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Hilton Head for Families: What to See and Where to Stay

March 21, 2019
10 min read
Bicycling on the beach at low tide
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Twelve miles of Atlantic shoreline make Hilton Head, South Carolina, a top summer destination with average temperatures in the high 80s and flocks of vacationers, but the more gentle spring season offers its own rewards. Families on spring break will find milder temperatures and fewer tourists — perfect for laid-back beach days, memorable boat trips and attractions with less waiting.

What to Do in Hilton Head

Hilton Head Island is divided largely into huge, gated communities, known as "plantations," within which you'll find resorts, golf courses, tennis courts, restaurants, shopping and more. Some of the more popular plantations for families include Port Royal Plantation, Palmetto Dunes and Sea Pines Resort.

Hilton Head is synonymous with beaches and public access is available from numerous locations. Family favorites include Islanders Beach Park (access from Folly Field Road), with its playground, picnic and barbecue areas. Driessen Beach (access at the end of Bradley Beach Road) offers play and picnic areas and a boardwalk that leads through sand dunes and tidal marshland where kids might spot nesting sea turtles or great blue herons.

Great blue herons, among other birds, inhabit Hilton Head Island. (Photo by Forest Simon/Unsplash)
Bird-watching is a treat in Hilton Head. (Photo by Forest Simon/Unsplash)

Coligny (access from Coligny Circle) is particularly popular with young children, who can splash in its wading fountain or play in calm waters. Coligny and Islanders are also equipped with wheelchair-accessible mats for beachgoers with limited mobility. The Hilton Head website provides detailed information about areas that are safe for swimming, parking regulations and fees, etc.

The site also lists several rental companies, where you can pick up bikes, kayaks, beach umbrellas and chairs, or baby gear (cribs, high chairs, strollers and wagons), or have items delivered to your hotel for a fee. Most rentals are available in increments of three days or one week, with bike rentals ranging from $22 to $33 for a few days (kids and adult sizes), or $26 to $38 for a full week. Kayaks cost about $50/each for three hours.

Bicyclists and beach combers on a Hilton Head Island, SC beach at low tide. (Photo via Getty Images)
Bicyclists and beachcombers on a Hilton Head Island beach at low tide. (Photo via Getty Images)

Outside Hilton Head, with four island locations and one on the mainland, conducts a wide range of guided tours, excursions, fishing trips and lessons to get your family out on the water in kayaks or on paddle boards, year-round. The tour company also offers several special “camps” designed just for kids aged 7–17. Prices depend on the outing or activity you choose. To give you an idea: Kayak tours can cost as little as $40/adult and $20/kid for a two-hour trip, while a teen stand-up paddle-board adventure that includes lessons costs $45 per child.

Young children might be especially excited about themed activities like a ride on the pirate ship the Black Dagger ($30 for 2 and up, free under 2). Kids will get decked out with face paint and pirate costumes before receiving their pirate names and searching for treasure. Meanwhile, Mermaid of Hilton Head takes families on a boat cruise where kids will encounter a “real” mermaid ($35 adults, $30 kids, free 2 and under). The cruise can be combined with a dress-up photo shoot ($75). This company also offers Mermaid U Swim School (from $35).

Another special experience for the entire family is waiting on Daufuskie Beach, where Daufuskie Trail Rides offers horseback riding on the sand or nearby trails. Prices range from $125 to $150 per person (depending on season) for a 90-minute tour, with transportation to and from the equestrian center available as an optional add-on.

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(Photo courtesy of Daufuskie Trail Rides)
Horseback riding at Hilton Head. (Photo courtesy of Daufuskie Trail Rides)

A family trip to HHI wouldn't be complete without a trip to Harbour Town, the family-friendly dining, shopping and entertainment destination located within Sea Pines. The big attraction at Harbour Town is the unmistakable white-and-red Harbour Town Lighthouse. It's open for visitors daily and costs $4.50 per person to climb the 114 steps to the top. Plus, the lighthouse is also a museum, so the kids can learn about the history of the island and its development as a tourist destination.

Near the lighthouse lies the famous Liberty Oak, a massive tree in front of the Harbour Town Yacht Club where a singer named Gregg Russell performs concerts for families every night in the summer.

Where to Stay

Timeshare resorts abound on the island -- Marriott Vacation Club alone has a whopping eight properties. They run the gamut from huge resorts on the beach to smaller properties in Harbour Town. Luckily, though, timeshare resorts aren't the only game in town. You also have the luxury of choice when using hotel points in Hilton Head.

If you want a big beachfront resort, you can look to the Marriott Hilton Head at 35,000 Marriott points per night (consider the awards of as much as up to 35k points available with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card).

Image courtesy of the Hilton Head Marriott Resort

The Westin Hilton Head Resort and Spa is another lodging option available for 35,000 Marriott points per night. There you'll find a kids club, Westin's Heavenly Beds, pools and, of course, more beachfront.

Image courtesy of Westin Hilton Head

If you don't need a whole beach resort, there's the Holiday Inn Express Hilton Head Island (IHG Rewards Club, from 20,000 points), which offers two-bed rooms with buffet breakfast included. Holiday Inn also offers an Express hotel in nearby Bluffton (6.7 miles, from 20,000 points) with free breakfast and kitchenettes.

(Photo courtesy of Holiday Inn Express Hilton Head)
(Photo courtesy of Holiday Inn Express Hilton Head)

Rooms at the Hampton Inn Hilton Head (Hilton Honors, from 22,000 to 30,000 points) include breakfast and other amenities: pool, fitness facilities, optional cribs and high chairs, and bicycle rentals.

The Beach House, a Holiday Inn Resort (IHG Rewards Club) sits right on popular Coligny Beach, with a tiki hut bar, a large pool with “dive in movies” and oceanfront rooms. Family-size rooms are not available with rewards, but this property is offering a 25% spring break discount for bookings of four nights or more.

Image by The Beach House, Holiday Inn Resort

If you can find availability, families may really enjoy Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, a Disney Vacation Club property. This resort aims to offer throw-back "old fashioned fun." There you'll find a Disney-level service without the typical theme park intensity. Look forward to a waterslide into a heated pool, biking, campfires and a Disney Beach House. While you are not likely to find Mickey Mouse walking around Hilton Head, you might spot Shadow, a golden retriever that has become the Disney resort's mascot. The best way to stay at Disney's Hilton Head Resort is likely to rent Disney Vacation Club points from an owner and plan well in advance.

Families who prefer staying in Airbnb rentals for their beach getaways should make sure to use of the right rewards card that maximizes their points. And, don't miss these tips for families using Airbnb.

How to Get Hilton Head, South Carolina

The island of Hilton Head is connected to mainland South Carolina by US-278 East, making it easily accessible to drivers arriving from other South Carolina towns. The island is also a popular road-trip destination for drivers coming from North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Travelers coming from greater distances can fly into Hilton Head Airport (HHH), though options may be limited, depending on when you travel. American Airlines offers three daily flights from Charlotte, North Carolina (CLT) and plans to add weekend flights from Washington, DC (DCA), starting in May. United will add flights to Hilton Head from Washington Dulles (IAD) at the end of March 2019; the airline currently runs flights from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Newark (EWR). Also, starting this May and June, respectively, Delta will offer flights from Atlanta, Georgia (ATL) and New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA).

Coligny Beach Park on Hilton Head Island. (Photo via Getty Images)
Coligny Beach Park on Hilton Head Island. (Photo via Getty Images)

There are many more flights into Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (40 miles from Hilton Head), with Allegiant Air, American, JetBlue, Delta, Frontier (kids fly free some dates!), Sun Country and United all offering flights from multiple gateways.

When you book your flights, be sure to explore your options through partner airlines as well as these carriers. For example, if you’re flying American, British Airways Avios might be a better bet from geographically closer origins than your American AAdvantage miles.

Bottom Line

Active families (or those who just want to relax on a porch swing) who enjoy the beach in comfortable climates will have a blast exploring miles of shoreline on beautiful Hilton Head Island.

Looking for more spring break inspiration? Here are some ideas:

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.