A Local’s Guide To Hilton Head Island, SC
Hilton Head Island, SC is a special place for my family. As a child, my family had a vacation home, taking us there during all school breaks, creating memories from my childhood that I can now re-create with my own children. Also, my (now) husband and I were both working on the island after graduation, unbeknownst to one another. We have the incredible joy of vacationing on the island where we met, fell in love, and married.
Needless to say, Hilton Head Island holds a special place in our hearts. It is not just the memories that bring us back time and again, but also the white, sandy beaches, tropical weather, miles of bike paths, opportunities to enjoy some of the best cuisines around, and endless ways to spend time together as a family.
Our family has been dealt a rough hand for the last 6 years as my daughter has battled severe anxiety and OCD. We have found that traveling offers improvement for her, as it breaks some of the ugly daily habits created by anxiety.
Whenever possible we head to Hilton Head Island, SC and breathe in the salty air and breath out the stress of our daily lives in Ohio. The island is ideal for everyone…adults, families of all ages, golfers, beach lovers, food connoisseurs, and anyone in between. The recommendations below have all been personally experienced and will help first timers or returning vacationers make the most of their time on the beautiful island just off the coast of Southern South Carolina.
And don’t forget that you might need some easy beach hacks to help make your trip easier and more stress free!
Where To Stay
Hilton Head Island is divided into plantations, similar to large neighborhoods. You will see these plantations referenced when looking for a place to stay. Most plantations only allow homeowners and guests into the neighborhoods rather than open to anyway. Sea Pines Plantation allows visitors in with either a daily or weekly paid pass.
The Westin Resort offers a true tropical beachfront oasis, with two pools, hot tubs, a kids program, delicious restaurants, and on-site bike rentals. It affords large spaces for meetings, reunions, and weddings as well.
If you are looking for more space during your stay, I encourage you to search Expedia for vacation rental homes and condos. You will find plenty of rentals, allowing you to find the one to fit your needs. The most popular plantations for vacation rentals are Sea Pines, Palmetto Dunes, and Shipyard.
Nearly every plantation offers rentals that are either beachfront or within walking distance to the beach. Ask the owner before booking what “extras” are included in the rental. Many will have beach umbrellas, chairs, beach and pool toys, bikes, or even golf carts as part of the rental. Our hidden gem is the small neighborhoods of Beckenham and Devonshire located just outside of the Westin Resort near Islanders Beach Park.
Where To Eat
As soon as our weekly rental is secure, we begin discussing where to eat. The dining options are endless, allowing food lovers to experience some of the best restaurants around. Another benefit of these restaurants is their ability to meet the needs of those dining with or without children.
Pro Tip: during peak season, Memorial Day through Labor Day, the wait at most restaurants can be very long. I encourage families with children to plan to eat early. This allows less wait time and access to many of the “early bird specials” offered by restaurants.
Crazy Crab has two locations, one on the north end of the island and one on the south end of the island. The north island location is my favorite due to the outdoor seating options along the tidal creek. The south island location is within Sea Pines Plantation at Harbourtown. This location allows you to enjoy the marina and shops as well. They are known for their seafood selections, she-crab soup, and hushpuppies.
The Skull Creek Boathouse is located on the north end of the island with an amazing outdoor patio. The ambiance is the best on the island for enjoying a meal outside. They offer a wide variety of food options, along with a large, open outdoor bar.
Low Country Backyard is located on the south end of the island. While they do not offer any water views, they have created an impressive “backyard” feel for their outdoor seating options. The food options are true southern specialties. Live music is offered outside most evenings during the summer.
The Salty Dog Cafe is an icon on the island…known for their apparel as much as their food. They are located in Sea Pines with the main restaurant indoors, along with a more casual bar and grill outside. In my opinion, their hushpuppies are the best on the island.
Up the Creek is a small, casual restaurant located along Broad Creek. They offer outdoor seating with views of the Broad Creek Marina. Their menu is simple with hamburgers, chicken fingers, and salads. Oddly enough, they have the most delicious salsa and chips!
San Miguel’s is a Mexican restaurant in Shelter Cove with outdoor seating along the Marina. They offer a great happy hour during the week with yummy tacos and drink specials. They have an outdoor bar with live music in the evenings as well.
Giuseppi’s also has two locations, one in Sea Pines and the other in Shelter Cove. This restaurant has amazing Italian food. Their pizza, subs, and calzones are the best. While the food is definitely worth going for, they do not have offer much in the way of outdoor seating.
What To Do
For most visitors, the beach is the main attraction. The white sandy beaches are expansive, offering plenty of space to dig in the sand, enjoy the sun, and splash in the waves.
Shore Beach Service, which provides lifeguards to the most popular places along the beaches, offers beach umbrella and chair rentals near populated beaches. This is an option for those who do not like to bring their equipment back and forth. If you prefer, the island has several public beaches accessed with paid parking. Most vacation rentals on the island are located within easy access to a beach, allowing for hours of leisure.
Pro Tip: My recommendation is to reserve bike rentals for the time you are vacationing. You can call a bike rental service as soon as you secure for home or condo rental. They will have the bikes delivered on your requested day and will pick them up at the end of your stay. I always order a bike cart as well. This allows us to ride back and forth to the beach while pulling our beach stuff in the cart.
The island offers many options for the sports enthusiast with several golf courses, tennis courts, and pickleball courts. Once again, you are able to reserve your times as soon as you know your arrival and departure dates.
Outside Hilton Head offers a variety of tours from kayaking to dolphin cruises. Once again, if you plan to visit the island during peak season, you will need to secure these experiences well before you arrive. The sunset kayak tour is a favorite along with sailing on the catamaran.
Outcast Sports Fishing will be a splurge for many families but the experience of catching a 200-pound shark is something you will never forget. Once again, book well in advance.
Bike rentals allow for travel to and from the beach as I mentioned, but the entire island is outfitted with bike paths. This allows you to ride along the island and enjoy the beauty of the landscape. The most enjoyable bike trails are located in Sea Pines. If you are not staying within Sea Pines, you are able to drive into the plantation, where you can rent bikes for the day.
The Coastal Discovery Museum offers tours and classes, such as crabbing, for children and families. Be sure to check their calendar for details and make reservations in advance.
Shelter Cove Marina offers concerts throughout the summer on the lawn with views of the Creek. Also, on Tuesday evenings they set off fireworks as well. There are several shops and restaurants in this area, along with booths and entertainment for children. It is a great way to spend a summer evening.
Fish Haul Beach Park is a quiet secret on the island. It is a public beach with parking located on the north end of the island, off the beaten path. It offers an expansive beach with shallow waters at low tide. The unique ecosystem allows for tidal pools and shell collecting.
I hope this entices you to check out one of the best vacation spots on the East Coast. It truly has something for everyone.
If you fancy spending some time in nearby Savannah, Georgia, Forsyth Park is a family and pet-friendly urban park and a great place to up your relaxation level.
Author Bio: Colleen is a mom to a 13-year old girl who suffers from severe anxiety and OCD. Colleen started her blog when she became frustrated with the medical and self-help books available to parents. She found many of them weren’t in touch with the reality of her daughter’s condition so she set about learning as much as she could about anxiety treatment and management. Colleen is also a veteran elementary teacher and has been teaching since 2004. She wants to spread encouragement and hope and help families navigate options and feel less alone. Find Colleen at Goodbye Anxiety, Hello Joy.
If you liked this article please share it and subscribe to the blog to keep up with all the goodness!
Great tips! Hilton Head is on my list!
Hilton Head is so beautiful and fun too! I hope you get to go very soon.
Seems like a great place to visit with much to do.
Yes! It was a favorite beach destination for my family when we lived in Georgia.
I have never been but you make it sound so fabulous I will have to add it to my travel wish list!
Please do add it to your travel wish list. Hilton Head is so beautiful with activities that everyone can enjoy.
It has been so many years since I’ve visited Hilton Head, but I still have wonderful memories of that vacation – it was one of the first times we traveling with friends. I definitely need to head back – I still remember sitting outside at the Salty Dog listening to a guitar player and drinking margaritas. So fun!
The Salty Dog is ready and waiting for your next visit! 🙂
Those pictures are spectacular!! I hear a lot about Hilton Head Island, we haven’t visited yet. As far as parenting kids with anxiety, I know all about that. While our family’s anxiety’s issues probably aren’t considered severe, they certainly interfere with our everyday lives. I do think that travel is a great way to break up routines and challenge us to work through our stuff…at least that’s what I try to do as an adult. Wish I could say the same for my husband ;). Thank you for sharing.
Hilton Head is fairly laid back as far as ocean beach destinations go. Your daughter might enjoy visiting here.
I enjoy learning about Hilton Head Island, SC. This helps with planing a vacation because you list places to stay and things to do.
Hilton Head is a must see destination for anyone traveling to the Southeast!
It looks so beautiful! And there seems like so much to do there!
Hilton Head is the perfect beach town!!
We went here every September as a child! I have fond memories…
That is so cool Jen! What a great childhood memory to have!
Great suggestions! Want to visit Hilton head one day!
Come on over Gail!
I love that whole area. My grandmother was born in Beaufort and met my grandfather when he was stationed in Paris Island.
That’s fantastic! I adore love stories just like the one your grandparents share. So sweet.
Great Tips. I really appreciate the restaurant review. And i didn’t know they would deliver bikes!
Convenient, right? 🙂
It looks absolutely beautiful! I would spend all my time on that amazing beach.
I could too! Hilton Head is the laid back kind of beach that I prefer.
Great post, looks like South Carolina has lots of great hidden places!
Yes! Hilton Head is awesome!
What a great guide. I didn’t know much about this place, but now really feel like visiting it one day.
Beautiful photos and great info in this post! My blog also focuses on travel as self-care as someone who deals with anxiety and depression. Best of luck!
We spent our first anniversary on Hilton Head Island and would LOVE to go back. We are a lot closer now, so I have a feeling we will be making that goal a reality in the very near future. This just motivated me even more to make those plans!
I’m so glad my Hilton Head article inspired you!
My in-laws just got back from Hilton Head. We are planning on going this coming summer. Thank you for the great suggestions!
Summer in Hilton Head is fantastic!
I loved your photos so much! Thank you for sharing this post. Those beaches looks amazing 🙂
Yes, Hilton Head really is amazing. Really!
I’m looking to travel to SC soon! I found your post to be so helpful! I will be saving this for future reference.
I’m glad to help Jordin!
Thanks for this great guide Colleen! My friends family has a house on Hilton Head and they always talk about the Salty Dog! I loved all your restaurants there. It’s so cool what a special place HH has for your family!
Salty Dog is almost the destination in itself! Great place for sure.
I’ve heard great things about Hilton Head, but I’ve never visited. It looks like a beautiful place! Perhaps I should add it to my list of places to visit this summer.
Oh yes, Marissa, please add Hilton Head to your list!
Hilton Head is awesome! I haven’t been there in years! Ready to go back now and experience some new things. I didn’t know what to do last time I was there. Now I do! 🙂
One of my daughter’s lives nearby so we can go frequently. Love it!
I would love to visit Hilton Head! It looks amazing! Thanks for all of the tips 🙂
You’re welcome Amanda!
Excited to go there next yr- my son and his family are moving to Columbia SC so I’m looking for a hidden gem to stay at ON the ocean in Hilton Head or nearby that locals stay at- your article got me excited to go there for sure!