It's hard to imagine that from the center of New York's Time Square, among the bright lights and tourists, you're a short train ride away from white sand, surfing, and quietude. If you're looking to get out of the big city – whether that metropolis is New York, Boston, LA, or Houston – look offshore. Islands like South Manitou and Madeline have been passed over and left alone – making them the perfect, close-to-home refuge for city-dwellers. Here are the top island getaways that are a hop from civilization.
Houston: Mustang Island
More popular with locals than spring-breakers, Mustang Island and Port Aransas boast one of the most spectacular beaches on the Gulf of Mexico that fronts condos as well as protected lands. Long a waystation for the eccentric and opportunistic, the island has variously served as a pirate redoubt, a station for the Confederate Army, and a game fishing destination. Today, Port Aransas is lively year-round. Stay at the Tarpon Inn, a refurbished and reconstructed Civil War barracks, and spend long days on the beach eating deep-fried fish and drinking Lone Stars by the bucketful. It's a Texas tradition.
More information: The Port Aransas Ferry Systems runs constantly, offering free access to the island via six large boats. Waits can be long during peak hours – weekend mornings and evenings – but it's worth it to bring over a car if you want to explore the island's protected areas.
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