Hilton Head Island is a resort town in Beaufort County, South Carolina.
The shoe-shaped island is a barrier island formed in the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs.
The island’s beginnings can be traced to the Native Americans who seasonally occupied the area.
With its strategic location near the Atlantic Ocean, Hilton Head Island played an essential part in the Union blockade during the Civil War.
Emancipated slaves flocked to the island when it fell to Union troops, and until today, the Gullah, or their descendants, have remained in town.
Hilton Head Island was incorporated as a municipality in 1983 and has since developed into an eco-friendly resort town.
Local government has passed ordinances regulating structural developments and preserving the island environments.
Here are the best things to do in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina:
Have a Luxurious Stay at The Sea Pines Resort
Located on Greenwood Drive, The Sea Pines Resort is a 5,000-acre oceanfront paradise unlike any other.
With decades of expertise in the hospitality industry, it’s not surprising that they’ve won multiple awards, such as Golf Digest Editors' Choice Awards - Best Golf Resorts and Golfweek's Best 2022 top resort golf courses in the U.S.
You can choose from three distinct types of accommodation, from The Inn & Club at Harbour Town to vacation homes for 2 to 12 guests.
The Inn has a South Carolina Lowcountry vibe with elegant interiors, access to the boutique pool, and scenic views of the Harbour Town Golf Links.
Vacation rentals, villas, and condos are furnished according to your taste.
Experience luxurious living at The Sea Pines Resort.
Spend the Day at Coligny Beach Park
Located on Coligny Circle, Coligny Beach Park is arguably the most popular oceanfront park on the island.
With restaurants, hotels, and shops within the area, Coligny Plaza is a town hub with everything you need for a day on the beach.
There are sand showers, gazebos, benches, swings, and a water fountain at the entrance where kids can play and get wet.
Boardwalks will take you to pristine sands and the beautiful waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
You can even spot dolphins if you’re lucky!
Lifeguards are on duty, so you won’t have to worry too much about your kids.
Coligny Beach is great for families looking for a relaxing time.
Discover the Lowcountry at Coastal Discovery Museum
Located on Honey Horn Drive, Coastal Discovery Museum has 2,000 square feet of indoor exhibits and 68 coastal acres that you can explore.
Walk around the Honey Horn Plantation and see salt marshes, centuries-old oak trees, and some of the island's oldest buildings.
There’s an hour-and-a-half tour where you can visit locations frequented by those who worked at Honey Horn and learn about the Hacks family who lived on the plantation for 50 years.
The museum also conducts tours on the water where you can ply the May River and Savannah Port or do a guided kayak tour of Jarvis Creek.
Spot dolphins at Broad Creek or do birdwatching in the Lowcountry’s Salt Marsh.
Discover the wonders of the Lowcountry at Coastal Discovery Museum.
Take Pictures at the Harbour Town Lighthouse
Located on Lighthouse Road is a red-and-white-striped lighthouse that looks just like it’s from a postcard.
Harbour Town Lighthouse is a privately built lighthouse that serves as one of Hilton Head Island’s landmarks with its iconic color.
It was built in 1979 by Charles Fraser as part of Harbour Town Marina but is now open for the public to climb.
Its octagonal column is made of stucco, metal lath, and plywood.
Standing at 90 feet, it has a red observation deck where you can observe the whole marina and parked boats.
It’s also a popular spot for wedding and tourist photos.
There’s a museum featuring historic photos of Harbour Town and a gift shop at the bottom of the lighthouse.
Have your photo taken at Harbour Town Lighthouse for a souvenir.
See Hilton Head Island’s Wildlife at Sea Pines Forest Preserve
Located along Greenwood Drive, Sea Pines Forest Preserve is a protected area for Hilton Head Island’s wildlife.
Opened in 1970, it has fishing docks, bridges, and wetland boardwalks where you can explore the island’s natural beauty.
See the 4,000-year-old Sea Pines Shell Ring and admire the native flowers at Warner W. Plahs Wildflower Field.
Go on a guided boat tour or do horseback riding along the preserve’s trails.
Fishing expeditions are also on the menu, although you will need fishing permits.
There are picnic tables, shelters, and grills on Fish Island if you feel like relaxing after a tour.
Discover Hilton Head Island’s flora and fauna at Sea Pines Forest Preserve.
Enjoy a Quiet Day at Burkes Beach
Burkes Beach is the place to go if you’re looking for a less crowded area to relax.
Located at the end of Burkes Beach Road, it is a mid-island beach with paved biking trails and open fields perfect for those with an active lifestyle.
The Hideaway, a local juke joint for families looking for good music and food, popularized the beach.
Hilton Head Island is known for its beaches but during the height of segregation in the 1950s, there weren’t a lot of beaches where blacks were allowed.
So, the island’s waterfront became a safe space for local Gullahs.
People partied and went from one beach pavilion to another, hence the term juke, derived from the Gullah word “joog,” which means disorderly.
The Hideout was the first juke joint on this beach, and it was run by Daniel and James Burke.
The rest is history; today, the beach is known as Burkes Beach.
Go Birdwatching at Fish Haul Beach Park
Located on Mitchelville Road, Fish Haul Beach Park is a secluded spot for those who want quiet time by the beach.
It’s nestled in Bay Gall, a historic Gullah neighborhood.
This hidden gem overlooks Port Royal Sound and has a boardwalk that leads to the beach.
There are also marshes where birds hunt for food.
Bring your binoculars and spot birds on the beach during low tide.
Peep on the tide pools and see hermit crabs inside.
Walk along the beach and pick up some shells for your collection.
Fish Haul Beach Park is an excellent spot for a quiet beach getaway.
Visit the First Freedmen Community at the Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park
Located at the end of Beach City Road, the Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park is the location of the first self-governed town of formerly enslaved people established during the Civil War.
Mitchelville was once home to 1,500 to 3,000 African-Americans, native islanders, and other immigrants.
The park has interactive exhibits that show the life and culture of the Gullah people that worked in Hilton Head Island’s plantations.
It is part of the Reconstruction Era National Historic Network that recognizes public and private sites that promote the American Reconstruction era (1861 to 1900).
There are beach access, trails, and an observation gazebo where you can see wildlife, marshlands, and vegetation.
Visit the Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park and learn more about the life of Gullahs.
Play Like a Pro at Harbour Town Golf Links
Located on Lighthouse Lane is the Harbour Town Golf Links, one of the top golf courses in the country.
It hosts the RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour in mid-April, making it a favorite among PGA Tour players.
However, it’s one of the most intimidating courses with some of the world’s best par threes and a par-4 18th hole.
This golf course has been a staple in the best lists of Golf Digest, GOLF Magazine, and Golfweek.
The pro shop carries top-of-the-line equipment for your golfing needs.
Play like a pro, or watch how the pros do it at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Take Mixology Classes at Hilton Head Distillery
Located on Cardinal Road, Hilton Head Distillery offers a great drinking experience in a relaxed and casual environment.
You can have hands-on mixology classes where you can learn fundamental techniques and create unique seasonal cocktails.
Classes include a souvenir shot glass and a bottle of your choice so you can practice mixing at home.
There’s also a guided distillery and tasting tour where you’ll be taken into an informative walkthrough while sampling their finest wines.
If you feel like chilling at the bar, they have a selection of handcrafted cocktails prepared by their master mixologists.
Book your mixology classes at Hilton Head Distillery and learn how to create your signature drink.
Wander around the Stoney-Baynard Ruins
Located on Plantation Drive, the Stoney Baynard Ruins was once a plantation built by Captain Jack Stoney.
According to legend, the plantation changed ownership when Stoney lost to William Baynard in a poker game.
Baynard is a successful Sea Island Cotton plantation owner.
He lived in the estate with his wife and their four children until Union forces invaded the island in 1861.
The Baynards fled, and the mansion served as Union headquarters during the Civil War.
The Baynard estate includes the Georgian-style plantation house and slave quarters.
Today, only portions of the two-story house remain.
Wander around the Stoney-Baynard Ruins and admire the well-preserved archeological remains.
View Local Artwork at the Art League of Hilton Head Gallery
Located on Shelter Cover Lane, the Art League of Hilton Head Gallery is home to local artworks in different media from over 170 artists.
The 2,000-square-foot gallery showcases 2D, 3D, and jewelry exhibits that change every month.
There’s an academy where art lovers of any level can take classes and workshops.
Learn how to use acrylics, pastels, and watercolors, or take printmaking and photography classes.
There are also ceramics classes and jewelry-making.
Support local artists by taking classes and workshops at the Art League of Hilton Head Gallery.
Get Fresh Seafood at Hudson's Seafood House on The Docks
Located on Hudson Road, Hudson's Seafood House on The Docks sits at the edge of Port Royal Sound and boasts fresh-caught seafood straight from the docks.
It’s been a Hilton Head Island institution for decades, serving oysters, shrimps, and softshell crabs.
It uses one of the only two remaining local fishing fleets in Hudson, offering an authentic low-country dining experience.
The stuffed flounder is one of the bestsellers, but you also can’t go wrong with the classic shrimp po’boy made with local shrimps.
You can’t miss the She Crab Soup, a pillar of the Hudson tradition.
If you can’t decide what to order, there’s the Can’t Decide Sampler, which contains two of each of Oysters Hudson, Oysters Rockefeller, beer-battered shrimp, blackened scallops, and mini crab cakes.
Enjoy fresh seafood with a view at Hudson's Seafood House on The Docks.
Have Baked Oysters at the Old Oyster Factory Restaurant
Can’t get enough of oysters?
Let the Old Oyster Factory Restaurant satisfy your cravings.
It is located on Marshland Road and offers waterfront dining on a private pier and serves fresh oysters off the boat.
Sample raw local oysters or those from North Carolina, Virginia, and New York.
If you’re having a hard time choosing, The Raw Bar Tower is the perfect sampler with six oysters of your choice, six jumbo shrimp cocktail, blue crab, lobster tail, and smoked salmon.
For those who find raw oysters slimy, they have baked Oysters Savannah topped with bacon and crab meat.
The Old Oyster Factory Restaurant is a haven for any oyster-lover.
Get a Bottle or Two at Island Winery
You can’t miss Island Winery’s quaint red barn when you’re passing through Cardinal Road.
Founded by Loren and Georgene Mortimer, the winery produces handcrafted spirits made from locally grown grapes.
They have barrel-aged wines, crisp whites, and craft brews that are perfect for your wine stash at home.
They’re also famous for their Low Country Specialty wines made from local grapes and other fruits, with their brightly colored bottles featuring local artists and Lowcountry scenes.
Some of Island Winery’s must-tries are the Southern Passion, a unique sangria mix, and the Margarita Wine, which has zesty lime flavors.
There’s more to Hilton Head Island than just being a resort town.
Behind its gorgeous shorelines is a rich history that shaped its people.
From its diverse flora and fauna to great food finds, you won’t get bored in this town.