When you’re dreaming of a tropical vacation, but both time and money are in short supply, you can find what you want without going too far. Whether you’re on the East or West Coast, a tropical destination is just a few hours away. There are islands, beach towns, and resorts that will satisfy that longing for balmy weather, palm trees, and icy cocktails topped with fruit and tiny umbrellas.
M Swiet Productions/Getty Images
Pack a swimsuit, shades, and sunscreen and leave the passport at home when you travel to one of these tropical vacation destinations in the U.S.
Key West, Florida
Matteo Colombo/Getty Images
Year-round warm weather plus 300 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico make Florida an ideal tropical vacation destination. Specifically, Key West, the southernmost point in the U.S., is home to beautiful beaches, palm-lined streets, and a casual vibe. Its history of cigar makers, literary figures, and explorers, along with its Bahamian-inspired conch-style architecture, enhance the destination’s overall mystique.
Sanibel Island, Florida
Vito Palmisano/Getty Images
Part of a group of barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of southwest Florida, Sanibel Island is known for its abundant seashells. White-sand beaches, warm waters, mild weather, and plenty of birds and other wildlife create a tropical environment. Visitors can enjoy golf, tennis, boating, biking, and searching for seashells.
Amelia Island, Florida
Located off the northeast coast of Florida and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway, Amelia Island offers beaches, rivers, dunes, and abundant native wildlife, including sea turtles. Boating, water sports, and searching for shark teeth along the shore are some favorite pastimes.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
George Dodd/Getty Images
Summer temperatures in the high 80s and Gulf of Mexico waters in the mid-80s make the southern shore of Alabama a great tropical vacation destination. Miles of beaches, fishing, boating, bird-watching, and a variety of water sports keep visitors entertained throughout the year.
Dauphin Island, Alabama
George Dodd/Getty Images
This dog-friendly barrier island is located three miles south of Mobile Bay in the Gulf of Mexico. Visitors arrive on a three-mile-long bridge to enjoy the warm Gulf waters, white-sand beaches, and relaxing ambience. Check out the Aquarium, Audubon Bird Sanctuary, or Indian Shell Mound Park for birds, wildlife, and history.
South Padre Island, Texas
This barrier island off the southern tip of Texas is a year-round tropical oasis. The island features 34 miles of white-sand beaches, clear, warm water, mild weather, and lots to do. Fishing, boating, and visiting the Birding, Nature Center, and Alligator Sanctuary are just a few ways to enjoy the island.
Catalina Island, California
Located off the coast of Southern California, Catalina Island is both tropical and lush, with beaches, mountains, and plenty of places to stay, from resorts to campsites. Snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, diving, boating, mountain biking, zip lining, and hiking are just some activities to keep you entertained on the island.
Santa Barbara, California
Alexander Spatari/Getty Images
Though it’s often called the “American Riviera,” Santa Barbara could be taken for a tropical island thanks to its abundant palm trees, lush gardens, sandy beaches, and boat-filled harbor. Visitors enjoy the sunny climate, Pacific views, and outdoor adventures like hiking, biking, fishing, and golf.
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Located between Savannah and Hilton Head Island, Daufuskie Island offers white-sand beaches, Lowcountry culture, history, and warm hospitality. Accessible only by ferry, the island has plenty to do, including boating, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, wildlife, art, and guided tours.
Tybee Island, Georgia
Matthew D White/Getty Images
About 18 miles from Savannah, Tybee Island is a favorite beach escape for fishing, boating, and other water sports. Casual beachfront dining and fresh seafood add to the tropical environment. Loggerhead turtles nest on the barrier island, and a variety of programs are in place to protect their nesting grounds.
Matthew Micah Wright/Getty Images
Home to some of the world’s best islands plus a variety of places to stay, from the beach to the mountains, Hawaii offers every style of tropical vacation. Kauai‘s verdant environment includes rain forests, waterfalls, and valleys, while the Big Island features Hilo’s waterfalls and rain forests as well as the drier volcanic Kona coast. Maui, meanwhile, has plush resorts, upcountry farms, and secluded Hana. Oahu‘s sophisticated Honolulu and surf-centric North Shore, Lanai’s stylish resorts, and Molokai‘s natural beauty are great tropical vacation options, too.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Elena Papadopolis/Getty Images
Yes, it’s in the middle of a Nevada desert, but in Las Vegas, you can easily pretend to be in a tropical destination if you choose the right place to stay. At the Mirage, for example, you can swim in a pool surrounded by palm trees or dine in a Polynesian-style café. Meanwhile, Mandalay Bay takes you to the South Pacific, with a sandy beach, wave pool, lazy river, and aquarium.