A Beach Adventure to Remember for a Lifetime
By Michelle Bourg
Temps are heating up, the last school bell of the year has sounded,and your family is dreaming of a summer beach getaway. But you’re looking for more than just sand and surf: you want an adventure to remember for a lifetime. You’re looking for a trip to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Readers of Travel & Leisure magazine have voted it the top continental U.S. island destination for two straight years, for its 12 miles of perfect beaches, championship golf courses, tennis, hundreds of restaurants and much more. And it’s only four and a half hours from Atlanta by car.
When you arrive at any of Hilton Head’s lavish resorts, you’re already a world away. Encompassing more than 5,000 acres on the southern tip of the island, Sea Pines Resort has been synonymous with Lowcountry luxury for more than 50 years. Its boutique hotel, The Inn and Club at Harbour Town, features rooms and suites made for relaxing, with luxury linens, walk-in showers with rainfall showerheads and Nespresso machines. Condo, villa and home rentals are also available to suit every taste. Stop by the Ocean Lounge one evening and take in an Jazz by the Sea concert, sipping a cocktail or a glass of wine from an award-winning wine list.
The Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island takes relaxation to the next level, with 340 rooms that feature private balconies or patios overlooking the ocean or the picturesque Shipyard Plantation district. Amenities include a zero-entry lagoon pool, a heated shade pool and hot tub and children’s play area. The Just Us Kids supervised play program for youngsters age 3-12 lets parents indulge in some private time with a hot stone massage at the Arum Spa or a drink at Bayley’s Bar and Terrace.
At Holiday Inn Resort Beach House, it’s just steps to Coligny Beach, and attractions like the Savannah Riverfront and Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge are also nearby. Kids 19 and under stay free in their parents’ room, which includes plenty of comforts, including a mini fridge, flat screen TV and Wifi. Grab a Southern breakfast at The Porch Southern Kitchen and Bar before heading out for the day.
With all this luxury, you might be tempted not to leave, but you don’t want to miss all the excitement that Hilton Head has to offer. First up, of course, are the island’s 12 miles of beaches, tailor-made for swimming, kayaking, parasailing, or just sunbathing with a good book. (For adventure gear, lessons and tours, stop by H2O Sports in Harbour Town). The most popular is Coligny Beach, centrally located with free parking and a drop-off point at Coligny Circle. Restrooms, benches and swings, gazebos and sand showers are available, and the beach is adjacent to shops and restaurants—after a day of sand castles and swimming, hit Skillets Café & Grill for peel-and-eat shrimp on the porch or the Island Fudge Shoppe for something sweet.
Farther up the eastern shore is Islander’s Beach, perfect for biking and containing a park with a playground and picnic area, with trees for a welcome respite from the summer sun. More secluded is Fish Haul Beach, located on the island’s northern side and home to seemingly countless birds and fiddler crabs that make their home in the marshes.
But there’s more to Hilton Head Island than beaches. Lying inland is the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Here, you can take a walk or bike ride over 14 miles of maintained trails and take in the salt marshes, freshwater ponds and maritime forests, looking out for deer, bobcats, alligators, foxes and more than 250 species of birds—see if you can spot the flash of a red, blue and green painted bunting flitting through the trees. There’s plentiful saltwater fishing to be had in the adjacent estuary waters as well.
One of Hilton Head’s most unique destinations is the Coastal Discovery Museum, where you can explore the Lowcountry region’s natural and cultural history on 68 scenic acres that include trails, gardens and some of the area’s oldest buildings, dating back some 300 years. Kids especially will be enchanted by the horses and the butterfly habitat. The museum also offers talks and guided tours, including a dolphin tour and a look at the area’s Civil War-era forts, that bring another side of the region to life.
No trip to Hilton Head would be complete without a visit to Harbour Town, the picturesque area around the island’s semicircular yacht basin. While you’re here, browse the many shops for apparel, artisan jewelry, home décor, fine art and custom gifts and crafts. Be sure to pick up a genuine sweetgrass basket, a signature item of the region handcrafted by Gullah artisans who are descendants of Lowcountry plantation workers. While you’re in the area, stop by the Harbour Town Light House and Museum and take in the stunning views of the island and beyond from the top of its 93-foot-high candy-striped tower.
The lighthouse frames the 18th hole of the Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort, home of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage presented by Boeing. Hilton Head is a golfer’s paradise, with 24 championship courses. Several resorts offer attractive golf packages, including Atlantic Dunes and Heron Point, both also located at Sea Pines.
Tennis players will definitely want to pack their racquets; Hilton Head offers numerous facilities for every level of play. The Palmetto Dunes Tennis and Pickleball Center is one of the highest-ranked tennis centers in the world, with 23 clay courts. The Port Royal Golf & Raquet Club has hosted the likes of Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf on its clay and hard courts, and and the Smith-Stearns Tennis Academy, hosted by the Sea Pines Racquet Club, offers instruction with Stan Smith and other top-level coaches for those who want to hone their game with the best.
A day of adventure in the sea air is sure to fire up your appetite, and that’s a good thing, because Hilton Head has some of the Southeast’s finest dining. Don’t miss the seafood and steaks served in an airy beach atmosphere at Alexander’s, with a kid’s menu to please the younger ones. Red Fish features an award-winning wine list and serves an eclectic menu blending Lowcountry, American, Asian and Latin accents and featuring homegrown produce from the restaurant’s Bear Island Farms. For a fun evening, stop by for cocktails and live music at The Tiki Hut, a favorite with locals as well as visitors.
When your trip to Sea Island is over, not only will you have memories to last a lifetime, but you’ll also be ready to come back again and again to create even more.