Of Sunshine and Seashells – Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Where can you find miles of white sand beaches, world-class golf courses, and a National Wildlife Refuge, all within a matter of minutes from one another?  If you answered Hilton Head Island, give yourself a pat on the back!  Hilton Head has long been known for its laid-back, relaxed atmosphere and seemingly endless sun-filled days.  But Hilton Head is more than just golf courses and beaches.  Read on to find out more about this island of sunshine and seashells…

Coming to Hilton Head from I-95 (approximately 18 miles), you’ll first cross the bridge to Pinckney Island (more about that later) and then to Hilton Head Island.  The bridge spans the Intracoastal Waterway, a 3,000 mile waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts allowing boats to make passage without the perils of the open ocean.  Arriving on Hilton Head is like stepping into another world.  For visitors who return time and again, crossing the bridge is like returning home.  Whether you choose to stay at an oceanfront resort, a small inn, or a vacation rental, it won’t be long until you come to regard Hilton Head as “home” too.

Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn

Aside from the more obvious attractions that Hilton Head has to offer, there are many hidden treasures to be found on a visit to the island.  First on your list of island stops should be the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn.  Here you can learn more about the island’s unique history and ecology, and enjoy a tour of the 68-acre plantation which contains some of the oldest buildings on the island.  From the visitor’s center, an easy walk leads you around the property, from boardwalks overlooking Jarvis Creek to the camellia gardens and butterfly enclosure.  Staff frequently lead tours of the property, and several off-property tours of the island are offered here as well.

Harbour Town Lighthouse

A trip to Harbour Town is a must for any visitor to Hilton Head.  With its iconic lighthouse, Harbour Town is a charming village located in Sea Pines Plantation at the southern end of the island.  If you visit in the morning, stop by the Harbour Town Bakery, situated just across the street from the main parking area.  Grab a seat at one of the outdoor tables and enjoy a coffee and morning pastry while you read the newspaper or simply watch the world go by.  When you’ve finished, start your exploration by strolling along the Harbour Town basin.  You’ll enjoy up-close views of the many yachts which call this harbor home as you make your way along the sidewalk surrounding the basin.  Keep walking until you reach the end of the sidewalk.  You’ll be standing right on the 18th green of the Harbour Town Links, site of the annual Heritage Classic golf tournament.  As you head back to the parking area, continue around the basin until you reach the base of the lighthouse.  If you’re feeling ambitious, climb the tower’s 114 steps for a stunning view of Harbour Town and the surrounding area.  Afterwards, spend some time walking around the small shops of Harbour Town or sit in one of the many rocking chairs and enjoy the view.

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

Another highlight of a visit to Hilton Head is a stop at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, just over the bridge on Rte. 278.  With over 4,000 acres to explore, one can easily spend several hours at the refuge.  Trails are well-marked, and many shorter loops will give you a good feel for the property (be sure to pick up a trail map as you begin your adventure).  Walking away from the parking area, you will immediately be greeted by marshlands on either side of the trail.  Keep walking and you will come to several small ponds where alligators can frequently be spotted along the banks.  Although many visitors frequent the refuge, it is easy to feel surrounded by only birds and nature given the expanse of area within the refuge.  Common sightings include shore birds, wading birds, bald eagles, and nine-banded armadillos.  It’s a nature and bird-lover’s paradise!

One of Hilton Head’s main attractions is its miles of white sand beaches.  At low tide, the sand is hard packed, and bicycles are a common sight.  Often, sand dollars and starfish can be found in the sand near the water’s edge.  If you visit in the off-season, you’ll feel like you have the beach (mostly) to yourself.  A sunset walk on the beach is a sure way to relax after a day spent enjoying island life.

Hilton Head has a wide range of attractions which appeal to most any visitor.  With miniature golf, kayak and bicycle rentals, dolphin cruises, horseback riding, quaint village shops, and of course the beautiful beaches and golf courses, a visit to Hilton Head is sure to be a vacation you’ll remember.