Picture a place of natural beauty, where the temperature and the water are warm all year, where beaches and golf courses beckon and where kids trail parents on cruiser bikes but the convenience of a grocery store is never more than a mile away. On Hilton Head Island, just off the coast of South Carolina, families can fall effortlessly into a relaxed rhythm.
Lay of the Land
Hilton Head Island is shaped like a running shoe. Map your destinations in relation to the heel, ankle and toe, and you’ll never get lost. (There’s also an app, Hilton Head Island Compass, to help you locate nearby restaurants and activities.) To cut across the island quickly, you can take the shoelace-like Cross Island Parkway. The island is almost entirely covered in mixed-use resort communities, and there are seven public-beach access points.
First things first: Biking is a fun way to get around the island, thanks to nearly 60 miles of paved public bike paths. After checking in, hit up a bike shop, many of which are well equipped for families, offering Burleys, tandems, baby seats and beach cruisers. LowSea Bike Rental (106 C Arrow Rd.; 843-384-9322; adult and kid cruiser bikes, $25 a week) also offers all sorts of accessories for little ones, including strollers and high chairs.
In the center of the island, a breezy outdoor shopping area called Shelter Cove Towne Center (40 Shelter Cove Ln.; 843-686-3090), anchored by a supermarket, is a great spot to stock up on supplies, beachwear and souvenirs. A new boutique called Birdie James (28 Shelter Cove Ln., Suite 111; 804-229-6788) has a lovely cache of dresses and modern resort wear. The kids will love the nearby playground, which overlooks Broad Creek and also happens to be one of the best spots in town to watch the sunset.
Bike paths abound, but a free trolley shuttles visitors around the Sea Pines resort complex. Consider swinging by Lawton Stables (190 Greenwood Dr.; 843-671-2586; trail rides, $60; pony rides, $10; petting zoo, free), a beginner-friendly facility with pony rides, a petting zoo and trail rides through the Sea Pines Forest Preserve.
Sea Pines is home to Harbour Town (149 Lighthouse Rd.), a cluster of shops and restaurants beneath the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse & Museum (149 Lighthouse Rd.; 866-305-9814; admission, $4; children 5 and under, free). With pancakes, waffles, row upon row of fresh pastries and a breakfast BLT with a cultlike following, Harbour Town Bakery & Café (140 Lighthouse Rd.; 843-363-2021; breakfast for two, $20*) is worth a visit. Just beyond its patio tables, you’ll find a treehouse-inspired playground shaded by live oaks.
Around the corner, the whole family can board the Pirates of Hilton Head ship (149 Lighthouse Rd., Suite P; 843-363-7000; cruises, $30 a person; children 2 and under, free) for a lively treasure hunt while sailing in the Calibogue Sound.
On Sea Pines’ ocean side, the recently opened Coast (Sea Pines Beach Club, 87 N. Sea Pines Dr.; 843-842-1888; dinner for two, $80) serves fresh local seafood in a refined dining room that opens onto a well-appointed two-story patio. Snag a table and unwind with a fresh-squeezed margarita at the end of the day.
You’ll be hard-pressed not to catch a little golf and tennis on Hilton Head, with its 23 courses and more than 500 courts. Many courses and courts offer children’s lessons and discounted prices for families during “family play” hours (usually 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.). Situated along the Atlantic, Port Royal Golf & Racquet Club (10 Clubhouse Dr.; 843-681-1750; nine holes of FootGolf, including cart rental, $18; children 15 and under, $10) also offers FootGolf, a golf-soccer hybrid in which soccer balls take the place of golf balls and standard cups are swapped for 21-inch ones.
Farther south, Coligny Beach Park (Pope Ave. at Coligny Circle; 843-341-4600) is a popular stretch of sand, and for good reason. The facilities are immaculate (think porch swings, shingle-style changing rooms and pastel Adirondack chairs), and the wheelchair-accessible pathway on the sand simplifies stroller travel. (Bonus: A splash pad works double duty wearing out toddlers and ridding them of sand.) When you’re hungry, you can walk just one block to Stu’s Surfside Subs (1 N. Forest Beach Dr.; 843-686-7873; lunch for two, $15) for amply stacked sandwiches on fresh bread. Afterward, pedal to Hilton Head Ice Cream (55 New Orleans Rd., Suite 114; 843-842-6333; ice cream for two, $8) and take your pick of the 36-plus homemade flavors.
Across the island, at Broad Creek Marina, the Aerial Adventure at ZipLine Hilton Head (33 Broad Creek Marina Way; 843-682-6000; $49 a person) offers a series of ropes and obstacle courses in the trees. You can keep the adrenaline pumping with an optional zip-line course ($89 a person) that culminates in a ride down a dual-cable racing zip.
To get out on the water, consider reserving a two-hour guided kayak tour of Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge’s protected marshes through Outside Hilton Head (50 Shelter Cove Ln.; 800-686-6996; tours, $40; children, $20). You’ll paddle past herons, ospreys and oystercatchers and, if you’re lucky, spot a bald eagle or Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. Excursions leave from the aptly named Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks (1 Hudson Rd.; 843-681-2772; dinner for two, $60), the island’s oldest restaurant. In months containing the letter r, you can slurp raw oysters plucked from the water just a few miles away.
Beyond the Beach
Flanked by the ocean on one side and the Calibogue Sound and Intracoastal Waterway on the other, Hilton Head is rife with marine biodiversity. Fuel up on a nitro cold brew at Maywood Davis (612 William Hilton Pkwy.; 843-368-2839; coffee for two, $6) then make your way to the Coastal Discovery Museum (70 Honey Horn Dr.; 843-689-6767; suggested donation, $5 a person), where oyster-shell paths lead to beehives, a butterfly garden, an insect house and more. You can see more nature in action by wandering along one of the boardwalks at low tide as fiddler crabs and periwinkle snails scurry in the sand.
Dr. Emory Campbell’s Gullah Heritage Trail Tours (Coastal Discovery Museum; 843-681-7066; tours, $32; children, $15) depart from the museum’s parking lot. The Gullah Geechee people—descendants of enslaved men and women brought to this area from West and Central Africa—once had a vibrant presence on the island. Some of their descendants, including Dr. Campbell, still live here and work to preserve Gullah art, music, food and historic sites. February 1 marks the start of the 21st annual Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration (843-255-7304), a monthlong series of events that includes a gospel concert, an arts and crafts show and Taste of Gullah (February 11; admission, free; food and drink for sale) at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina (14 Shelter Cove Ln.; 843-842-2787), which also hosts musicals, plays and musicians year-round. Who would’ve thought you could catch a live performance of White Christmas at the beach?
More Great Eats
Palmetto Bay Sunrise Café
Breakfast-all-day spot known for its shrimp hash. 86 Helmsman Way; 843-686-3232; breakfast for two, $25
One Hot Mama’s
Chef Orchid Paulmeier melds Southern and Filipino flavors. 7B Greenwood Dr.; 843-682-6262; dinner for two, $40
Salty Dog Cafe
Hilton Head regulars can often be seen in this waterfront restaurant’s signature T-shirt. 232 S. Sea Pines Dr.; 843-671-2233; dinner for two, $50
RCI® affiliated resorts on Hilton Head Island include:
Miles of bicycle and walking paths wind through this scenic property. 1 Coggins Point Rd.
Member Review: “Our condo was so spacious!”
Shopping, gourmet restaurants and miniature golf are all within walking distance. 66 Pope Ave.
Member Review: “Friendly and efficient staff!”
Shares amenities with Coral Sands Resort. 66 Pope Ave.
Member Review: “Lots to do in the area and beyond!”
Shares amenities with Coral Sands Resort. 66 Pope Ave.
Member Review: “Close to the beach and great bike path!”
Set in a quiet part of Hilton Head and equipped with an on-site playground for the kids. 8 Wimbledon Ct.
Member Review: “Great dining!”
For complete member review (as member review has been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts on Hilton Head Island include:
Holiday Inn Resort Beach House
Steps from Coligny Beach, with live music nightly at the outdoor tiki hut. 1 S. Forest Beach Dr.; 843-548-4995; beachhousehhi.com; doubles from $85 a night
Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort
Sprawling suites and three heated outdoor pools. 23 Ocean Ln.; 843-842-8000; omnihotels.com; doubles from $119 a night
Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island
Modern rooms, a spa and fire pits for roasting s’mores. 130 Shipyard Dr.; 843-842-2400; sonesta.com; doubles from $149 a night
- *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Winter 2016