Hilton Head Island is a large island off the coast of South Carolina. Itís popular with golfers and tennis enthusiasts, but itís also a great family destination with plenty to do and see. Hereís a sampling of what youíll find.
Beaches: The beaches of Hilton Head are wide, flat stretches of hard packed sand, making them perfect for flying kites, beach sports, and bicycling. There are several places on the island to rent bikes, tandem bikes, trailers and whatever else you need. The beaches also offer good beachcombing, especially after a storm. We found lot of shells, including several large conch shells, shark teeth, and a stranded sea star. Due to Hilton Headís building restrictions, houses along the beach are set well behind the dunes and painted to blend in with the surroundings. There are no high-rises on Hilton Headís beaches, or anywhere on Hilton Head Island.
A museum: We went to the combined Hilton Head Visitorís Center and Coastal Discovery Museum on a rainy day. The museum offers interesting displays on local wildlife, hands-on childrenís activities, and a small gift shop. While visiting, you can sign up for dolphin cruises, sea turtle walks and more.
Wildlife: We spent one morning walking the trails and boardwalks of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. We saw sunbathing turtles, alligators, herons, and a cormorant in the act of catching a fish. The preserve offers alligator tours and other wildlife oriented activities if you want to learn more. The beaches are also full of wildlife, from the ever present seagulls and pelicans to the dolphins just offshore.
A lighthouse: Also located within the Sea Pines Resort is Hilton Headsí famous red and white striped lighthouse. You can climb to the top (for a small fee) to get an overview of the landscape. My kids enjoyed the variety of penny smashing machines on the way up, and for 51 cents a penny embossed with an alligator, turtle, or dolphin makes a pretty good souvenir.
Eating: There are lots of great restaurants on Hilton Head. We enjoyed Hudsonís on the Docks, where the dining room overlooks the fishing boat docks. If youíre lucky you may see the fisherman bringing in the dayís catch. We also enjoyed Steamers, which bills itself as the most family-friendly restaurant on the island. You can eat outside by the small pond or inside at a table complete with a center bucket for tossing empty shells into. Steamers specializes in shellfish of all kinds and offers a popular variety platter if your kids want to try some. If you want to order out, the Brick Oven Cafe makes the areaís most popular pizza. There are several unique varieties to choose from, such as mesquite chicken or shrimp scampi. And if desperation strikes, there are many fast food joints on the island, all tucked quietly behind the greenery.
Shopping: Youíll have no problem getting what you need on Hilton Head, if you can find the stores. Due to local regulations, shops are tucked away from the road with only small signs providing a clue to their whereabouts. Having a good map is key. There are several grocery stores, a Wal-Mart, a Barnes and Noble, and many small souvenir shops. Our favorites were The Country Bear in the Sea Pines Resort which offered a nice selection of toys and souvenirs such as shark teeth necklaces, and the Audubon Nature Store in Wexford Village, with a great selection of nature-themed toys and books.
Where to Stay: You have a wide variety of choices when it comes to staying on Hilton Head, from major hotel chains to villa rentals in gated communities. We rented a villa in the Palmetto Dunes resort which included beach access, tennis courts, golf courts, and swimming pools. The resort has its own general store and bike rental shop.