Miles and miles of flat, sandy beaches make up the coast of Hilton Head Island. Broken off from the South Carolina mainland, it stretches into the Atlantic Ocean just enough to have gentle waves lap its edges. The result? Plenty of places to relax in the sun while your kids run through the surf!
Let's beach hop
There are four well-marked public beach access points along the 42-square mile island. Parking is available at a low cost (bring quarters!), but depending on which beach you're visiting, it may be a trek to get from your car to your perfect sunny spot.
No need to pack beach chairs or umbrellas – they're available to rent, along with beach bikes, water tricycles and other fun water toys. As for keeping your kids busy, the waves do all the work. The tides bring in hermit crabs, starfish, sand dollars, blue crabs and shrimp, to name a few.
Get to know the island at several stops.
The Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn combines exhibits on the history of the area with lessons about its ecology. There are three boardwalks where your kids can see crabs, oyster shells and other local wildlife. The museum is open daily, year round – only special exhibits, like the butterfly enclosure, and guided walks charge fees.
Harbour Town is located on the far south end of the island. Spy the island's iconic 90-foot red-striped lighthouse jutting into the sky, plus find shopping and many restaurants.
While not technically on Hilton Head, it's worth hitting the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, right off the highway leading into Hilton Head. The 4,053-acre refuge is home to a variety of birds. But your kids might be more interested in its American alligators! Pack extra water and snacks for your visit, since they aren't available once you're in the park; entry is free.
Besides driving, one way to make your way to the beach and to one of the many community parks that dot the island is on two wheels. The island has over 60 miles of family-friendly pathways. Make sure to leave in enough time to get back to your hotel if you're biking at night. By local ordinance, there are no streetlights, so it's easier for everyone – including the area's favorite local resident sea turtles – to get around.
A variety of tours are available on the island including guided kayak trips, standup paddle boarding and sea cruises.
Skip the restaurant chains and dine at these Hilton Head originals.
- The Sea Shack: Bills itself as "Not Fancy, Just Good!" That's what you'll find at this seafood hotspot. Popular items include the gator bites (yup, gator) or fried soft shell crab.
- One Hot Mama's: For Southern-style South Carolina barbeque, this is the place. Hickory-smoked chicken, pork and ribs are all on the menu.
- Captain Woody's: Feel like you're one the islanders at Captain Woody's, where the favorite item is oysters. You can have them shucked, raw or steamed.
- Hilton Head Ice Cream: Have a scoop of homemade ice cream, frozen yogurt or sorbet in cool flavors like bananas Foster, watermelon sherbet, cayenne chocolate, Superman and much more.
- Skull Creek Boathouse: Located on the banks of the creek, there are picnic tables and lots of indoor/outdoor seating to choose from. While the view can't be beat, your kids may be more interested in the fish fingers and fries!
- Old Oyster Factory: Also on the water, this nicer restaurant is a good place to relax at the end of a long day exploring.
Visit HiltonHeadIsland.org to start planning your visit. Select "Become a Hilton Head Insider," under the "Offers" section, to find the best deals on lodging, activities and dining – right on your smartphone.