Thinking of visiting Hilton Head Island soon? You SHOULD! My family and I grew up visiting Hilton Head beach frequently for vacation, so after several visits, I feel like I can finally put together a nice guide for the island. This post is going to cover some well-known places to stay, including resorts and vacation rentals, along with restaurant and activity recommendations. Keep reading for ideas for your Hilton Head beach vacation!
How To Get To Hilton Head
It’s fairly easy to drive onto Hilton Head Island from most states in the southeast. Charleston is a two hour drive, Charlotte is 4 hours away, and Atlanta is about 4 hours as well.
Pro-tip: If you’re driving on Highway17 from Charleston to Hilton Head, be sure to stop in at the Carolina Cider Company! This spot has amazing coffee, teas, and homemade treats!
If you’re looking to fly, there are two options here. The first is to fly into Savannah, Georgia which is located about 45 minutes south of Hilton Head. Although you’ll have to drive onto the island, this airport is much bigger than the one on HHI and has more direct flight options. Direct flights from the midwest and northeast are usually pretty affordable and frequent. The second option is to fly right onto Hilton Head. These flights are usually a bit more expensive and very few are direct. If you’re coming from the north like my family did, there’s usually layovers in Charlotte, NC. The Hilton Head airport is much more convenient and due to its small size, it’s totally stress-free!
Where To Stay On Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island is an island (excellent insight, Nicole!) and town located in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina. It’s most famous for its golf and of course, Hilton Head beach. There are 24 golf courses on Hilton Head Island, and several famous golf tournaments are held here each year. In fact, the Heritage PGA tour is currently happening! The island is uniquely shaped like a foot, with the Harbour Town Lighthouse and Museum located in Sea Pines, which is the toe of the “foot”. The Atlantic Ocean stretches along the entire “sole” of the island, and is where most of the well-known resorts are located, including the Westin, multiple Marriott properties, and even a Disney Vacation Club! We stayed at an Airbnb on Folly Field Road. This is a common area for vacation rentals and was super close to the beach where most of the big resorts are.
How To Get Around Hilton Head Beach
Once you’re on Hilton Head, I definitely recommend renting a car as most of the plazas are pretty spread out. A car will allow you to bounce around the Hilton Head beach restaurants, golf courses, and shops easily. Since I live in Charleston now, I was easily able to drive onto Hilton Head Island, which meant my family didn’t need to rent a car.
The island is only 12 miles long, so an alternative to renting a car would be biking or renting a golf cart. The island is SUPER bike friendly, meaning there are bike-only roads, sidewalks, and trails all along the beaches and main roads.
As a last resort, you can rely on Hilton Head’s trolley system to bring you around.
Activities To Do Around Hilton Head Beach
Hilton Head is extremely family-friendly. There’s dozens of arcades, mini golf courses, and beaches for kids to enjoy. HHI is also a retiree’s dream – there’s 24 golf courses, early bird specials and happy hour deals, live music with dancing, walking trails, and so much more. The comfortable weather is also a plus!
As mentioned numerous times now, one of the most popular activities on Hilton Head is golfing. There’s a 3-par course here, tons of 18 hole courses, and even a few 36. Some courses offer 9 hole rates and tons have member-only deals, so be sure to do your research ahead of time. When you’re on the course, keep your eyes peeled for gators! Aside from egrets and turtles, Hilton Head is known for its alligators. They tend to linger near the ponds on the golf courses and do move quite fast, so keep an eye out and stay safe.
Have A Beach Day
If golf isn’t your thing, you could easily fill a day by hanging out at Hilton Head beach! As mentioned above, the entire “sole” of the foot of HHI is Atlantic Ocean beach, so you can’t go wrong. My family and I have been spending our time around the Folly Field Beach. The sand in Hilton Head is hard, so it’s really nice to bike along the beach as well! You could bike for a straight 12 miles along the coast if you felt up for it. Coligny Beach Park is another popular beach area to spend time in.
Eat At Shelter Cove
Shelter Cove is one of the most visited places on Hilton Head Island. This marina and harbor area is full of resorts and condos, restaurants, and several shops. You can also find live music here most nights during peak tourist season, which usually runs from February – October. There are tons of restaurants and bars here that you can hop around – most of which are right on the water. See below for specific restaurant recommendations.
Shop at Harbour Town In Sea Pines
Harbour Town is Hilton Head’s most iconic site. Here you’ll find South Carolina’s most iconic lighthouse, along with more shops and restaurants scattered along the waterfront. This area is also the most “touristy” in Hilton Head, as the shops are catered heavily towards tourists and most of the restaurants here are packed most days of the week.
Take A Dolphin Tour
The creeks and marshes surrounding Hilton Head Island are scattered with bottlenose dolphins! There are several eco-tour companies that operate dolphin tours around the island. I recommend booking with Outside Hilton Head, and choosing their sunset time slot. The boats are capped at ~ 12 passengers, and the water isn’t choppy at all since the boat moves slowly throughout the marshes. The tour is also less than 2 hours in duration, meaning it’s a great option for kids!
Pro-tip: The reason I suggest a sunset tour is because this is the time of day most dolphins feed, so you’re much more likely to see them at dusk than you are in the middle of the day. We probably saw 10!
Daufuskie Island Ferry
Daufuskie Island is the southernmost inhabited sea island in South Carolina and is located between Hilton Head and Savannah. It’s only accessible by ferry, so if you’re looking to visit one of the Lowcountry’s most iconic sea islands, consider this day trip! The island is full of tons of history as it was inhabited over 9,000 years ago and some of the best white sand beaches in the state (aside from Hilton Head beach of course!)
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
The Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is a 4,053-acre wildlife refuge located near Bluffton and Hilton Head Island. The refuge provides nesting habitat to thousands of migratory birds annually, along with local water-dwelling birds like egrets and herons. Year-round visitors can enjoy hiking, bicycling, wildlife viewing, photography, fishing, and even hunting.
Day Trip To Bluffton, SC
Bluffton is located right across the bridge from the island, about 20 minutes away. Here you’ll find a huge complex of Tanger Outlets, and a very charming downtown. I recommend spending your time in historic Old Bluffton. There’s tons of free parking here, and it’s easy to walk around. Begin your visit with an iced coffee from Corner Perk Brunch Cafe & Coffee Roasters before walking down Calhoun Street. This coffee shop is known for their speciality lattes, including churro and tiramisu flavors. Calhoun Street is scattered with art galleries, quaint boutiques, cafes, and even a farmers market. At the end of the road you’ll find the Church of the Cross and a picturesque fishing pier. There’s also a fun tree swing in the adjacent Wright Family Park.
Day Trip To Beaufort, SC
Beaufort is about an hour from Hilton Head Island, but could be another great day trip option if you were looking to see more of South Carolina. I stopped in here on my way back to Charleston, since Beaufort is only 1.5 hours from the city. Check out Bay Street for coffee shops, restaurants, and boutiques, and waterfront park. Beaufort is known for being the “most romantic city in SC”, so take time to drive around the historic neighborhoods!
Pro-tip: Need a place to stay? Check out the historic Cuthbert House Inn!
Restaurants To Try On Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head is full of delicious restaurants for everyone! There’s family friendly Italian restaurants, incredible seafood, and traditional Lowcountry cuisine. Below are some of my favorites.
Old Oyster Factory
The Old Oyster Factory is my number one restaurant recommendation for Hilton Head beach. First, the setting of this restaurant is everything. There’s floor to ceiling windows inside and waterside seating on a private pier. This rustic-chic seafood restaurant is obviously known for its Lowcountry oysters, but they truly have something for everyone. I recommend making a reservation to eat here, but they only do this for indoor seating. Also, be sure to try the hushpuppies!
Giusseppi’s is a family-friendly Italian restaurant located off of 278, the main road running through Hilton Head Island. This place is perfect for large groups looking to share pizzas, salads, and pasta dishes.
Bistro17 is one of the most popular restaurants located in Shelter Cove. It’s a nice French restaurant with waterfront seating and live music indoors. Try their wine!
The Crazy Crab
If you do want to eat in Harbour Town, I recommend the Crazy Crab. It’s a classic, all-American restaurant with a big menu and waterfront seating. You’ll get a great view of the lighthouse from here too!
The Tiki Hut is located within Coligny Beach and is a fun beachfront bar that has beach volleyball, lounge chairs, and live music. Try their mojito! They’re also known for their frozen drinks and serve food as well. This bar is a part of the Beach House Inn and is the only bar right on Hilton Head beach.
Carolina Coffee & Crumbs
If you’re looking for a delicious, on-island coffee shop for brunch / a pick-me-up, head on over to Carolina Coffee & Crumbs on Coligny Beach! I recommend their Almond Joy latte and breakfast burrito. Our food came out in 10 minutes!
That’s all for my guide to Hilton Head beach! I hope this list leaves you with some helpful tips for activities and restaurants to try on your next vacation. I highly recommend a getaway here – it’s truly such a special place. And I’m not just saying that because this was my first flight / trip at 9 months old that really started it all….including this blog!
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