Hilton Head Island, off the coast of South Carolina, is a year-round group-friendly vacation spot. Shaped like a shoe, the island is 12 miles long by five miles wide, totaling 42 square miles.
Hilton Head’s beach, extending the entire 12-mile length, combines with tidal marshes and grassy dunes iconic of coastal Carolina. Home to 35,000 residents and welcoming an average two million visitors each year, Hilton Head is an ideal spot for groups to enjoy a relaxing vacation.
Outdoor activities abound on Hilton Head. The island is connected by 50 miles of paved biking and walking trails providing access to everything it has to offer. Hiking is also available in numerous nature preserves, such as Sea Pines Forest Preserve and Audubon Newhall Preserve. Whether biking or hiking, keep a look out for American alligators, one of the more famous attractions on the island. While less vicious than the crocodile, alligators can reach an average length of nine to 12 feet, ranging from 160 to 500 pounds. Other wildlife includes more than 250 species of birds, deer, dolphins and the endangered loggerhead sea turtle.
The island is a prime spot for golf with over 25 courses, including the world-famous Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines. The Heritage, a prestigious PGA Tour tournament held every April, brings some of golf’s biggest names and attracts thousands of spectators.
Besides swimming at the beach, sailing, sport fishing, jet skiing and water skiing are options. A great way to explore the island and its wildlife is kayaking. Outside Hilton Head features two-hour dolphin, fishing, sunrise, sunset and birding tours, with no kayaking experience needed. The more adventurous can enjoy parasailing, floating hundreds of feet above the water, and stand-up paddle boarding, the fastest-growing water sport in the world.
Hilton Head has two lighthouses worth seeing. Harbour Town lighthouse in Sea Pines Resort is the most famous. Visitors can climb to the top for views of Harbour Town’s condos, shops and restaurants. At the foot of the lighthouse is a shop with a wide selection of lighthouse memorabilia. The second lighthouse is on the Arthur Hills Golf Course in Palmetto Dunes Resort.
There are many educational opportunities and tours available. The Coastal Discovery Museum centers on the region’s cultural heritage and natural history, featuring exhibits, programs and tours of loggerhead sea turtle nests. The Heritage Library is one of the most expansive libraries dedicated to the study of history and genealogy in the region. Other options include the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, Arts League of Hilton Head and The Sandbox: An Interactive Children’s Museum.
Hilton Head has numerous festivals and events throughout the year. Every May the BRAVO Arts and Cultural Festival celebrates the Low Country’s diverse cultural heritage. Events range from theater productions and art showings to writing workshops and museum exhibitions. At the end of April the Hilton Head Island Seafood Fest features six local chefs competing in an Iron Chef competition, modeled after the TV show. Other activities include a crawfish boil, farmer’s market, crab races and a kid’s zone. The annual Hilton Head Island Wine and Food Festival in March is one of the East Coast’s largest wine festivals.
Resorts and hotels on the island are plentiful, with varying price ranges. The only hotel in Sea Pines Resort is the Inn at Harbour Town. Sea Pines, a self-contained resort charging visitors five dollars per car to enter, provides a secluded and quiet atmosphere. Harbour Town and South Beach in Sea Pines are close to the Inn, featuring shopping and dining options. Options outside Sea Pines include Holiday Inn Oceanfront, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and the Marriott Beach Resort.
Dining options include Harbour Town Bakery and Café for breakfast and coffee, and Harbour Town Grille, an upscale restaurant overlooking Harbour Town Golf Links. Seafood options include Crazy Crab, with good, inexpensive seafood, and Salty Dog Café at South Beach. The Quarterdeck Restaurant at Harbour Town features live music on a patio overlooking the harbor. Mellow Mushroom Pizza, Palmetto Bay Sunrise Café and A Lowcountry Backyard Restaurant are other options.
With its wildlife, cultural attractions, outdoor activities and festivals, Hilton Head is a perfect spot for a group tour. (hiltonheadisland.org)