Imagine, if you can, a community without cars. While that may seem unlikely, it’s precisely the world some people in parts of America actually inhabit. Instead of pumping gas, they pump up bike tires, hopping on bikes and golf carts to get around. Some even make walking their primary mode of transportation. The resulting communities are ones that are known to be quiet, laid-back, and defined by friendly greetings and evening ambling.
Here are seven such peaceful places where the loudest roar you’ll hear is the hum of a golf cart or the crashing of waves on the beach.
Located east of North Carolina’s Cape Fear River and just an hour from Wilmington International Airport, this 5.8-square-mile island wears its car-free label as a badge of honor. “It’s a true destination,” says Harper Peterson, owner of Sandpiper Coffee & Ice Cream. In fact, the only way to access Bald Head Island is a 20-minute ferry trip from the mainland town of Southport, NC. Once on land, the preferred modes of transportation are golf carts, bicycles, and walking. Whether you’re boogie-boarding the Atlantic waves at East Beach, kayaking Bald Head Creek, or embarking on a Turtle Walk at the Bald Head Conservancy, you’ll be surrounded by nature—10,000 of the island’s 12,000 total acres have been set aside as nature preserves—and the low-key, care-free feeling that defines the island. “Your metabolism slows down here. Everybody is in an upbeat mood,” says Peterson. “You really do leave the real world behind.”
This three-bedroom cottage overlooking the western edge of hiker-friendly Bald Head Woods feels like a tropical paradise. The property’s maritime forest setting provides shade and privacy for the spacious covered porch. The 1,900-square-foot interior is a fairly standard ‘90s-era construction. It has an open floor plan with three bathrooms, three bedrooms, and a sun-soaked Florida room for catching rays. The pristine shared pool in the back completes the private oasis vibe
To visit this rocky island off the coast of Maine (population: 70), you’ll have to leave your car behind at one of three nearby ports and seek passage to the island by boat. “There are no cars on Monhegan. But we get along here very sufficiently,” says Victor Gilbert, a carpenter who has called the island home for 44 years. “It’s the independence that everybody has here. Everyone has a multitude of jobs.” Gilbert’s wife Susan, for one, is both a painter and a ceramic artist, making her one of the island’s many creatives who enjoy opening their studios to the public. If you prefer to admire the brushstrokes of Mother Nature, be sure to explore the 12 miles of trails that snake through the island or take in spectacular views of the Atlantic from the 38-foot tall Monhegan Island Light, the second highest lighthouse in Maine.
This shingled, 1920s-era cottage (known locally as The Carina House) is currently a working art gallery and studio with three bedrooms, a finished attic, and beautiful wood plank floors throughout. The island light, streaming in through the many windows, is another draw, as are the views of bird-filled Salt Beach meadow and Manana Island across the harbor.
Fire Island, accessible only via a 15-minute ferry ride across the Long Island Sound, is only an hour-and-a-half from New York City. This makes it the perfect place for thousands of city dwellers to relax and party during the summer weekends. The 31-mile island is made up of a bunch of different hamlets, each with its own personality. “It’s a beautiful escape from the hustle and bustle of New York,” says resident and realtor Elisa Rostkowski. “It’s a wonderful place to kick back, get together with friends season after season, and truly enjoy the best that Long Island has to offer.” On the west side of the island, Fire Island Pines—know only as “The Pines”—is a famously gay getaway and rainbow flags abound. Or if you prefer to indulge in nature’s quiet diversions, the island is prime boating, surfing, and beach walking territory.
Perfect for water-lovers, this three-bedroom, two-bath waterfront beach home in Fire Island Pines has both a pristine backyard pool, and is only 400 feet away from the nearest beach. It also has wood paneling, hardwood floors, large sliding glass doors, a knotty pine kitchen, and a groovy ’70s feel. Oh, and it comes fully furnished!
Ismailof Island, between Homer and the northern shore of Kachemak Bay, is a dream destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Beyond fishing, hiking, and kayaking—all popular and plentiful in the summer months—pastimes include poking around tiny Halibut Cove’s (population: 76) smattering of galleries and shops, and dining on seafood at The Saltry. But it’s the wildlife that really draws. “Right now, I’m sitting on our deck, which is just a few feet from the water. The otters and seals go up to the edge of the porch. It’s pretty spectacular,” says Tammy Jones, who has been living on the island for 40 years. But with access to the island limited to private water or air taxi, and transportation on the island restricted to simply boating, walking, or ATV, Jones says, “It can be hard work. Grocery shopping is an adventure. But it’s so worth it.”
Overlooking the Kachemak Bay State Park, this postcard-worthy three-bed, three-and-a-half-bath property delivers unbeatable bay and mountain views. The large wooden deck is the perfect spot to glimpse passing boats and playful otters, and the private dock allows you to fish or embark on your own voyage into the blue. Indoors, a modern open floor plan provides a spacious living and dining area with gleaming hardwood throughout.
Located at the intersection of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, Mackinac Island remains untouched by time and modern trappings. In lieu of cars, the island’s primary modes of transportation include horse and buggy, foot traffic, and a lot of bikes. For 30-year resident Jim Fisher, the dearth of automobiles means there isn’t “as much to worry about.” “You don’t have to get in a car to go anywhere,” he says. “There are no road jams.” Instead of getting caught in gridlock, locals revel in an abundance of outdoor activities from kayaking to exploring 70 miles of roads and trails at Mackinac Island State Park, which occupies 80% of the island.
Known as “Casa Verano,” or the “Summer House,” this late-nineteenth century historic home is pure Americana splendor. The stately 6,500 square-foot interior is rife with ornate flourishes and the painstakingly carved wooden walls, arches, and pillars in the ten bedrooms and seven bathrooms are perfectly preserved examples of the craftsmanship of the time. There is a separate horse stable with living quarters above, but the real lure of this home is its location on a small bluff above the Straits of the Mackinac with views of the Mackinac Bridge and Mackinac Island Lighthouse stretching out before you.
This car-free, private island on the St. Clair River borders Canada on “the largest freshwater delta in the world,” according to Jeremiah Glowski, who was born and raised on Russell Island. It’s only reachable by ferry or private boat and has only about 50 cottages in total. Attractions afforded by three surrounding bays —Big Muskamoot, Little Muskamoot, and Goose Bay — include hunting, kayaking, boating, and fishing. The car-free roads (golf carts only, please), a public transit commute of less than five minutes to anywhere in town, and an old-time skating rink and downtown candy shop make it feel “like the 1800s in a small town,” says Glowski.
This 1,300-square-foot, sky-blue cottage is a real throw back vacation home; it’s nothing fancy, lacks certain modern amenities, and encourages residents to spend time outside. The four small bedrooms, one-and-a-half baths, sun-soaked living room, and screened porch provide enough space to host friends and family, but it’s the wide expanse of green surrounding the home and the views of the South Channel that are the real selling points. Well, that and the fact that the two adjacent lots included with property provide plenty of room for future expansions (a family compound, perhaps?).
You can only get to Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay by boat or plane. Once you’re on the island—a crabbing and fishing community 12 miles from the mainland—it’s bike, golf cart, or your own two feet. Paddling, hiking, swimming at the long, sandy beach, observing marine life, and exploring the five water trails are among the most popular tourist pastimes. Others include grabbing a bite to eat at Fisherman’s Corner Restaurant or heading off for family fun at the homecoming festival held annually in August.
Built in 1910, this 107-year-old residence located a minute from the Tangier History Museum is one of the oldest occupants of Main Street. While the exterior of home retains its century-old charm, the three-bedroom, two-bathroom interior is in need of a major facelift. A stone pathway leads to the fenced backyard shaded by the towering fig trees.