Deciding whether to watch the sunset from a hammock between coconut palms or from the infinity pool on a hilltop village sounds like a dream dilemma. But when you're overdue for a vacation, even that choice can feel overwhelming.
One surefire place to start: Santorini, Greece, whose blue-domed churches, blanched villages, and picture-perfect sunsets catapulted it to the No. 1 island in the latest T+L World's Best reader survey. The results are your shortcut to planning an easy, breezy beach getaway.
Turquoise waters, sandy beaches, and tropical settings fill travelers' daydreams and Pinterest boards. And many of this year's winners indulge those fantasies; notably, four Hawaiian Islands (Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, Kauai) made the top 10. But T+L readers took the meaning of island life a little further, beyond thatched-roof bungalows and coconut palms.
Car-free Mackinac Island in northern Michigan-where horse-drawn carriages and a 127-year-old hotel pull visitors back in time-came in at No. 18, while the natural splendor of the San Juan Islands off Washington State earned the No. 10 spot. After all, untouched wilderness and a pervasive adventurist spirit hold a certain fascination, too.
Whatever your fancy, there's something about being completely surrounded by water that puts you at ease and sets you loose from the daily grind.
Art Kowalsky / Alamy
No. 1 Santorini, Greece
With its white villages atop lava rock cliffs and blue-domed churches overlooking a sunken caldera, this postcard-perfect Aegean island feels a thousand miles from modern civilization. Visit the black-sand beaches of Perissa and Kamari, or take a small caiki (a typical fishing boat) to the Red Beach from the prehistoric village of Akrotiri. The bungalow-style rooms of the Astra Suites hotel are a scenic 1.2-mile meander from the town of Fira and feature infinity pools and views of Santorini's famous sunsets.
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
No. 2 Maui, HI
On Maui, you can begin the day by watching a sunrise atop a 10,023-foot volcano, then bike (with a guide) 26 miles down to the former hippie habitat and current surf capital of Paia, often called Maui's coolest little town. It's where you'll find Mama's Fish House & Inn, where lunch is whatever's fresh and beachfront cottages make romantic pieds-à-terre. Fuel up here before you set out on the winding, white-knuckle drive to Hana.