Group tour planners are good at creating itineraries that give clients vast and immersive travel experiences. It helps that there is no dearth of places to take clients so they can experience the wonders of art, culture, and nature. Among the expansive lineup of options, however, some places might be overlooked.

Enter East Coast islands.

An island getaway doesn’t have to be what many might consider a tropical paradise. Islands off the East Coast of the continental United States are just as magical in their own distinct way. Take Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, for instance, two of the heavy hitters everyone has likely heard about.

Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket

Martha’s Vineyard, located 7 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, is described by the local chamber of commerce as “a picturesque island paradise.” It also says there is no bad time to plan a trip, because “every season is the perfect time to visit Martha’s Vineyard.” With its six different communities and active business climate, there is something for every group.

Learn about the history of the area, including its stately mansions built by tough sea dogs from the 1800s, at the Martha Vineyard Museum and Edgartown’s Carnegie Museum. The former has more than 100,000 items in its collection, among them maps, manuscripts, histories, and photos.

The Edgartown’s Carnegie Museum has a Living Landmarks Exhibit, a permanent collection that illustrates the history of Martha’s Vineyard “through the lens of the 20 landmarks in the Vineyard Preservation Trust’s care.” The Carnegie Museum also features two reading rooms with maritime and other historical literature, as well as the Ray Ellis Maritime Collection of original art.

Besides the arts and cultural experiences found here, Martha’s Vineyard also offers opportunities for agritourism, bicycling, birding, and sports; particularly it has a baseball foundation. And, of course, it has boat charters.

Nantucket, an island 14 miles long and 3 1/2 miles wide about 30 miles from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, also has fishing and boat charters, including opportunities for sailing. Its maritime history stretches back centuries and has found an enduring place in Herman Melville’s classic novel, “Moby Dick.” History is found here in the sand along the seashore, in the stately mansions built here long ago, and in the three lighthouses—Sankaty Head, Great Point, and Brat Point—that add to the picturesque scenery of their nearby beaches.

Nantucket also offers museums, parks, theaters, and a host of other family-friendly activities. There also are plenty of places to try the local cuisine.

Block Island, New Shoreham, Rhode Island;
Credit: Block Island Tourism Council
Block Island

Tours by air, land, and sea are available on Block Island—and there’s no doubt about it, there is much to see and experience on this outpost of the Atlantic. Located about 9 miles south of Rhode Island, Block Island is known for its historical sites, pleasant beaches, and stunning natural beauty.

The Southeast Lighthouse & Museum, built in 1873, is a restored historic landmark and no tour of the island is complete without a visit. Tours of the lighthouse are offered daily throughout the summer. Nearby are the Mohegan Bluffs, another outstanding place to capture some pictures.

Most people don’t expect to encounter a kangaroo on Block Island, but they just might if they visit the 1661 Exotic Farm. Other animals they can get up close and personal with are camels, emus, llamas, and the typical farm animals such as pigs and sheep. It’s a family-friendly place that animal lovers in your group will enjoy. And across the street is the 1661 Inn.

What’s with the number 1661? Visit Settler’s Rock, located on Corn Neck Road at the north end of the island, where a boulder and plaque commemorate the purchase and settlement of the island in the year 1661 by European colonists. Explore more scenery and sites along the many walking trails in the vicinity as well.

Georges Island

Civil War and history buffs in your group will enjoy a visit to Georges Island, located about 7 miles from Boston, Massachusetts. The 53-acre island was used as a seasonal fishing site for the Indigenous people of the area, according to the National Park Service (NPS), and later used as a strategic point to defend the Port of Boston.

During the Revolutionary War, for instance, the French army fortified the island for the colonists, placing cannons on the hill overlooking the entrance to the harbor. A rough-shod history of the island and strategic location during conflict eventually led to the construction of Fort Warren, which during the Civil War was used to house Confederate prisoners.

The fort saw further development during ensuing conflicts, such as the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II, according to the NPS. It was decommissioned in 1950, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts purchased the island in 1958.

Today owned by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the island draws thousands of people every year—primarily to see its main attraction and focal centerpiece, the historic fort.

Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine;
Credit: Unsplash/Trevor Hayes
Mount Desert Island

There is more than desert at Mount Desert Island, located off the shores of Maine with a 6-mile fjord, called Somes Sound, shaping its eastern and western segments. The island itself, first visited in 1604 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain, is about 8 miles wide and 15 miles long. It is the sixth-largest island in the contiguous United States.

Champlain named the island after the rocky peaks of the mountain that lie here, but as foreboding as the name might suggest, it is a welcoming island that sees roughly 2 1/2 million visitors every year. They come here to explore its communities and villages and enjoy myriad activities, such as “the bustling streets of Bar Harbor to the quiet corners or Southwest Harbor and Tremont,” according to Visit Acadia, all of which will let visitors know “why Mount Desert Island is one of the country’s top destinations.”

Some of the other things to experience here: Acadia National Park, the country’s first national park, established in 1919. There’s also Salisbury Cove, a village on the island’s northern shore, where groups can get a sense of what it’s like living in a small coastal community. The size of a community can be determined by its post office, and here the post office is, according to Visit Acadia, “tiny.” There’s also a historic church, vacation cottages, and marine biomedical research center. Those who live here share it with bald eagles, harbor seals, and loons. A public beach isn’t far away for those look- ing to spend a day in the sunshine.

By Andrew Weeks

Main Image: Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; Credit: Unsplash/Andy Fluet