Located in the southernmost tip of South Carolina, Hilton Head Island is one of the state's popular getaways. The island's miles of pristine beaches, world-class golf courses, tons of recreational activities, storied bike paths, and nature preserves attract nearly 2.5 million visitors annually.
At 12 miles long and 5 miles wide, Hilton Head is the largest barrier island between Long Island and the Bahamas, and its temperate climate and natural beauty make it an ideal year-round destination for locals and visitors alike. Located just 90 miles south of Charleston and 40 miles north of Savannah, the island is also an easy day trip or weekend getaway for those visiting other parts of the Low Country.
From pedaling across boardwalks and through shady forests by bicycle to climbing the Harbour Town Lighthouse and kayaking through scenic waterways on the remote Daufuskie Island, here are the top things to do in Hilton Head.
Pedal Across the Island
With more than 100 miles of shared-use pathways and 6 miles of dedicated bike lanes, Hilton Head is a cyclist's paradise. Ditch the car during your stay, and pedal across boardwalks and beaches, along sandy marshes and wetlands, through maritime forests, and to and from top destinations across the island. Bike rentals and maps can be found at most hotels, resorts, or retailers. Top routes include the shaded trail of 16-acre Fish Haul Creek Park and the Barker Field, which includes a long boardwalk and observation deck. The deck is the perfect place to catch an island sunrise and views of the Atlantic, Broad River, and nearby St. Helena and Parris Islands.
Play at Coligny Beach Park
Coligny Beach serves as the island's hub, with free access to the pristine Atlantic beachfront, umbrella and chair rentals, and plentiful amenities like clean restrooms, showers, and changing rooms, plus swings, benches, and gazebos offering cover from the sun. It's also directly adjacent to the Coligny Plaza shopping center, which has more than 60 retailers and restaurants, ranging from ice cream and cupcake shops to seafood shacks. Try Lucky Rooster Market Street for fast-casual low country fare and rent bikes, pool floats, or paddleboards from Billy's Beach Club. Beach parking is free in the lot on South Forest Drive, but it fills up quickly at peak times.
Hit the Links
Hilton Head's stunning oceanfront vistas, temperate climate, and world-renowned courses make it one of the world's top golf destinations. From public to private, compact nine-hole courses to sprawling multi-course resorts, the island has 24 options for golfers of all abilities. Highlights include the Crescent Point Golf Club, a public course with elevated greens and tees designed by golf legend Arnold Palmer, and The Robert Cupp Course at Palmetto Hall, a challenging, eclectic course with a slope rating of 144.
Explore the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
Located 10 miles north of downtown Hilton Head, the Pinckney Island National Wildlife offers up close and personal encounters with alligators, turtles, deer, more than 250 species of birds, and other local wildlife. A system of 14 hiking and walking trails winds through the property, which includes salt marshes, maritime forests, and other nature habitats. While parking is free, there is a quarter of a mile walk to the refuge entrance, which is open from sunset to sundown. Note that there are no on-site refreshments or restrooms, and be sure sure to wear sunscreen and stay on the main trails to avoid unwanted animal encounters.
Climb the Harbour Town Lighthouse
This iconic red and white striped lighthouse stands 90 feet tall at the island's south end inside the Sea Pines Resort district. Open to the public, the structure doubles as museum, with exhibits ranging from photography to the island's first inhabitants to the Coast Guard's long history in the area. Climb to the top of the lighthouse for sweeping views of the island as well as nearby Daukuskie and Tybee Islands and then head to nearby Harbour Town, a shopping and entertainment district with waterfront dining, art galleries, and local boutiques.
Take a Ferry to Daufuskie Island
Located between Hilton Head and Savannah, the remote, 8 square mile Daufuskie Island is car-free and accessible only via ferry. Round trip day tickets are $35 and ferries depart from Ford Island Road on Hilton Head or Ferry Island Visitor Center in Bluffton every three hours. Once on the island, take a self-guided tour through Spanish moss oak trees on the Robert Kennedy Historic Trail, kayak through the scenic waterways, or ride horses on the unspoiled beaches. Daufuskie also is home to several art galleries and a rum distillery.
Explore the Sea Pines Forest Preserve
Located at the southwest tip of the island, the 605-acre preserve offers 6 miles of multi-use trails, 2 miles of nature trails, as well as bridle paths, fishing docks, and other outdoor adventures. Book a guided alligator and wildlife boat tour; enjoy a scenic horseback ride through the marshes; or wander the trails to see wildlife, secluded forests, and the blooms of the Warner W. Plahs Wildflower Field, which are particularly stunning in the spring. Don't miss the Sea Pines Shell Ring, a circular deposit of hundreds of thousands of clams and other shells, which at nearly 4,000 years old is one the island's oldest archaeological sites. Just kno there is a small fee for non-residents to access the preserve.
Sample Locally-Made Drinks
Owned by island native Juan Brantley, Hilton Head Brewing Company was the state's first microbrewery and restaurant and produces nearly a dozen beers, ranging from hoppy IPAs to crisp lagers. Sample them in the tasting room or head to the on-site restaurant, which offers waterfront views and casual fare like wings, salads, and pizzas.
Other local drink destinations include Hilton Head Distillery, the island's first and only craft distillery. The family-owned operation is open to the public for tours and tastings Wednesday to Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. The $10 tasting flight includes six samples of any neat spirit, including the Dark 23 rum, barrel-aged in port wine casks, a pot-distilled gin, and Whiskey Girl peach.
Visit the Coastal Discovery Museum
To learn more about the island's ecological and cultural history, head to the Coastal Discovery Museum. Located on the 68-acre Honey Horn property, the museum includes educational exhibits, a butterfly habitat, and live animal "meet and greets." Wander the grounds, which include miles of nature trails, towering oak trees, floral gardens, and even a barn housing the rare Marsh Tacky horses. Admission is free, but tours and the museum's excursions—which range from guided kayaking trips to dolphin cruises—cost extra.
Tour Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park
Established in 1862, Mitchelville was the first self-governed town of those formerly enslaved on the island and nearby communities. Take a walking tour to learn more about the town's history or explore more than 20,000 archeological artifacts ranging from household goods to tools on display at the Westin Hilton Head Resort and Spa. The park also offers several special events, ranging from plays and musical performances to an annual Juneteenth celebration.