Along the soft, sandy shores of South Carolina is the quintessential resort town of Hilton Head. Famously known for its pristine beaches and luxury golf courses, this town has much more to offer than that.
From hiking and biking trails, fishing, fine dining, shopping, salons, spas, and total relaxation, Hilton Head is a popular vacation destination for celebrities, couples, friends, and families from all over the world. Ready to find out why this is the place to be? Here are 23 things to do in Hilton Head that you’re going to love.
RIDE THE MULTIPLE BIKE TRAILS
Hilton Head Island takes pride in “environmental preservation and resource conservation practices” and thus has an extensive system of bike trails. A majority of people take advantage of the bike paths, greatly reducing traffic, which sets Hilton Head apart from other seaside resort towns.
The island boasts 117 miles of shared-use pathways, 108 miles of paved shared-use paths, “secret paths” and 60-plus miles of public multi-use pathways. They also have another 14 miles of trails planned for the near future. You can find trails that take you under the live oak trees and through the maritime forest, wetlands, a salt marsh, as well as beaches.
SOAK UP THE SUN AT COLIGNY BEACH PARK
Coligny Beach Park is popular with both locals and visitors. Not only does it provide beach access, but it also provides beach access for wheelchairs and strollers with beach mats leading all the way down to the water. You can also find beach chairs and umbrella rentals.
The park has toilets, showers, changing rooms, gazebos, and various food options nearby. There are also bike racks and a parking lot.
Close to the beach is Coligny Plaza, which features 60 shops and restaurants. At the plaza, you can also find a movie theater, spas, and salons as well as daily kids activities during the summer months. This includes things like magic shows, face painting, and live performances.
VISIT THE COASTAL DISCOVERY MUSEUM
Set on a nearly 70-acre property, the Coastal Discovery Museum features exhibits, events, tours, and experiences that honor and protect as well as educate people about South Carolinas Low Country. On-site, you’ll find a small museum with Native American artifacts and art, a seashell identification table, the Discovery Lab as well as the Kids Zone. The Kids Zone features puzzles puppet shows, a library, Native American pottery, and bones from loggerhead sea turtles.
The Discovery Museum also holds several events throughout the year including farmers’ markets, art shows, native plant sales, and a family fun day.
The very special thing about the Discovery Museum is that it is mostly made up of outdoor natural exhibits. The museum offers a “variety of guided walks, talks, cruises, and excursions” so you can get up close and personal with the flora and fauna of South Carolina. They offer land, water, group, and private tours.
During the variety of land, tours offered you will see such things as butterflies, Blue Crabs, rare Marsh Tackie Horses (only 400 left!), birds such as the Summer Tanager, Eastern Kingbird, Painted Bunting, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Egrets, and Herons, sea turtles (depending on the time of year) and much more. The water tours offer kayaking, where you can find bottle-nosed dolphins, multiple species of water birds, fish, oysters, and river otters.
The Coastal Discovery Museum also protects several historical sites and buildings.
Details: 70 Honey Horn dr., Hilton Head Island, SC 29926 | Website
BRING YOUR BINOCULARS TO PINCKNEY ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
The Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 4,053 acres and includes Pinckney Island, Corn Island, Big, and Little Harry Islands as well as Buzzard Island although Pinckney Island is the only one open to the public.
Pinckney Island features a range of habitats including salt marsh, forestland, brushland, fallow fields, and freshwater ponds, all of which you can explore. These habitats are home to dozens of waterfowl and shorebirds, white-tailed deer, red fox, bobs cats as well as the American alligator. During certain times of the year and if you have a good eye you can find the cottonmouth, black racer, corn snake, and yellow and grey rat snake
The refuge is open to hikers, bikers, fishermen, and hunters in designated seasons. There are over 15 miles of maintained trails for visitors to enjoy. If you do plan on hiking, remember to bring a full, reusable water bottle and snacks as there are no amenities for visititrs.
Details: US Hwy 78. Pinckney Island, SC 29910 | Website
KAYAK THE SEA PINES FOREST PRESERVE
The Sea Pines Forest Preserve is more than 600 acres of protected land, which includes a 4,000-year-old shell ring. This shell ring is as old as the pyramids and is a top draw to the Sea Pines Forest Reserve. The park includes salt marshes, an enchanting wildflower meadow, sand ridges, maritime forest, wetlands, and ponds. You can explore the preserve by hiking, biking, or horseback riding, but the most popular way to explore the park is by kayak.
There are nature trails and boardwalks to make trekking on land easy and enjoyable for everyone. The two main trails are known as 1 mile Blue Arrow Trail, and the 2 mile Orange Arrow Trail.
Kayaking is another exciting way to explore the park and see it from a different point of view. While kayaking you’ll have a chance to see dolphins, egrets, herons, ibis, wood storks, mink, otter, and manatee. You can rent kayaks or paddle boards or take private or group tours.
Details: Hilton Head Island, SC 29928 | Website
AVOID THE CROWDS AT FOLLY FIELD BEACH PARK
At the corner of Sandollar Road and Starfish Drive is Folly Field Beach Park. The beach here is a bit more relaxed than some of the other Hilton Head beaches. However, you can still find bathrooms, showers, water fountains, and a vending machine.
The beach is perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and seashell combing. There is a wooden boardwalk that stretches from the shaded parking lot to the wide-open beach. Despite the beach being more desolate, there are restaurants close by for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Folly Field Beach is a popular spot to watch the sunrise above the Atlantic Ocean.
Details: 55 Starfish Dr., Hilton Head Island, SC 29928 | Website
TOUR HILTON HEAD DISTILLERY
Hilton Head Distillery is the premier distillery on the island. They offer tours, a tasting room, as well as a bottle shop. The distillery provides mixology classes, behind-the-scenes tours, private and public events.
They specialize in craft premium, small-batch rum, and vodka all made by hand. The distillery is the one and only on the island and is a popular day and night destination for visitors and locals. The distillery even has options for non-drinkers.
Details: 14 Cardinal Rd, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926 | Website
HUNT SAND DOLLARS ON VANISHING ISLAND
Vanishing Island is a must-do when visiting Hilton Head, but you can only get here by boat at low tide. There are numerous tour operations that can take you to Vanishing Island, which is only walkable for about an hour a day.
During this magic hour, you can find sand dollars, starfish, and other fun sea creatures. Each day the island brings something different. It’s the perfect excursion to seek solitude and find oneness with the sea.
LEARN ABOUT THE GULLAH COMMUNITY
The Gullah Community has been established in the 1860s. The village is made up of small neighborhoods that excelled at different sets of skills which allowed the communities to be self-sufficient. “Gullah” refers to both a language, as well as a culture. The Gullah people are skilled in music, basketry, quilt making, folklore, cuisine, and the healing arts. They are also proud to share their traditions and history with anyone who wants to learn more.
A great way to learn more is to check out The Gullah Museum which was established in 2003. The museum is “dedicated to maintaining Gullah customs, traditions, language, stories, songs and structures on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.” They offer guided tours as well as host community events like the Annual Gullah Oyster Roast. To tour the museum you need to make a reservation online.
Details: 2817 Maybank Hwy, Johns Island, SC 29455 | Website
SEE THE DOLPHINS WITH ISLAND SKIFF ADVENTURE TOURS
Taking a cruise to see the dolphins play in the sea is a top activity for anyone staying on Hilton Head. There are various tours you can take, but one of the more unique tours includes taking a tour with Island Skiff Tours.
You’ll be cruising around on your own skiff while following a tour guide through the marshes of Hilton Head, Bluffton, and Daufuskie Island. The tour is about 2.5 hours, where you’ll learn about the local ecosystem and get a chance to see some of the local wildlife, like dolphins. The skiffs keep you lower to the water making it easier to get up close and personal to the wildlife.
Island Skiff Adventure Tours also offers speed boat tours that take you through the back creeks of the marshes. You’ll race through the back bays at 30mph. You’ll check out Bull Island looking for pods of local dolphins.
Details: 18 Simmons Rd, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926 | Website
CHOW DOWN AT SHELTER COVE TOWNE CENTRE
Shelter Cove sits at the center of Hilton Head Island. This community and park boasts 900 residential units, dozens of shops, a massive marina along with a plaza, park, and an outdoor shopping and entertainment center.
There are over 20 dining establishments, more than 30 stores of all varieties including clothing, health, and wellness, home goods, galleries, and boutiques. You can find a spa and fitness center as well as outdoor activities. There are endless tour operators for water adventures, boat rides, and fishing tours.
Shelter Cove also hosts many community events throughout the year, including music and art festivals, community cleanups, blood drives, and the ballet. The cover also features four parks, The Island Recreation Center, Shelter Cove Community Park, The Bird Pond, and the Veterans Memorial Park and Pond.
Details: Hilton Head Island, SC 29928 | Website
CATCH A SHARK WITH HILTON HEAD FISHING CHARTERS
Shark and sport fishing is a popular pastime in Hilton Head. Just off the island’s shores, the ocean is teeming with sharks and other marine life.
Some of the species commonly caught are Atlantic Sharp Nosed Sharks, Bonnet Head Sharks, Bull Sharks, Lemon Sharks, Black Tip Sharks, Hammerhead Sharks, Tiger Sharks, and Nurse Sharks. You can also fish for Spanish mackerel, bonito tuna and bluefish, sea bass, amberjack, tuna, and barracuda.
Tours typically last about 3 hours and you can do group tours, private tours, or family-friendly tours.
Details: 2 Hudson Rd, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926 | Website
VISIT A HISTORIC LIGHTHOUSE
Although the faux lighthouse at Harbour Town is more well-known (more on that below), the The Hilton Head Island Rear Range Lighthouse, is the island’s one true lighthouse.
Also known as the Leamington Lighthouse, this lighthouse is one of the few surviving lighthouses in South Carolina. Located in the Leamington neighborhood of Palmetto Dunes Resort, this 92-foot lighthouse is free to visit, although you can no longer go up to the inside tower.
You’ll find the lighthouse, along with a vintage brick oil house and a water cistern, between the 5th and 15th greens of the Arthur Hills Golf Course. Please be courteous to golfers when you visit, and don’t park on the grass!
Details: Located between the 5th and 15th greens of the Arthur Hills Golf Course in Palmetto Dunes Resort | Website
INDULGE IN A BEACH COCKTAIL AT TIKI HUT
Tiki Hut on Hilton Head is one of the best places to go for a fun time out. Consistently ranked as one of the most popular bars on the island, the Tiki Hut also has a mouth-watering menu and extensive drink menu.
Tiki Hut also features live music almost nightly, and is available for private parties.
Details: Coligny Beach, Hilton Head Island, SC | Website
EXPLORE HARBOUR TOWN
Harbour Town is a picturesque area in Sea Pines Resort. One of the biggest draws, especially for families, is the Harbour Town Lighthouse. The lighthouse is an iconic landmark for both boats and land travelers. You can climb to the top for the very best views of Hilton Head and for a unique shopping experience at the top.
At the lighthouse, you can find a small but educational museum with a recently added Coast Guard exhibit, and many people come here to enjoy the picture-perfect sunsets.
Harbour Town Golf Links is ranked as one of the best golf courses in the United States and the world, and was designed to emphasize finesse, imagination, and shot-making. Tennis, fishing, boating, and other water sports are super popular in Harbour Town. You can find jet ski, kayak, paddleboard rentals, waterskiing, and powerboat rentals. You can also go sailing, parasailing, as well as the Harbour Town swimming pool.
There are dozens of dining options including Harbourside Burgers and Brews, The Crazy Crab, The Liberty Oak, Harbour Town Bakery and Cafe, and CQ’s. There are a variety of shops for men, women, and kids, like 32 Degrees North, Camp Hilton Head I and II, and Currents.
Details: 32 Greenwood Dr. Hilton Head Island, SC 29928 | Website
SEE THE RUINS OF THE STONEY-BAYNARD PLANTATION
The Stoney-Baynard Plantation is a historic site of significant importance on Hilton Head and it’s even listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. The house was built in the late 1700s, and was once used as Union headquarters during the Civil War.
The Stoney-Baynard Plantation consists of below-ground archaeological remains, four ruins, the main house, an overseer’s house, and a slave house. The plantation was built with “tabby” which is a mix of crushed oyster shells, whole oyster shells, water, and lime.
Details: Plantation dr., Hilton Head Island, SC 29928 | Website
SOAR IN THE TREES AT ADVENTURE HILTON HEAD
If you’re looking for a more thrilling activity, Adventure Hilton Head is ideal. The perfect place for adults and kids, it can be the perfect experience for the whole family. The park offers several activities comprising The Zipline Canopy Tour, Aerial Adventure Tour, and Go Karts.
The Zip Line Tour has 7 ziplines that give you the highest vantage point in Hilton Head. It includes the Swinging sky bridge, a spiral staircase leading to the trees, and a 900 ft long racing zip finale. The Aerial Adventure Tour is a series of ropes courses. There are four different levels along with more than 50 different obstacles in the sky. The go-karts are a new feature at The Adventure Park, offering single rider and double rider carts.
Activities usually require some sort of age, height, or weight range, which can be found on their website where you can schedule a time for your adventures.
Details: 33 Broad Creek Marina Way, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926 | Website
MAKE YOUR WAY TO BLUFFTON
Bluffton is known for its delicious, fresh seafood, artists, art galleries, festivals, and parades. This super small town has a big history adding to the tourist appeal. The town has been called “one of the last true coastal villages of the South” where locals still live work and play on the river.
The May River and The Historic District draw many people to this small, special town, but as mentioned earlier, they are most famous for their seafood and are known to have some of the best in South Carolina. Oystermen still catch oysters the old-fashioned way — with their hands and bateau (small boats).
The Bluffton Room is a world-class dining experience for adults only. This fine dining establishment focuses on classic American cuisine. There are several seating options, including an indoor, cozy dining room, an outdoor patio, and an open-air bar.
Church of the Cross is one church with three locations, all are beautiful and worth a visit. The Historic Campus was built in 1787 and holds a Saturday night service and two Sunday morning services. They also offer guided tours. The Chapel has a Sunday morning service at 9 am and CrossPoint offers a Sunday morning service at 10:30 am with childcare services available.
The Heyward House Museum is the official Welcome Center of Bluffton. The welcome center offers maps, brochures, menus, and other useful information. Guided tours to the Heyward House Museum are available as well. These tours will go into more detail about the history of the house as well as the town of Bluffton.
Burnt Church Distillery is a popular place to try and buy locally made spirits. The distillery honors local history and gives back to the community. The food and cocktail menu here makes it an ideal hangout for both locals and visitors.
STAY AT PALMETTO DUNES OCEANFRONT RESORT
If you’re looking for somewhere to indulge in self-care, Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort is the place to go. The resort offers three miles of untouched beaches and three designer golf courses. They have an 11-mile lagoon system with a full-service marina, and various vacation rental options.
As a guest of Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, you have access to a free shuttle van (seasonal) that goes anywhere within Palmetto Dunes and Shelter Cove Harbour and Marina. A big draw to Shelter Cove Harbour and Marina is the King Neptune sundial at the entrance. The marina offers endless entertainment, live music, restaurants, cafes and bars, shopping, and tours. You can find places to book fishing trips, dolphin and nature tours. You can also find rentals for kayaks, paddleboards, etc.
Back at Palmetto Dunes, you can find pickleball and tennis courts, bike and kayak rentals, a Toptracer Range and more.
Details: 4 Queens Folly Rd, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928 | Website
SUMMER TRADITIONS FOR FAMILIES
There are plenty of family-friendly adventures and experiences in Hilton Head, and two of the best happen to take place in the summer!
Harbourfest at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina on Hilton Head Island is full of family-friendly fun. During the summer, this weekly celebration will features fireworks shows on Tuesday nights, along with free live music, arts and crafts, kid-friendly activities, and more.
The kids will love the carnival games and face painting by Cappy the Clown, and adults will love the free live music, waterfront views, and the amazing shopping and dining found at the marina.
Another great summer tradition found on Hilton Head is the Gregg Russell Summer Concerts. Well-known for his interactive sing-alongs, you’ll find musician Gregg Russell at the stage below the Sea Pines Liberty Oak in Harbour Town all summer long. A night at one of these summer concerts cannot be missed!
DAY TRIP (OR OVERNIGHT) AT DAUFUSKIE ISLAND
Daufuskie Island is a unique escape from regular life. This island slows time down, and offers total relaxation through its quiet, serene environment.
The island also has a lot of historical significance and is believed to have been inhabited 9,000 years ago. Daufuskie only has a couple of paved roads where you’ll find art galleries, the freshest, local cuisine, golf courses, and interesting historic sites.
DAY TRIP TO BEAUFORT
If you’re a movie buff, or just like local history, Beaufort is a perfect day trip option from Hilton Head. Less than an hour north of Hilton Head is the legendary little town of Beaufort. This is where Forrest Gump, The Prince of Tides, and The Big Chill have all been partly filmed. It is also famous for being home to more than 25% of the entire marshland on the East Coast.
You can visit the Hunting Island State Park, which is the number one visited state park in South Carolina and sees more than 1 million visitors a year. When you’re exploring the park, keep your eyes open for a variety of wildlife, including loggerhead sea turtles, sea horses, alligators, pelicans, dolphins and deer, raccoons, rattlesnakes, and the rare coral snake.
You can arrange for sightseeing tours, as well as visit the numerous museums and art galleries dedicated to the history of Beaufort.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO SOUTH CAROLINA
- GEORGETOWN: 7 Relaxing Things To Do In Georgetown, SC
- DAUFUSKIE ISLAND: A Complete Visitor’s Guide To This Amazing Escape
- BEAUFORT: 29 Things To Do In Beaufort, SC For An Amazing Weekend Away
- CHARLESTON: 45+ Fantastic Things To Do In Charleston, SC
- AIKEN: 10 Charmingly Southern Things To Do In Aiken, SC
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