12 miles of pristine beach on Hilton Head Island that is never crowded
By Ann Hattes with photos by Neil Hattes
Synonymous with championship golf courses, Hilton Head boasts another claim to fame as the first Eco-planned destination in the United States . With subtle signage and no neon lights the moss-draped oaks, pines, palmettos and magnolias bordering salt marshes and lagoons create a welcoming relaxing natural environment. Twelve miles of sandy beaches beckon families and seniors to this barrier island warmed year-round by the Gulf Stream with an average daytime temperature of 70 degrees F and average ocean temperature of 69 degrees F.
Many come to play golf where the pros play like the world famous Harbour Town Golf Links in the Sea Pines Resort where the RBC Heritage is held every April. Beyond golf, budget friendly activities range from biking, kayaking, sailing and fishing to crabbing. Perfect for biking, the island is flat, linked from one end to the other by a system of trails plus miles of hard-packed sandy beaches. Two- and three-wheeled bicycles from cruisers to tandems are available for rent plus accessories like helmets, baskets and locks. Most companies have a free delivery and pick-up service too.
Those who take the ferry to nearby sparsely populated Daufuskie Island might rent a golf cart to explore historic Gullah sites. And almost all who visit Hilton Head climb the red-and-white-striped Harbour Town Lighthouse, pausing on landings to read museum exhibits about the island’s history and legends. It’s even possible to shop at the top – in the gift store as well as enjoy the panoramic view of Calibogue Sound from the outdoor wrap-around balcony.
For a family photo-op, there’s Shelter Cove Harbour ’s giant bronze statue of Neptune which doubles as one of the world’s largest working sundials. During the summer, Shelter Cove’s Mediterranean-style village is a “must-do” for Tuesday night fireworks. Other island activities might involve discovering dolphins on a nature cruise or combing a beach searching for crabs, shells, sand dollars, starfish, and driftwood.
The Coastal Discovery Museum , headquartered on Historic Honey Horn plantation, helps visitors gain an understanding of the Lowcountry’s cultural heritage and ecology past and present. Here stands the only original plantation house on the Island still existing, plus the state’s largest Red Cedar tree dated from 1595. There is no fee to stop in to view the displays or walk the grounds, including marsh side boardwalks with interpretive panels. Throughout the year there are numerous history and ecology tours, fun and educational programs for all ages. Learn about the islander’s involvement in the Revolutionary War, Sea Island cotton which could grow 8 feet tall, or the life cycle and importance of the Atlantic Blue Crab.
Fine art, music and theatrical events appeal to those with a cultural bent while more than 200 shops from elegant boutiques to outlet malls entice those who shop till they drop. But the island also attracts foodies with its more than 250 restaurants, many participating in Fresh on the Menu program, using at least 25 percent South Carolina grown products.
For a classic Hilton Head experience dine waterside at the Old Oyster Factory, on the site of an oyster cannery which operated until the 1990s. The view of the Broad Creek marshland is typical Lowcountry with especially great views at sunset. In addition to seafood and oysters, the Old Oyster Factory is also known for a signature dessert, Chilled Mascarpone Souffle, Italian cream cheese whipped with meringue, served in an Almond Tuile with raspberry sauce. Redfish is dedicated to freshness with produce from area farmers’ markets as well as its garden. Alexander’s at Palmetto Dunes serves up a Lowcountry mainstay, shrimp and grits, while She Crab Soup is a specialty at Hudson ’s on the Docks which showcases the catch arriving daily. For hickory smoked barbecue and side dishes like collards, it’s One Hot Mama’s, whose owner and chef Mama Orchid Paulmeier was a recent finalist on Food Network Star Season 7. From gourmet to fast food, all the dining options are here.
If you can’t decide where to eat, the official Hilton Head Vacation Planner suggests downloading the Foodspotting app (www.foodspotting.com ) checking out the Hilton Head Island channel (www.foodspotting.com/hiltonhead ) which gives reviews on specific dishes at area restaurants.
Those staying in a rental with a kitchen can even prepare some of the Island ’s bounty by shopping Benny Hudson Seafood where the owners happily answer questions about the seasonally available fish. For where to buy local in-season ingredients and for recipes from island chefs bookmark the Foodie Vibe blog (www.islandvibe.org/foodie ) written by a native South Carolinian and Lowcountry food expert.
Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, declared the 12 miles of pristine beach on Hilton Head “fabulous.” With a visit here, you too can make memories with tropical island ambience fit for a queen! Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce: www.hiltonheadisland.org