Hilton Head Island offers one of the best beaches in the world in the state of South Carolina
If you want to experience island life without leaving the state, drive about four hours from Myrtle Beach south to Hilton Head Island, one of the last destinations in South Carolina before the Georgia border.
It’s what we did for spring break in April 2022, just shy of the sultry sun’s summer debut and the warmer ocean water temps–but that didn’t keep us from taking advantage of the island’s 12 miles of beachfront each day.
Hilton Head is an interesting mix of tourists and local transplants, with a blend of both laidback Lowcountry vibes and a posh lifestyle. In fact, about 70 percent of the island, which includes the tourist areas, is located inside gated communities and, on our visit, Hilton Head played host to the exclusive RBC Heritage PGA Tour golf tournament.
Unlike Myrtle Beach, the town enforces the Land Management Ordinance, which limits development and controls the style of buildings to complement the natural beauty of the surrounding trees. Even one of the few public beach accesses on the island for town residents has approved multi-million-dollar land-buying bonds to control commercial growth.
There’s a reason Hilton Head was named one of the Top 10 Family Beaches in the U.S., No. 1 Island in the Continental U.S. and No. 2 Island in the World by Travel+Leisure Magazine in 2021, and the Top Island in the U.S. by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine.
Here are some of the ways we experienced this award-winning island for ourselves during our getaway.
SEE & DO
Hilton Head is synonymous with bicycling, so pack up your family’s bikes or rent one of those cute bikes with the front-hanging basket from one of the oodles of rental shops available. The island was recognized as a Gold Level Biking Community by the League of American Bicyclists, which means it’s one of the top 25 biking communities in the U.S. There are bike paths along the busy streets just about anywhere–60 miles of bike paths and 100 miles of protected public pathways, to be exact–so you can go anywhere by bike to dine, shop, and more. My legs were aching by the time we checked out of Hilton Head! And don’t forget the beach at low tide that offers an extremely wide, hard-packed sand roadway complete with ocean breeze and views en route.
You can never go wrong with a day spent at the beach. It’s where we spent our lazy days on Hilton Head, sunbathing, boogie boarding, spike balling, and castle-building. The beach was beautiful and clean here, and about a pleasant one-mile walk over a wooden causeway from our hotel to oceanfront.
One sight we didn’t get to check out on our trip because Sea Pines Resort was crawling with golf-goers in town at the time for the RBC Heritage tournament was the landmark Harbour Town Lighthouse. The more than 50-year-old, red-and-white-striped lighthouse that overlooks Yacht Basin is available for tours. Climb up the 110 steps that lead to the top of this 93-foot-tall lighthouse and then explore the museum on the ground floor. You can also venture out into Harbour Town itself, which features an abundance of unique boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and cafés that surround the marina.
If you’d like to take a break from the sun and do some shopping inland, there are two Tanger Outlet options on Hilton Head. We chose the group of shops that also housed The Salty Dog Café, which was the perfect place for lunch. If you’d like to cross the bridge into the neighboring, charming town of historic Bluffton, you’ll find antique stores and an eclectic mix of boutiques abound.
While we did buy groceries to make a few meals for our family of five in the condo, we did manage to visit a few (out of the many) cool dining spots in Hilton Head that I recommend:
Giuseppe’s Pizza & Pasta House
Yes, it’s a pizza place–but it’s an amazing one that’s been around for more than 30 years, so you know they’re doing something right! The award-winning restaurant makes their sauce fresh from California tomatoes, their pizza dough is made daily, their pastas are the freshest, and they use only the best quality Italian cheeses. We went with the Meatball & Ricotta Deluxe pie, topped with their famous meatballs, sliced and covered with mozzarella, provolone, whole milk ricotta, and Parmesan cheeses. They also offer a handful of cauliflower-crust pizzas, salads, traditional pasta dishes, award-winning wings, specialty double burgers, and more. Giuseppe’s offers a casual-coastal ambiance, indoors and out, located within Shelter Cove, a mixed-use community similar to The Market Common in Myrtle Beach, with shops, outdoor dining, parks, a marina, and an entertainment center to explore after dinner.
Fishcamp on Broad Creek
This historic waterfront restaurant serves up fresh seafood in a refreshing ambiance that was the original Simmons Fishing Camp cabin that dates back to 1955. We feasted on views of the creekfront while dining alfresco, along with these recommended menu items: the Daufuskie Blue Crab Cake served with a fire-roasted red pepper remoulade and crispy potatoes; the Peel ’n Eat Shrimp Boil with sausage, potatoes, and corn; the Blackened Carolina Catfish served with an okra hoe cake; the Parmesan Crusted Grouper drizzled with a lemon cream sauce and paired with scallion whipped potatoes and veggies; and Southern-fried Flounder.
Co Co’s on the Beach
It’s a tiki bar that sits oceanfront right on the sand at the end of our walkway from our resort to the beach, but it’s accessible to all by foot or bike on the beachfront. Fronted by a beach volleyball court, the open-air bar and restaurant isn’t fancy, but no one expects Co Co’s to be. The deck is lined with colorful, airbrushed tables and stools and the menu selections are the epitome of casual. But the food is good, featuring starters like chicken or beef empanadas, homemade Co Co potato chips or spicy pickles, and a smattering of burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches. Try the Shrimp Po Boy, packed with beer-battered shrimp, lettuce, tomato, and Boom Boom sauce, then wash it down with one of Co Co’s infamous Hurricanes that you can choose by Hurricane categories 1 through 5, depending on your fear factor.
I booked an Airbnb at the Hilton Head Resort called the Rustic Anchor, which was a dream. The two-bedroom condo accommodated everyone in their own bed–between our queen and the boys’ bunk beds. Finishes, hardwood floors, and appliances were refined and updated throughout the living/dining area and full kitchen; conveniences were covered, with the owner providing a set of beach toys and a beach wagon to pull the mile to the beach (and one less thing to pack). Resort amenities kept my active sons busy, including a beautiful outdoor pool in the courtyard right below our second-floor condo, an indoor pool surrounded by an indoor track, an indoor hot tub, six lighted tennis courts, and a fitness room. And, if you packed your clubs, Palmetto Dunes golf course is located right next door.
You can customize your own getaway to Hilton Head Island, of course, to meet the needs and wants of your family. For more information, visit hiltonheadisland.org