Hilton Head Island in South Carolina showcases 12-miles of immaculate beaches and twenty-three championship golf courses. Self-dubbed, “America’s Favorite Island”, HHI sees visitors from all over the world year round– a true destination island with a salubrious southern climate beloved by golfers and vacationers alike.
As a resort island that caters to the affluent, HHI boasts numerous high-end resorts, spas, pro-shops, bars and restaurants. For the rest of us, Hilton Head shares its beatified history of Native American life, sea cotton plantations, Civil War lore, and natural wonder. Hilton Head carries an air of casual exclusivity — a vibe that invites anyone can afford it, but to mind their manners and play along. There are no roller coasters or malls on HHI, and Dave and Buster have yet to make an appearance. Keeping it classy, that Hilton Head, as if it were written into the bylaws (we assume that it is).
We stayed here in February 2022 for three full days and nights. Below are what we found to be the six most interesting and beautiful things to do on Hilton Head Island. We hope you enjoy!
The Coastal Discovery Museum is an all-encompassing, Coastal Carolina experience. Here you can learn about the plants and animals of the region, the ecosystems and geology. You can also stroll through beautiful maritime forests and manicured gardens, indulge a butterfly house, tour the salt marshes beneath moss-strung trees, meet carnivorous plants, and spend time with horses.
There is an art gallery and an interactive science center. There are fountains along crushed-shell pathways. There are exotic animals to observe and plants to admire. The Coastal Discovery Museum has an embarrassment of riches to explore and it is free of charge. Without a doubt, unless your are a golf enthusiast, and perhaps even if you are, the Coastal Discovery Museum is the very best of all the things to do on Hilton Head Island.
The Harbour Town Lighthouse is the centerpiece of Harbour Town. The interior of the lighthouse is dressed as a Hilton Head museum and contains the immaculate collection of what is known about the island’s history.
The walls are covered in informational plaques, photos, stories and artifacts of the ancient native civilizations, the civil war era, and the post-1962 golf development era. The top of the lighthouse lends a 360-degree view of the harbor and an incredible golf course. The bottom of the tower houses a chummy gift shop with fancy trinkets. Admission is $5.75 for adults, children under 5 are free.
Located on the SW inland side of the island, Harbour town is the perfect place to stroll and ogle the yachts. There is some light shopping, a wonderful children’s playground, and people watching galore. Harbour Town is one of the few places on the island that feels like an actual town.
Imagine yourself all alone in the wild, large alligators swimming to your left, a tree filled with ibis to your right. Overhead a heron flies as the bushes behind you rustle with critters. The sounds of nature call from all directions as you weave about freshwater ponds, salt marshes, and maritime wooded pathways.
Pinckney Island is located between HHI and the mainland (map). There are 14-miles of trails to hike and bike. It is free to visit and sees approx. 250,000 visitors annually. If you wonder what it looked like on the Carolina Coast five-hundred years ago, here’s your chance to find out.
Coligny Beach Park is one of the most popular places on HHI because a shopping center beside a nicely arranged beach facility provides the perfect setting for a family outing.
The beaches run together on the east side of the island, which means it doesn’t matter much if you’re at Hilton Head Island Beach, Singleton Beach, Burkes Beach, etc. The beach at Coligny Park has the best facilities, however, which include adirondak chairs, swinging benches, and foot wash stations.
Everyone loves a challenging, 18-hole mini-golf course, so why not make (2) two of them and utterly dominate the Hilton Head putt-putt landscape?
Legendary Golf claims to be, “A country club style mini-golf course unlike anything you have EVER experienced.” To be honest, it’s a mini-golf course — you’ve done this before, it isn’t schema-altering. The four-acre forested landscape makes the courses beautiful and a pleasure to play. We found the fairway features and obstacles abundant, interesting and fun. There are inspiration quotes and biblical references at the start of each hole which we thoroughly enjoyed. Perhaps it is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced, just not EVER experienced. There’s a difference.
Military/Police/Firefighters play free, and nurses get a pat on the back. Just kidding — they let our entire family play free. If you like putt-putt this is the best course on the Carolina Coast.
Captain Jack Stoney built this once grand antebellum plantation house around 1790. The ruins contain the main house and slave quarters. In 1850, Stoney lost a poker game to a man named William Baynard, a successful sea cotton plantation owner. When the Union army invaded Hilton head in the 1860’s, the Baynards’ left the property. The Union Army used the plantation as a headquarters before they burned it down.
This is one of the best things to do on Hilton Head Island, and it is free of cost. The ruins are easy to find in a housing community near Harbor Town (map). There are plenty of placards to read. One of the most interesting components of the ruins, for us, was the introduction of “tabby” as a building material. Tabby, which hardens like concrete, is a mixture of burnt oyster shells — which makes lye — water, ash, sand, and broken shells.
We came to Hilton Head Island expecting a sea of khaki pants and khaki buildings; a place where Bartholomew Payne summers with Muffy and the kids. In a way it was those things, but we weren’t looking for it and didn’t find too much of it.
The island is clean, the crowd is subtle, and the beaches are pleasant. The pre-1962 history of HHI is very interesting — the natives, the plantations, the civil war — and there are many ways to learn about it.
Three days was enough for us to pick up the vibe and see the sights. If we were golfers we would have barely scratched the surface, but as roadschoolers we feel that Hilton Head Island is in the books.
Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for other things to do in the area, check out Beautiful Things to do in Savannah.
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