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.
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.
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.
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.
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.