Sometimes you just need to get away from it all, to a different kind of time—island time. Here’s a list of fun islands to visit, off the Pacific Coast, in Puget Sound, and on Hawaii Island.
Catalina Island, California: Catalina’s Airport in the Sky is just 26 miles from bustling Los Angeles, yet feels like a world away. It’s the first place I flew my family after earning my certificate and SoCal’s most popular “$100 hamburger” stop. A shuttle ride down from the airport takes you to picturesque Avalon, set into a cove. Relive the swinging Big Band Era as you dance and dine at a black-tie ball; take in the jazz festival; see colorful fish in a pristine kelp habitat via scuba, kayak, or submersible; fly the zip line; or visit the shops. Most of the island is undeveloped, and the native flora and fauna have been restored by the Catalina Island Conservancy. Hike the 37-mile Trans-Catalina Trail or just relax above it all at the Inn at Mount Ada. (Watch "Flying to Catalina Island.")
Vashon Island, Washington: This large island lies just north of Tacoma. A lack of bridges to the mainland contributes to Vashon’s isolation and rural character. Vashon Municipal Airport has a turf runway near the Palouse Winery, which is owned by a pilot and offers tastings and occasional special dinners. Rent a kayak or e-bike and paddle around the island or explore galleries, woodsy trails, sandy beaches, the lighthouse, and saltwater marsh. The berry stands and summer farmer’s market are outstanding.
Whidbey Island, Washington: Land at Whidbey Air Park and walk to the Mukilteo Coffee Roaster’s Café in the Woods for fresh breakfasts (how about Cranberry Cardamom Griddle Cakes), lovely salads, and gourmet sandwiches.
San Juan Island, Washington: Walk to Friday Harbor from Friday Harbor Airport or Seaplane Base, where you can board a whale-watching boat, rent a bike or take a kayak tour, and browse the shops. Ride a horse at Horseshu Ranch, play golf or tennis, or try the Lakedale Resort, which can provide all you need for a great escape.
Orcas Island, Washington: Orcas Island is often called the Gem of the San Juans. It’s a paradise of quiet, tree-lined lanes that beckon cyclists, as well as cozy B&Bs, all capped by Mt. Constitution, which offers panoramic views of Puget Sound. Moran State Park offers several lakes and 38 miles of hiking trails. Go see orcas, ride a bike or horse, or grab a kayak before you make your way to charming Eastsound and its many restaurants.
Hawaii, the Big Island: It will take more than tip tanks on your Bonanza to get there, so hop an airline to Kona International Airport, on the island’s dry side, and pay a visit to Michael Lauro at Tropicbird Flight Service. He has a 180-horsepower Cessna 172 or a Diamond Eclipse with a large canopy for great views. Take the Island Adventure Flying Course and fly around Hawaii Island to see turquoise waters, mystical waterfalls, and the active Kilauea Crater, with smoking cones and red lava. Two massive volcanoes each rise to over 13,600 feet msl, but they’re actually taller than Mount Everest, rising over 33,000 feet from the sea floor. Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa trap rain on their windward sides (think Hilo). The dry-side Kohala Coast is lined with uber-luxe resorts: Hilton, Marriott, Fairmont, Four Seasons, Mauna Lani, Hapuna Prince, and Mauna Kea. Having visited them all I’m hard-pressed to pick one but you can swim with dolphins at the Hilton; the Fairmont’s cove has incredible snorkeling (usually with turtles); the Four Seasons offers a 1.8-million-gallon pond that’s like swimming in an aquarium; and the Mauna Kea has my favorite architecture and beach, plus a world-class golf course.