With its pristine sandy beaches, abundant wildlife and lush greenery, visiting the island of Hilton Head, South Carolina, feels like you've stepped into a tropical paradise without leaving the continental United States. This charming resort town is a fantastic place for quiet romantic getaways and fun-filled family vacations alike. Whether you prefer soaking up the sun on a beautiful beach or getting out and about to hike, bike and explore, Hilton Head has something for you to enjoy.
Coligny Beach is Hilton Head's most popular beach by far, but you don't have to worry about crowds. This sprawling park offers miles of sandy beaches so you can pick out the perfect spot. If you forget an essential, don't worry. This park is also home to small retailers and rental outlets that let you pick up anything you need, along with clean, well-maintained restrooms and plenty of restaurants and snack bars to keep you fueled up and ready to swim.
The Coastal Discovery Museum is an all-ages museum designed to teach visitors about the unique ecosystems and cultures found on Hilton Head Island and the surrounding areas. Wander among the nature paths to learn about the area's unique, diverse plant and animal life, or stop in at the attached barn to meet some Marsh Tacky horses, a rare breed of horse that was developed in this area of South Carolina. Inside the main building, you'll find plentiful exhibits about the region's unique cultural heritage. If you visit between May and October, be sure to stop by the butterfly habitat, where you'll see countless native butterflies congregating.
Surrounded by the upscale Sea Pines resort community, the Harbour Town lighthouse has a bold red-and-white striped look that is featured on many of the local postcards and souvenirs. It is located in one of the nicest marinas on the island as well, so you can admire some luxury yachts and sailboats while you visit. After you see the lighthouse, rent a bike and explore the community's 15 miles of biking trails, or stop in at The Inn & Club for a nice meal. Visitors do have to pay a small entry fee to get into this gated community.
While Hilton Head is most famous for its beaches, this diverse island is home to multiple ecosystem types. Head over to the Sea Pines Forest Preserve to see a sprawling forest laced with swampy marshes, which you can explore along a system of raised boardwalks. Keep an eye out for Native American artifacts and ruins, particularly the 4,000-year-old Sea Pines Shell Ring, and be sure to visit the sprawling Warner W. Plahs Wildflower Field to see native species in bloom.
Hilton Head is one of the premier golfing destinations in the world, so make some time to play a round while you're there. Experienced golfers can head right out to one of the 24 championship golf courses available on the island, and golf fans of all skill levels can enjoy watching one of the frequent tournaments held in the area, including a PGA TOUR game. If you're a beginner or just want to sharpen up your skills, there are also multiple world-class golf schools to choose from.
Visiting Daufuskie Island sometimes feels like stepping back in time. This charming destination is only accessible by boat or ferry, and it is home to only about 250 full-time residents. Despite its rustic atmosphere, it is home to a vibrant arts scene and numerous small galleries, as well as some of the area's best seafood restaurants. Take a historic walking tour to learn about the island's rich and diverse history that ranges from Native American history to European settlement and the unique Gullah culture practiced by local African Americans.
Keep your eyes peeled when you visit Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. This sprawling preserve is home to abundant white-tailed deer, turtles, alligators and more. It's also a haven for birdwatchers, so bring your binoculars if you enjoy identifying avian species. Most of the trails are fairly easy, so it's suitable for the whole family to enjoy. Be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water, though, as most of the trails are out in the open with minimal shade.
If you didn't get in as much wildlife viewing as you wanted on Pickney Island, consider booking a guided tour. These tours are offered by several private outfitters as well as the Coastal Discovery Museum, and most offer several options to choose from. You can paddle a kayak through a salt marsh, tour the coastline or head out to sea in the hopes of spotting dolphins leaping from the waves. While wildlife sightings are never guaranteed, most tour operators know where to look to increase your chances of seeing some of the area's remarkable native fauna.
If you're in the mood to relax on the beach but want to avoid the crowds, head over to Mitchelville Beach. Although it still has picnic tables, restrooms, and an outdoor shower, this beach is relatively undeveloped and offers great swimming. The coastal plants and wildlife are also more abundant here, and there are plenty of unpaved paths through the grassy dunes. Plan your visit for low tide to get a great view of tide pools and salt marshes.
No trip to the coast is complete without some delicious fresh seafood, and one of the best places to go in Hilton Head is Hudson's Seafood House on the Docks. As the name implies, this South Carolina staple is located right on the water, so you can watch the fishing boats at work as you enjoy their catch. If Hudson's isn't your style, though, don't worry. Hilton Head offers numerous other options, including The Jazz Corner, which has some of the best live jazz in the country for you to enjoy as you dine.