A gem of South Carolina's Lowcountry, 70-square-mile Hilton Head Island is just north of the Georgia border. It's 20 miles northeast of Savannah and 95 southwest of Charleston.
More upscale than Myrtle Beach up the coast in North Carolina, Hilton Head is a posh resort island full of gated communities, golf and tennis clubs, and neat-as-a-pin neighborhoods. You won't see ugly billboards or neon signs. Dozens of miles of bike trails criss-cross the island and bring you under palmettos, live oaks, tall pines and dogwood, and all roads seem to lead to the beach.
Set along South Carolina's coast, the Lowcountry includes not only Hilton Head but dozens of other Sea Islands, including Kiawah Island. The Lowcountry is known for its history, natural beauty, and tourism.
Hilton Head is a hugely popular vacation spot. While the island has a year-round population of about 39,000, that number can swell to 275,000 during the peak of summer. Besides beaches, there are numerous attractions and a vast array of wildlife, including alligators, deer, loggerhead sea turtles, manatees, seabirds, and dolphins.
If your family loves golf, you've come to the right place. The island is home to more than a dozen golf courses designed by icons like Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and Jack Nicklaus.
The island is all about environmental tourism, and families will also love visiting the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Coastal Discovery Museum, both of which offer lots of fun ways to learn about the flora and fauna of the island. Also, check out the 600-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve, and don't miss its Shell Ring Trail, which leads through the forest to a 4,000-year-old shell ring that was created by American Indians.
Beaches of Hilton Head
Hilton Head Island has over a dozen miles of beaches, but there's a slight catch: All the beaches are public from the ocean to the high water mark, however, access to the beach is often private. If you're not staying at a beachfront hotel or vacation rental community, you can find public access at the following locations:
- Alder Lane Beach Access, off South Forest Beach Drive
- Coligny Beach Park, off Coligny Circle
- Fish Haul Park, at the end of Beach City Road
- Driessen Beach Park, at the end of Bradley Beach Road
- Burkes Beach Access, at the end of Burkes Beach Road
- Folly Field Beach Park, off Folly Field Road
- Islanders Beach Park, off Folly Field Road.
The island contains many neighborhood developments known as plantations. These are well-maintained gated communities and each offers its own atmosphere of Southern charm. There are many hotels and vacation rental properties within these plantations. A few of the most famous are Sea Pines Plantation, Hilton Head Plantation, and Palmetto Dunes. The most famous is Sea Pines, which is known for the iconic red-and-white-striped Hilton Head Lighthouse.
Activities and Things to Do
Hilton Head is a boon for families that love the water. There are plenty of outfitters that offer sightseeing and dolphin cruises. Kayaking is one of the few ways to get an up-close view of wildlife in the salt marshes. Several outfitters on the island offer kayak tours where you can see egrets, herons, fish, crabs, and even dolphins.
There are also several places where you can rent stand-up paddleboards or even take a family lesson.
You'll need fishing licenses for saltwater and freshwater for anyone 16 years or older. You can also hire an outfitter to take you deep-sea fishing for barracuda, shark, and king mackerel.