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Island Flying Adventures: Pacific Coast islands and HawaiiIsland Flying Adventures: Pacific Coast islands and Hawaii

Editor's note: This article was updated June 12 to reflect additional information about flying in Hawaii.

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.

  • Fly yourself all around the Big Island of Hawai‘i in a Diamond Eclipse from Tropicbird Flight Service. Photo courtesy Michael Lauro.
  • Avalon Harbor, Catalina Island, seen from the air. Photo courtesy Wikimedia commons.
  • Bright orange garibaldi, California’s state fish, gather in Avalon harbor, as seen through the window of a submersible boat. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • The Catalina Island fox, endemic to Catalina and once nearly extinct, is now plentiful again. The island is also home to bison and bald eagles. Photo courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy.
  • An aircraft parked at Copalis State Beach in southern Washington. Photo courtesy Jelson25 Wikimedia commons.
  • Don’t leave your bike in a tree for years, or the tree will grow around it. The Bike Tree is one of Vashon Island’s oddties. Photo by Sea Turtle via flickr.
  • Horseshu Ranch on San Juan Island can take you on a ride through the forest. Photo courtesy San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.
  • Numerous whale watching tours depart from both Friday Harbor and Orcas Island. Sights include humpback whales, sea lions, and Puget Sound’s famous resident orcas. Photo by Jim Maya courtesy San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.
  • Kangaroo House B&B on Orcas Island is a cozy retreat with a lush garden and hot tub in the back yard. Photo courtesy Kangaroo B&B.
  • A view of Mt. Baker and Puget Sound from Mt. Constitution, the highest point on Orcas Island. Photo by RJ courtesy San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.
  • Many artisans, especially potters, have made their homes on Orcas Island. When you’re out for a bike ride, it’s not uncommon to come across locally hand-made pottery for sale. Photo by Orcas Island Scenics courtesy San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.
  • Kayakers return to a cove on Orcas Island. Photo by Robert Demar courtesy San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.
  • Flying just off the Kohala Coast on the Island of Hawai‘i, on the island’s dry side. The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is visible under the plane. Its beach is rated as one of the 10 best in the world. The Mauna Kea volcano rises to 13,796 feet MSL in the background and its summit is dotted with observatories. Photo courtesy Michael Lauro.
  • Flying just offshore on the wetter, windward northeast side of the Island of Hawai‘i, where numerous waterfalls cascade down steep cliffs. Southwest of Hilo, you can fly over the active Kilauea volcano. Photo courtesy Michael Lauro.
  • To feel his weight the author gently lifts Nimbus, an 8-foot Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. Visitors can feed and play with a dolphin and even feel its heart beat. Photo courtesy Dolphin Quest.
  • While out on an outrigger trip from the Fairmont Orchid Hawai‘i the author chanced upon Danny Akaka (on the right) from the Mauna Lani Resort, and friends. They were blessing a new outrigger canoe built over two years from native koa wood as it entered the water for the first time. Akaka once rowed from Hawaii to Japan. Photo by Crista Worthy.

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.")

Copalis State Beach, Washington: This isn’t on an island, but Copalis State Airport, on the southern Washington coast, is the only official beach airport we know of in the United States. Runway 14/32 is bounded by the surf to the west, a pile of boulders to the north, and the Copalis River to the south. Check tide tables, land when the tide is out, and keep an eye on your airplane. Watch for pedestrians, especially during the razor clam digging season, and enjoy the surf!

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.

A rainbow arcs over Friday Harbor, on San Juan Island. Walk here from the airport to shop, dine, or board a whale watching tour. Photo courtesy San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.

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.

Traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian dances are performed during a luau at the Marriott Waikoloa Beach Resort & Spa. Photo by Crista Worthy.

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. 

Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as both the managing editor of Pilot Getaways magazine and editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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