8 Surprisingly Tropical Vacations You Can Take Without a Passport
Looking for an exotic beach vacay without the hassle of international travel? Your options aren’t limited to Florida, California, Hawaii, and the Carolinas. From hidden spots in the U.S. Virgin Islands to luxury resorts in Puerto Rico, you can escape to a tropical paradise without stepping off of U.S. soil. No passport, no problem!
A 13-hour flight southwest of Los Angeles, in the South Pacific Ocean, American Samoa is further than Hawaii but not quite all the way to Australia. Made up of five lush, mountainous volcanic islands and defined by Polynesian culture and heritage, it has a distinct look and feel unlike any other U.S. destination. Drive just 45 minutes from the international airport (or organize a private transfer) on the main island of Upolu Samoa and you'll find Sinalei Reef Resort and Spa, a collection of rustic-luxe villas nestled on 33 acres of verdant vegetation and pristine beach. With Beach Front Villas just steps from the sand, Sinalei is one of those resorts where you could go an entire stay without stepping foot off the property—unless, that is, you opt for off-site activities like island tours and fishing expeditions. Dine at Ava I Toga, the hotel’s ultra-romantic overwater restaurant, for a lantern-lit meal of South Pacific fusion (think: fresh seafood) paired with a world class wine list.
St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
There’s no airport on St. John—you arrive via a 35-minute ferry or private boat ride from nearby St. Thomas—which makes the 19.6-square-mile slice of paradise feel especially secluded. Virgin Islands National Park is home to the white sands and crystal-clear waters of Honeymoon Beach and Turtle Bay, where you can swim, snorkel, or—this is totally a valid option—do nothing at all. Looking to get active? Try your hand at paddle-boarding, scuba diving, or sailing.
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San Juan, Puerto Rico
Despite being just a three-and-a-half-hour flight from NYC, Puerto Rico is perfect for an exotic break that feels far from home. Fly into the seaside capital of San Juan and drop your bags at the Olive Boutique Hotel. The high-design property mixes stylish interiors with an enviable lagoon setting not far from prime restaurants and shopping, but you’ll forget about the outside world once you check in. If you can't snag a room with a private jacuzzi, worry not—there’s one on the rooftop (it’s exclusively for hotel guests) as well as a plunge pool and bar with incredible views of both the ocean and the city. Head outside the walls of your oasis and wander Old San Juan with its colorful colonial buildings, or take a half-day trip to the El Yunque Rainforest to see waterfalls and scenic views. The food scene is impressive in San Juan; expect to see a lot of comida criolla—that’s Creole food with a Spanish influence. Just a short walk from the Olive, you’ll find Cocina Abierta, an experimental Argentinian joint in a cool, open-plan space.
If American Samoa isn’t far enough away for you, there’s always Guam—a four-hour flight east of the Philippines. The remote U.S. territory was strategically used in World War II, but is now mainly a holiday destination thanks to beautiful beaches, clear waters ideal for snorkeling, and a bevy of shipwreck dive sites just off the coast (visibility is good as far down as 150 feet). The local culture is a melting pot of the indigenous islander people, Guam’s Asian neighbors, its former Spanish and Japanese occupation, and now American influence, making for unique fusion cuisine. Given how far away it is, a long-haul flight to Guam doesn’t come cheap, but luckily, resort prices are fair. Our pick? Outrigger Guam Beach Resort, a world-class property on Tumon Beach. Don’t miss the epic Japanese lunch buffet or the Navasana spa. It’s also just a 10-minute drive to Two Lovers Point, a lookout on the cliff edge which is arguably the best spot for watching Guam’s spectacular sunsets.
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Coming in slightly larger than its sister island, St. John (but still just 31 square miles), St. Thomas is made up of dozens of secluded coves and hidden beaches. Check into Secret Harbour Beach Resort, a laid-back hotel tucked away on a marine sanctuary in Nazareth Bay. The spot is exceptionally quiet; every spacious, modern room comes with a beach-facing balcony or patio, and the main activities include snorkeling, paddle boarding, and relaxing by the freshwater pool. If you're looking for a taste of something more fast-paced, you're also close enough to the action of Red Hook. Hit the shopping and dining scene or hop the ferry to St. John for a day trip.
South Padre Island, Texas
You might not think of Texas as the place for a tropical vacation, but Padre Island—the world’s longest barrier island—rests offshore, stretching 115 miles down the coast and ending just shy of the Rio Grande. Much of Padre is relatively unexplored, but unassuming B&Bs can be found in quiet little pockets along the island. Alternatively, if you want something a little more indulgent, there's Pearl South Padre, a beachfront resort where every room has a private ocean-facing balcony. The décor may be basic, but then again, you don’t go to South Padre to hang out indoors. Make good use of the pool's swim-up bar, and dine on fresh seafood straight from the Gulf of Mexico, as well as plenty of Texan and Mexican fare. Come nighttime, don’t miss out on Texan sunsets drenched in pinks, purples and oranges—best offset with a cold drink in hand. Obviously.
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Isabela, Puerto Rico
Venture west out of San Juan to Isabela—less than two hours' driving time—and you’ll be more than rewarded with stunning beaches and a slower, more peaceful vibe. The Puerto Rican beach town is still somewhat off the beaten path with a little bit of something for everyone: there's a historic town, surfing, reef snorkeling, golf, and hiking trails through lush Guajataca Forest Reserve. Villa Montana Beach Resort is a secluded property on a stretch of shore that goes on for miles, so you'll have no problem finding a secluded spot. Horseback riding, fishing, and diving are all on offer, but we wouldn't blame you if you wanted to hide out in your luxurious, Caribbean plantation-style accommodations (choose from a ground-floor room with a private terrace or cliffside digs with an ocean-facing balcony). On-site restaurants Eclipse and O are high-end affairs overseen by award-winning Puerto Rican chef Luis Cosme, with menus dominated by locally caught seafood.
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
St. Croix may be the southernmost and largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, but it's still only a three-hour flight from Miami. In addition to picture-perfect beaches, the isle has plenty to offer nature lovers: there’s the 15-acre "Rain Forest," a private property with trails for exploring the lush vegetation alive with exotic birds; the Point Udall monument which has an incredible view; and Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, which has a bioluminescent bay where the water glows at night (see it on a kayaking tour). Much of the architecture from the island's 18th-century Danish occupation still remains, and The Buccaneer Hotel just outside Christiansted pays homage to the past with pink plantation-style design. The main building's hilltop setting means rooms have uninterrupted views of Mermaid Beach. If you want to explore, you should rent a car—especially so you can hit some of the best eateries on the island. In Christiansted, Savant and Balter are our go-to spots for elevated Caribbean food. It’s also worth the 30-minute drive to Rowdy Joe’s North Shore Eatery, a local favorite serving up feel-good fare like fish tacos and Cubano sandwiches.
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