evenings are best spent enjoying the local dining scene before catching one of Sanibel’s legendary sunsets.     

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sand dunes on the beach at Kiawah Island

Photo Courtesy of Keely Laughlin, Town of Kiawah Island

 

Kiawah Island

South Carolina

Renowned for its award-winning golf courses set against stunning ocean vistas, Kiawah Island boasts small-town charm mixed with exciting amenities. Set up a tee time at one of the island’s five public golf courses, although the Ocean Course – designed by Pete and Alice Dye – is said to be among the best, and most challenging, in the nation. If golf isn’t your game, don’t fret. Kiawah features 10 miles of fine-sand beaches, 30 miles of bike paths, and Freshfields Village, a unique open-air community of boutiques, retail shops, dining, and more. Alternatively, venture down the tree-shaded Kiawah River for an up-close view of the island’s diverse ecosystem.

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