Hilton Head Island is famous for its beaches, golf courses and low country hospitality. One of the allures of Hilton Head is the vast array of options available to visitors to the island. From wildlife preserves to upscale shopping and everything in between, Hilton Head will keep you relaxed and busy.
Over 2.5 million people visit Hilton Head each year and these are just 14 of the best things to do while visiting.
Where is Hilton Head Island?
Hilton Head is located in the southern part of South Carolina, between Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC. It’s an easy drive from anywhere on the east coast; however, you will want to leave early for a weekend trip since things get busy!
Related: Our Favourite Things to do in Charleston with kids!
How to Get to Hilton Head
If you are flying in, the closest airport is Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) which offers many direct flights from major cities such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas and more.
Coming from the west coast, I flew into Charleston for a few days and then made the two-hour drive to Hilton Head Island.
We have also flown into Orlando and then made the five-hour drive to Hilton Head as well. There are some amazing day trips you can do in Orlando for a few days to tie it in with your trip to Hilton Head.
Things to Do on Hilton Head
Rent a Bike and Explore the Island’s Many Bike Paths
Hilton Head is a very bike-friendly island. You can rent bikes from several locations throughout the city or bring your own and explore some of the many paths available to you.
There are over 60 miles of bike trails, and it is one of the best things to do in Hilton Head. I spent many days biking to and from the beach, along the inter-coastal waterway, to the pool, and my kids loved looking for alligators on our bike rides.
Sea Pines Forest Preserve
The Sea Pines Forest Preserve is a must-see if you are visiting Hilton Head. The entrance is located just inside the Sea Pines Resort. There is a fee per car to enter, depending on how long you plan to visit.
Once inside, there are miles of trails to explore through boardwalks, bridges, and marshes once inside. You can take guided fishing tours, horseback rides and fishing excursions. Stop for a picnic lunch on Fish Island or get up close and personal with alligators on the Sea Pines Forest Preserve Alligator Tour!
Play a Round of Golf at One of the World-Class Golf Courses on the Island
Hilton Head is home to the famous Harbour Town Links featured in several movies and TV shows. The course was designed by Pete Dye, who also created some of the most challenging courses on the PGA Tour.
Other world-class golf courses include Shipyard Golf Links and Palmetto Dunes, but there are over 20 golf courses to choose from on the island.
Most of the golf courses are located within a few minutes drive from each other, and you can’t go wrong with any of them!
There are three great miniature golf courses on Hilton Head for those travelling with kids: Pirate’s Island, Legendary Golf and Adventure cove.
Hit the Beach and Enjoy Some Sun and Surf
Hilton Head has some of the best beaches in South Carolina, and it is one of the top things to do on Hilton Head Island. There are 12 miles of public beaches to choose from on Hilton Head.
The most popular beach is Coligny Beach, which offers a wide variety of things, including restaurants, shopping and bike rentals, and lots of parking. There is a lifeguard on duty during the summer months, and there are beach chairs and umbrella rentals which we took full advantage of.
Burkes Beach is dog-friendly, and Folly Field Beach is a local’s favorite.
Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort
If you are looking for a place to stay with easy beach access, I recommend Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort. The resort offers a wide variety of amenities for kids, including a water park, playground and pool.
The hotel has multi-roomed villas and various leisure options, including 12 miles of heavenly beaches. What could be better than combining Disney and Hilton Head Island?!!
If you are looking for a change of scenery, I would recommend driving to Beaufort, SC, located about 20 minutes north of Hilton Head. Beaufort offers historical tours, antebellum homes and some great restaurants.
Beaufort is the second oldest city in South Carolina. There are also several art galleries in the area that feature local artists. The best part is that Beaufort is a lot less crowded than Hilton Head, and it makes for a lovely day trip from Hilton Head Island.
Pinckney Wildlife Refuge
If you love nature, then a trip to the Pinckney Wildlife Refuge is one of the most interesting things to do on Hilton Head. The refuge was established in 1975 and covers over 2000 acres, including salt marshes, hardwood swamps, and tidal creeks.
The boardwalk offers self-guided tours through several habitats, including coastal marsh, salt marsh and tidal creek. There are over 200 species of birds including that make their homes in the refuge during certain times of the year.
Our boys wanted to see an alligator from a safe distance which is why we came to Pinckney Refuge but unfortunately, during our visit, we did not spot any.
There are many different trails to choose from but make sure you come prepared with a good pair of walking shoes and water.
Sea Pines Beach Club
One of my personal favorite things to do in Hilton Head is to head to the Oceanfront beach bar at Sea Pines Beach Club. The ocean bar and seating area are expansive, with incredible views over the ocean.
Come for drinks or dinner or both; it is one of the best spots on the island. Take a stroll along the beach after dinner and take in all that the low country offers.
Day Trip to Savannah, GA
If you have a little more time, I would recommend taking a day trip to Savannah, GA, about an hour drive from Hilton Head Island.
Savannah is one of my favorite cities in the south, and it offers history, architecture, food and shopping. In addition, several trolley tours are offered that will take you to all of the top things to do in Savannah. We spent most of our time strolling through River St, peeking in all the shops along the water.
You can also take one of the horse and carriage tours which are offered throughout the day. However, I would recommend taking an evening ride because it is cooler and there aren’t as many people around, making for a more enjoyable trip through historic downtown Savannah.
Harbour Town is also home to the famous Hilton Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse was completed in 1970, and it offers some great views from the top. There are 114 steps to get to the top, with many historical photos hanging on the walls.
The panoramic views from the top of the lighthouse make it worth the effort. The low country is on full display from the top!
Harbour Town is located at the south end of Hilton Head Island, and it offers shopping, dining and boat tours. Take a stroll along the marina and look out across the water to Haig Point. No visit to Hilton Head Island is complete without a visit to Harbour Town.
People come to South Beach on Hilton Head for the gorgeous sunsets and The Salty Dog Café. The marina is just a short walk from the beach, and there are wonderful bike trails to explore.
Take a trip out to South Beach, located at the south end of Hilton Head and enjoy many of the restaurants and shops along the way.
The Salty Dog Café is located in the marina, and it offers some of the best seafood around. There is an outdoor seating area where you will enjoy a beautiful view of the marina. We love coming to South Beach for the ice cream and the views!
Shelter Cove Marina
Shelter Cove Marina is located on the north end of Hilton Head Island, and it offers endless fun. Take in the live entertainment, stroll along the promenade, and go shopping. Dine at one of the many restaurants lining the marina or sit and enjoy the views.
Shelter Cove can get very crowded during the summer, so arrive early if you can and make reservations if you plan on dining there. Also, check out the festival and live entertainment schedule before you go; Harbour Fest was a wonderful event during our visit.
Daufuskie Island and Haig Point
Daufuskie Island is a short boat ride from Hilton Head Island, and it offers a unique experience. There are no cars on the island, so you will have to explore by golf cart, bike or foot.
The people of Daufuskie Island still maintain their Gullah culture, which can be seen in the homes and in the way they live. The history on the island is fascinating, and you will be able to see things that most people never get a chance to experience.
Haig Point is located at the far end of Daufuskie Island, giving visitors access to some beautiful views out over the ocean. If you are lucky enough to know someone who lives in this private community, you will be able to experience things that are not open to the general public.
We stayed with friends of ours who own a home in Haig Point, and it was an incredible experience. We lounged by the oceanside pool, explored the island by golf cart, played a round of golf and, of course, enjoyed the spectacular sunsets.
Both Daufuskie Island and Haig Point offer a unique look into the past and should not be missed if you visit Hilton Head Island.
Go fishing off a Dock
One of my son’s favorite things to do on Hilton Head Island is fishing off a dock. There are so many docks scattered throughout the island that it is easy to find one close to you.
You can try to catch everything from catfish to flounder while fishing off a dock, and it is a lot of fun. You can use your own fishing gear, or you can rent some from one of the many local shops.
If you are looking for a relaxing way to spend an afternoon, fishing off a dock is a great option. Just keep your eyes out for alligators! We always enjoy stopping by a pier to fish on Hilton Head Island.
How Big is Hilton Head Island?
Hilton Head is about 12 miles long and 5 miles wide, making it the perfect size to explore without feeling overwhelmed.
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Why Visit Hilton Head?
There are many reasons to visit Hilton Head Island! Some people come for the beaches, some come for the golf courses, and others for the food and wine.
Over 2.5 million people visit Hilton Head every year, and the island only has about 40,000 residents. No matter what brings you to Hilton Head, you’re sure to have a great time!
When is the Best Time to Visit?
The best time to visit Hilton Head Island depends on what you are looking for. The summer months (June-August) are peak season and tend to be the busiest with higher prices and more crowded beaches.
If you are looking for a quieter, more relaxed trip, I recommend visiting during spring as the temperatures are mild and things are starting to get busy again. If you plan to come in the fall, be aware of hurricane season and how it may affect your vacation.
I visited in early September and was lucky to leave before any flights were impacted due to an incoming storm. I love traveling in September, though, and we didn’t have kids at the time and were fine if we needed to be flexible with flight cancellations.
It’s been a pleasure to share this island with you. I hope that by now, you have found the perfect Hilton Head Island fit for your family or couple! The best way to experience all there is on offer here is to visit and see it firsthand. If not, take some time today and plan a trip in the near future. You won’t regret it!
Casandra Karpiak is a travel writer and the co-owner of Savoteur. A Toronto native with Danish roots currently residing in British Columbia, her travel writing has been seen on The Associated Press wire, MSN, CBS, NBC, Entrepreneur, 24/7 Wall St, Times Daily, and many more.
You can follow her travel adventures on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.