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Top 10 Things To Do in Hilton Head

Just across from Savannah, Georgia, Hilton Head is a popular South Carolina holiday destination, a unique and scenic resort town anchoring the southern tip of the state’s coastline. It offers an unspoiled environment, minus neon signs and billboards, with a dozen miles of pristine white sandy beaches, world-class eateries and top-rated golf courses. Recreational activities are abundant, with opportunities on land and the water, while wildlife abounds, from dolphins and manatees to sea turtles, snowy egrets and alligators. While you’re here, be sure to put some of these top things to do on your must-experience list.

10. Sip Tasty Local Brews

Where: Hilton Head and Bluffton

What: Craft beer in this region has become increasing popularly, growing from just a handful to more than 50 over a decade in South Carolina alone. There are premium craft brewers scattered through the state and the Lowcountry, and some can be easily reached during your visit in Hilton Head. For those who love a cold brew after a day at the beach or any time before or after your active pursuits, you’ll find a brewery right on the island and multiple options just minutes away in Bluffton.

Highlights: Hilton Head Brewery is the first to open right on the island, located at 1 Cardinal Road. It was started by a local, Juan Brantley, who was born and raised on Hilton Head in 2006. Before long he added a team of expert brewers and tap room specialists, with the tasty beers now found in stores throughout the state as well as on tap in restaurants and hotels. At any one time you’ll find 15 different brews to choose from, including a popular barrel-aged porter and some seasonal options. By calling ahead you can find out what’s brewing as there are always tastings, along with a retail store and kid-friendly tours.

9. Experience the Museums

Where: Various places throughout the island

What: Hilton Head is home to multiple outstanding museums that allow visitors to experience the island’s rich culture, fascinating history, fauna and flora. For those who enjoy lighthouses, the Harbour Town Lighthouse is the island’s most iconic landmark and hosts a hidden museum inside. Visitors can learn about the history of the light as well as the island. From the top, it offers magnificent views of the harbour. There’s also a children’s museum, a museum dedicated to the Gullah people who descended from enslaved West Africans who’ve maintained their unique traditions here for about three centuries, and the highly popular Coastal Discovery Museum.

Highlights: The Coastal Discovery Museum focuses on the island’s cultural and ecological history, including its flora and fauna, providing a relaxing and fascinating alternative to the beach. It’s located on the 68-acre Honey Horn property which features gardens, gorgeous live oak trees, scenic trails and a butterfly habitat with a range of native butterflies between from May through October. From here, visitors can also join tours like guided kayak excursions and dolphin cruises, with bottlenose dolphins swimming through some of the salt marshes on the island. Rare Marsh Tacky horses can be visited in the barn.

8. Explore Harbour Town

Where: Located in The Sea Pines Resort near the southern tip of Hilton Head

What: Harbour Town is the place to go for shopping enthusiasts, home to a vast selection of unique home décor boutiques, fine apparel retailers, jewelry and gift shops, and more. Pick up t-shirts, golf apparel, souvenirs, gifts, impressive paintings and more. In between exploring the myriad of options, you’ll find a variety of casual outdoor cafes for alfresco dining along with upscale restaurants serving everything from fresh seafood and salads to steaks and sandwiches.

Highlights: The Cinnamon Bear Store is one of the most popular retailers here, offering a variety of gifts and souvenirs, with teddy bears its specialty. It sells especially unique gift items and all sorts of tasty spreads, gourmet coffees, dips and Lampe Berger home fragrance products. While you’re there you can also treat yourself to one of two dozen flavors of premium ice cream and frozen yogurt, Jelly Belly candies and an extensive selection of bulk candy too. Planet Hilton Head sells everything from local artwork to beautiful jewelry, stained glass, paintings, décor and even dog accessories. It’s Christmas year-round at Harbour Town Christmas, which features a vast array of holiday merchandise including gorgeous tree toppers, personalised ornaments, Hilton Head-themed ornaments, assorted Santas and many other items

7. Delve into History

Where: Throughout Hilton Head

What: Beyond the luxurious resorts, striking scenery and attractions, Hilton Head has a rich history to explore. The island takes its name from an English sea captain, William Hilton, who surveyed it and claimed it for the crown in 1663. Settlers began colonizing it in the late 17th-century, when threats from Indians and Spaniards began to diminish. It was initially used as a hunting site and plantation, with rice and indigo the primary crops. Today visitors can explore Civil War forts and battle sites and take tours to learn about the Gullah people, the descendants of enslaved people who developed their own rich culture that preserves much of their African heritage, including folklore, dialect, cuisine and literature. Before the 1960s, the vast majority of the island’s population were descendants of slaves.

Highlight:  The town of Mitchelville was founded by the first freed slaves of the Civil War, becoming America’s first freedman’s town. In 1988, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places to preserve its rich history and connection to local Gullah culture. You can visit by taking one of the Gullah history tours on the island, or simply drive down Beach City Road, lined with homes, churches and a school building. By stopping at Mitchelville Freedom Park, you can view historical markets that explain the area’s history and the site of the Battle of Port Royal.

6. Stroll the Nature Trails

Where: Throughout Hilton Head

What: If you enjoy walks through nature, you’ll find many options here. In fact, one of the best ways to take in the natural beauty of the island is to take a stroll on the natural trails that wind past rivers, creeks, lagoons and more. It’s also an ideal way to watch for wildlife, including the more than 250 species of birds, loggerhead turtles around the shoreline and bottle-nosed dolphins that splash in the surf. There are alligators in the lagoons and deer that roam through the woods. Hilton Head is home to a number of parks and nature reserves, providing a wide range of leisurely treks.

Highlights: The Sea Pines Forest Reserve is a protected area for outdoor exploration and wildlife which includes wetland boardwalks, bridges, bridal paths and fishing docks. You can walk through marshland and maritime forest, and even discover a Sea Pines Shell Ring that dates back nearly 4,000 years. It’s the island’s oldest known archaeological site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was created by Indian mound builders, made up of thousands of mussels, clams and oysters, measuring about 150-feet across. There are two popular hiking trails that meander through the preserve’s habitats, each marked with a different colour and leading to different areas. The Blue Arrow trail is just about a mile long, while the Orange Arrow trail is approximately two miles long. There are another six miles of trails that cross the reserve, bringing opportunities to view wildflower-filled meadows, freshwater lakes and birds like great egrets, little blue herons, snowy egrets and red-headed woodpeckers.

5. Get Out on Two Wheels

Where: Throughout Hilton Head

What: The island hosts hundreds of miles of bike trails and paths. Discover hidden destinations filled with natural beauty that many visitors never get to see, including tranquil parks that can be reached on two wheels via the 50+ miles of multi-use pathways. Printed maps of the myriad of options can be found at the Town Hall as well as online on Hilton Head’s official website. Bike rental shops and many hotels provide maps as well along with recommendations for the best places to go.

Highlights: Sea Pines, a private, resort-style community offers more than 15 miles of cycling paths to explore – it’s one of the top spots on the island for cycling, with the opportunity to ride through protected wildlife habitat, taking in the picturesque scenery and variety of flora and fauna. The paths will bring you through the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, Stoney Baynard Ruins, Harbour Town, the Sea Pines Plantation Golf Club and more. If you aren’t staying at the resort, for a small fee you can get a day pass.

4. Take to the Water

Where: Across the island

What: Surrounded by water, it’s no surprise that there are endless opportunities for enjoying water sports while visiting Hilton Head. The island enjoys some of the warmest waters on the Eastern Seaboard, with activities for just about everyone, whether you want to get in it or on it, from sailing, surfing, jet-skiing and paddle boarding to canoeing, kayaking, fishing, water-skiing and even parasailing.

Highlights: Parasailing is an especially thrilling way to get out on the water and take in a bird’s-eye view, which on a clear day will allow you to see as far as 25 miles. While you’re soaring through the skies, gazing over the Harbour Town Lighthouse, the marina, Calibogue Sound, Daufuskie Island and more, you can capture some spectacular photos too. The waters that surround the island are filled with all sorts of life – you might even see a pod of dolphins riding the wake of the boat that tows you while sharing the air with seabirds that are searching for a meal below. There’s no experience needed, and even kids six years of age or older can take part.

3. Hit the Beach

Where: Across the island

What: Hilton Head offers beautiful sandy shorelines and ocean swells, with more than 12 miles of coast. The island is home to some of the best beaches in the entire country - in fact, it’s often been recognised among America’s top spots for a family-friendly beach holiday with so many unspoiled stretches of fine sands. If you want to swim in the gorgeous blue waters that frame them, there are designated swimming areas at Coligny, Folly Field, Islanders and Driessen beaches, with boundary areas clearly marked in the water and on the sand. During the beach season, lifeguards will be stationed at each of those areas, as well as other beaches that are heavily populated.

Highlights: With so many picture-perfect stretches of sand to choose from, it can be difficult to decide where to go, but Coligny Beach, located at the end of Pope Avenue, is a top pick. The most popular beach on the island, it’s easily accessed and offers lots of free parking along with outstanding facilities, including outdoor showers and WCs, changing stalls, a splash fountain, swings and gazebos with wooden chairs. There are umbrellas and beach chairs available to rent as well, and just steps away are a variety of eateries and dessert shops.

2. Enjoy Mouth-watering Meals

Where: Throughout Hilton Head

What: Hilton Head boasts a fabulous food scene, often featuring the delicious flavours of the Low Country. There are over 250 restaurants on the island along with farmers’ markets, bakeries, and gourmet food shops. Feast on mouth-wateringly fresh seafood at a casual dockside eatery or enjoy a candlelit dinner at a fine dining establishment. Just a few of the gastronomic delights on the menu include local dishes like gumbo, oysters and buckets of fresh, steamed peel-and-eat shrimp, with peach cobbler for dessert. You’ll also find Italian fare, steaks, pasta and just about anything else you’re craving.

Highlights: Those who want to enjoy a relaxing night out that includes gourmet cuisine and world-class jazz entertainment won’t want to miss The Jazz Corner. Located in The Village at Wexford, this award-winning restaurant and jazz club will take you on a journey back to the golden era of American jazz. Just a few of the menu favourites include appetizers like the Drunken Mussels or Carolina Jumbo Lump Crabcake, the Fried Green Tomato Salad, along with mains that include melt-in-your mouth Certified Angus Beef Filet Mignon or Cajun Shrimp & Sea Scallops. If you still have room for dessert, you can’t do better than the Old Fashioned Pecan Pie served with cream Chantilly.

1. Tee Off

Where: Throughout Hilton Head

What: Often referred to as ‘Golf Island,’ Hilton Head is truly a golfer’s paradise. It’s been rated one of the top golf destinations in the nation with over 24 championship courses, both public and private, designed by the likes of Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus and other renowned golf architects. There are courses for all skill levels from traditional parkland with live oaks draped with moss to oceanfront options.

Highlights: The 18-hole Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort is considered the crowning achievement of Nicklaus and Dye as well as a perennial favourite with PGA tour players. It’s the course that put Hilton Head on the map, and a half-century later is still considered one of the world’s top courses. It offers a variety of services and facilities, including a driving range, putting greens, golf pros for lessons, rental clubs and carts, and caddies.


 


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