Much of South Carolina’s barrier island remains as it was when William Hilton sighted it from his ship more than 350 years ago. Hilton Head continues to lure travelers with its rich history, natural beauty, premier golf courses and upscale accommodations.
A visit to the island’s Coastal Discovery Museum provides a thorough look at — and a greater appreciation for — the people and events that shaped Hilton Head’s physical, cultural and economic landscapes. Housed in a former plantation home, the museum is encompassed by 68 acres of protected forest, field and marsh land. Inside the museum, permanent and temporary exhibits showcase the culture and history from Native American settlers through the resort boom of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The museum also offers engaging classes like traditional sweetgrass baskets and guided tours of historic sites, as well as a Discovery Lab for younger visitors that includes a walk-through butterfly habitat filled with native species.
Gullah Heritage Trail Tours, led by island residents of Gullah descent, shed light on the broad narrative of the Gullah people in South Carolina and the establishment of America’s first self-governed freedmen’s town of Mitchelville. Because of the isolation of coastal settlements on the Sea Islands from Reconstruction to the Depression, the Gullah created a rich culture with authentic West African elements including a distinctive language, food and artistic traditions.
A bridge was constructed to connect Hilton Head to the mainland 1956, paving the way for increased tourism. During that time, developer Charles Fraser envisioned building a resort community without sacrificing the island’s natural beauty and ecology. The result was Sea Pines Plantation. Strict architectural guidelines continue to preserve Hilton Head’s natural beauty — signage is subdued and buildings are painted in earth tones.
Four Diamond Stays
Situated within Sea Pines Plantation, The Inn & Club at Harbour Town is the perfect marriage of boutique luxury and a laid-back Lowcountry vibe. Guests enjoy chic furnishings, upscale amenities and exceptional service with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and Calibogue Sound. Three golf courses are also situated within Sea Pines — Harbour Town Links, Ocean Course and Heron Point. Head to Harbour Town’s waterfront for almost limitless recreational activities, including dolphin excursions, dinner cruises, fishing excursions and kayak tours. Dining and nightlife options are also plentiful. Climb the iconic red and white striped Harbour Town Lighthouse for epic views of the marina and beyond.
The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa offers an oceanfront escape with private beach access. Pamper yourself with a rejuvenating treatment at the Heavenly Spa while the younger ones enjoy the resort’s thriving Family Kids Club programs. Set on 11 acres of beautifully landscaped beachfront property, Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island is another great option for island visitors. A shaded lap pool, Arum Spa and a zero-entry heated lagoon swimming pool are just a few of many upgrades following a $30 million renovation. With convenient access to championship tennis and golf and a pristine private beach, Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront is the ideal backdrop for a memorable island getaway. Nature lovers will appreciate the 11-mile lagoon at Palmetto Dunes, perfect for a leisurely morning of kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding. Grand live oaks dot the landscape of oceanfront Ocean Oak Resort by Hilton Grand Vacations. Feel at home in one of the well-appointed suites that include fully equipped kitchens, separate dining areas and private balconies.
Time spent on any of Hilton Head Island’s 12 miles of stunning beaches is an ideal way to relax and recharge. Cycle or walk along the more than 60 miles of bike paths. Additionally, scenic hiking trails weave through wooded preserves teeming with birds and other wildlife. Birders should explore Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, a popular stop for thousands of migratory species. Visitors may also spy deer, alligators and other local wildlife.
Coligny Beach Park, located at the southern end of the island, is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike. The centerpiece is an interactive fountain with 26 synchronized jets that will keep kids entertained for hours. During the summer enjoy live music as you peruse the boutique shops or savor ample dining and nightlife options within the plaza.
Hilton Head is a haven for golfers — there are 24 championship courses. Perhaps the crown jewel is Harbour Town Golf Links, located within the island’s first resort and site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage since 1969.
Visit your local AAA office.
(Traveler Fall 2020)