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Island flying adventures: Gulf Coast islandsIsland flying adventures: Gulf Coast islands

Here’s a list of fun islands to visit along the Gulf Coast. But before you relax with your margarita, be alert for crowded skies and special-use airspace. An IFR flight plan or VFR flight following is highly recommended when flying the Gulf Coast.

  • A little slice of paradise on Padres Island, Texas. Photo courtesy National Park Service.
  • Dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon, Florida take a wounded Iraq War veteran for a swim around the lagoon. Photo by James Brooks via Flickr.
  • Skipper the green turtle at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida. Photo by Yuxan Wang via Flickr.
  • Hemingway’s Underwood typewriter in the Hemingway home in Key West, Florida. Photo by Roman Boed via Flickr.
  • Downtown Key West, Florida. Photo by Evangelio Gonzalez via Flickr.
  • Kayak the quiet inlets around Ten Thousand Islands, near Marco Island. Photo courtesy Marco Island Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Beach camping on Marco Island, Florida. Courtesy Marco Island Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Frolic with dolphins on a Waverunner tour. Photo courtesy Langer and Michaels of Captain Ron’s Everglades.
  • Charter a boat off Marco Island for the best in offshore fishing. Photo courtesy Enterprise Charter Fishing.
  • South Marco Beach is loaded with beautiful seashells. Photo courtesy Langer and Michaels of Captain Ron’s Everglades.
  • Sunset on Cedar Key, Florida. Photo by DFB Photos via Flickr.
  • The uncrowded beaches of St. George Island, off the Florida panhandle, are perfect for beachcombers and couples. Photo by Tim Menzies via Flickr.
  • A MOAB glide bomb at the Air Force Armament Museum on Santa Rosa Island, Florida. Photo by Greg Goebel.
  • The pure quartz white-sand beaches of Santa Rosa Island won’t burn your toes, even on the hottest days. Photo by Tobin, via Flickr.
  • A Kemp’s ridley hatchling on Padres Island National Seashore. Photo courtesy NPS.

Marathon, Florida: Some 800 islands and reefs comprise the Florida Keys, with Florida Keys Marathon International Airport at the chain’s center. Marathon is a hub for water-based recreation: Think white-sand beaches and palm trees, world-class deep sea fishing, boating, kayaking among mangroves, scuba diving among shipwrecks and coral reefs—you can even swim with a dolphin or visit a sea turtle hospital. For open-air fun above the water, take a flightseeing tour in a beautiful Waco biplane.

Key West, Florida: Rebels, authors, and artists have long found a haven in Key West. Your “key” to the island’s raucous nightlife, dive bars, and high-end boutiques is Key West International Airport. Key West is very walkable, or just hop on and off the Old Town Trolley to see the Hemingway House, Key West Aquarium, museum, sculpture garden, shops, and Victorian homes. Ride in a glass-bottom boat or jet ski, go snorkeling or parasailing, or take in the Hemingway look-alike contest, held each July.  

Marco Island, Florida: Marco Island lies at the northern entrance to the Ten Thousand Islands, a chain of hundreds of uninhabited barrier islands that you can visit via kayak, WaveRunner, or powerboat. Beachcombers love the white-powder sands of South Marco Beach, loaded with unusual shells. Charter a boat for the best in offshore fishing or captain your own. Take a WaveRunner tour for close-up encounters with dolphins.

Cedar Key, Florida: Fly to George T. Lewis Airport to visit Cedar Key, a quaint, old-fashioned, tiny artist’s enclave. Stores and homes perch above the Gulf on stilts, people are friendly, and clocks seem completely irrelevant. Birding, boating, and fishing are popular, as are the raw bars and steamed clams in the small, locally owned restaurants. This is Old Florida at its finest.

The Denton Airport (4R9) runway is completely surrounded by water. Photo courtesy USDA.

St. George Island, Florida: St. George Island is a barrier island off the Florida panhandle—tranquil, uncrowded, with long beautiful beaches (leashed pets allowed) and seafood galore. Camp, rent a house, or stay in a hotel. Look for birds, dolphins, and sea turtles; go kayaking or fishing; visit the art galleries; and enjoy live music.

Santa Rosa Island, Florida: Despite the maze of special-use airspace, two VFR corridors intersect right over Destin Executive Airport, giving you access to the pure white Appalachian quartz beaches of Santa Rosa Island and the calm waters of Choctawhatchee Bay, perfect for exploration by kayak. Play a beautiful championship golf course less than a mile from the airport. Over 100 vessels—Florida’s largest charter fishing fleet—are docked in the Destin Harbor. Hike from towering coastal dunes to pine forests, or visit the Air Force Armament Museum at nearby Eglin Air Force Base.

Dauphin Island, Alabama:The Jeremiah Denton Airport runway is completely surrounded by water; pilots say it feels like landing on a 3,000-foot aircraft carrier. Take the summer shuttle or ask your hotel for pickup. Four hundred twenty species have been observed within the island’s bird sanctuaries. Visit Fort Gaines, one of America’s best-preserved Civil War-era masonry forts, to see historical reenactments. Walk past homes on stilts, under giant oaks, and beside ancient Native American shell middens. Take a boat cruise, go fishing, kayaking, biking, or golfing.

Schlitterbahn Galveston Water Park lies very close to the Scholes International Airport at Galveston (GLS). Photo courtesy Schlitterbahn Galveston Water Park.

Galveston Island, Texas: Scholes International at Galveston lies within walking distance of the Lone Star Flight Museum; Schlitterbahn Water Park; and Moody Gardens Hotel, golf course, and theme park/aquarium, where giant glass pyramids house sharks, monkeys, and other animals. Amusement rides and restaurants line Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, or visit bird-rich Galveston Island State Park with its trails, kayak launches, and fishing spots.

Mustang and Padre Islands, Texas: Fly to Mustang Beach Airport to access these barrier islands south of Corpus Christi. Revel in miles of wide-open beaches for surfing, swimming, or shelling. Charter a boat from Port Aransas or visit 113-mile-long Padre Island, the world’s longest barrier island, much of which has been left to nature. It’s the ultimate island getaway.

Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. 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. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. 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 editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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