America’s “Greatest Islands?” Barrier Islands In Three Southeast States Top The List

Dreaming of a getaway? Island escapes are often on the minds of millions of would-be travelers. See some options voted “the greatest” islands in Travel & Leisure survey.

Islands In Continental U.S. Rated Best In 2021 By U.S. Readers of Travel & Leisure Magazine

For U.S. travelers opting to stick closer to home, here are the top ten islands (Continental USA), according to Travel & Leisure magazine’s latest list. Various travel categories are featured in the magazine’s 26th annual “World’s Best Awards Survey,” (October 2021 issue).

The Best of Southern Coastal Hospitality

Half of the top ten are barrier islands located in three southern states — Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. The list reflects survey results, as voted by Travel & Leisure’s U.S. readers. Travel experiences get scored a numerical value, according how Travel & Leisure readers vote. Specifically, the following are considered in the reader surveys:

“Activities and sights, natural attractions and beaches, food, friendliness, and overall value.”

SOURCE: Travel & Leisure magazine
Along the river, sunset at Fort Clinch State Park. Photo by Amelia Island Living magazine.
Barrier Island Sunset — Fort Clinch State Park, Amelia Island, FL

Naturally, Amelia Island Living will mention our namesake first.

Amelia Island No. 3, Travel & Leisure’s top rated islands in 2021 with a score of 85.35.

Three Years In A Row, Amelia Island Lands On Top 10 List

A Southern barrier island on America’s eastern seaboard at the Florida-Georgia border, Amelia Island, FL has been voted one of the “Top 10” islands by Travel & Leisure’s readers multiple times in recent years.

Scenes of Amelia Island, Florida — Amelia Island Living photo gallery

Once again, Amelia Island is in good company. The top rating in 2021 (Continental US) went to Hilton Head, SC at #1 (score 87.77), followed by Kiawah Island at #2, also in South Carolina (score 86.27). Whether thinking about a trip sooner or later (perhaps keeping a “bucket list”), the ten islands listed below are food for thought.

Top ten islands (Continental USA) 2021 list, as rated by Travel & Leisure magazine readers:

  1. Hilton Head, South Carolina
  2. Kiawah Island, South Carolina
  3. Amelia Island, Florida
  4. San Juan Islands, Washington
  5. Long Boat Key, Florida
  6. Nantucket, Massachusetts
  7. Golden Islands, Georgia
  8. Mount Desert Island, Maine
  9. Mackinac Island, Michigan
  10. The Florida Keys
Road Tripping To America’s Islands

These days, many travelers are opting for road trips rather than flying due to the pandemic. For those getting behind the wheel, some of the American islands listed here are ideal, get-in-your-car-and-go destinations. Road trips may also fit budgets better, eliminating the cost of airline tickets and also to avoid the need for rental cars. (Getting a rental vehicle has become more costly this year due to inventory shortages.)

Is A Ferry Required?

Do note that some of the islands in this “Top 10” list require a ferry ride, such as the San Juan Islands, Nantucket and Mackinac Island. Extra time/planning is usually needed to book ferry reservations well in advance, plus extra transportation costs. Others on the list are accessible by bridge, including the three Southern barrier islands in the top spots — Hilton Head, Kiawah, and Amelia.

Worldwide, COVID-19 crushed travel for many months in 2020. Leisure travel gained traction in the first half of 2021 with access to vaccines with amazing efficacy. But the emergence of the Delta variant since has hampered some travel plans, especially international and in-person business meetings. Delta also put the brakes on remote workers returning to brick and mortar offices.

 “Given the seismic upheaval the travel industry has endured, locally and globally, it’s reassuring to know that Amelia Island is still so highly regarded as one of the world’s top island destinations by seasoned travelers such as the readers of Travel+Leisure,” said Gil Langley, President of the Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.

More About Amelia Island & Downtown Fernandina Beach

Anchored by the Fernandina Harbor Marina, Fernandina’s downtown historic district has homes and buildings dating back to the 1800s. Travelers love exploring this foot-friendly hub of activity, admiring its Victorian-era architecture, including several historic bed & breakfast inns.

While popular for its beaches and posh resorts, what makes Amelia Island stand out is its city on the Amelia River, Fernandina Beach. Here at the Florida-Georgia border, it’s a Southern slice of coastal small-town America. With a riverfront history rooted in maritime activities, the railroad, commercial shrimping and paper mills, downtown Fernandina is a place not to be missed when visiting Amelia Island.

Things To Do In Fernandina Beach

Activities popular with visitors downtown include sight-seeing tours by land and by water. Visitors can hop aboard a boat for a pleasure cruise from the Fernandina’s downtown marina, or take a fishing charter. Prefer to stay on shore? Then take a van or trolley while listening to tales about Fernandina and its history.

Enjoy a variety of both fine dining and casual restaurants, plus pubs like the famous Palace Saloon. Nibble sweets from baked goods and fudge shops or coffee and tea purveyors. Plus there are plenty of browsing options, from art galleries and antiques to cute boutiques and gift shops.

Popular with local residents and visitors alike, many of Amelia Island’s top annual events and festivals happen in downtown Fernandina. See related news, Fernandina Beach Fall 2021 Festivals & Events.

Related Content

Travel & Leisure World’s Best Awards Survey (26th annual), includes “the greatest islands, cities, hotels, cruise lines, airports” and more. Note that T & L’s top rated islands in the Continental US 2021 presents fifteen islands. Amelia Island Living slimmed the number to the top ten. Visit Travel & Leisure website to see all award categories and full details.