The Ultimate Guide to Summer on Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head is a bucket-list destination for summer adventures, ranked #1 in Travel+Leisure World’s Best Awards, and one of the top-booked summer vacation destinations for 2021. 

America’s Favorite Island is a Lowcountry barrier island at the southern tip of South Carolina between the two grand dames of the south, Charleston and Savannah, GA. Hilton Head Island is a charming and unique destination with a rich culture, serene landscapes, immersive adventures and experiences, succulent seafood, and a slow paced lifestyle to disconnect, recharge and switch to summer time on the sea islands. 

Spend lazy days soaking up the sun on 12 miles of unspoiled sandy beaches or discover the best of Hilton Head with pristine championship golf courses, world-famous tennis & racquet clubs, miles nature trails for hiking and biking, preserves for wildlife viewing and birdwatching, and serene waterways for kayaking. Whether you’re in search of a quiet island escape or action packed summer vacation, we invite you to explore the island like a local with our inspiration for your summer vacation on Hilton Head Island. 


HILTON HEAD ISLAND BEACHES

Hilton Head Island boasts 12-miles of pristine beaches consistently rated among the top beaches in the US and the world! Hilton Head boasts warm, calm waters and flat sandbanks for summer dips in the ocean, natural tide pools for little hands to explore, an expansive and well-maintained shoreline lined with coastal treasures, and endless opportunities to get on the water.   

Hilton Head Plantation Beach Access 

Sea Pines Beach Club: Guests of Sea Pines Plantations have access to 5 miles of unspoiled sandy beaches at the Sea Pines Beach Club. To avoid high season parking, hop on the free Sea Pines Trolley and enjoy a day on the lifeguarded beach with kids’ entertainment, picnic tables, oceanfront dining and a casual beach bar. 

Palmetto Dunes Beach: The Palmetto Dunes Plantation has 3 miles of pristine sandy beaches with public beach access at the Dunes House. Parking is limited so take advantage of the Dunes Beach Buggy to soak up the sun’s rays, play in the ocean and sip frozen cocktails at the oceanfront bar. 

Private Beach Access: Hilton Head’s favorite vacation rentals are located oceanfront on the island with private boardwalks to miles of beautiful Atlantic beaches. 

Public Beach Access Points on Hilton Head Island 

Alder Lane: Alder Lane is on the south end of the island in the Forest Beach area of Hilton Head. This beach access is away from the crowds and caters to all abilities with handicap matting, restrooms, outdoor showers, summer lifeguards and low-key beach walks along the shoreline. 

Coligny Beach Park: Traveling up the coastline, the next public beach access is Coligny Beach Park, the island’s most popular beach and the heartbeat of Hilton Head. It’s an easy bike ride from the resort areas of Hilton Head with free parking, excellent amenities, loads of food options and summer rentals for water activities. There’s great entertainment for the kids and a hot line-up of live music at the legendary Tiki Hut on the sand. 

Burkes Beach: For quieter beach days, pet-friendly Burkes Beach lies north of Palmetto Dunes Plantation with basketball and tennis courts, a playground, dog park, tranquil seaside trails to some of the best waves on Hilton Head Island for surfing and bodyboarding, and seasonal lifeguards.   

Driessen Beach: Driessen Beach is next to Burkes Beach and is one of Hilton Head’s larger beach parks. A peaceful boardwalk leads to a sandy beach with picnic tables, a playground, sand showers, vending machines, seasonal beach rentals and lifeguards. 

Folly Field Beach: Folly Field Beach is Hilton Head’s “local beach”, a favorite with families visiting Hilton Head and a top spot to learn to surf. Beach amenities include restrooms and outdoor showers, water fountains, metered parking, umbrella and chair rentals, and seasonal lifeguards. 

Islanders Beach Park: Pack a picnic and spend the day away from the crowds at Islanders Beach Park, just north of Folly Field Beach. There’s a playground for the kids, picnic tables, drinks machines and restrooms, but you’ll need to bike to the beach as parking is for annual pass holders only. 

Fish Haul Beach Park: Fish Haul Beach Park is one of the most natural and remote beaches on Hilton Head Island overlooking the Port Royal Sound. If you’re seeking an off the beaten path beach on Hilton Head, teeming with wildlife, beautiful shells on the tide line and some of the most beautiful birdlife on Hilton Head, spend a day in nature at Fish Haul. 

The beaches of Hilton Head Island officially open for the beach season from April 1 through September 30 with seasonal lifeguards for a safe summer vacation. Sunset Rentals partners with Vayk Gear to offer our guests complimentary beach gear in select homes and villas. 


ON THE WATER ACTIVITIES

Whether you’re exploring the serene waterways of the Calibogue Sound or the vast Atlantic Ocean, this is your chance to experience a personal encounter with an abundance of captivating and majestic marine life including loggerhead sea turtles, manatees, sea otters and Hilton Head’s most famous residents, the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin. There are six marinas and harbors on Hilton Head Island making it easy to enjoy a memorable day of aquatic adventures with on the water activities for all ages and energy levels. 

Kayaking: There are over 25 miles of undeveloped marshes and remote areas surrounding Hilton Head to escape the crowds, kayak or SUP the serene waterways and back creeks of the Lowcountry, and reconnect with nature. 

Boat Rentals: For a little more speed, local outfitters across the island offer Hilton Head boat rentals by the hour, or by the day. Sail the sea islands on a catamaran or yacht, waterski or tube the calm waters of Broad Creek, or ride a waverunner or jet-ski through the Calibogue Sound. 

Boat Tours & Cruises: Hilton Head Island boasts an extensive selection of cruises and guided boat tours ranging from sightseeing cruises, dolphin tours, parasailing, banana boat and skiff tours around Hilton Head, to expeditions to the sea islands and guided tours of historic Savannah. 

Fishing Charters: Keep your feet on dry land and cast your line from the shore, the fishing piers or the tranquil, stocked lagoons on Hilton Head Island, or embark on a fishing charter in the backwaters of the estuaries or the deep seas of the Atlantic Ocean.   

If you’re fishing solo, a South Carolina saltwater fishing license is required for all anglers 16 and over and there’s plenty of bait and tackle shops to stock up on your fishing gear. But, the best way to reel in a trophy catch is on a Hilton Head Island fishing charter with an experienced and local fishing guide, and insider tips to Hilton Head’s top fishing spots (and the secret unknowns!)   


BIKING & HIKING TRAILS

The best way to explore Hilton Head (and avoid the traffic and high season parking) is on foot or by bike! Hilton Head Island is one of the most bike-friendly destinations in the US, rated a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community by the American League of Bicyclists. 

Hilton Head Island is only twelve miles long and five miles wide and boasts an island wide network of flat, shady, and interlaced trails with over 60-miles of trails, 30 bike rental shops and over 15,000 bikes available to rent on the island. Printed maps are available across the island, at the Town Hall or online

Venture off the beaten path and explore maritime forests and hidden parts of the island, cruise the 22-mile loop around the island, or take a coastal bike ride or beach stroll along the shoreline. Here’s our favorite trails to hike and bike on Hilton Head. 

Sea Pines Forest Preserve: Hike and bike the trails of Sea Pines Forest Preserve, an expansive 605 acre protected wildlife habitat with wetland boardwalks through the forest, lakes, fishing docks, historic ruins and beautiful natural landscapes with native flowers and an abundance of wildlife. If you’re not vacationing in Sea Pines, there’s a small fee to access the Sea Pines Plantation.   

Palmetto Dunes Plantation: Palmetto Dunes Plantation has 5 miles of tranquil shaded trails and 3 miles of sandy beaches for easy cruising. There’s a bike path leading to the beach and a bike path to Shelter Cover under the 278 to ride and shop. There is no fee to bike in Palmetto Dunes. 

Audubon Newhall Preserve: The Audubon Newhall Preserve is a paradise for birdwatchers and nature lovers with a small network of trails and boardwalks through the 50-acre nature preserve, a tranquil pond, and the opportunity to encounter South Carolina’s best birdlife, including a Great Blue Heron. Guided walks are available. 

Mitchelville Freedom Park: Take a stroll through Mitchelville Freedom Park, a historic park with remnants of the town where freedom began for Hilton Head in 1862. Peaceful trails lead through the park to the rocky shoreline of Fish Haul Creek Park, a prime birdwatching destination on HHI. 

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge: Pinckney Island is a 4,000 acres wildlife refuge at the entrance to Hilton Head Island with 14 miles of hiking and biking trails through forest lands, serene salt marshes, tidal creeks, freshwater ponds and natural Lowcountry beauty. Pack your binoculars for some of the best birdwatching and wildlife viewing on Hilton Head.   

Sunset Rentals has a fleet of affordable, state-of-the-art rentals, including classic, tandem, child, and three-wheeler bikes available to guests. Reservations required well in advance for summer. 


GOLF COURSES & TENNIS FACILITIES

Some of the best golf courses in the Southeast and eight of the world’s top tennis resorts and camps are right here on Hilton Head Island. There are two dozen world-class golf courses and over 300 tennis courts on Hilton Head with challenging play for both novice players and the pros. 

Hilton Head Island is a top golf and tennis destination so be sure to book your tee times and courts well in advance. Here’s our guide to the top tennis facilities and golf courses in the resort areas of Hilton Head. 

Sea Pines Plantation: Tee off among the palmettos and ancient oaks on the family-friendly Atlantic Dunes course, the challenging fairways of Pete Dye’s Heron Point or on the island’s most famous golf course, Harbour Town Golf Links. The Harbour Town Golf Links is consistently ranked one of the best golf courses in the US and welcomes over 130,000 each year to the RBC Heritage PGA Tour

The Sea Pines Racquet Club is one of the best in the US with 20 clay courts, night courts, a full-service pro shop, and an award-winning tennis academy.   

Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort: Palmetto Dunes has three top-rated golf courses for an unrivaled golf experience on Hilton Head. Tee off at the Robert Trent Jones Course featuring one of only two oceanfront holes on Hilton Head Island, experience one of the best golf courses you can play in South Carolina at the Arthur Hills Course, or enjoy a challenging round on the George Fazio Course, the only par-70 public golf course on Hilton Head. 

The award-winning Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center ranks among the top tennis facilities in the world with tennis and pickleball courts, night play and fun clinics through the summer. 

Port Royal Plantation: The Port Royal Golf & Racquet Club has two courses, the Barony Course, and Robber’s Row Course, footgolf for the kids, and an 8-court racquet club. These scenic facilities are set on Civil War grounds on the marsh side of the island with beautiful live oaks and magnolias, water features and historical markers to discover the rich history of Hilton Head. 

Shipyard Plantation: The Shipyard Golf Club was rated one of the finest layouts on the Champions Tour and offers 27-holes of family-friendly golf on three scenic courses, the Clipper, Galleon and Brigantine. The award-winning holes are surrounded by towering oaks and pines and tranquil lagoons. 

The Van der Meer Tennis Center at Shipyard is another of Hilton Head’s award-winning tennis facilities with indoor and outdoor courts, daily clinics, and summer tennis camps.


HORSE-RIDING

Lawton Stables is the top destination for horseback rides on Hilton Head Island and a unique way to discover the Lowcountry. The farm and equestrian center in the Sea Pines Plantation offers western-style trail rides through the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, Shetland pony rides and a petting zoo for the little ones. For a once in a lifetime experience, take the ferry to Daufuskie Island for an exclusive beach ride along the Atlantic shoreline. 


FAMILY FUN ON HILTON HEAD ISLAND

The ultimate family summer vacation awaits on Hilton Head Island, one of the world’s most family-friendly vacation destinations. Hilton Head is a magical destination for kids of all ages with family-focused adventures, interactive children museums, live entertainment, miniature golf, indoor playgrounds, rainy-day activities, and awesome day camps fully-loaded with outdoor adventures and new experiences. Here’s our inside scoop on the best things to do with kids and teens on Hilton Head. 

Harbour Town: Harbour Town is one of the top places to visit on Hilton Head Island with kids. Climb the iconic candy cane striped Harbour Town Lighthouse (children under 5 are free), watch the boats sail by while you refuel at The Crazy Crab, and engage in swashbuckling fun with the Pirates of Hilton Head on the Black Dagger, the island’s only custom pirate ship. During the summer months, there’s live entertainment under the Liberty Oak, a top island activity for families visiting Hilton Head. 

Shelter Cove: The annual HarbourFest at Shelter Cove is a delight for all ages and a must-do Hilton Head summer celebration. Enjoy the best local food, arts and crafts, live entertainment from clowns, pirates and local musicians, bouncy castles, and a spectacular display of fireworks over Broad Creek every Tuesday, a Hilton Head tradition. 

Coligny Plaza: The Coligny Center Stage at Coligny Plaza hosts a fun line-up of summer entertainment with magic extravaganzas, family-friendly dance parties, trivia nights and activities every day of the week. Kids love to explore Adventure Playground and the interactive Sandbox Children’s Museum at Lowcountry Celebration, and you’re steps away from one of the best beaches in America. 

Coastal Discovery Museum: The Coastal Discovery Museum is a fun and educational way for the kids to spend the day on Hilton Head. Visit the butterfly gardens, take a nature tour, learn the art of basket weaving, discover the history of the sea islands, or engage in interactive play at the indoor Kids Zone. 

Zipline Hilton Head: Experience Hilton Head’s top adventure destination with a choice of 7 ziplines soaring above the marshes and tree canopies of Broad Creek, a high ropes challenge course, and a brand new outdoor GoKart track with double karts to take little ones for a cruise. 

Miniature Golf: Hilton Head has three mini-golf courses for family fun on Hilton Head. Play Caribbean-style at Adventure Cove, follow in the footsteps of pirates at Pirate’s Island, or play country club style miniature golf at Legendary Golf

Hilton Head Skatepark: The Hilton Head Skatepark at the Bristol Sports Arena is a great way for bigger kids to let off some steam with ramps, rails and a kid’s street course and playground for younger kids. 

The Art Café: Paint your own pottery at The Art Café, a colorful pottery studio and café near the Coligny Plaza. There’s a big selection of pottery pieces to choose from, indoor seating for a rainy day, and outdoor patio seating for painting, dining, and special events through the summer. 

Outside Hilton Head: Outside Hilton Head is the top activity provider on the island with day camps and outdoor activities for kids, teens, and families. Activities range from family fishing charters, beachcombing cruises and dolphin tours, to learn to surf camps and bike tours of Hilton Head Island. 


ARTS, CULTURE & HISTORIC SITES

Art Center of Coastal Carolina: The Art Center of Coastal Carolina is the heart of Hilton Head’s performing arts scene with award-winning theatrical shows, ballet performances, musical dramas, cultural festivals, and a fun lineup of summer events on HHI for the whole family. 

Coastal Discovery Museum: Step back in time at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn, home to the Santa Elena Center, nine historic buildings dating back to 1859, a 500-year old Southern Red Cedar, fascinating history and cultural exhibits, and authentic Gullah Heritage Trail Tours.   

Stoney-Baynard Ruins: The Baynard Plantation was built by Revolutionary War hero Captain Jack Stoney in the early 18th century, used as headquarters for Union troops during the Civil War, and later burned to the ground. Take a short hike through Sea Pines to view the remains of the grand antebellum home and slave quarters, rumored to be one of the most haunted spots on Hilton Head Island. 

Sea Pines Indian Shell Ring: The Sea Pines Indian Shell Ring lies in the heart of Sea Pines Forest Preserve and dates back over 4,000 years. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the historic shell ring measures 150 feet in diameter and is known to be the oldest known archeological site on Hilton Head Island. 


HEALTH, WELLNESS & LUXURY SPA DAYS

The travel journey alone boosts your mental health, but the bliss and natural beauty of Hilton Head takes your health and wellness journey a step further. Treat yourself to a little me time at a luxury Hilton Head spa, or skip the traffic and indulge in a massage treatment in the comfort of your dream Hilton Head vacation home


SHOPPING IN HILTON HEAD

Retail therapy is another great way to boost mental health and shopping on Hilton Head Island is an adventure of its own! Summer is the perfect season to stroll the open-air plazas and shop the local farmers markets for the finest seafood, fresh fruit and veg, homemade specialties and picnic baskets to enjoy in nature.    


EATING OUT ON HILTON HEAD ISLAND

Restaurants: Whether you’re in search of the best shrimp and grits on Hilton Head Island, a casual eatery for the kids or an evening of fine dining on the waterfront, Hilton Head has a diverse selection of delicious dining options to explore. For Hilton Head’s finest sunset views, feast on Lowcountry cuisine at Skull Creek Boathouse, raw oysters at Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks, or dine waterfront at Harbour Town as the sun sets over Calibogue Sound. 

Dinner Cruises: For a unique Hilton Head dinner experience, take a sunset cruise on the Salty Dog Happy Hour Boat from South Beach Marina, or climb aboard the Spirit of Harbour Town for a romantic candlelit cruise along the South Carolina coastline. 

Late-Night Venues: Carry it on late into the night at Hilton Head’s late-night venues. Snack on southern BBQ with an ice cold brew at Hilton Head Brewing Company, stay for last call at the legendary Tiki Hut beach bar on Coligny Beach, or join the island’s biggest and best DJ dance party at The Rooftop Bar in Shelter Cove. For an evening of smooth, sophisticated jazz, head to Jazz Corner, an award-winning jazz club, acclaimed as one of the top “100 Great Jazz Rooms in the World”. 


WHERE TO STAY IN HILTON HEAD

Sunset Rentals are the most trusted rental business and vacation specialists on Hilton Head Island with one of the area’s largest collections of Hilton Head vacation homes and villas in the top resort areas of Hilton Head Island.   Experience an unforgettable summer vacation on Hilton Head with rentals to suit every family’s size, style and budget, resort-style amenities, homey comforts, luxurious outdoor living in the Lowcountry and first-class service every step of your vacation journey.

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