At the beach in Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand

By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks


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The United States might not be the first country you think of when you plan on visiting a tropical destination. However, let’s not forget that the US is the third-largest country in the world, with various climates throughout.

So, why jet-set to the Dominican Republic or Bora Bora when you could experience white sandy beaches, tropical weather, and a cocktail in hand right on your doorstep? And if you do want to go further afield, there are still many US territories and smaller islands dotted around the world.

The best part? You don’t even need to take out your passport!

I know it can make you feel in over your head when you realize just how many tropical destinations the US actually has. But don’t worry my fellow traveler, the hard work has been done for you! Let’s jump right into my 15 best tropical destinations in the US.

15 Best Tropical Destinations In The US

White sand beaches and lush landscapes are what dreams are made of for many people, but they don’t always have the time or money to travel very far. If you’re a US citizen, these tropical places right in your home country will put you in that island mood you’ve been dreaming about.

Hawaii

If we’re talking about tropical destinations, Hawaii has to be at the top of many lists – it is one of the best places to visit after all. And luckily for us, it’s found right in our own country.

Hawaii is an island well known for its bright blue waters, pineapples, and hula dances, but it has so much more to offer than the typical stereotypes.

The best time to visit any of the Hawaiian islands is generally between March and September. During this time, rainfall is low, and temperatures are high.

While the state has 137 islands, including the eight main islands, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai are the most well-known and my favorite.

Hawaii, United States

1. Maui

The aloha spirit and tropical island lifestyle are alive and well in Maui, A.K.A the Valley Isle. The whaling town of Lahaina, mentioned in Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, is a popular stop on many tourists’ itineraries.

Maui also has impressive green, white, red, and black sand beaches to add to your travel bucket list.

2. Oahu

Oahu is the third biggest Hawaiian island. It’s nicknamed the ‘Gathering Place’ because it’s where most people live and most tourists visit. Its capital, Honolulu, and Waikiki Beach are known worldwide.

The island is famous for its water activities, including shark diving and snorkeling with sea turtles. If you prefer to keep your feet on dry land, you could always visit some of Hawaii’s most important historical landmarks, like the ‪Diamond Head State Monument or the USS Arizona Memorial.

3. Kauai

Kauai is also known as the ‘Garden Isle’ because of its lush landscapes and greenery. So, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of trials and outdoor activities to do here.

The Kalalau Trail, off the coast of Na Pali, is one of the most popular hiking trails in Hawaii. It has been named the most beautiful but also one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the United States. If you plan on tackling this trek, just be sure to prepare accordingly for the 22-mile round trip – it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted!

U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands are in the Caribbean, around a three-hour flight just off the coast of Florida.

The best time to visit the islands is from April to June when there is mild weather and minimal rainfall. The temperatures average around 86 °F during this time of year – perfect for soaking up those sun rays. 

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The islands consist of 50 smaller islands and cays, with the four main ones being St. John, St. Thomas, St. Croix, and Water Island.

St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands

4. St. John

If you’re a nature lover or avid hiker, St. John will be the tropical destination of your dreams. It’s home to the Virgin Islands National Park, which occupies the majority of this island. Here, you’ll find hiking trails galore.

Cruz Bay and Coral Bay are the most popular towns to visit on the island. Both have amazing beaches and a variety of water activities. While Cruz Bay is more lively, Coral Bay is ideal for families and people who prefer fewer crowds.

5. St. Croix

St Croix is the biggest of the four main U.S. Virgin Islands. The island has many hiking trails, beaches, and water activities suitable for tourists of all ages.

However, its nightlife and bars truly stand out.

Fun fact: The U.S. Virgin Island’s very first casino, Divi Carina Bay, was built in St. Croix!

6. Water Island

Of the four main islands, Water Island is both the smallest and youngest, having only been transferred to the authority of the local government in 1996. If you’re looking for a quiet island to relax on, Water Island is the destination for you.

With around only 200 residents, it’s a great place to get away from the big crowds.

7. St. Thomas

St. Thomas is known as ‘Rock City’ because of its mountainous terrain, with its highest point standing 1,550 ft tall. This island is an excellent location for people who enjoy water activities and beaches.

Think kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, parasailing, deep-sea fishing, and so much more. You can even swim with some dolphins or sea lions at Coral World Ocean Park!

Tropical Waters in the Virgin Islands
Photo by Coral World Ocean Park on Facebook

Puerto Rico 

Puerto Rico is another tropical US territory in the Caribbean Sea. While it’s quite a small island, roughly the size of Connecticut, it’s still a great place to have a tropical vacation.

The best time to visit is from April to June. This is right before the rainy summer season (and, more importantly, the hurricane season) and just after the busy winter season.

During these months, temperatures average 74.5-87 °F. While June is one of the hottest months of the year here, it’s a great time to catch a few festivals.

8. San Juan

San Juan is Puerto Rico’s capital and has one of the busiest nightlife scenes and some of the most beautiful beaches.

If safety is your number one priority when going on vacation, you can rest assured – San Juan is a very safe place to travel to. In particular, Condado is an exceptionally safe area to visit and stay.

While you’re here, don’t forget to visit the colorful cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, where you can take a step back in time. Or visit the US’ oldest church, the Cathedral of San Juan, built in 1521.

If you’re around from May to June, you have to go to the Festival de Teatro Puertorriqueño e Internacional, when the town’s theaters come to life with various local and international performances.

El Morro Aerial, San Juan, Puerto Rico

9. Culebra

Culebra is a place for beach lovers. The island is very laid-back, with its residents adopting the same attitude.

Culebra has no big hotels, fast-food restaurants, or rush hours. There isn’t much to do on the island ‘after-hours’ besides relaxing on the beach and enjoying the waves. However, there is no doubt that this will be one of the most relaxing tropical vacations of your life!

READ ALSO:  Thailand’s Best Tropical Islands to Visit

10. Vieques

Vieques is Culebra’s sister island, and while slightly bigger and slightly more developed, it still keeps its charms of being a somewhat remote island in the Caribbean.

Given its trialed history with the U.S. Navy’s occupation on the island up until the early 2000s, most of Vieques remains untouched and pristine, including its many stunning beaches.

Culebra, Puerto Rico

Florida

Making our way a bit closer to home, Florida’s climate is subtropical, with sunny and humid summers. Nestled along the Gulf Coast, Florida is one of the few US tropical destinations that offers calm waters and white sand beaches.

The state’s rainy season is from May to October, with high humidity and thunderstorms daily. However, the best time to visit the Sunshine State is during spring or fall, when temperatures aren’t too hot and humid yet.

11. Miami

Miami is a popular city in the US among tourists and locals alike. The sunshine seems never-end, and neither do the parties. In case you didn’t know, South Beach is the place to be if you want to attend an epic party.

Watersports are also very popular, and you can find activities like speedboat sightseeing and jet skiing.

Besides the party lifestyle and beaches, Miami also has loads of cultural activities, artistic landmarks, and the North Beach Oceanside Park to visit. There is truly something for everyone in Miami.

Key West in Florida

12. Key West

Key West is a tropical paradise in the Straits of Florida, around 90 miles from Cuba, that will have you forgetting you’re in the United States at all.

It’s characterized by pastel architecture and charming conch houses during the day. And when the sun sets, Duval Street is where the nightlife is bustling and the parties never end. Did you know that this party street has had many famous visitors over the years, including Ernest Hemingway?

This is the type of party you shouldn’t miss if you’re spending Spring Break in the Florida Keys.

If the bar scene isn’t your cup of tea, the island city has terrific beaches for watersports to keep you occupied.

Free Things to do in Houston, Texas

Texas

I’m sure you didn’t think that Texas would be on my list of the best tropical vacations in the US.

While the state is known to have an arid climate to the west, the east has surprisingly hot, humid summers, followed by mild winters – quite similar to some of the other tropical places I’ve already mentioned!

Generally, the summer season from June to August is the best time to visit Texas if you want a tropical vacation. While this is the hottest season, with temperatures ranging from 85-90 °F, it’s the perfect time to hit the beach and catch a tan.

13. South Padre Island

Just off the southern tip of Texas lies South Padre Island, where you can sip on cocktails from your beachfront cabana all day long. Now if that doesn’t sound like paradise to you then you’ve come to the wrong place!

This resort town is packed with things to do. From birdwatching at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center and strolls along the beautiful Gulf shores, to boating and fishing, you’ll be spoiled for choice.

14. Rockport

Rockport, along the Gulf of Mexico, is ideal for avid fishers. Thanks to the lakes, bays, and saltwater marshes that make up this coastal city, fishing here is a dream.

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The city also boasts numerous historical sites and museums. Visit the postcard-perfect Motif Number 1 seen in the movie “The Proposal” or head over to the Rockport Art Association & Museum to admire some fine art.

If you’re still looking for things to do, make your way to Rockport Beach State Park, which is the only Blue Wave Beach in Texas. Here, you can expect clear waters, a vast coastline, and an all-round well-maintained beach.

Places to explore in California

California

Rounding up my list of the best tropical destinations is California, where the summer season is warm and dry, while the winters are mild and rainy. What makes it truly feel like a tropical location though, at least in my opinion, has to be its stunning beaches, turquoise waters, and overall laid-back atmosphere.

To experience all that it has to offer, the best time to book your tickets is between June and September. The temperatures usually range from 70 °F to as high as 80 °F, so hitting the beach or catching a music festival is a must.

15. Santa Catalina Island

Located just 22 miles (around an hour on a high-speed ferry) from Southern California’s coast lies Santa Catalina Island – a beach paradise. With only two villages on the island, you’re for a treat with the locals’ laid-back vibes.

With what seems like an endless coastline, the island is a hotspot for water activities like snorkeling and scuba diving. If you’re not the type that likes getting your hair wet, then I highly suggest you book yourself a tour on the Nautilus Semi-Submarine – yep, that’s right this is a real-life submarine!

Florida Beach in the US

Why Visit Tropical Places in the US?

When you think of tropical vacation locations besides Hawaii, the U.S. doesn’t necessarily pop up in your head.

You’ll often think of countries like Thailand and its tropical islands, Seychelles and its crystalline waters, or Fiji’s stunning beaches. However, there are many tropical places to travel to in the US. 

Many people visit tropical areas to get away from everyday stress. Whether you’re a US local or a tourist, the tropical areas in this country will definitely have you feeling stress-free.

Water Activities

Snorkeling, jet skiing, and kayaking are all common water activities people do on their island holidays. Places like Florida and Hawaii are well-known for their various water exercises.

Seafood

The best part about visiting the beach is the fresh seafood! It will usually be cheaper at these tropical destinations too because they don’t have to transport it very far.

Weather

The number one reason people visit tropical destinations is for the sunny weather. You can’t enjoy fun water activities without the heat of the sweltering sun after all.

Culture

America is a melting pot of cultures. The state officially recognizes six ethnic groups: Pacific Islander, Asian, Native Hawaiian, African-American, Native American, and White. However, there are so many more rich histories and cultures in this country that are waiting to be explored.

Tropical Destination in the US

Final Thoughts

There you have it, my list of tropical destinations found right in the US! These places are excellent little escapes from the bustling big cities without the need for a passport.

If you’re traveling to the US and are looking for some exciting places to add to your itinerary, I hope these places are at the top of your list! Whether it’s South Padre Island, Texas, or San Juan, Puerto Rico, you can’t go wrong with any of these tropical locations.

So, what are you waiting for? Get those tickets booked and go explore this wondering country!

4 Best Tropical Destinations in the US | Best Beaches & Islands
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