Introduction

The causeway to Tybee Island, Georgia is a portal from everyday cares to beauty, wonder and peace. It curves for miles through tidal salt marshes that carry the full moon’s beam at high tide, mirror the thunderheads of approaching storms and reflect glowing sunsets when the water ebbs from their pluff mud beds. It joins the bridge that arches over Lazaretto Creek’s shrimp trawler fleet to safely deposit you on shore. There, another life begins—one where on humidity-laden nights the surf, although blocks away, sounds as if it were approaching the porch steps, loggerhead turtle hatchlings break free of their shells and flipper through the sand to the sea, and frogs, long buried in the earth, croak in full chorus when reanimated by spring rains. 

The island envelopes you with shimmering light, the cries of royal terns and buzzing squadrons of dragonflies, the scents of sea spray and steamed shrimp, the embrace of the wind and pulse of the waves, and the “Tybee time” effect that renders watches inconsequential (better to mind the sun and tides). In some ways it’s more another country than an island just seventeen miles from Savannah—but in many others, it’s simply the best of what America is, and has always been. Old-school islanders here refer to mainlanders as “from away”—from places with waiting lines, fast food, locked doors and suits and ties. 

Island dwellers speak of the magic that nature conjures; I certainly fell under its spells during my years on Tybee. On a pre-dawn walk, stars blinked overhead while hundreds of starfish spangled across the sand shadowed the heavens. On other days, bottlenose dolphins leapt from the Atlantic in opposing arches just yards from where I swam; operatic summer deluges bounced raindrops off of the ocean’s surface like pearls; beaded starfish pushed themselves up from the sand as if practicing yoga...every day offered its gifts.

I’m a collector by nature; I began as a child with shells carefully gleaned during beach vacations neatly arranged on my nightstand. With the same curiosity and love of beauty (not to mention research addiction), I’ve scouted scores of our 16,986 named islands from Alaska to Florida—from the obscure to the famous—to curate this collection of islands. From Puget Sound’s funky Vashon Island to Marmot Bay’s monastic St. Nilus Island to the North Platte River’s hunting Winemakers Island—and nature preserve, military, resort, off-the-grid residential and so many more kinds of islands—there are vast differences in histories, architecture, nature and lifestyles. Islanders, however, have a great deal in common: they’re fiercely independent, community minded, sensitive to environmental concerns and laid back, with very few exceptions. They, as much as the surrounding waters and flora and fauna, define the islands.

From sea to shining sea and within all the waterways in between, we’re blessed by a wealth of colorful personalities, stunning vistas, abundant wildlife, great food, unique festivals and so much more. These islands are our beckoning frontiers and our Gardens of Eden. Welcome ashore! Anna Marlis Burgard