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10 Things to Do While Vacationing on Hilton Head Island


10 Things to Do While Vacationing on Hilton Head Island

Most travelers visit Hilton Head Island, SC for its pristine beaches and its laid-back coastal town atmosphere. Our main attraction is just that…the beach. But once you’ve had your fill of the sun and sand, Hilton Head Island and the surrounding area provides plenty of activities for the history buff, adventurer, nature lover, and sight seer. Hilton Head is one of the most family friendly vacation spots catering to parents and kids so you’ll find plenty to do when you’re not relaxing on the beach. 

Rent Bikes Our streets were made for cycling! With more than 60 miles of public pathways and miles of hard sand beaches, biking is a great way to explore the island. No matter your destination, there is a path to connect riders to everywhere they want to go. Hilton Head prides itself as a bike friendly town and has been ranked as a Top 5 Family Biking Getaway. 

Visit Lawton Stables Located in the heart of Sea Pines Plantation, Lawton Stables offers trail rides through the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. The Forest Preserve gives you a true feel for the Lowcountry while providing history about some of the first inhabitants of the Island, Native Indians. For the younger visitor, pony rides are available and an animal farm where you can get up close to some of the native animals on the Island.

Take a Guided Kayak Tour Hilton Head Island is known for its beautiful marshes and calm inland waters. These are great places for kayaking or paddleboarding. The slower pace of paddling through the creeks and rivers of the Lowcounty is perfect for bird watching, dolphin sightings, and enjoying the natural scenery. Most marinas offer guided tours.

HarbourFest This is Shleter Cove Harbour’s signature event that occurs from mid June through mid August. During HarbourFest, the harbor comes alive with entertainment, great food, crafts and activities. Every Tuesday is fireworks night! You won’t want to miss HarbourFest. 

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge Located between the two bridges to Hilton Head Island, Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is a 4,053 acre refuge with a wide variety of land types and diverse flora and fauna. It’s surrounded by salt marshes and inland waterways. Wildlife commonly observed on the island including waterfowl, white-tailed deer and American alligators. There is a single crushed gravel road that’s great for walking or biking. There are hiking trails splitting off from the main road that meander through the woodland areas. 

Shelling The Mitchelville Beach area is a less crowded beach and a perfect place to go shelling on Hilton Head. You’ll most likely come across a few sharks’ teeth too. It’s located at the north end of Hilton Head and looks out over the Port Royal Sound. This undisturbed beach is perfect for nature watching and fishing.

Visit Bluffton Located just over the bridge to the mainland, Bluffton is a quaint community offering historic homes, eclectic shopping and a variety of restaurants. Walk Calhoun Street, browse through antique stores and art boutiques then stop for lunch at any of the divine restaurants along Calhoun Street or in the Bluffton Promenade. Be sure to venture to the end of Calhoun Street where you’ll find spectacular views of the May River from the lawn of the Church of the Cross. 

Daytrip to Beaufort Step back in time as you stroll along the quiet streets of historic Beaufort. The interlocking streets of downtown all flow down to the waterfront. Walk the streets and tour at your own pace or take a guided coach or horse drawn carriage tour. You’ll also find plenty of eclectic shops, art galleries, and restaurants in downtown. While visiting Beaufort, be sure to take the scenic drive over to 11th Street Dockside Restaurant in Port Royal. This is a required stop on any Hilton Head trip.

Visit the Coastal Discovery Museum Located on the north end of Hilton Head, the Coastal Discovery Museum sits on one of Hilton Head Island’s oldest plantations. Today, it provides interactive exhibits on the area’s natural history. Touring the grounds, you’ll find stables, a butterfly enclosure, gardens and docks overlooking the salt marshes. Guided tours are available and recommended.

An Afternoon in Savannah Spend the afternoon walking the historic squares of Savannah or shopping along Broughton Street. After a day of fun, spend your evening exploring the cobblestone streets of River Street where you’ll find seafood restaurants, taverns, sweet shops, and more shopping.

The Island "Hospitality" Epidemic

Although Hilton Head is the second largest Atlantic Coast Island in the United States, there is still only forty-two square miles of dry land here.  On the busiest summer weekends Hilton Head Island often hosts well over 100,000 visitors, equating to over 2,000 people per square mile!  Even with all that, it never seems to really be crowded, and everyone gets along, acting like old friends; all part of the same group!  So many people, from so many different places, all thrown together on one little island and everyone is happy?  What could possibly be the reason for this phenomenon?  Recent studies, by some of the country’s top scholars, have proven that South Carolina hospitality is contagious, and has reached epidemic proportions on Hilton Head Island!  It is not unusual to find the most arrogant slob from the worst part of any city suddenly become a model of courteousness and consideration:  Eager to help perfect strangers with packages, bags, children and doors, and full to the brim with “ma’ams”, “Sirs”, and “please, after you”!

The symptoms of this epidemic are all over the island, for example:  Everyone who comes here suddenly adjusts to Hilton Head time!  When on “Hilton Head time”, people have a natural tendency to slow down.  Suddenly folks really aren’t concerned with how long the line is at the restaurant; the food is well worth the wait and undoubtedly they will find some truly interesting character to talk to while they wait.  For some strange reason, it is no longer such an inconvenience when a store or shop is a few minutes late opening; it’s just a good reason to have a cup of coffee or browse through the store next door!  The strangest symptom of all, of this epidemic of courtesy, is that no one really seems to care how long it takes you to move your foot from the brake to the accelerator pedal, when the light turns green; unless you’ve slipped into a coma, its doubtful anyone behind will blow the horn at you.  Other symptoms include; folks keeping their dogs on a leash wherever appropriate, and picking up their little messes; and politely alerting people on the bicycle paths that they are about to be passed from behind.

There are few things more relaxing than a Hilton Head weekend or vacation, and little does more to add to that pleasure than this mysterious plague of consideration.




Serve Up a Slice of Southern Hospitality

Nothing says Southern hospitality like a delicious homemade pecan pie.  Whether you like yours made with a splash of Southern bourbon or topped with sweet whipped cream, a slice of crunchy and gooey pecan pie is a Southern favorite any time of the year, but especially around the holidays.
A staple of Southern kitchens, this nut packed dessert may look and  taste like someone spent all day in the kitchen  baking, but this super yummy and  easy to make dessert takes only one mixing bowl and seven ingredients! Finish your Holiday dinner on a sweet note with this Southern favorite!
The Perfect Southern Pecan Pie  
•    1 9-inch deep-dish pie shell, unbaked
•    1 3/4 cups pecan halves
•    3/4 cup dark corn syrup
•    1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
•    4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
•    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•    3 large eggs
*Optional - 2 tablespoons good quality Southern bourbon (Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, etc.)
•    Preheat oven to 425ºF.
•    In a large bowl mix corn syrup, brown sugar, melted butter, vanilla and eggs with a wire whisk until blended.
•    Coarsely chop 1 cup pecans; reserving remaining pecan halves. Combine chopped nuts into mixture.
•    Pour filling into pie crust. Bake for 10 minutes at 425ºF.
•    Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF and continue to bake pie for an additional 40 minutes or until edges of filling are set. The center will still jiggle slightly and will firm up during cooling.

•    Cool completely on wire rack. Top with whipped cream before serving.



Oyster Season in South Carolina

The South Carolina oyster fishery is based entirely on the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica. Although other oysters are grown on the west coast, no other commercially important oyster species occurs on the east coast. The oyster is one of the most popular local seafoods. It is readily available and can be served in a variety of appetizing ways. Oysters are not only palatable, but also contain a number of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and proteins.

The oyster feeds by filtering food particles from the surrounding water. Opening and closing of the valves are controlled by an adductor muscle attached to each shell. Food and other particulate matter, suspended in the water, are drawn into the oyster by the motion of small, fringe-like whips called cilia located on the gills. The quantity of water pumped by a large, healthy oyster may approach four gallons per hour. Food particles retained by the gills are conducted by ciliary action to the mouth and then to the stomach of the oyster. Matter brought into the shell, but not passed through the mouth, is collected by mucus on the gills and then discharged. Large amounts of silt are rejected in this manner. This ability to separate food from silt apparently allows oysters to survive in waters of high turbidity which occurs in many estuaries. The filtering action of oysters can play an important role in removing not only suspended sediments from the water column, but can cleanse the water of various pollutants.  Recreational harvesting of oysters and clams by individuals for personal consumption is a popular and traditional activity in South Carolina. Care must be taken to harvest only from authorized areas. In South Carolina, growing areas generally fall into several categories, including private grounds, known as Shellfish Culture Permits, State Shellfish Grounds and Public Oyster Grounds. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources maintains the last two categories for public harvesting.

Public Oyster Grounds are areas where South Carolina residents can gather oysters and clams for their personal use. Commercial harvesting is not permitted. The boundaries of these areas currently are marked with metal signs which read: "Public Oyster Grounds, Commercial Harvesting Prohibited." State Shellfish Grounds are also open to recreational shellfishermen. These grounds may be marked with metal signs which read: "State Shellfish Grounds, Public Harvesting Permitted."  In addition to harvesting only in an authorized area, there are several regulations with which the recreational harvester must comply. It is unlawful to harvest between May 15 and September 1 annually, although the Department of Natural Resources can vary the season if conditions warrant.

The Yankee and the Gullah

On November 7, 1861 the waters off Hilton Head Island became the sight of the largest naval battle ever fought in American waters. As the “War of Northern Aggression” began to escalate, Hilton Head was invaded by over 12,000 federal troops who, in less than five hours, captured Fort Walker and forced the populace of Hilton Head to evacuate the island. Eventually more than 40,000 union troops would be quartered on the island; making the number of full time inhabitants more than today’s.

Federal Troops continued to occupy the island until well after the wars end, overseeing the beginning of the “Reconstruction” and the founding of “Mitchellville”, which was not only the first community built by freed slaves, but also the sight of the first mandatory education system in the United States. Many of the ancestors of the original Mitchellville founders still call Hilton Head home today. Eventually becoming known as “Gullahs”, these freed slaves developed their own culture and language; mixing their African heritage and religion with new world customs, the English language and Christianity. Today the Gullah culture is a special part of low country society, with many groups, businesses and organizations devoted to preserving this special heritage.

At Shelter Cove, a specialty shop sells Gullah Art, handmade “sweet grass’ baskets, books and a plethora of other items related to the culture. During the summer, Coligny Plaza’s outdoor stage is the sight of a weekly performance; called “The Gullah Experience”, the show is entertaining and educational, teaching visitors about the Gullah people, with music, song, dance and story telling. The Gullah heritage tour escorts the curious to Mitchellville and other historic sites around the island, important to the Gullah people and their customs and history. A fleet of passenger ferries depart from practically almost every port on Hilton Head, to transport locals and visitors to nearby Daufuskie Island; where the Gullah dialect is still very much in use and visitors can tour cemeteries, the “First African Church”, and the “Gullah Heritage Museum”, learning first hand, from native tour guides and Daufuskie residents.

Hilton Head On Two Wheels

What is twelve miles long, five miles wide, looks like an old tennis shoe, and has ten-thousand bicycles?  Answer: Hilton Head Island South Carolina!  Its funny how island residents tell how many tourists are on the island:  They don’t check hotel registers, restaurant parking lots or the beach; they just look at the bicycle rental shops to see how many bikes they have left!  During times it’s hard to see the front doors of the bike shops through the rows and rows of beach cruisers waiting to be rented.  During busy times on Hilton Head, most bike rental shops look like they just finished their “lost our lease” sale!

It’s no wonder biking is so popular on Hilton Head Island:  There are over fifty miles (no one knows exactly how many) of paved bicycle trails on the island.  In fact, there are over fifteen miles of bicycle trails in Sea Pines alone!  Add to all these miles of trails, the fact that Hilton head is a very flat island and bicycling becomes appealing to folks that haven’t tried to pedal in years.  Then, there’s also the opportunity to ride on the beach!  After all, why do you think they call them beach cruisers?  Hilton Head beaches are set apart from a lot of other Atlantic beaches by one thing: they are easy to ride bicycles on!  The sand, between the high and low water marks is incredibly hard, for beach sand.  Even though it is still plenty soft and cool to enjoy with bare feet, it’s also firm enough to support bicycle, and rider, without hardly leaving a mark.  Even better, there is twelve miles of this remarkable white stuff to ride on, with lots of “watering holes” along the way.

Visitors don’t get bored by the selection available at Hilton Head bicycle shops either!  The single speed, wide tired, twenty-six inch, single seat beach cruiser is, hands down, the most popular bicycle on the island.  Gears are just not necessary when everything is flat and everyone is just out for a leisurely pedal, so multi speed bikes and racing bikes are seldom seen on Hilton Head.  There are any number of attachments available for the cruisers as well, including:  attachments that add an extra seat, pedals, wheel and handlebars; giving the bicycle the appearance of being a tandem bike with the back seat built for a child.  There are little trailers available for toddlers, dogs and cargo, as well as the usual baskets, luggage racks and child carriers.  Tandem bikes, toddler bikes (with or without training wheels), adult tricycles and even those crazy “Flintstone Mobile” looking things with two sets of pedals and seating for four passengers!  A quick glance through the yellow pages reveals twenty-eight businesses advertising bicycles for rent.  Aside from those twenty-eight there are numerous resorts that also have their own bike rental concessions and dozens of rental condos, cottages and villas, which come complete with two wheeled transportation.  The “best guest” estimate of the number of rental bikes available on Hilton Head Island is slightly over ten-thousand!

There aren’t many rules affecting bicyclers on Hilton Head, but there are a few “guidelines” everyone should keep in mind.  First of all, please obey those little stop signs on the bicycle paths; it is incredibly difficult for motorist, trying to turn off or onto busy roads, to pay attention to the traffic signals and the other vehicles, as well as bicyclers and pedestrians!  Bicycles don’t necessarily have the right-of-way: they are expected to obey signs and signals just like automobiles do; please don’t become “road kill” while your on vacation!  Please be aware of other bicyclers and pedestrians on the pathways;  Few bikes,  and even fewer people are equipped with rear view mirrors; it’s common courtesy to call out, “passing on your right” or “passing on your left”; to let someone know you’re coming and keep them from stepping out in front of you.

Hilton Head's Web-Foot Friends

Alligators in Hilton Head Island Alligators are perhaps our best known wildlife. For the most part they live in the many lagoons throughout Hilton Head. Alligators are cold-blooded (they have no mechanism to regulate body temperature) so they rely on their environment to survive. During colder weather alligators will come out of their lagoons and lie on the banks in the sun to raise their body temperature. In warmer weather they stay in the water to stay relatively cool. This means the best time to see alligators is in the spring and fall, but exceptions are common. If a lot of rain has lowered the water temperature in the lagoons, the alligators will come out to sun themselves. It also seems sometimes they come out of the water just because they feel like it, for example, on a cloudy day. In Winter (October to March) alligators hibernate, so are rarely seen.

Alligators in Hilton Head can grow to about 12 feet in length. Those larger than that are generally "removed" because they scare people. We locals have an arrangement with the alligators: we leave them alone and they leave us alone. You would be wise to honor that arrangement. Alligators are not normally aggressive toward humans but they are dangerous. An alligator can outrun a horse for a limited distance. Human adults are too big to be alligator prey, but small children and pets are vulnerable, and an angry alligator knows no fear and will go after anything that bothers it. Here are some rules to keep you out of harm's way:

A mother alligator protecting its nest is about the only circumstance an alligator will attack without provocation. This could occur in wooded or brushy areas near lagoons. Nesting is typically May through August, and the mother protects the hatchlings for one to three years.

Feeding alligators is illegal for a good reason. If an alligator sees humans as a source of food, it stands to reason it will approach humans. Alligators lack social skills so they won't ask nicely for a handout. Never let small children or pets play in lagoons or on the banks of lagoons. Alligators are so fast a pet can vanish before its owner can take a deep breath. If you catch a fish in a lagoon and an alligator wants it, give it up. Reeling in the fish close to you is a very bad idea, as the alligator will see you as competition for food. There have been very rare instances of alligators at the beaches in Hilton Head. Alligators can stand salt water but prefer fresh or brackish, so an alligator at the beach is out of its normal environment and probably lost. Just keep away from it - if possible report it.

Island Attire- What to Wear?

One of the most frequently asked questions, to Hilton Head Island Concierges is; “do we have to dress”.  The obvious answer is simple and always the same, of course you have to dress; there are ordinances against nudity on Hilton Head!  Chris Katon, co-owner of Aqua Grill and Lounge, one of the island’s premier eateries, is fond of saying (with his “hand in the cookie jar” grin), “shoes and shirts required – pants optional”.  Callahan’s, a popular New Orleans Road watering hole, proudly posts a sign reading; “men without shirts will not be served, women without shirts will not be charged”.

All joking aside, “dressing for the occasion”, on Hilton Head,  is pretty much governed by the common thread of thought that people on vacation (especially vacation on a resort island) rarely pack suitcases with evening gowns, suits and ties and a practically never bring tuxedos.  There are those, in fact, who have reportedly sought to introduce legislation which would permanently out-law the wearing of neckties or bow ties within the town limits!   “Island Attire” has become not only a new term to describe a code of dress, but also, acceptable apparel at just about any Hilton Head venue.  In fact, dress codes are more stringent on the golf courses than they are at the overwhelming majority of island restaurants:  All golf courses require players to wear shirts with collars, whereas most restaurants are happy to see patrons wearing any kind of shirt at all; especially clean ones that aren’t covering wet bathing suit tops!

“Island Attire” is basically relaxed golf course attire.  A dry T-shirt (preferably a clean one, void of logos, pictures of demons or foul language) is, more often than not, acceptable.  When in doubt, throw on a polo or golf shirt or, the islands most popular: Hawaiian (or tropical) print, button front, short sleeve shirt – tails out!  For the fairer sex, practically any top on the conservative side of lewd is perfectible acceptable.  Short pants are fine for anyone, just about anywhere, and shoes, as might be expected, are always required; with sandals being the most popular footwear on the island.  If you should find yourself in doubt of what appropriate dress may be just remember; you are on vacation and everyone here knows it.  Don’t you remember “Tacky tourist Day” in high school?

Hilton Head’s Stonehenge

Ancient man left his mark, clues to his cultures and societies, in different forms all over the world.  We find, and study, the clues left by our ancestors; from the cave paintings in France, to the statues of Easter Island, the Pyramids of the Mayans and the Egyptians, and Stonehenge; trying to unlock their secrets and solve their mysteries.  Hilton Head Island is also home to one of the mysteries left by a prehistoric civilization: Circular mounds of shells and bone, some as large as 240 feet in diameter and nine feet high!  Perhaps these shell rings are not the architectural achievements of the great pyramids, but they are just as mysterious and just as old; most scholars believe the “newest” these “Shell Rings” to date back to around 1450 B.C.!

Constructed of every type of sea shell and animal bone imaginable, and native to the area, no one really knows exactly why they were built.  The most plausible theory is that the ancients, for lack of a better idea, simply piled their garbage around their homes and camps; thus creating a circular trash heap, around a common area; thus recycling their refuse into a fence and boundary marker that could have also served as protection from wild animals, strong winds and other tribes.  Today the remains of only twenty shell rings still exist; protected by law and listed on  the National Register of Historic Places; there is evidence to support the theory that some may be as old as 10,000 years.

There were originally believed to have been four of these mysterious rings on Hilton Head; however two of them were destroyed years ago, when material was harvested from them to make “tabby”.  Perhaps some of the remnants of these two rings are still visible in the Stoney-Baynard ruins in Sea Pines Plantation; this is actually plausible, as one of the two remaining shell rings is located near the east entrance to the Sea Pines Forest Preserve.   The Sea Pines ring, believed to date approximately 4,000 years, is about one hundred-fifty feet in diameter.  The other remaining Hilton Head ring can be viewed at the “Green Shell Enclosure”, on the north end of the island, off Squire Pope Road.

What is Co – lig –nee?


Welcome to the town of Hilton Head; which really isn’t a town at all.  Sure, there’s a Main Street, but there isn’t much “main” about it; other than that it’s on the “main” part of the island.  Oh, it has a few stores, shops and restaurants, and even a theatre and a bowling alley, but it’s not near anything that one would usually expect to find near (or on) a “Main Street”.   The “town” of Hilton Head really doesn’t have a “Town Hall” either, but it does have a “government center” that’s really not near anything; especially “Main Street” or “Down Town”.  In fact, if you were to go “Downtown” you would find that there really anything “Downtown”, but that’s mostly because there really isn’t any “Downtown”.  The closest thing Hilton Head has to a “Downtown” is a little spot, at the end of Pope Avenue, called “Coligny Plaza”.

Although Coligny Plaza isn’t really “Downtown”, most islanders and tourist agree it is pretty much the center attraction on the island, partly because of the sixty-four shops and restaurants there and partly because it is a stones throw from the island’s most popular beach.  (Although most folks call that “Coligny Beach” it’s not really Coligny Beach at all; at least no more so than Coligny Plaza is downtown, but that’s a whole different subject.)  The thing is that, whether your on Hilton Head (Or is it “in” Hilton Head?) for a day, a week or a month; you will undoubtedly, at some point in your visit, find yourself at (or “in”) Coligny Plaza.  Even if you’re not headed for the beach, you’ll find yourself at Coligny; just because there are so many different and unique things to do, see, eat, and buy.

The plaza itself covers several acres, on which sits several buildings, with quaint covered sidewalks, a large common area and a lovely little duck pond, which actually hasn’t had any ducks in it for years, but we still call it the “duck pond”, likely for lack of a better name.  The duck pond does, however, have a charming fountain, a stainless sculpture of the only nude you’ll see on Hilton Head and a quaint little footbridge; that leads to more shops and eateries on the other side.  All of this is dissected by a scattering of parking lots; which offers tourist more entertainment, in the way of watching other tourist try and remember where they parked their cars.   There is also a mysterious looking, dark, covered alley, that helps divide the shopping area and leads to a delightful, one screen, “art house” theatre (there are free family movies there every Saturday morning during “the season”).

Coligny Plaza really is a fun place.  It has free puppet shows, a magic show a, live “Mermaid Review”, a Calypso Band, a Gullah Show and even Elvis, all on various nights of the week.  It has several unique restaurants where you can eat anything from Pasta (in fact one is called: “Just Pasta”), to Rueben Sandwiches, to a good old fashioned burger and fries, steamed shrimp and raw oysters; there is even one restaurant that will serve you a “kitchen sink”, in a porcelain “skillet”.  You can eat inside or outside, near the music or in a quiet corner.  If your hot or thirsty you can get an Italian Ice, hand dipped or soft serve ice cream, or even Daiquiris; by the gallon or five gallon container.   Coligny has a hardware store where you can by anything from Hermit Crabs to Nails and a Salon where you can have nails clipped and painted.  It has a pet shop (with gourmet dog treats), a rock shop, a shell shop, a surf shop, a sunglass shop, a kite shop, a nature store and clothing galore!  At Coligny Plaza you can have your hair cut, styled, “permed”, dyed, twisted, curled, braided or even corn-rowed or “fro’ed”.  You can buy a pair of flip flops, a bottle of suntan lotion, an air brush tattoo, or rent a bicycle; built for one or two!   You can find rubber rafts and rings and dinosaurs to float on, beach chairs to sit in and umbrellas to shade you from the sun.  You can even tool around in one of those neat little four passenger, four wheel bikes that reminds you of a Flintstone Mobile.  You can…………………well, it is “Downtown”! 

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