16 Free Things To Do On Hilton Head Island | Vacation Rental Blog

16 Free Things To Do On Hilton Head Island

When it comes to planning a vacation on Hilton Head Island, visitors have an abundance of world-class golf courses, racquet clubs, nature tours, and charters to add to their itinerary, but many of the island’s best experiences can be savored without reaching for your wallet. From our wild, scenic beaches, lush waterways, and tranquil trails to farmers’ markets, family-friendly museums, and Lowcountry maritime centers, here are 16 things to do on Hilton Head Island that don’t require a dime.


1. Relax & Recreate on the Beach

Hilton Head Island is one of the few coastal destinations where the beaches are beautiful, full of wildlife, public, and FREE! Stretching 12 miles along the Atlantic Coastline on the southern tip of South Carolina, the beaches on Hilton Head beckon you to relax, unwind, and recreate on sun-kissed sands and crystal clear waters, without spending a cent! Free dolphin shows are included!

Surround yourself with shopping, dining, water fountains, and a bustling beach vibe at Coligny Beach Park, escape to the serene shoreline along Port Royal Sound, or indulge in a Hilton Head oceanfront home with private beach access to sparkling sands, sea turtles, and bottlenose dolphins in your own backyard. 

View the public beach access on Hilton Head Island HERE

2. Enjoy Free Entertainment at Shelter Cove

Enter a world of free family entertainment at Shelter Cove, a vibrant waterfront destination across from Palmetto Dunes that blends coastal charm with shopping, dining, lively activities, and fabulous free events for the whole family – year-round! 

Featured free events at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina include the summer Shelter Cove HarbourFest with fireworks, entertainment by musician Shannon Tanner, and fun activities for the kids with Cappy the Clown, Music & Taste on the Harbour in spring and fall, and Light up the Harbour for the holiday season with coastal Christmas boat lights decorating Shelter Cove. 

Free fun is not limited to Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina! The community park at Shelter Cove Towne Centre hosts a fun lineup of summer events including Summer Jams and Fireworks with kids activities for a minimal fee, free movie nights every Thursday, and a Sunset Celebration every Friday night with live music on the waterfront at Broad Creek. Pack your chairs and picnic blankets and join us for free entertainment at Shelter Cove on Hilton Head Island.

Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina 
Shelter Cove Towne Centre 

3. Watch a Captivating Sunset from Harbour Town

Plan an evening to watch a captivating sunset from the Harbour Town Lighthouse. Visitors can pay a $5.75 fee to climb 114 steps to the top of the 93-foot tall lighthouse for a panoramic sunset over Calibogue Sound (children 5 and under are free) or watch the sunset for free from one of the red rocking chairs facing the marina, or combined with a free Gregg Russell concert. 

From Memorial Day through mid-August (8 PM to 9 PM), Gregg Russell brings his family-friendly entertainment and interactive sing-alongs to the stage under the famed Sea Pines Liberty Oak. View the 2023 Gregg Russell Concert Schedule HERE! If you’re not staying in Sea Pines resort area, a small cash fee is due for a visitor’s pass to Sea Pines – click HERE for current pricing.

Lighthouse Road, Sea Pines, Hilton Head

4. Escape into Nature at Sea Pines Forest Preserve

Step into a world of tranquility and natural beauty at Sea Pines Forest Preserve, where wildlife encounters are a given! This scenic 600-acre protected natural habitat boasts elevated boardwalks, bike paths, and nature trails winding through rice fields, wildflower meadows, and freshwater wetlands. Enjoy tranquil lakes and ponds for fishing, picnic tables for a scenic stop, and a slice of Hilton Head Island history at the iconic Indian Shell Ring.Bring your picnic basket for a lakeside lunch on Fish Island, pick up a fishing permit from the CSA Security Office on Greenwood Drive, or dip into your pockets for a horseback trail ride or guided tour of Sea Pines Forest Preserve, by boat, or wagon! A Sea Pines visitors pass is required for outside guests.

Greenwood Drive, Sea Pines, Hilton Head 
Open Sunrise to Sunset

5. Petting Zoo & Pony Rides at Lawton Stables

For little animal lovers, the petting zoo at Lawton Stables is a paradise of furry and feathered friends waiting to be cuddled and admired! Located within the enchanting Sea Pines Forest Preserve, this delightful interactive petting zoo offers children hands-on interaction with mini horses, pigs, goats, alpacas, chickens, and lots of other colorful critters. Bring your pocket change for handfuls of animal feed or a placid pony ride for the kids! A Sea Pines visitors pass is required for outside guests.

Greenwood Drive, Sea Pines, Hilton Head 
Open Year-Round 

6. Watch Wildlife at Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge

Spanning over 4,000 acres, Pinckney Island’s diverse habitats provide sanctuary for a variety of wildlife and birdlife. With 14 miles of trails for hiking and biking, salt marshes and freshwater ponds for fishing, and forestlands filled with local wildlife, this pristine Lowcountry wildlife refuge is one of Hilton Head’s best free attractions and activities, and one of the best destinations for wildlife and nature photography in the Lowcountry (donations are always accepted). 

Wildlife sightings at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge include everything from fiddler crabs and alligators to white-tailed deer, red foxes, raccoons, and occasionally elusive bobcats hiding in the coastal forests. Local Tip: No water or restrooms are available, so prepare before hitting the trails. Dogs are not allowed on Pinckney Island.

Palmetto Bay Road, Hilton Head 
Open Sunrise to Sunset  

7. Go Birding at Audubon Newhall Preserve

Over 140 bird species are recorded at the Audubon Newhall Preserve, a lesser-known 50-acre preserve and birding hotspot in the heart of Hilton Head Island. The preserve has interconnected trails winding through five unique ecosystems including majestic woodlands, wetlands, and a peaceful pond all brimming with beautiful birdlife. The tree-lined trails are short, easy, and pet-friendly with benches around the pond and an observation deck for birdwatching. 

Free guided tours are held weekly on Tuesday mornings – no reservations are required, just meet in the parking lot with your binocs! For a complete list of Audubon Newhall Preserve sightings, click HERE!

Palmetto Bay Road, Hilton Head 
Open Sunrise to Sunset 

8. Explore Gullah Culture at Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park

Explore the fascinating history of the Gullah-Geechee people on a free, self-guided tour of historic Mitchelville Freedom Park. Situated on the Gullah Heritage Trail, Mitchelville Freedom Park commemorates the first self-governed society of formerly enslaved people in the United States –  where freedom began! 

This peaceful 33-acre reserve is surrounded by Spanish moss, massive oaks, and towering palmettos with walking trails, a wetland observation deck overlooking Port Royal Sound, beach access, and park exhibits including replica homesteads and historical markers dedicated to the Mitchelville settlement. For history buffs, a Gullah Heritage Trail Tour will be the best add-on experience to your itinerary of free things to do on Hilton Head.

Beach City Road, Hilton Head 
Open Sunrise to Sunset 

9. Tour the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn

The Coastal Discovery Museum is consistently ranked one of the best things to do on Hilton Head Island – and it’s FREE with donations welcome! Nestled on 68 acres on the historic Honey Horn Plantation, the 2,000 sq foot museum and grounds are rich in cultural heritage and natural beauty with interpretive stroller-friendly nature trails, a beautiful butterfly enclosure, camellia gardens, Marsh Tacky horses, giant oaks (including a 500-year-old Southern Red Cedar), and historical buildings and exhibits scattered around the grounds.  

The Coastal Discovery Museum is an educational and outdoor exploration experience for all ages! In addition, visitors exploring Honey Horn can book guided tours and nature experiences to discover the history, culture, diverse ecosystems, and exceptional wildlife on Hilton Head Island.

Honey Horn Drive, Hilton Head 
Monday – Saturday 9 AM to 4:30 PM
Sunday 11 AM to 3 PM

10. Browse the Hilton Head Farmers Markets

Get outdoors and browse the classic Lowcountry farmers markets on Hilton Head, where shopping comes with a vibrant Lowcountry culture, and spending money is optional!  From farm-fresh fruits and vegetables and seafood straight from the docks to local crafts and live music, Hilton Head’s farmers’ markets are a treasure trove for those seeking a genuine connection to our island’s rich heritage.

View a Calendar of Hilton Head Farmers Markets HERE!

11. Adventure at Lowcountry Celebration Park

Situated on 10 acres near Coligny Beach and Plaza, Lowcountry Celebration Park is a dynamic destination where imagination and adventure know no bounds! The park features free WiFi, fitness stations, a shaded picnic area and pavilion, a water feature and wading pool, a delightful Discovery Trail for kids to explore, and The Adventure Playground for endless free playtime for the kids. 

Built as a replica of Captain William Hilton’s 17th-century “Adventure” ship, the multi-level interactive playground includes swing bridges, rope nets, ship’s wheels, periscopes, cannons, and giant sails to provide ample shade. Check out our guides to Hilton Head Island’s community parks and recreational parks with tennis and pickleball courts, sports fields, playgrounds, off-leash dog parks, tranquil gardens, and scenic nature trails for more free family fun on Hilton Head.

Pope Avenue, Hilton Head 
Open Sunrise to Sunset

12. Join Monday Funday at the Sandbox Children’s Museum

Get ready for an evening filled with laughter, learning, and delightful discoveries at Monday Funday at the Sandbox Children’s Museum. Throughout the summer season, kids gather on the side steps of the museum for free fun, games, bubbles, juggling acts, and a fantastic interactive music show with local entertainer Rick Hubbard – where they get to be the start of the show! The museum is also open for 3-hour general admission sessions throughout the week for kids to learn to play and play to learn!

Nassau Street, Hilton Head
Every Monday at 6:30 PM through Summer  

13. Visit The Port Royal Maritime Center

Located in a former oyster canning factory on the Chechessee River, the Port Royal Maritime Center is a hidden gem, well worth the 30-minute drive from Hilton Head Island. The Maritime Center features a 3,000-gallon aquarium filled with fish from the sound, observation tanks, touch tables, a 14-foot skiff boat, and fascinating exhibits for visitors of all ages to learn about the history and pristine ecosystems of the Port Royal Sound. 

Outside, visitors can take in the natural beauty of the Lowcountry from two docks on the river, or sign up for paid programs including guided hikes, naturalist-led kayak tours of the Chechessee River, and junior naturalist programs for the kids to discover and learn.

310 Okatie Hwy, Okatie
Open Tuesday – Saturday 

14. Experience the Thrill of Catching Blue Crabs

Catching Atlantic Blue Crabs is a treasured pastime on Hilton Head Island, and always a thrilling adventure for the kids! While most Hilton Head charter companies offer fun and affordable crabbing expeditions, you can always experience the thrill of catching blue crabs in the Lowcountry’s famous salt marshes from a dock, fishing pier, or right from your Sunset Rentals vacation home

Popular places for crabbing on Hilton Head include the fishing pier at Pinckney Island, the Old House Creek Dock on Sterling Point Drive, Marshland Road Public Boat Ramp, Burke’s Beach Inlet Bridge, and the bridge on Singleton Beach Road.

15. Kayak the Intracoastal Waterways

You don’t have to bring your own gear to kayak the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterways for free! Sunset Rentals partners with Vayk Gear to provide complimentary beach gear, kayaks, paddleboards, bikes, and more when you book a stay at a participating property. Learn to paddle in the Palmetto Dunes Lagoon channels, cruise alongside dolphins in Calibogue Sound, or kayak the serene waters of Skull Creek to Pinckney Island. 
Public boat launches are available at the Sailing and Rowing Center at Squire Community Park on Skull Creek, Cross Island Boat Landing with access to Broad Creek and Calibogue Sound, Marshland Boat Landing to access the headwaters of Broad Creek or launch directly from the private dock of your Sunset Rentals vacation home.

16. Bike the Nature TrailsView the full

Prefer to cash in your Vayk Gear credit for bike rentals to explore the Hilton Head bike trails? With 60+ miles of bike paths and nature trails and 12 miles of hard-packed beaches, Hilton Head offers an abundance of opportunities to adventure around the island by bike, explore the top attractions, reconnect with nature, or take a leisurely ride along the shoreline. Over 10,000 bike rack slots are accessible on the island to take a break, shop, or indulge in a lazy seafood lunch on the waterfront.

Hilton Head Island Pathway Map HERE!  

BONUS: FREE Transportation Around Hilton Head

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, visitors to Hilton Head can conveniently travel throughout the resort areas of Hilton Head Island for free! Whether you’re heading out for a beach day, a round of golf, a night of fine dining, or live music and fireworks on the waterfront at Shelter Cove, the variety of complimentary transportation options make it easy to get around and explore the island. 

Stay With Us!

Save money for what matters, a stunning Sunset Rentals vacation rental with all the perks of home – fully equipped kitchens for home-cooked meals, media setups for movie nights, patios, pools and spas for relaxation and the added value of bike & beach gear credit when you book a stay at a participating Sunset Rentals home. Book online or call our on-island team at (843) 785-6767 to start planning your Hilton Head vacation today!

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