Lounging on the beach, teeing off on a world-class golf course and indulging in Southern cuisine at delicious restaurants are all essential parts of Lowcountry living. A visit to Hilton Head Island—a secluded community off the coast of South Carolina, just 45 minutes north of Savannah, Georgia—is the ultimate coastal escape with an atmosphere that exudes relaxation and excitement simultaneously. Avid golfers flock here to test their skills on one of the 24 championship courses on the island plus an additional 40 courses in the surrounding area. And, although this is clearly a golfer’s paradise, there are plenty of other things to do in Hilton Head that everyone will enjoy, including walking trails with unique marine wildlife, a handful of stunning beaches and more.
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Best things to do in Hilton Head
What is it: The island’s most popular beach, Coligny is a favorite of locals and visitors alike because of its location and the many beach bars that line the shore. When you need to take a break from the blistering Carolina heat, you can enjoy a refreshing piña colada at the tiki hut located directly on the beach.
Why go: Although it is clearly trafficked, the beach’s spacious shoreline affords plenty of room for everyone to find some privacy. Add to that the beachside bars and you’ll feel like on a tropical getaway.
What is it: Offering two dozen different courses to choose from, golfers at Harbour Town Golf Links rejoice at the plenty of options for where to play a few rounds.
Why go: Devised by notable course designers Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus, also a former professional golfer, the site features the challenging par-4 18th hole and offers players beautiful views of the ocean and surrounding marshland.
What is it: This charming area is a great place to spend the day in, offering plenty of activities to keep you entertained.
Why go: To visit the 90-foot red-and-white striped lighthouse, the perfect vacation photo op. From the top of the tower, you’ll enjoy an incredible view of the water and the town below. Spend the rest of the day exploring the sea, embarking on a dolphin viewing tour and strolling around the marina and many shops.
What is it: Established in 2005, the Mitchelville Freedom Park is a gorgeous outdoor space along the shore that is part of the Gullah Heritage Trail. This was the first settlement founded by slaves that escaped before the Civil War. Today, the area highlights a very important piece of African American history.
Why go: Tucked away from the rest of the islands attractions, this beach grants travelers privacy and culture at the same time. To get to the park, you’ll walk beneath a captivating canopy of trees. Once you reach the shore, you’ll discover blue crabs dashing across the sand, dolphins diving in the distance and beautiful seashells all over.
What is it: Serving brunch, lunch and dinner, Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks boasts one of the most beautiful waterfront views and tastiest seafood on the island.
Why go: For really good, locally sourced oysters. Some of them come straight from the oyster farm started by the restaurant’s own general manager, Andrew Carmines. During the very brief soft shell crab season, the eatery offers a separate soft shell crab menu with items that include soft shell crab BLT and buster crab béarnaise.
What is it: Beginning at 6pm each night, grab a table at The Jazz Corner, a unique local club and restaurant that keeps the spirit of jazz alive. Dimly lit, the joint boasts an intimate atmosphere that propels the entire experience to new heights.
Why go: This is one of the greatest jazz rooms in the country, serving gourmet Southern cuisine alongside top-notch entertainment. How could you not go? You’ll find talented musicians performing every night of the week, so stop in for a specialty cocktail and dinner while enjoying the show.
What is it: There are few places in the country with a landscape as unique as Hilton Head Island and the Sea Pines Forest Preserve is a major part of it. This is a protected wildlife area with walking trails, marshland boardwalks, fishing opportunities and more.
Why go: Exploring this preserve is one of the best ways to experience the Lowcountry. Embark on a hike through the dense, forested vanishing swamp, admire the local flora at the Warner W. Plahs Wildflower Field and stop by the 4,000-year-old Sea Pines Shell Ring, the island’s oldest archaeological find composed of oysters, clams and mussels.
What is it: A blending of African American customs and lifestyles has resulted into what is now referred to as Gullah-Geeche culture. To learn more about the heritage, embark on this tour led by Gullah residents of Hilton Head Island.
Why go: This is good way to understand the history of the island, deeply entwined with the Gullah experience. During the tour, you’ll learn more about the language, cuisine and customs while exploring different culture-defining neighborhoods.
What is it: This alternative dining experience doubles as a restaurant and an art gallery, displaying works from local and visiting artists.
Why go: As you enjoy delectable meals prepared by chef Paul Colella, you can admire the pieces of art hung around the restaurant, watch an artist at work and listen to live music. Sounds like the ideal date night to us.
What is it: The quirky attraction features a museum with one of the most expansive collections of kazoos, complete with highlights about the musical instrument’s interesting history.
Why go: Especially if you’re traveling as a family, you should plan to stop by with the kids. Just under 45 minutes from Hilton Head Island, the Kazoo Factory is pure fun. Expect to design and build your own kazoo to take home as a souvenir, of course.