5 southern islands to visit (by boat only!)

The mild summer invites us to the coast, and we have found some destinations with ample shores. These islands are surrounded by water and accessible only by boat (or plane, in a few cases). Whether you want to relax in an ultra-luxury resort or explore wildlife in a tech-free eco-paradise, there’s something for everyone on these southern islands – once you ditch the car!

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

The moment you get off the ferry on Daufuskie Island, you are enveloped in Spanish moss and rich Gullah history. Without department stores, gas stations, stoplights, cars or hotels, it’s as if the island is stuck in a simpler time that the mainland wants to return to. A few hundred locals welcome intrigued tourists to their magical little island – just five miles by three miles – at the southern tip of the Carolinas. Mother Nature shows off for Daufuskie tourists: bottlenose dolphin fins dot the horizon, loggerhead sea turtles nest on the shore every spring, and rare Marsh Tacky horses roam the island (dating back 500 years in the area).

The Strachan Mansion at Haig Point was originally built in 1910 on St. Simons Island, GA as a summer retreat. In 1986, it took developers three days to move the mansion through treacherous waters to Daufuskie Island using two barges. It is now a well appointed four suite inn. Image: Haig Point

Consisting mostly of dirt roads and conservatories, the car-free island has two historic accommodations available for booking – The Strachan Mansion and 1873 Lighthouse – both within Haig Point, the only private residential community on the island. Soak up the sun on pristine white sand beaches, play the top-rated golf course, and horseback ride on the beach. Daufuskie is also home to the best-preserved tabby-walled Civil War-era single slave dwellings in the south and one of only two island distilleries in the country. There’s even an open-air art gallery that operates on the honor system, where you might find a souvenir to take home.

Daufuskie SC Island Lighthouse

Work began on Haig Point Lighthouse in 1873, but Daufuskie Island’s history dates back to 1735. Read about it here. Image: Haig Point

Bald Head Island, North Carolina

Board the 20-minute ferry from Southport, NC (a lovely destination in itself!), and let the salty wind in your hair welcome you to bald head island. The remote and unspoiled barrier island is part of The Brunswick Islands of North Carolina and has attracted onlookers since the days of the pirates. Climb the 108 steps to the top of the state’s oldest lighthouse, old baldfor sweeping views of the island, then visit the Smith’s Island History Museum to learn about the maritime history of Bald Head Island.

Bald Head Island Old Blady

North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse, “Old Baldy”, has marked the mouth of the historic Cape Fear River since it was built in 1817. Smith Island Museum is housed in a charming replica of the 1850s lighthouse keeper’s house. bald head island

Savor delicious coastal cuisine at Delphina and Jailhouse Provisions, then ice cream Mike’s bites Where Sandpiper. Bald Head is filled with top-notch golf courses, lush nature trails, and plenty of places to hang out canoes and sailboats. With plenty of relaxing and laid-back vibes, this island offers some of the most vibrant sunsets you’ve ever seen.

Sapelo Island, Georgia

Sapelo is one of the largest barrier islands in Georgia’s coastal island chain between the Savannah and St. Mary rivers. Accessible only by ferry, Sapelo offers a wealth of fun activities, educational resources, and primitive accommodation options for curious visitors willing to make the trip. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources operates the ferry service and connects the two environmental education and research institutions to the civilian community of Hog Hammock: a permanent home of less than 100 full-time residents, many of whom are descended from slave labor from the Sapelo plantations.

The RJ Reynolds Mansion pool surrounded by Spanish moss.

After its original construction in 1810, Reynolds Mansion was restored by automobile pioneer Howard Coffin in 1925 and tobacco heir Richard J. Reynolds in the 1940s. Georgia State Parks

The striking structure on the island is the RJ Reynolds Mansion, built by Thomas Spalding in 1810. Groups can stay in the mansion (they host many weddings!), set up camp at the public campground at Cabretta Beach or rent one of the few vacation rentals. A kind of underwater park, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary champions the region’s loggerhead sea turtles, endangered North Atlantic right whales and 200 species of fish through boating, fishing, scuba diving and education on aquatic creatures.

Sapelo Island Lighthouse

Besides the must-see mansion and striped lighthouse, explore the island’s 200-year-old homes rich in Gullah-Geechee culture and heritage. Image: Georgia State Parks

Little Palm Island, Florida

The only private seaside resort in the country, Small island with palm trees is a chic adults-only paradise off Little Torch Key, Florida. From the moment you step off the yacht transfer included with your stay (or seaplane, if you wish), you’re surrounded by tropical elegance and all the amenities you could possibly need.

Little Palm Island outdoor suite on the beach with hammock and fire pit

Thatched-roof bungalow suites, open-air lounges and bars, tiki torches and fire pits, and vibrant jungle landscaping transport you out of the United States and into the British West Indies. Image: Small island with palm trees

Beyond the beach and pool, there are paddle boards, snorkeling gear, kayaks, sailboats, and four Boston Whalers to take to the nearby reefs and sandbars. Water activities, a deluxe indoor-outdoor spa, and delicious cuisine will keep you unplugged and busy for as long as you want…for a pretty hefty nightly rate.

Little Palm Island, FL from above

The island is the resort and the resort is the island. Image: Small island with palm trees

Dewees Island, South Carolina

Just north of Charleston is a remarkably private 1,200-acre beachfront island filled with protected parkland, miles of private beach, and a cultural community. Abundant in wildlife, Native American tribes like the Sewee (which loosely translates to “islanders”) called Dewee one of their hunting islands. A 20 minute ferry ride from Isle of Palms brings you to a golf cart dock where a simpler pace of life begins.

Sunset over Dewees Island

You must own, rent a home, or be invited by someone to stay on Dewees. Currently, about half of the maximum 150 designated lots on the island are developed or underway. Image: Judy Fairchild for Dewees Island, South Carolina

A well-appointed clubhouse features a swimming pool, rotating art exhibits, cocktail parties, barbecues, book clubs and more. Although it’s not even two square miles, the island has plenty of places to fish, canoe, kayak, jog, and view wildlife. This gem remains unknown and unexplored by many Carolina residents, and it could be your new home.

Dewees Island clubhouse Huyler House aerial

The Huyler House is the center of the Dewees community and offers four suites for future owners or guests of current residents. Image: Dewees Island, South Carolina

Let’s set our watches to island time this summer!


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