7 reasons why your next vacation should be on Hilton Head Island
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post and has been updated with new information. It was originally published on Sept. 28, 2020.
For years, Hilton Head Island — located in South Carolina’s Lowcountry region — has been a draw for travelers from all over the country. Ninety miles south of Charleston, the barrier island is known for lovely weather, a relaxed lifestyle, 12 miles of beach on the Atlantic Ocean, fresh sustainable cuisine, rich history and over 60 miles of leisure pathways to explore. It’s the perfect island escape for anyone in need of a vacation.
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Hilton Head Island is unique among American vacation destinations in that it has a wide appeal to multiple generations. Spend your days at one of the many wide, pristine beaches, ride bicycles around the island with the whole family and then indulge in cocktails and coastal cuisine at one of the about 250 restaurants the 12-mile island has to offer.
As the travel industry rebounds and we look (finally) to an end to the pandemic in the U.S., the island stands ready to welcome guests back thanks to plans enacted last summer designed to protect the health of the community, workforce and visitors.
Whatever you like to do on vacation, chances are Hilton Head has it — let’s take a look at how the island offers something for every kind of traveler.
It’s easy to get to
Hilton Head Island is located on the southeast coast of South Carolina, about 30 miles from Savannah, Georgia, and 45 minutes from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV), which is served by most major U.S. carriers from multiple hubs around the country. The island has its own airport, too, which has seen a surge in service from major carriers throughout the last year.
Hilton Head’s geography also makes it an appealing destination to drive to — especially for those who live in the eastern half of the country. The drive can easily be done in a day from major East Coast cities like New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and much less, of course, if you’re based in major cities in the Southeast like Atlanta or Charlotte.
Accommodations are plentiful
Once you set your sights on Hilton Head, you have many options for accommodations ranging from home and villa rentals to luxury resorts. The island’s beautiful shoreline is within reach at every touchpoint.
The Sea Pines Resort, on the south end of the island, is beside the idyllic Harbour Town Yacht Basin and bordered by the famous Harbour Town Golf Links and Harbour Town Lighthouse.
If you’re traveling with the whole family, consider a vacation home rental. Hilton Head Island’s website offers special deals and packages on rentals.
If a full-service resort is more your speed, Hilton Head Island offers more than 20 hotels, inns and resorts. Those with Marriott Bonvoy points will be happy to learn that there are two full-service Marriott properties on the island: the Marriott Hilton Head Resort & Spa, as well as the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa.
The Marriott resort is a Category 5 property (30,000, 35,000 or 40,000 points per award night, depending on the season) while the Westin is a Category 6 (40,000, 50,000 or 60,000 points per award night). Both of these properties are eligible — on nights with off-peak or standard availability — for the annual up to 35,000-point and up to 50,000-point award night certificates that come as a perk of the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, respectively.
For an even more luxurious stay, look at the Montage Palmetto Bluff, a member of the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts program. This property is a short drive from Hilton Head Island and is on the May River.
The island is a paradise for golf and tennis
With 24 courses, even the most advanced golfers will find a challenge on Hilton Head Island. To kick off summer each year, the island welcomes the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing tournament. This is South Carolina’s only PGA TOUR event, and it’s held at Harbour Town Golf Links at The Sea Pines Resort, which is considered by many golfers to be a bucket-list course.
In addition to golf, the island is known as a haven for tennis players. The island has more than 500 courts and notches eight of the top 100 tennis resorts in the world, including the Smith Stearns Hilton Head Tennis Academy at The Sea Pines Resort, led by Stan Smith and B.J. Stearns.
With 250+ restaurants and dozens of local bakeries, farmers markets and other shops to choose from, you will not go hungry on Hilton Head. Sample the very best of traditional Lowcountry cuisine, including staples like crab cakes, local oysters and more, some of the finest sustainably prepared meals in the Southeast and high-end cutting-edge dining. Don’t forget to wash it down with a refreshing oceanside cocktail, of course.
The island hosts many culinary events each year — like oyster roasts, the Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival, the Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival and more — that anyone who enjoys good food does not want to miss.
Outdoor activities galore
As mentioned before, Hilton Head Island boasts 12 miles of pristine beaches with soft sand that are wide enough to have your own space and even to ride bikes along the shoreline at low tide. The island features some of the warmest water on the Eastern Seaboard, making it a perfect place to swim for your children and the young at heart.
Besides relaxing on the beach, choose from a variety of other activities on the water, like fishing, dolphin-watching, kayaking, paddle boarding and more.
Back on land, try bird-watching, ziplining, visit the Audubon-Newhall Preserve and Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge and enjoy the more than 60 miles of leisure pathways for biking, walking or running.
Family fun for everyone
Hilton Head is a place where the whole family can enjoy activities together, from bike rides along the beach or on one of the many leisure pathways to dinner followed by a kid-friendly concert in Harbour Town at Sea Pines.
The kids, parents and grandparents will all love embarking on a dolphin-watching boat tour, and exploring institutions like the Coastal Discovery Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate museum, where you’ll encounter trails, gardens, live oak trees draped with Spanish moss, a butterfly enclosure and even a marsh tacky house tour.
The island is also home to a thriving, dynamic arts community with some of the best galleries, live music venues and productions in South Carolina happening year-round.
History is all around you
This island has a fascinating history. For more than 300 years, the Gullah ancient culture continues to remain a vibrant thread in the fabric of Hilton Head Island life. Their influence on the area can still be seen today in the Gullah language (a creole similar to Sierra Leone Krio), African names, their African folktales and craft items. Much of the Lowcountry’s beloved food culture also originated with the Gullah — rice purlo, okra gumbo, shrimp and gravy, cooked with spices and time-honored African cooking methods.
Historic Mitchelville, located on Hilton Head’s Port Royal Sound, was America’s first self-governed town of freed slaves. Established in 1862 by General Ormsby Mitchel, the commander of the Union forces that occupied Hilton Head Island, the town was built by and for those granted their freedom, before the Emancipation Proclamation, in the Port Royal Experiment. Gullah people, direct descendants of Mitchelville, continue to tell their story through the Mitchelville Freedom Park and the Mitchelville Preservation Project.
The whole family can explore the history of the Gullah people and their continued impact on the island through the Gullah Heritage Trail Tours, the Gullah Museum and The Heritage Library on Hilton Head.
Whatever your idea for a good vacation, Hilton Head has it. The island offers easy access and plentiful lodging options for every budget and type of traveler (or group of travelers) coupled with natural beauty and rich cultural heritage.
Whether you want to simply get away to a sunny destination for a few days, or spend several weeks with the whole family exploring all the island and surrounding area has to offer, you can’t go wrong with a vacation on Hilton Head.
Featured photo courtesy of Hilton Head Island.
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