Hilton Head: Top Attractions

hilton head
Egrets on the hunt in the tidal marshes  (courtesy, USFWS)

With 12 miles of white sands and top-ranked golf and tennis facilities, it's no surprise that South Carolina's Hilton Head Island is a prime family beach destination. Despite the hearty development, the island still sports an underlying tastefulness, plus plenty of places to spot dolphins, great blue herons, and other wildlife.

Gregg Russell's Sing-Alongs (Sea Pines Plantation/Harbour Town)
Gregg Russell is the Pied Piper of Hilton Head. On summer nights he rules from under the huge Liberty oak tree, enchanting children (and adults) with his silly songs, '60s lyrics, and good-spirited fun. Kids feel like insiders once they learn all the words to the "Gregg Russell Bubble Gum Kid Song," a light-hearted ditty with a refrain concerning a "bugger in the sugar."
Additional Info: 843.785.3673, www.hiltonheadisland.org

Commander Zodiac Dolphin Excursions (Sea Pines Plantation/South Beach Marina)
Commander Zodiac's raft outings take you into Calibogue Sound, a placid stretch of water between Hilton Head and Daufuskie Island. En route you cruise through an inlet lined with oyster beds and bordered with thick cord grass. In the sound you're likely to see a playful pair of dolphins breaching the water's surface or motor up alongside one of the area's oceanbound shrimping boats.
Commander Zodiac Dolphin Excursions: 843.671-3344. www.southbeachvillage.com

Coastal Discovery Museum
Despite the museum's relatively small size, its hands-on activities get kids interested in wildlife. Children follow trails in the Butterfly Garden and get to pick up the shell of a loggerhead turtle. But the museum's nature tours are the facility's real stars. On a guided beach walk, kids learn about the importance of dunes and the roles marine creatures play in the circle of life. Other museum outings go to Pinckney Island Wildlife Preserve, a 4,073-acre wonderland of tidal marshes and wading herons, white ibis, and egrets.
Coastal Discovery Museum: 843.689.6767, www.coastaldiscovery.org

The Beach
The alluring, dune-bordered beaches of Hilton Head Island are wide-open for the exuberant exploration of young and old alike. Since much of the island is divided into four "plantations" or resort areas, you tend to beach in the plantation where your lodging is located. If you stay outside the resort areas, you are supposed to use one of the five public access points. Of these, Coligny Circle and Folly Field Road have the largest parking facilities.
Additional Info: 843.785.3673, www.hiltonheadisland.org

Bicycling the Plantations
Forty-five miles of bicycle trails lace Hilton Head. Pedal past lagoons and creeks, through pine and palmetto-tree woods, and among stands of Spanish moss-draped live oaks. The flat lowlands make the going easy, even for young kids using training wheels. Island shops rent adult, tandem, and children's bikes, as well as Burley trailers. Many stores will deliver your equipment to your condo or hotel when you make a weekly rental.
Additional Info: 843.785.3673, www.hiltonheadisland.org

Golf Lessons for Youngsters
You could spend weeks teaching the game to your kids on several of the island's 25 or so courses, but two resorts make it easy for budding duffers to get into the swing. From June though August each year, Sea Pines' Future Stars Junior Golf program teaches the fundamentals to children ages four to 12. The wannabee Tigers practice on the resort's short course. In June, Palmetto Dunes tees off with a five-day program for golfers 17 and under.
The Golf Academy at the Sea Pines Resort: 888.807.6873, www.seapines.com
Palmetto Dunes Junior Golf Academy: 800.827.3006, www.palmettodunes.com

Hilton Head Alligator Adventures
In between calming quivering kids, the tour guides of Hilton Head Alligator Adventures teach them how to look for the alligators meandering the banks and swarming the swamps. "Look for the bulging eyes and the tip of a snout. That's how to find the toothy reptiles." Those who have never seen a 'gator in the wild will appreciate this boat tour on the inland freshwater lakes of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. The tour is available March through November.
Hilton Head Alligator Adventures: 888.807.6873, www.seapines.com

Harbour Town Lighthouse
Anybody who has ever heard of Hilton Head, but never been, knows the candy-striped Harbour Town Lighthouse serves as the unofficial symbol of the island—the perfect place for enjoying its serenity. The windows at the top deliver a panoramic view of beach, water, beach houses, and greenways. Plan your visit to stay to watch the sunset from the nearby dock, something of an island tradition. And while you're there, buy the family ice cream cones from Scoop's (located in the lighthouse's base), sit back, and watch the splendor.
Harbour Town Lighthouse: 888.807.6873, www.seapines.com

Historic Savannah, Georgia, is the quintessential south, a monument to southern architecture; a blessed, beautiful locale; and a short drive (23 miles) from Hilton Head. Undoubtedly bring the kids for a day. Saunter along streets lined by venerable oaks draped with Spanish moss and walk the riverfront and its weeping willow trees. Little kids like the horse-drawn carriage rides past historic houses while grade-schoolers enjoy the legends and the ghost tour walks. And if Dad or Mom play, don't forget to bring the golf clubs.
Savannah Tourism Office: 877.SAVANNAH, www.savannahvisit.com

Tennis Playing & Instruction
Hilton Head takes its racquet sports seriously. Both well-known Van Der Meer Shipyard Tennis Resort and the new Smith Stearns Tennis Academy at the Sea Pines Resort offer intensive multi-day programs for ranked juniors. For kids just who 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 at this tennis haven, one of Tennis Magazine's "50 Greatest U.S. Tennis Resorts."
Van Der Meer Shipyard Tennis Resort: 800.845.6138, www.vandermeertennis.com
Smith Stearns Tennis Academy at Sea Pines Resort: 843.363.4789, www.sstahhi.com
Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center: 843.785.1152, www.palmettodunes.com

Published: 8 Apr 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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