Hilton Head holds a special place in my heart. From my childhood home in Savannah, it only took us an extra thirty minutes to get to Hilton Head than our local beach, Tybee Island, and it was so worth the extra time. I have so many fond memories of my sister and I riding along in the back of my parents’ car singing along to the oldies radio station. Our trips were a combination of time at the beach, shopping, and eating somewhere with a view. We would often just go for the day, but it still felt like we were on vacation.
When you cross the bridge from the mainland to Hilton Head Island, you immediately know you are somewhere else.
Not to say that the island is undeveloped, but it is done in such a way that you do not notice it. Trees buffer shops and restaurants from the main road. Business signs are low to the ground and done in natural colors that blend into the surroundings. Thus, your eyes are drawn to the grand oak trees draped with Spanish moss, palm trees, and marshlands before anything else. It is a good thing that phones have GPS to guide you to where you want to go because it is easy to miss many of the shops and restaurants camouflaged behind trees and neutral versions of their logos on signs. Of course, you may never even get back in your car once you park it because the island is covered in bike trails.
Beaches & Tidal Pools
You go to Hilton Head for the beach, and it does not disappoint. What makes Hilton Head particularly well suited for families are the tidal pools. Sure, many beaches have tidal points during low tide, but they are not really a guarantee. Yet, every time we are on Hilton Head, there are tidal pools at low tide. Tidal pools are the perfect place for kids to play and explore while parents sit back and watch. They seem to create an environment where kids discover together.
Do yourself a favor and buy your kids some fishnets so they can get up close and personal with the organisms in the water – just make sure your kids put everything back in the water once they are done observing. Set up your beach chairs in front of a tidal pool, then enjoy my personal favorite family activity on Hilton Head – the one that allows me to actually sit back and relax!
The Sea Pines Resort
It is a little misleading to call this place a resort because it is actually a gated community that comprises a third of Hilton Head Island. To access the resort, you must pay an $8 gate fee, but once you pass through the gate, you will see that it is well worth the fee to have access to all of the things to do in this part of Hilton Head. If you are staying at The Sea Pines Resort or a vacation rental, you do not have to pay, you can pick up your parking pass at the Welcome Center.
If you are just visiting for the day, you can either park shortly after you pass the gate and catch the complimentary trolly or head straight to the marina. No matter where you decide to park, make sure you ride the trolley at some point during your day to get a fun tour of the entire area. Bryson and Connor love the trolley, and I love spending time sightseeing with them!
The area surrounding the harbor is appropriately named Harbour Town, and it is here you will find the iconic red and white candy cane striped lighthouse.
You can climb to the top of The Harbour Town Lighthouse, enjoy a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants, jump on one of the boat tours, let the kids play at the coastal themed playground or just do a little shopping.
Under the old oak tree in Harbour Town, Greg Russell has been entertaining kids and families for over 30 years. Check out his website for his annual schedule to find out if you are lucky enough to be visiting while he is performing one of his free concerts.
There is truly something for everybody at Sea Pines.
As mentioned previously, there are bike paths covering Hilton Head. On the 12 mile long and 5 mile wide island, there are 6 miles of bike lanes and 117 miles of shared-use pathways. Bicycles are readily available at rental companies throughout the island, many of which deliver directly to your accommodation. Carriages that hitch on to the back of bikes, as well as bikes for young children, are also available for hire. Some resorts such as The Sea Pines Resort include bike rentals with your stay. Within minutes of arriving on Hilton Head, you will quickly learn that bikes are the preferred method of transportation and definitely one of the best family activities on the island.
Tennis & Golf
For the active family, there is no better place in the Southeast for golf and tennis than Hilton Head. In the greater Hilton Head area, there are over 40 courses, and one million rounds of golf are played each year. For the tennis lover, there are 300 courts in all Grand Slam surfaces including grass.
Dolphins are perhaps the most lovable of all sea life. There are hundreds of bottlenose dolphins in the waters surrounding Hilton Head. Both boat and kayak tours give families an up-close view of dolphins in their natural habitat. Your family will most likely encounter other coastal animals such as egrets, pelicans, and crabs in their natural habitat which makes dolphin tours one of the family activities in Hilton Head that should not be missed!
Pirate Ship Adventures
‘What is a pirates favorite letter?’ ‘Rrrrrr”
After two years, that is still my boys’ favorite joke, so a pirate ship adventure is right up their alley. Not only can the trip be educational with wildlife spottings such as dolphins, but it is also a highly interactive adventure where your kids will be entertained with water cannons and a search for buried treasure. There are three pirate ship adventures to choose from in Hilton Head, so you are certain to find one that fits into your schedule during your stay.
It is only fitting that there is miniature golf on every corner, remember, there are one million rounds of golf played on Hilton Head each year. Since miniature golf can be played by kids and grown-ups of all ages, it is one of the most popular family activities in Hilton Head.
Of course, my boys can not get enough pirate adventures in Hilton Head, so we play at Pirates Island Golf. After playing the course, make sure your kids turn in their clubs so they can receive a pirates hat and a coin for a free round of putt-putt when you return.
Coastal Discovery Museum
There are many learning opportunities at the Coastal Discovery Museum, but even if your trip does not coincide with these events, do not fret. There are plenty of family activities that can be enjoyed at the Coastal Discovery Museum on any day, and the best part is that entry is free!
The boys and I spent a morning here on our most recent trip observing wildlife in the marshes, butterflies, and local flowers.
Inside, there was information on sea turtles, horse shoe crabs, and more.
When the boys are older, I would like to take them on a Gullah Heritage Tour that departs from the Coastal Discovery Museum. The Gullah people have their roots in West Africa and are direct descendants of slaves dating back to the Civil War. They have retained their native language and have strong ties to their culture. Their music, food, religion, folk stories, and more are incorporated into an interactive, educational, and entertaining tour. This culture only exists in certain parts of the Southeast, so the fact that Hilton Head has a strong tie to the culture is something that should be experienced when visiting the island.
Skull Creek Boathouse and Skull Creek Dockside are sister restaurants that are just as much a destination as they are restaurants. Your family can enjoy the area for hours as they have created an atmosphere on the water where kids can play on a playground while parents sit back in Adirondack chairs enjoying the fire pit or the view.
Not only can your family enjoy low country cuisine and seafood here, but there is a phenomenal sushi bar as well as legit southern bbq. The menu is so extensive that everyone in the family will be able to find something they like. The only problem our family has is narrowing down what to order. The shrimp and grits I ordered on our last trip were delicious!
While Skull Creek Boathouse is a first come, first serve establishment, Skull Creek Dockside does accept reservation. Be prepared for a long wait if you do not have a reservation, but you probably will not mind too much. This is a place to linger and enjoy the slower pace of life in the south. Do not worry, there are plenty of family activities and games surrounding the restaurants for you to enjoy before and after your meal.
We rarely make a trip to Hilton Head without a breakfast at The French Bakery in Towne Center. I highly recommend the croque madame sandwich. The boys love the bakery case full of goodies, although it is always hard for them to narrow down their choices! Directly across from The French Bakery is our favorite island playground.
There are many activities at Towne Center to keep your family entertained including movie nights, free concerts, fireworks, and more. Not to be outdone, Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina has its own events to keep your family entertained. In the summer, make sure to attend HarbourFest Mondays through Friday where kids young and old will enjoy live music featuring Shannon Tanner, performances from Cappy the Clown, arts and crafts, and activities for children. Try to visit on a Tuesday night to catch the fireworks show.
In March 2019, Southern Living magazine named Hilton Head ‘The South’s Best Beach Town’, and it is easy to see why. There are so many things to do in Hilton Head, and there is a family-friendly version of most activities. Hilton Head is not just for summers, temperatures are beach perfect as early as March and as late as November, and you’ll even get some warm days in the winter. So no matter the time of the year and ages of people traveling with you, Hilton Head is an ideal beach destination.