13 Best Things to Do on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

— Hilton Head Island, South Carolina — Hilton Head Island is a popular Lowcountry resort town and South Carolina barrier island that has captured hearts in so many ways. Situated a mere 20 miles northeast of Savannah, Georgia, and 95 miles southwest of Charleston, this coastal paradise beckons visitors to return again and again to enjoy its many delights.

To many folks, the mere mention of Hilton Head Island evokes images of expansive beaches and golfing against a stunning backdrop of tidal marshes, pines, and live oaks draped in Spanish moss. But there is a lot more to Hilton Head than just beaches and golf.  This magnificent coastal vacation island offers fun, excitement, nature, culinary treasures, and relaxation for everyone of all ages and walks of life. Guaranteed, you will run out of time here before you will run out of things to do. So here is a short list of favorite activities when vacationing in South Carolina’s spectacular Hilton Head Island.

1. Leave Footprints in the Sand

Hilton Head is truly a beach-goers paradise with over 13 miles of sun-kissed white sandy beaches bathed by warm gulfstream waters. Eight public beaches line the ocean, facing the west side of the island, offering a variety of amenities that lure visitors to bask in the sunshine and embrace the good life. So put on those flip-flops sunscreen and pack up your cooler, towels, beach chairs, and umbrellas and enjoy the warm waters and sandy shores of Hilton Head.

2. Visit Legendary Harbour Town

Harbour Town Lighthouse
©Michael Kompanik

Located within the Sea Pines Resort, Harbour Town is a great place for the entire family to have fun. Visitors can sit under the massive Liberty Oak or climb the 114 steps to the top of the Harbour Town Lighthouse, the signature landmark of Hilton Head Island.  Views from the top are spectacular. So many shopping, dining, and water-related activities abound here that you could virtually spend an entire day in this iconic island center.

3. Bike Around Hilton Head Island

Biking to the Beach on Hilton Head Island
©Michael Kompanik

One of my most delightful surprises was the myriad of biking paths and trails dotting the Hilton Head landscape. Biking is a family-fun activity on Hilton Head and a great way to get out and explore the island. Trails parallel roadways and lead virtually everywhere, meandering through moss-covered trees, past verdant golf courses, and along wooden bridges passing over creeks and wetlands. If you didn’t bring a bike, no worries, as many resorts and bike companies offer daily and weekly rentals at a very reasonable rate.

4. Golf the Lowcountry

Golfing on Hilton Head Island
©Michael Kompanik

There is no doubt that Hilton Head is a golfer’s paradise. This 12-mile by 5-mile island boasts 26 magnificent courses. Many designed by the best in the golfing world provide enthusiasts with challenging holes amidst spectacular landscapes. The iconic course at Sea Pines, Shipyard, Palmetto Dunes, Port Royal, Palmetto Hall, Hilton Head Plantation, Spanish Wells, Wexford, Long Cove, and Indigo Run can provide ardent golfers with enough challenging holes to last a lifetime.

5. Play Some Miniature Golf

Pirate's Island Adventure Golf
©Michael Kompanik

If you are not a golfer but love the family game of “putt-putt,” Hilton Head has three amazingly themed miniature golf courses. My absolute favorite is the Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf with two 18-hole courses– an easier course and another more challenging.  Kids and adults alike love the courses’ fascinating pirate vignettes that accurately portray and relate many historical facts and legends of these swashbuckling villains.

6. Shop Hilton Head Island

Shopping in Hilton Head

It’s often been said that shopping on Hilton Head is a “golf-widow’s revenge.” Shopping opportunities abound here, from souvenir marts to upscale boutique shops and high-end venues, and everything in between. Main shopping areas in Shelter Cove, Coligny Beach, and Harbor Town are there to fulfill any of your desires. Whether it’s a Lowcountry designer purse or a Hilton Head hoodie in your favorite color, you’ll be sure to find it here on the island.

7. Dine on Lowcountry Cuisine

Softshell Crab - Hudson's Seafood House

To say that Lowcountry food is sumptuously tasty is a serious understatement. This regional cuisine based heavily on seafood is what many come here for. It blends the culinary traditions of early Spanish, Native-Americans, former African-Caribbean slave descendants with southern-style cooking in ways that are guaranteed to delight the palate.

Shrimp, fish, crabs, and oysters reign supreme here, and all are served up in a variety of styles and accompaniments. Lowcountry Boil (aka Frogmore Stew) and savory Shrimp and Grits are local favorites. This year we timed it right to hit the beginning of the blue softshell crab season – a great way to enjoy luscious crab without having to do any of the work.

Most dining venues are locally owned and operated and range from local crab shacks and dockside eateries to fine dining establishments and everything in between. Our personal favorite, Hudson’s Seafood on the Docks, is a longtime highly respected historic waterfront restaurant well-known for the freshness and quality of their seafood and their outstanding customer service. Everything we had here was top-notch.

8. Discover Magical Daufuskie Island

Gullah Homes on Daufuskie Island
©Michael Kompanik

A boat ride to Daufuskie Island is a step back into the Lowcountry’s history. Truth be told, it’s the only way to get to this fascinating island. Our boat and golf cart tour traced Daufuskie’s fascinating history as an indigo and cotton plantation and home to Gullah slave descendants.  We learned of the island’s storied past with Yemassee Native American, Spanish, and English conflicts and how the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and economic disasters affected the island.

Along the way, we visited the schools, churches, and historic shops and structures that reflected Daufuskie’s unique island culture. Today artisans and people desiring anonymity make this island their home. Our trip to this remote isle was quite an eye-changing experience unlike any other. The natural wildlife here is so plentiful; it far outnumbers the 400 human inhabitants who happily share the island with them.

9. Explore Nature and Ecosystems

Snowy Egret at Nature Preserve
©Michael Kompanik

Hilton Head’s extensive wetlands, tidal creeks, and shoreline provide nature lovers with many wonderful opportunities. The island itself is home to two nature preserves, the 605-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve and the 50-acre Audubon Newhall Nature Preserve. But even with 40,000 local inhabitants, Hilton Head visitors don’t have to go to preserves to glimpse native wildlife.  It’s also home to alligators, deer, dolphins, loggerhead turtles, manatees, and birds of all types found in many different and even unexpected places. It’s so important to show them respect as Hilton Head was their home long before mankind discovered it.

10. Check out Shelter Cove Harbour

Shelter Cove Marina - Hilton Head Island
©Michael Kompanik

Picturesque Shelter Cove nestles along the southern edge of expansive Broad Creek that nearly bisects the island. This lively center features restaurants, shopping, as well as boating and kayaking excursions. The scenic Broad Creek waterway leading out to open waters is ideal for kayaking, fishing, and dolphin watching. A huge Poseidon sundial statue greets visitors to the main shopping area.

11. Crabbing, Dock, and Deep-Sea Fishing

Soft Shell Crabs - Hilton Head Island SC
©Michael Kompanik

The draw of the abundant Lowcountry waters is strong on Hilton Head. The rustic southern rural charm of the island encourages us to grab a pole and bait bucket and head out for some dockside fishing. Or fix a line to a chicken neck and bring your net and bucket to go crabbing. For the more adventurous, day charters will take fishermen out to open waters for spectacular deep-sea fishing. Hilton Head is a renowned mecca for sports fishing. Mahi-mahi, marlins, sharks of all types, and a host of other saltwater prize fish are teeming in the turquoise waters of the island.

12. Get out on the Water

Sunset Cruise- Hilton Head Island
©Michael Kompanik

Sail away on a catamaran cruise, go kayaking through the marshes, or get out on a jet ski. Your choices are virtually limitless, from charters to peddle-powered pontoon crafts. You can even rent your own boat, book a sunset dinner cruise, or take a pirate sail adventure. Hilton Head was made for waterborne activities.

13. Day Trips from Hilton Head Island

Historic Carriage Tour-Charleston
©Michael Kompanik

While I can virtually guarantee you will not feel “Island Fever” or need to get away from Hilton Head, first-time or return visitors to the Lowcountry may hanker to explore some of the other treasures this unique part of the country has to offer. Stunningly picturesque Savannah, Georgia, with its magnificent, gardened squares and gorgeous homes, is a mere hour away.

Beaufort, the moss-draped sleepy southern coastal town made famous in Pat Conroy’s novel and movie The Prince of Tides, is but a short jaunt north. Lastly, historic Charleston, S.C., with its revolutionary and civil war legacies, elegant plantations, and fabulous foodie scene, is two hours north. All are well worth a day or even an overnight trip highly recommended for Lowcountry visitors.

Hilton Head Island Conclusion

Perhaps the best thing to do at Hilton Head is simply to unplug and unwind. Vacations are all about the rejuvenation of the body and spirit. There is no better way to do this than relaxation. The island provides an open invitation to accomplish just this with its many hammocks, rocking chairs, beach loungers, and more.

Remember when you’re on Hilton Head, you’re on island time – So relax.


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