Many destinations around the U.S. can lay claim to beautiful beaches and fresh cuisine, but it is rare to find a place that has it all: the scenery and the soul, the culture and the sense of community, the flavor and the personality. When U.S. Editor Jesse Ashlock learned Hilton Head Island was voted America’s Favorite Island® in the 2022 Readers’ Choice Awards for the sixth year in a row, he knew he had to discover the beloved destination for himself. What he found was beyond what he expected—not just another classic American resort destination, but a place with deep roots, a friendly spirit, and a well-rounded docket of things to do. As it turns out, Hilton Head Island really does have it all.
With just a few days to explore, Jesse was able to experience a robust sampling of some of Hilton Head Island’s best activities—and there’s plenty to do. Returning visitors can attest to this fact: If you enjoy nature walks, sandy shores, local arts and culture, fresh seafood, and world-class golf, you’ll never have a dull moment when visiting. Hilton Head Island is a prime place to unwind and decompress, too.
The best way to explore America’s Favorite Island® is like an editor. Whether you’re visiting with family or on a romantic getaway, here are a handful of amazing spots you won’t want to miss.
For those travelers who can’t get enough of the warm sand and sunshine, be prepared to be blown away by Hilton Head Island’s 12 miles of glorious beaches. The appeal of the beaches extends beyond the obvious—sure, they are beautiful and relaxing, but what really sets Hilton Head Island apart is the variety of its beaches. From low-key, nature-filled shores to classic, laid back options, there’s a beach to suit any mood.
For those days when you’re looking for a bit of quiet, Burkes Beach is the place to go. A wonderful place to relax without the crowds, Burkes Beach is also a fantastic surfing spot on the island, especially during the incoming tide or just before high tide. When the mood calls for a family beach day, Driessen Beach Park is where you’ll want to be. A winding boardwalk opens to a wide-shoreline beach with plenty of space for the whole family to set up. The beach is outfitted with a playground, picnic pavilion, and outdoor showers for maximum comfort.
Often referred to as “The Golf Island,” there’s a good reason Hilton Head Island has been drawing golfers from around the country for decades. With 23 world-class golf courses designed by the likes of Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus—one of which being home to the elevated RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing PGA TOUR event—there’s a place for both players and spectators on Hilton Head Island.
It wouldn’t be a proper Hilton Head Island golf vacation without a visit to the course that put the island on the map: Harbour Town Golf Links at The Sea Pines Resort. Home to South Carolina’s only annual PGA TOUR event, the revered course was designed to test players’ imagination and shot-making rather than strength. Plus, the par four 18th hole is one of the most recognizable holes in the golf world. After teeing up, stop by the Pete Dye Museum in the Harbour Town Clubhouse to learn more about the rich history of the course and why it is considered a modern masterpiece of design.
The Great Outdoors
Hilton Head Island’s nature doesn’t start and end at the beach—there is so much more to explore beyond the water. Birdwatching, ziplining, and biking around the 60-plus miles of leisure pathways are among visitors’ favorite activities. Then there are the abundant nature preserves, where Lowcountry wildlife conservation thrives.
Of course, there are a great number of incredible water-based adventures to be had, too. A naturalist-led kayaking tour with Outside Hilton Head is the perfect way to explore the tidal creeks and salt marshes of the island up close. To get an even closer look at the ocean’s wildlife without too much exertion, hop on the Island Explorer Dolphin Nature Tour. Aside from spotting adorable bottlenose dolphins, you might also catch a glimpse of other creatures like manatees and even bald eagles.
The culinary scene on Hilton Head Island is twofold. First, there is the classic Lowcountry cuisine—delicious oysters, rich gumbo, and warm peach cobbler are some favorites. Freshly caught local seafood and maximum flavor are key components of the Lowcountry culinary style, both of which make for irresistible dishes. Then there is the sheer number of restaurants—over 250—plus bakeries, farmers’ markets, and various foodie-focused events. All this amounts to a dining scene that thrives on quality and variety and, most importantly, puts sustainability at the forefront of all foodie operations. Small business owners, fishmongers, and farmers all work together to create a culinary scene that is both delicious and dynamic.
For a quintessential Hilton Head Island dinner, Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks is a must-visit. The family-owned dockside restaurant serves the freshest possible seafood, often caught earlier that day, alongside their famous hush puppies in an environment that will make you feel like a local.
Another must-visit is Nunzio Restaurant + Bar, run by a family of chefs and cooks from the Puglia region of Italy. As soon as you walk into the warm, inviting space, you feel at home. Chef Nunzio serves classic and contemporary dishes that harmoniously blend the simplicity of southern Italian cuisine with the heart of South Carolina fare. Locally sourced ingredients and an impressive wine list make dinner at Nunzio a standout dining experience.
Arts & Culture
Perhaps the most distinguishing facet of Hilton Head Island is the rich, fascinating history and culture that pulses through the island today, inspiring a thriving arts scene rivaling that of any major city. Numerous art galleries and museums, live theater, dance, musical performances, and myriad annual festivals make up the fabric of a bustling arts and culture scene sure to spark curiosity.
It’s impossible to understand the arts and culture scene of Hilton Head Island without acknowledging the Gullah people, descendants of formerly enslaved West Africans who were brought to colonial South Carolina. Today, the rich Gullah culture permeates Hilton Head Island with music, crafts, food, and storytelling. Gullah Sweetgrass Baskets Creations with Michael Smalls immerses guests in the rich traditions of the Gullah people through the beautiful art form of sweetgrass basket sewing. Shop, watch a demonstration, or take a basket-sewing class at the Coastal Discovery Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate indoor-outdoor museum designed to inspire visitors to care for the Lowcountry through preservation and education efforts.
With so much to do and see on Hilton Head Island, you’ll want to be sure to choose a comfortable home base. Whether you’re looking for a boutique hotel room for two or a beachfront home for the whole family, Hilton Head Island has got you covered. To find your ideal spot like an editor, use the Vacation Company, a luxury home and villa property management group that boasts a portfolio of over 400 homes on Hilton Head Island.
Courtesy Conde Nast Traveler