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20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast

20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com

There's nothing like digging your toes in the sand and escaping from the rest of the world for a few hours on a sunny summer's day. Thankfully, for those of us living in or visiting the Southern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, the Atlantic coast is rife with choices on places to do so. 

While there are many, many beaches along this stretch of coastline, here are places unconnected from the mainland where you can live the island life. 

North Carolina
1) Outer Banks
The most famous of the North Carolina islands, the Outer Banks are actually one long string of islands that reach into Virginia. While the miles of beach are a major attraction, there are some beautiful lighthouses to climb (those hundreds of stairs are worth the view at the top), a mystery to uncover (the Roanoke Colony in the 1600s disappeared without a trace!), and two important brothers to remember (Wilbur and Orville Wright, the inventors behind the first airplane that flew!). 

2) Carolina Beach
This island has an aquarium at one end and a park on the other. And what do you find in the middle? A wide, flat beach that allows you to do two things that are nearly unheard of in this day and age: 1) drive on the beach, and 2) camp on the beach. While I actively try to avoid camping of any sort, my husband went with friends a few years back and had a blast!

South Carolina

3) Pawley's Island
Their motto is "shabby chic," and, indeed, the weatherbeaten cottages on this tiny spit of land south of Myrtle Beach have their own kind of class. Other than the quiet life it offers (there are no stoplights or stores on the island), this part of the Hammock Coast is known for the Grey Man ghost who reportedly shows up before a hurricane hit and warns homeowners to leave. According to legend, those who see him will have their homes spared in the storm. 

4) Isle of Palms
20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com

Of those on the list, this island and the one next on the list are closest to my heart since I grew up on them. Isle of Palms has come into its own in the last twenty years or so, as it now has a beautiful county park right on the ocean, as well as multiple places to eat and shop near the pier. You won't find any high rise hotels or apartments here, though, as IOP has committed itself to staying local and quaint. 

5) Sullivans Island
Even more low key than Isle of Palms, Sullivans Island doesn't have any stoplights (just one blinking crossing light) or hotels. It does, however, have some amazing restaurants--Poe's Tavern is my personal favorite--and a beach that usually only draws locals. Be careful, though, and don't swim anywhere near the harbor end of the island as there are some horrible currents caused by the tanker ships.

6) Folly Beach
Of the three major islands around Charleston, Folly Beach has a lock on quirkiness! There's a beautiful beach that offers the best waves in Charleston, and the Washout is a favorite surfing spot. Folly Beach is more developed than Sullivans and IOP, so you've got more choices on where to stay and eat. 

7) Edisto Island
No stoplights--and only handful of stop signs. What Edisto Island does have are miles of bicycle paths, cute stores, and hundreds of family-owned beach houses. Unlike some of the other island spots along the South Carolina coast, Edisto's homes are (relatively) inexpensive, and most have been in the same family since the island began major development in the late 60s. 

8 & 9) Kiawah Island & Seabrook Island
20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com
The Sanctuary Hotel on Kiawah Island

I put these two together since they're right next one another, and they share a main shopping and dining area. Both of them are ritzy and offer some of the most expensive real estate on the South Carolina coast. Kiawah Island is known for its golf courses and was where the 2011 U.S. Open was held. 

10) Hilton Head Island
Another popular town for golfing and family vacation, HHI has all of its businesses tucked away from the main roads. Driving through the island, you see lots of palm trees and greenery, but very few business signs--by design. If you're in town, you have to head to the Salty Dog Cafe for some pizza and one of their famous shirts. 

11) Daufuskie Island
20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com
Daufuskie's main street

A little known gem of a place just off the tip of Hilton Head, Daufuskie Island is only accessible by ferry and has no cars on it. Pat Conroy, the Southern author, taught here in his early career, and wrote his first novel, The Water is Wide, based on his experiences here. 


12) Cumberland Island
Another island with ferry-only access, Cumberland Island is a great place to explore an unspoiled barrier island. Rent a bicycle to see more of the island, or take a tour led by park rangers to see the ruins of the 22,000 square foot house that the Carnegies built here in the early 1900s. There are two different places to camp on the island, but visitors need to bring all of their supplies.

13) Jekyll Island
20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com

Originally started as a winter hunting lodge for the likes of the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Carnegies, Jekyll Island is now a state park. You can still stay at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, which has been completely refurbished, and tour some of the cottages in the historic district. There's also a beautiful driftwood beach on the northern end, and a wide, flat beach along the eastern side. 

14) St. Simons Island
Another of the Golden Isles (along with Jekyll), St. Simons was once composed of several cotton plantations. Now, it boasts an adorable downtown area and several award-winning hotels including the King and Prince. Make sure to stop by the lighthouse!

15) Tybee Island
Just a few miles away from downtown Savannah, Tybee Island is popular with vacationers and Savannahians alike. The island is quite populated and has adorable, brightly colored houses tucked down its side streets. There are plenty of shops and restaurants, so, if you choose to vacation here, you won't ever need to leave the island!


16) Amelia Island
One of Florida's barrier islands, Amelia Island has quite the storied past, and local historians claim that eight different flags have flown after this island during its existence (French, Spanish, British, Patriot, Green Cross, Mexican, Confederate, and United States). Nowadays, it's home to multiple golf courses and the Eight Flags Shrimp Festival.

17) St. Augustine Beach
For those visiting St. Augustine who need a break from the history of the downtown area, St. Augustine Beach offers camping and relaxation just a few miles from the hustle and bustle of St. Augustine. I can remember staying here when I was very little with my parents in my grandparents' motorhome. Good times were had by all!

18) Miami Beach (Fisher Island and Grove Isle)
20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com

The lights and Art Deco buildings along South Beach are world famous--and for a good reason. When you're done with the beach for the day, all you've got to do is hop over to the restaurants and nightclubs across the street. Fisher Island, part of the Miami metropolis area, has one of the highest per capita incomes in the United States, and is only accessible by private boat. Grove Isle is another private island where you can go to escape the world--and, best of all, there's an award-winning spa to help you do so.

19) Key Biscayne
Located just south of Miami Beach, Key Biscayne is a fairly large island with condominiums, schools, shopping, and dining. With four different beaches to explore, Key Biscayne isn't just a residential area. Pack a picnic and while away the day at Crandon Park, or dine al fresco by the ocean over on Key Biscayne's main street. 

20) Florida Keys
20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com
Hemingway House, Key West, Florida Keys

A trip to the tropics without ever leaving the U.S., the Florida Keys are a series of islands trailing from just off the coast of Miami all the way down nearly to Cuba. Party the night away on Duvall Street in Key West, or kayak in the mangroves off of Islamorada. Don't forget to grab a slice of key lime pie-- despite what some imitators might try to convince you, real key lime pie is yellow, not green.


While these are some of my favorite islands along the Southern Atlantic coast, there are many, many more. Which ones do you think should have made the list? Have you been to any of the ones listed above? Which is your favorite?