Are you planning a vacation to one of the most beautiful islands in the Lowcountry? Escape to Hilton Head Island, SC, where a world of wonder and excitement awaits! It is a small but vibrant vacation spot spanning just 5 miles wide and 12 miles long, featuring 60 miles of bike trails. In 1956, a bridge connecting the island to the mainland was built, making it easy for visitors to get to Hilton Head. It is only 95 miles from Charleston, SC, and 35 miles away from Savannah, Georgia.
Hilton Head is known for its beautiful sandy beaches, which provide the perfect backdrop for picnics, water sports, and relaxation. The island is also home to protected wildlife preserves, allowing visitors to explore its natural wonders. It is also dotted with numerous resorts, shops, and restaurants. And for golf lovers, Hilton Head doesn't disappoint with its abundance of golf courses. From sun-soaked beaches to cultural gems and thrilling adventures, Hilton Head has something for everyone.
Are you wondering where to start your Hilton Head adventure? No worries! We've curated a travel guide featuring the 16 best and most enjoyable things to do in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
So, without any further ado, let's get started!
1. Visit Folly Field Beach State Park
Folly Field Beach Park is ideal for a day packed with sunlight, fun, and delicious food. Folly Field Beach Park, also known as “Local's Beach,” is a well-kept secret among Hilton Head locals. It is a cherished stretch of beautiful shoreline that remains blissfully uncrowded. The beach is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood surrounded by gorgeous Palmettos and live oak trees.
Many tourists prefer to rent beach houses nearby. However, day visitors can enjoy outdoor showers, restrooms, ample parking, and convenient beach rentals like chairs and umbrellas. Its shallow and flat-bottomed ocean waters make it a perfect spot for families with young children, providing a safe and pleasurable experience. The best part is that Folly Field Beach is dog-friendly, so you can bring your canine companion along for the coastal adventure.
Location: 55 Starfish Dr, Hilton Head Island, SC
2. Relax in the Coligny Beach Park
If you're looking for things to do on Hilton Head Island, Coligny Beach Park is a great place to start. Coligny Beach Park, located at the tip of Pope Avenue at Coligny Circle, is the largest and most popular beach on Hilton Head. The beach boasts excellent amenities, including free Wi-Fi, refreshing outdoor showers, bathrooms, and changing rooms. Visitors can easily rent any beach-related equipment they need, and the park offers a variety of food options, making it a perfect spot for a full day of enjoyment.
For those seeking a more secluded experience, continue biking to Burkes Beach, Alder Lane, Folly Field Beach Park, Islanders Beach Park, or Chaplin Community Park. If you're keen to swim, lifeguards are available to provide information about water conditions from March to October (6 am – 9 pm) and from November to February (6 am – 6 pm). After a beach day, stroll to the nearby Hilton Head Social Bakery for a sweet treat, coffee, or lunch.
Location: 1N Forest Beach, Hilton Head Island, SC
3. Explore Harbor Town
Whether you're a first-time visitor to Hilton Head or a returning guest, Harbour Town is a must-visit destination. The town is known as the business hub of Hilton Head's Sea Pines Resort. This district offers a blend of dining, shopping, and sports activities, making it a prime location for a South Carolina high-end vacation experience. When it comes to dining, the Harbour Town Bakery & Café offers al fresco delights such as sandwiches, coffees, teas, and baked goods. Sports lovers will find numerous facilities near the marina, including pirate ship adventures, sailing excursions on racing yachts, dolphin cruises, kayak eco-tours, and more.
If you're a golf lover, head to the renowned Harbour Town Golf Links, known as one of South Carolina's top golf courses. Families with children can also enjoy the expansive playground. Harbour Town also houses The Liberty Oak at The Harbour Town Yacht Basin, a lively music venue featuring local bands nightly from April through October, with free entry for everyone.
Location: 149 Lighthouse Road, Hilton Head Island, SC
4. Explore the Hilton Head Bike Trails
Cars are practically unnecessary in Hilton Head due to its tiny size and absence of challenging hills. The island offers 117 miles of pathways shared with pedestrians, including a six-mile stretch exclusively reserved for cyclists. Hilton Head holds the prestigious Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community Award from the League of American Bicyclists, a distinction shared by only 21 other communities in the entire country.
Whether you bring your own bike or rent it from one of the many rental spots, biking has become an affordable and convenient mode of exploration. Along the way, you'll find attractive wetland boardwalks with views of marshes teeming with wading birds, scenic bridges, and ideal sites to pause for a picnic or cast a fishing line from a dock. With over 10,000 bike rack slots conveniently placed around the island, you can easily take a break, shop, or have a relaxed seafood lunch with a waterfront view. Additionally, bike path maps are widely available in shops, hotels, restaurants, kiosks, resorts, or bike rental outlets to help you plan your biking tour.
5. Visit Harbor Town Lighthouse and Museum
The Harbour Town Lighthouse and Museum is one of Hilton Head's prominent landmarks and deserves a spot on your must-see list. This famous lighthouse, located in the heart of Harbour Town, is adorned with distinctive red and white stripes.
The Harbour Town Lighthouse and Museum, built in 1970, stands 90 feet tall. For a fee of $5.75 (children five and under are free), you can climb the 114 stairs to the top of the lighthouse and enjoy a panoramic view of the sunset across Calibogue Sound and Isle of Daufuskie. As you climb its many steps, you'll enjoy engaging exhibits highlighting the island's 10,000-year history through photographs and artifacts. A hand-built 16-foot model of the Eagle, a historic 295-foot cutter, is one of its most renowned exhibits.
6. Explore the Trails at Sea Pines Forest Reserve
One of the best things for nature lovers to do on Hilton Head Island is to visit Sea Pines Forest Preserve. This beautiful site, near Sea Pines Resort, is easily accessible by foot or bike. This natural reserve, established in 1959, exhibits the unique and ancient wonders of Mother Nature. The Indian Shell Ring, which is said to be around 40,000 years old, is a genuine and amazing feature. The preserve's landscape features elevated boardwalks, pristine lakes, and mysterious wetlands, making it a home for native flowers and wildlife such as alligators.
During your visit, you can also go horseback riding, take wagon rides, go on guided boat cruises, and go fishing. Outside visitors must pay a $9 daily visiting fee (cash only) to get admission to the gated community at Sea Pines Resort.
Address: Sea Pines Resort, Hilton Head Island, SC
7. Visit the Gullah Heritage Trail
Take a Hilton Head heritage tour to learn about the rich Gullah history. The Gullah people are descendants of West African slaves who lived in South Carolina before the Civil War. They offer an exciting cultural tour along the Gullah Heritage Trail. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the Gullah neighborhood alongside a local, see a freedom village, and learn more about the rich history and traditions of the Gullah Museum.
Gullah people are excited about sharing their culture with visitors. They also offer trail tours of the Gullah Geechee Corridor and Mitchelville Freedom Park, the significant landmarks in Hilton Head. This park honors the first self-governed community of formerly enslaved individuals in the United States – the birthplace of freedom!
8. Take a Dolphin Cruise Tour
The waters of Hilton Head Island are teeming with marine life, and seeing these unique sea creatures is one of the most thrilling experiences. The native Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins, an abundant population of roughly 170 beautiful aquatic mammals that call Hilton Head Island home year-round, are at the top of the “must-see” list. While these playful dolphins can sometimes be seen from the shore, getting up close and personal with them is best aboard a boat.
The Daufuskie Island Ferry provides a 45-minute crossing from Hilton Head Island to Daufuskie Island. For a more dedicated dolphin-watching experience, consider Dolphin Discoveries Nature Tours, which offers daily tours with a small group of six persons onboard. These tours provide an intimate experience as you spot native dolphins with appealing names like Gary, Little Baby Stripes, and Blackbird.
9. Visit Coastal Discovery Museum
The Coastal Discovery Museum is a must-see attraction on Hilton Head Island. The museum is an educational facility that provides enjoyment for people of all ages. This non-profit organization, which was founded in 1985, spans 68 acres and is dedicated to educating visitors and locals about the culture and history of the region. Here, you'll discover native tree species like a 500-year-old southern red cedar and the evergreen live oak trees.
The Coastal Discovery Museum has a variety of wildlife, including several bird species and butterflies. The property also offers an enjoyable experience with well-marked nature trails. You'll find three amazing marsh boardwalks along the tidal Jarvis Creek along these trails. The Bird's-Eye View Theater hosts outdoor events and plays. In addition, the museum offers dolphin cruises and guided kayaking adventures. Don't miss the weekly farmers market for a local touch.
Location: 70 Honey Horn Drive, Hilton Head Island, SC
10. Take a Day Trip to Daufuskie Island
If you’re looking for a relaxing weekend escape, head to Daufuskie Island, located between Hilton Head, SC, and Savannah, Georgia. This quiet destination, which hosts many guests annually, is home to roughly 300 residents and only accessible by ferry. Take a 45-minute boat cruise around the Intracoastal Waterway with Daufuskie Island Ferry and private operators.
Daufuskie Island is recognized as a historic district due to its role in the Civil War and its indigenous inhabitants, the Gullahs. The island, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982, features scenic landscapes, antebellum mansions, waterways for paddleboarding, and biking and horseback riding trails. This luxury enclave is famous for its high-end stores, golf courses, art galleries, and restaurants. Daufuskie maintains an idyllic atmosphere with few cars, moss oak trees, and calm beaches.
11. Take Kids to The Sandbox: An Interactive Children's Museum
If you want to take a break from the beach, visit The Sandbox Interactive Children's Museum near Coligny Beach Park. The museum was founded by local mothers intending to combine learning and fun for their kids. Spanning 2,500 square feet, the museum is open for children from newborn to eight years old.
The museum fosters parent-kids interaction with diverse displays created for shared enjoyment. From teaching math and physics to improving reading skills and language development, each exhibit has a distinct educational purpose. The underlying concept is simple: children learn best when engaged in play. Exhibits such as “Flight Deck,” which explores the skies, “An International Bazaar,” in which children play adult roles, and “The Adventure,” simulating a sea voyage, provide exciting learning experiences. Furthermore, there is Charlie's Perfect Playplace for individual enjoyment.
Location: 80 Nassau Street, Hilton Head Island, SC
12. Explore the Stoney-Baynard Plantation Ruins
Stoney-Baynard Plantation, commonly known as the Braddock's Point Plantation and Baynard Ruins, is a historical site on Hilton Head Island. This antebellum property, built in the 1790s by Captain Jack Stoney, was originally home to the Stoney and Baynards families. These wonderful ruins are set in a beautiful cove near Sea Pines with stunning views of Calibogue Sound.
Haunting rumors give a fascinating layer to the stories. Explore the 6-acre property to find remnants of the Civil War Union troop encampments, the original two-story house, the overseer's house, and the slave house. Designated as a National Register of Historic Sites, this property offers a thrilling journey through South Carolina's history, making it a must-visit location for visitors seeking a glimpse into the island's historical legacy.
Location: Plantation Dr., Hilton Head Island, SC
13. Visit Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
The Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, established by the Pinckney family in 1975, is one of Hilton Head's must-see attractions. It was originally home to the Pinckney family's plantation for more than 200 years, connected by highways and bridges. It is an important archeological site in South Carolina, with over 115 historical sites dating back over 10,000 years. Among them are headstones of Civil War-era black troops. From salt marshes and freshwater ponds to forests and brush, the refuge has a diverse range of biomes.
The refuge is a haven for wildlife lovers since it is home to a variety of shorebirds, deer, waterfowl, armadillos, and alligators. You might see egrets, white ibis, bald eagles, and herons among the bird species. The refuge also boasts endless activities such as fishing, hunting, photography, and hiking 10-mile trails. You can book guided tours on bikes and electric shuttles.
14. Enjoy H20 Sports
When visiting Hilton Head Island, the Harbor Town Marina is your entry point to a water adventure with H2O Sports. With so many exciting activities to choose from, the most challenging task is deciding where to begin. Parasailing, Jet Skiing, paddleboarding, alligator tours, banana boat rides, boat rentals, sailboats, sailing, kayaking, tubing, dolphin viewing, or water skiing are some available activities.
Whether you enjoy water activities or have active children, H2O Sports has you covered. Take advantage of the expertise of highly experienced guides and enjoy the latest equipment for activities such as parasailing to ensure a safe and exciting experience. Dive into the aquatic enjoyment and create lasting memories on Hilton Head's clear waters.
15. Shop at Shelter Cove Towne Center
Location: 40 Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head Island, SC
Are you a shopaholic? Head to Shelter Cove Towne Centre, a waterfront paradise on Hilton Head Island. Spanning 290,000 square feet, the Towne Centre is a modern village featuring rows of shops, restaurants, lagoons, residences, and more. Whether you're looking for fashionable attire, coastal-inspired treasures, or unique gifts, Shelter Cove Towne Centre offers a curated selection for every taste.
Take a stroll along the scenic marina, enjoying the breathtaking views of boats and salt marshes. Conveniently accessible by bike or car from Palmetto Dunes, this oceanfront shopping center provides the perfect blend of luxury and relaxation. Additionally, a waterside park near the mall offers a perfect spot to relax and unwind.
16. Hilton Head Distillery
Hilton Head Distillery is the first distillery in South Carolina that specializes in crafting West Indies rum and Carolina whiskey blends. As you step inside, treat yourself to small-batch rum and vodka, ideal for warming up in cooler weather. The tasting experience at Hilton Head
Distillery is the main attraction, with a range of flavored cocktails and aged spirits available for you to mix and match in your own cocktail samples. Mountain Peak Espresso Rum, Two Traditions Rum, Aermoor Vodka, and Redlock Spiced Rum are among the flagship brands to try. In addition, informative tours are available to learn about the distillery's process and the art of making its distinctive products.
Location: 14 Cardinal Rd, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926
I hope this guide has excited you to start planning for your next vacation on Hilton Head Island. Whether you're seeking family fun or solo adventures, Hilton Head Island is your ideal destination. From the sun-kissed shores to the captivating historical sites, Hilton Head offers something for every traveler.
With these 16 fantastic things to do, your vacation here is sure to be a journey filled with joy, exploration, and a touch of Southern charm. Get ready to make Hilton Head your dream destination!
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.