Hilton Head Vacation: My Family’s Top Five List


Brrrr!!! Is all this cold weather causing you to dream about your next beach vacation? Me, too! Last year, our family took an amazing summer trip to Hilton Head Island. I finally was able to experience and see why this place is so popular with my fellow Ohioans. In fact, my son even ran into one of his classmates at a souvenir shop! Here is my family’s top five list from our Hilton Head Island vacation:

1. Staying in Sea Pines Plantation

Sea Pines in Hilton Head

Hilton Head Island is sectioned off into areas called plantations (Yes, that was a little odd to me, too). We were very happy with our choice to stay in the Sea Pines Plantation. My nature-loving family enjoyed being surrounded by all the lush trees, hiking in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, and biking on the miles of paved trails. Our vacation rental at Bluff Villas was within walking distance to the South Beach pool, a playground, tennis courts, the South Beach Marina Village, and the very popular Salty Dog Cafe. We may have eaten ice cream there almost every night. Besides eating ice cream, our nightly routine involved watching a gorgeous sunset on a very secluded beach just a two-minute walk from our vacation rental. This made for the most relaxing trip we have ever taken with the kids!

Tip: Since we were guests of Sea Pines, we didn’t have to pay the daily $8 gate fee.

2. The Wildlife: Herons, Hermit Crabs, Dolphins, oh my!

wildlife at Hilton Head

My kids loved being introduced to all the local creatures of South Carolina. Here are a few that we encountered:

  • Heron: A very large heron strutted around us on the beach at night like he owned the place. He probably did.
  • Hermit Crabs: We bought little nets to catch and release the hermit crabs. My kids loved watching them slowly poke their body and head out of the shell.
  • Dolphins: At sunset, we often saw pods of dolphins majestically jumping out of the water.
  • Butterflies: Butterflies landed on our fingers in the Butterfly Habitat at the Coastal Discovery Museum.
  • Alligators: We biked (very quickly!) past a snoozing alligator in a swamp!
  • Jellyfish: Thankfully, we only saw them floating in the distance at sunset. They appeared to be glowing on the surface of the water.
  • Loggerhead turtles: We didn’t see any real ones on this trip, but we heard a lot of information about preserving this special species on the island.

3. Day Trip to Savannah, Georgia

day trip to Savannah

As soon as we realized that Savannah was a mere 45-minute drive from Hilton Head, there was no stopping us from checking this delightful city off of our bucket list. This city is full of charm with all of the southern architecture, tree-lined squares, and beautiful fountains. To tour the city, we parked our car at Hutchinson Island and took the free Savannah Belles Ferry to downtown. The ferry drops you off at River Street which has great little shops and restaurants. My kids loved checking out TWO candy shops on River Street: Savannah’s Candy Kitchen and River Street Sweets. We watched the candy-making process and sampled delicious pralines. The kids were amazed by the wall to wall candy displays. After our sweet treats, we headed in the direction of Forsyth Park. We learned a little history along our downtown walk as every square has a statue commemorating a battle or a historical figure. Be prepared for your children to ask you to take a picture at every statue! We finally reached the grand Forsyth Park with its highly photographed fountain. The kids played at the large playground while my husband and I sat in the shade contemplating the long trip back to our car.

Tip: We were in Savannah in early June, and it was sweltering. Make sure you are familiar with your transportation options ahead of time. I am pretty sure my whole family would have melted on the way back to our car without a ride.

4. Endless Fun on the Beach

Ahh, the beach. The reason why we all come to Hilton Head. We spent hours building sandcastles, throwing frisbees, playing in the waves, collecting little shells, flying kites, and catching hermit crabs. With so much coastline, there are many options for both private and public beaches. In Sea Pines, we packed a picnic lunch and spent the whole afternoon at the newer Sea Pines Beach Club. Amenities included umbrellas to rent, clean restrooms, outdoor showers, foot washing stations, and a restaurant. We also visited Coligny Beach, a bustling public beach in walking distance to many shops and restaurants. Nearby, my kids loved jumping in the splash pad, playing on the pirate ship play structure, and buying souvenirs at the Shell Shop.  Since the sand at Hilton Head is hard-packed, one great way to explore the beach is to ride a bike on it. We rented bikes for the week from Bon Bicycles. It was a blast riding tandem with my son with the ocean in view!

Tip: Getting there early is key to finding a parking spot for the busier beaches, especially at Sea Pines Beach Club.

5. Trolley Ride to Harbour Town

trolley ride in Hilton Head

Seasonally, Sea Pines offers a free trolley throughout the plantation. We conveniently picked up the trolley at a stop right by our vacation rental and headed to Harbour Town for the evening. During our red trolley ride, the theme song to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood quickly got stuck in my head (We have little fans of the show in our house). Once we arrived at Harbour Town, we climbed up to the top of the iconic lighthouse for a great view of the island. Afterwards, we ate ice cream (again) from Cinnamon Bear Country Store and lounged on outdoor rocking chairs while listening to live music. The kids also had a great time playing at the unique Gregg Russell Harbour Town Playground. Huge live oaks are incorporated into the design of the playground. In fact, Harbour Town is filled with beautiful southern live oaks. When the kids were tired out from all the playing, we caught the trolley home. Cue Daniel Tiger’s theme song again.

A Few More Tips…

  • To break up the trip on the way there, we did an overnight with family in Charlotte. This made for an easier drive on the day of check-in.
  • One of our pit stops was at the Clay Center in Charleston, West Virginia. It was free with our COSI membership and gave the kids a chance to run around a little.
  • There was terrible traffic coming home, and our total trip took 14 and a half hours. Be prepared for a long car ride!
  • For an awesome restaurant, try Lowcountry Backyard Restaurant. We loved the outdoor games on the patio for the kids!

What are your favorite things to do at Hilton Head Island?