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Hilton Head, South Carolina

Great Destination:

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Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • The fictional James Bond preferred Sea Island cotton for his shirts.
  • When Englishman William Hilton landed at the Island (1663), he found Spanish-speaking Indians (Florida transplants).
  • Hilton Head was the scene of the largest naval battle fought in American waters (1861).
  • Hilton Head Island first got electricity in 1951 and telephone service in 1960.
  • Approximately 70% of the island is inside gated communities.

Planning for fun

Located just off the coast of South Carolina (close enough for a bridge to the mainland), Hilton Head Island is both an island and an incorporated town. It also is a planned resort community.

The island’s first Europeans established plantations and famously produced Sea Island cotton. Plantation society collapsed after the Civil War, and the island slipped into obscurity.

For nearly a century, its inhabitants were mostly descendants of slaves. Their Gullah language and culture survive. Guided tours or even lessons in sweetgrass basket weaving introduce visitors to this heritage.

In the 1950s, Charles Fraser, whose family owned island property, envisioned the future and began converting the 42-square-mile Hilton Head into a resort community. The visitor bureau calls the island’s first development, Sea Pines Plantation (now Sea Pines Resort), “the prototype of the modern resort community, now copied around the world.”

There are now several environmentally planned resort and residential communities. They are gated, as well. The communities were developed with an eye on ecology and on preserving natural beauty, particularly the island’s trademark trees. Even the buildings are painted in subdued colors, and streetlights are low-wattage affairs. Besides, May to October, the island sets limits on lighting near beaches where sea turtles nest.

The Hilton Head tourist area has expanded into Bluffton on the mainland. The visitor bureau includes Bluffton and the nearby, car-free Daufuskie island in its brief.

For the vacationer, Fraser’s legacy is an idyllic setting, where travelers of all personality types — and their kids— can find the mix of action and relaxation they want.

Water-based activities range from sportfishing to waterskiing, from dolphin watching to kayaking. Or, visitors can simply hug the white-sand beaches. Hilton Head boasts 50 miles of bike and nature trails. There are 16 parks in Hilton Head and Bluffton, plus four nature preserves in or near these communities. The island is a golfer’s dream. Visitors also have abundant choices for tennis, shopping and dining. They can even go crabbing before ordering crab at dinner.

Much has been packed into this small area in the southeast corner of South Carolina.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Join a Zodiac excursion to watch dolphins and explore tidal marshes to see the birds.
  • Charter a vessel for half-day, full-day or overnight sportfishing. Or, join a night shark fishing excursion.
  • Make yours a spring visit in time for the BIG Story Fest and Liars Competition held in nearby Beaufort.
  • Choose a guided kayak tour for a fascinating and intimate look at the saltwater marshes. Kayak tours are also available in Broad Creek or Bluffton’s May River.
  • Charter a boat and go sailing. Or get on waterskis and ride across the water behind a boat.
  • Sample the nighttime partying on the island’s south end. Look into the spots around the Quarterdeck inside Sea Pines, or go for the cluster of nightclubs outside Sea Pines, an area dubbed the Barmuda Triangle.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Make good use of the biking and hiking trails at the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Pause for some rewarding bird-watching. Hilton Head Island has miles and miles of biking trails, too.
  • Photograph the lighthouses on Daufuskie and Hilton Head islands. Then, get a load of the views from Hilton Head’s Harbour Town Lighthouse.
  • Try your hand at crabbing. It is a popular activity here. Then, order crab for dinner.
  • If the timing is right, you may see nesting sea turtles. You also may see sleepy alligators lazing about. Leave both undisturbed, although for different reasons!
  • Attend a class where you will learn about sweetgrass baskets from a Gullah basket weaver. Try weaving — or at least starting — a basket with your own hands. Then, shop for a finished, handmade sweetgrass basket.
  • Come to Hilton Head and Bluffton for a foodfest. There are several of them, focusing on everything from wine or ribs to seafood or chili.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Shop for bargains or specialty items. Besides, Bluffton on the mainland has more than 100 outlet stores.
  • Take a guided tour that introduces you to the Gullah culture as it existed and exists on Daufuskie and Hilton Head islands. Daufuskie is a car-free destination.
  • Play golf or tennis, your choice. Or, book time for both.
  • Take the family to the beach. Picnic in Jarvis Creek Park. Fish in the park’s freshwater pond, too (catch and release only).
  • If vacationing with small children (age 8 or younger), take them to Visit the Sandbox: An Interactive Children’s Museum.
  • There are several spas in this resort community. Choose the one for you for an hour or hours of pampering. Then relax some more on a sunset dinner cruise.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Hilton Head Island Visitor and Convention Bureau at