Family Vacations to Hilton Head, South Carolina

Hilton Head Beach, South Carolina
Hilton Head Beach (courtesy, Hilton Head Island CVB)

Hilton Head Family Travel Tips

  • Stroll 12 miles of white-sand beaches.
  • Let the kids join in old-fashioned sing-alongs under the Liberty oak tree.
  • Spot dolphins, egrets, and alligators in the marshlands.
  • Perfect your golf and tennis swings with first-rate instruction.

With 12 miles of white, Atlantic Ocean-kissed sands plus top-ranked golf and tennis facilities, Hilton Head has the vital statistics to justify its prime family beach designation. And despite the hearty development, the island still sports an underlying tastefulness, as well as nature-affirming opportunities to spot dolphins, great blue herons, and other wildlife.

The beach on Hilton Head Island is alluring, dune-bordered, and wide. Since much of the island is divided into four resort areas, you walk onto the beach in the community in which your lodging is located. Of the five public access points for the beach, Coligny Circle and Folly Field Road have the largest parking facilities.

Anybody who has ever heard of Hilton Head, but has never been, should already be familiar with the candy-striped Harbour Town Lighthouse serves as its unofficial symbol. The windows at the top deliver a panoramic view of beach, ocean, houses, and greenways. Crowds gather here to watch the sunset from the nearby dock, and then buy ice-cream cones from Scoop's, located in the lighthouse's base.

Another island tradition is Gregg Russell's Sing-Alongs at Sea Pines Plantation in Harbour Town. On summer nights this Pied Piper rules from under the huge Liberty oak tree, enchanting children (and adults) with his silly songs, 60s' lyrics, and good-spirited fun.

Bicycling here is a good bet, as are the wildlife outings. Pedal past lagoons and creeks, through pine and palmetto-tree woods, and among stands of live oaks draped with Spanish moss along the 45 miles of trails that lace Hilton Head Island. The flat lowland roads make the going easy even for young kids using training wheels.

Commander Zodiac's raft outings take you into Calibogue Sound, a placid stretch of water between Hilton Head and Daufuskie Island, where you'll cruise an inlet lined with oyster beds, bordered with thick cord grass. Once in the sound you may spot dolphins or motor up to an on-the-clock shrimp boat. Look for 'gators on a Hilton Head Alligator Adventures boat tour on the inland freshwater lakes of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. On a guided beach walk with the Coastal Discovery Museum, families learn about the importance of dunes and the roles of sea creatures. The museum also offers outings to Pinckney Island Wildlife Preserve.

Hilton Head takes its racquet sports seriously. Both well-known Van Der Meer Shipyard Tennis Resort and the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy offer intensive multi-day programs for ranked juniors. For kids who just want to have fun powering up their serves, the Sea Pines Resort runs daily drills for ages nine to 14 and introductory lessons for tots as young as four. The Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center offers a similar program.

Two resorts make it easy for budding duffers to get into the swing. From June though August, Sea Pines' Future Stars Junior Golf Program teaches the fundamentals to ages four to 12, with Tiger wannabees dreaming of the majors on the resort's short course. In June, Palmetto Dunes tees off with a five-day program for golfers 17 and under.

Tip: It's wise to book ahead for summer tennis and golf programs.

Recommended Side Trips: Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Savannah (Georgia)'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 23 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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