Hilton Head, in South Carolina’s “Lowcountry” (low-lying coastal region) is planned out beautifully to maintain the native state of the area with its abundant natural beauty including tree lined streets and pathways and organic beaches! The island is bathed in lush vegetation including enormous Cypress trees and magnificent Magnolia trees. Salt marshes are found throughout the island as well as freshwater marshes, wetland forests and tidal zones preserving the area for the plentiful wildlife. (TBH, it was not at all what I expected for a coastal area. There are no condos and high-rises lining the beach with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Lots of green vegetation and unspoiled landscapes far and wide.)
Things to do in the Hilton Head area for a Quick Trip Adventure
Bluffton – Where to Stay in the Hilton Head Area
We stayed in the sweet, quiet and quaint town of Bluffton using a VRBO for a better-than-2-beds-in-a-hotel experience. The location was perfect as it’s about 10 minutes to Hilton Head and 40 minutes to either Savannah or Beaufort – both lovely towns to visit for a day trip.
All is what you might expect of an area called the South Carolina “lowcountry” – beautiful tall and mossy trees lining the roads with marshes abound. Grocery stores and strip malls are nestled behind trees and shrubbery making the area pleasant and forest green. Although you do have to know where you’re heading or else you’ll never get to the store! 😂
Bluffon sits on the bank of the May River (beautiful sunset viewing point) and has a charming, historic and walkable downtown under a canopy of oak trees. The town is known for its local seafood and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from in the downtown area as well as in the outskirts.
Every Thursday afternoon Bluffton hosts a Farmer’s Market at Martin Park which is more like a local, outdoor party! Hours vary depending on season. There is live music, locally grown produce, all kinds of seafood, bakery items and southern favorites.
Exploring the Outdoors in the Hilton Head Area
To get to Hilton Head Island from the Bluffton area is a quick 10-minute scenic drive which includes 4 bridges over marshes, creeks, and the Intracoastal Waterway. Note that I was there in September, which is not “the season” which also means no traffic. This is not the case during the summer months.
Hilton Head is a relatively small island: 12 miles long and 5 miles wide with a total of 42 square miles. It’s a beautiful semi-tropical landscape. The Sea Pines resort encompasses 8 square miles at the southern part of the island.
Beaches on Hilton Head
Coligny Beach is the most popular beach (read: crowded) on Hilton Head. However, it really is a paradise if it’s not jam packed with people. Beautiful dunes with white, soft sand and gentle waves. It’s also a nice family spot but also has a restaurant/bar with outdoor live music in the evenings. Something for everyone!
There are 7 public beaches on Hilton Head ranging from touristy to all natural:
- Alder Lane Beach Access, off South Forest Beach Drive
- Coligny Beach Park, off Coligny Circle
- Fish Haul Beach Park, on Mitchelville Road
- Driessen Beach Park at the end of Bradley Beach Road
- Burkes Beach Access at the end of Burkes Beach Road
- Folly Field Beach Park, off Folly Field Road
- Islanders Beach Park, off Folly Field Road
Biking on Hilton Head
One of the easiest and most scenic places to bike on Hilton Head is at the Sea Pines Plantation/Resort. There is a daily entrance fee, but I think it was worth it ($9/car in September 2023 – cash only) as the resort is meticulously kept up with 15 miles of tree covered biking paths plus hard packed sand on the beach (also bikable!).
Rent bikes at the Sea Pines Resorts Bicycle Shop which has reasonable prices, but make sure you double check your bike before you ride off. Our bikes squeaked an awful lot which is ok for a few minutes but not after continual screeching for miles! Also note that although the shop closes at a certain time (2:00p.m.) you can drop off your bike later in the day.
I recommend at least biking to the South Beach Marina Village as it’s a quiet pathway with the bonus of the natural beach at the turn around point. Plus there are restaurants at the village as well including the Salty Dog Cafe with a large outdoor bar/eating area.
Hiking/Nature Walks on and near Hilton Head
Sea Pines Forest Preserve
Sea Pines Forest Preserve on Hilton Head (also within the Sea Pines Resort – per car daily fee to access – cash only) is a large, unspoiled area that is the epitome of the lowcountry with its marshes, woodland paths, tree covered pathways, wildflowers, ponds and wildlife. The pathways include boardwalks over wetlands, paved pathways and natural paths teeming with wildlife in a well-protected preserve.
If you’re looking to see a huge amount of local wildlife right under your feet then the Cypress Wetlands is for you! There were many alligators (both large and small), an abundance of turtles sunning themselves, and the wetlands were covered with a large variety of birds. All this was surrounded by a canopy of Spanish moss draped over majestic Cypress trees. Fortunately there’s safety (from the alligators and snakes seen and not seen) on the boardwalk over the water!
Bird watching: If you are into bird watching you’ll see herons, hawks, eagles, owls, falcons, geese, ducks, and other migratory waterfowl. Inside info: Visit March through April to view courtship and then late May to June to view the nestlings.
It was quite a place and only 8/10 of a mile through it. However, it’s very easy to miss if you don’t know that it’s there, so drop this in your navigator: 1700 Paris Ave, Port Royal, SC 29935
*Also the historic and quaint town of Beaufort, South Carolina, with restaurants and shops along the shoreline, is just 4 miles away.
Henry Robinson Boardwalk, Sands Beach, and Observation Tower Walk
This 1 mile boardwalk is located over Battery Creek near Port Royal. It’s an interesting stroll along the water and up to a cool tower (4 flights of stairs) for a nice view of the area and all the vast waterways that meet here. I saw dolphin, lots of birds and fish in this peaceful area.
Other outdoor activities on Hilton Head
Lawton Stables offers one-hour guided trail rides for adults and children (Sea Pines Resort).
The H2O Nature Center provides guided tours of the pristine lakes of the Forest Preserve (Sea Pines Resort).
Local Restaurants in Hilton Head Area
The South Carolina Lowcountry is known for its local seafood, so there are plenty of options including shrimp, crabs, oysters and clams. Recommended restaurants:
- Captain Woody’s Seafood Bar, Bluffton (seafood)
- Bluffton Farmer’s Market, Bluffton (local fare)
- One Hot Mama’s, Bluffton (barbeque)
- Nectar Farm Kitchen, Bluffton (farm to table)
- Plums Restaurant, Beaufort (riverfront kitchen & oyster bar)
- The Crazy Crab, Hilton Head (seafood)
- Harbourside Burgers and Brews, Hilton Head @ Sea Pines
- The Salty Dog, Hilton Head @ Sea Pines