13 Best Things to Do on Hilton Head Island — From Golfing to History Tours

·7 min read
Beach Scene at Sunset-Hilton Head, South Carolina
Beach Scene at Sunset-Hilton Head, South Carolina

William Reagan/Getty Images

Ever a contender among the best islands in the United States as ranked by Travel + Leisure readers, Hilton Head beckons with historical and cultural learnings dished up alongside culinary and beach delights. Venture to these shores to be surrounded by water and waves, miles of biking trails, great golf courses, Gullah/Geechee culture, and much more. With something for every type of traveler, here are 13 of the best things to do in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Say bonjour (with a southern twang) at this cute breakfast spot.

Welcome a beautiful Lowcountry day with sparkling marina views on Shelter Cove while enjoying a breakfast of sweet and savory pastries with authentic French flair (plus American flavors) at Hilton Head Social Bakery. Fair trade organic coffees and teas are the perfect complements to a flaky croissant, mango tart, or croque monsieur. There are even French hot dogs on the menu, cradled in baguettes and topped with a dollop of Dijon mustard, bien sûr.

Dive into Gullah history on a heritage tour.

Traditions, customs, and art from West Africa make up an important part of Hilton Head's cultural fabric, which you can discover through tours with Gullah people who are the descendants of enslaved people and comprise one of the island's oldest communities. All of the guides with Gullah Heritage Trail Tours were born and raised on Hilton Head, before the island was connected by bridge to the mainland. Seeing the island through their eyes offers a singular view into the creole Gullah language, traditional foods, music, and more.

A detail of Si Woo Kim of South Korea Callaway ball on the 15th tee during the first round of the RBC Heritage on April 15, 2021 at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
A detail of Si Woo Kim of South Korea Callaway ball on the 15th tee during the first round of the RBC Heritage on April 15, 2021 at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Get your golf on.

Golfers know Hilton Head as one of the best spots in the southeast for a year-round game, even if springtime and autumn tend to usher in the most appealing temperatures for teeing off. Whether you're in it for putting lessons, some driving range action, or to win against friends, your options include championship courses like the oceanfront Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort, Pete Dye's legendary Heron Point at Sea Pines Resort, and Sea Pines' epic PGA Tour course, Harbour Town Golf Links, to name just a few.

Pedal a bike along a scenic trail.

More than 60 miles of public trails crisscross Hilton Head, which is only 12 miles long. You can cover a lot of ground here — and get some exercise with ocean breezes while you're at it — by renting a bike. The trails running through Sea Pines Forest Preserve are particularly pretty and include wetland boardwalks over marshes full of wading birds, scenic bridges, and places you can stop off for a picnic or toss out a fishing line from a dock.

Lounge on the beach.

With roughly 12 miles of uninterrupted beachfront to explore, Hilton Head doesn't want for sandy spaces to roll out your beach towel or go for a stroll. Families flock to Coligny Beach Park, a short stroll from a playground and the Hilton Head Island Children's Museum. And Islanders Beach is a favorite among locals, who roll up with coolers in tow to make use of the grills and picnic pavilions (between dips in the Atlantic Ocean, of course). Driessen Beach Park, on the island's southern end, is a good bet for filling your shell bucket and is reached via a long boardwalk over a salt marsh. And if you have a dog in tow, you'll enjoy the Fido-friendly beaches at Burkes Beach Access and Fish Haul Creek Park.

Board a boat in search of dolphins.

Nothing brings on the warm and fuzzy ocean vibes like seeing dolphins in the wild. And with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins making the waters around Hilton Head home, you've got a great chance of seeing them any time you're out on the water (and oftentimes right from the beach, too). Dolphin Discoveries Nature Tours runs daily trips with a maximum of six guests onboard to spot resident dolphins with names like Blackbird, Gary, and Little Baby Stripes that dwell in the local waters.

Atlantic bottlenose dolphin swimming in the waters around Hilton Head Island swims up and poses for a portrait alongside a boat.
Atlantic bottlenose dolphin swimming in the waters around Hilton Head Island swims up and poses for a portrait alongside a boat.

John Dreyer/Getty Images

Sink your teeth into some South Carolina 'cue.

You haven't been to the Carolinas until you've sampled some of the best barbecue in the land. The island favorite, Bullies BBQ slow smokes its briskets, pork butt, and ribs over hickory and mesquite chips for hours to render a flavor you'll want to bottle up and bring home. If you order just one thing off the menu, make it the South Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich (with a side of savory collard greens). Pick up your favorite barbecue sauce or rub here, too, for a souvenir anyone would be stoked to receive.

Shop like a Lowcountry local at the farmers market.

Head to the Coastal Discovery Museum on Tuesday mornings to browse the delicious local pickings at the Hilton Head Farmers Market, where you can shop alfresco for local seafood to grill on the beach, sip a cup of She Crab soup, or perhaps sample a Lowcountry rice dish from food trucks. This is a great place to pick up the freshest seasonal Carolina produce, too.

Go paddling through a salt marsh.

It's a balancing act paddling a SUP through Hilton Head's languorous tidal salt marshes. But the experience gives new meaning to the word Lowcountry while allowing you a unique vantage point on the saltwater marshes and endemic wildlife. Saltmarsh Paddle Tours offers SUP tours at high or low tide and kayak tours throughout the day. A naturalist guide shows you the way through spectacular estuaries where you might encounter dolphins, blue crabs, all manner of wading birds, and sometimes even sea turtles, too.

Charter a yacht for a Calibogue sunset cruise.

Charter a yacht with Hilton Head Yacht Charter and sail into the sunset. Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres get served up onboard as you cruise a mellow route around Calibogue Sound aboard the Top Shelf luxury yacht, where the joy is most definitely in the journey.

Gorgeous Hilton Head Island sunset silhouettes docks on Broad Creek which is on the west side of the island
Gorgeous Hilton Head Island sunset silhouettes docks on Broad Creek which is on the west side of the island

John Dreyer/Getty Images

Slurp oysters with scenic views.

Right on the site of a historic oyster cannery that dates to 1925, the Old Oyster Factory is the spot to settle in for a long, delicious meal of locally harvested South Carolina oysters from Bluffton and Beaufort and other flopping-fresh fish sourced just offshore. When it's not too hot for dining alfresco, the most coveted tables are out on the sprawling deck overlooking the salt marshes, where breezes bend the tall grasses and the water laps gently under your feet.

Take a day trip to Daufuskie Island.

Accessible by passenger ferry from Hilton Head (45 minutes one way), Daufuskie Island is a beautiful barrier island just to the south that can only be reached by boat. Once on the island, rent a golf cart to explore on your own or, better yet, book a guided tour to see fascinating historical sites hidden among the live oak trees with sixth generation Gullah native, Sallie Ann Robinson. You can try horseback riding, rent a bike to pedal the beach, or make a stop for coastal-inspired art at The Iron Fish gallery. Daufuskie is full of surprises down every winding lane.

Go birding along the Atlantic Flyway.

If it's a winged thing, you just might spot it at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, a spectacular protected area that lures in thousands of migratory birds each year as they make their way north and south along the Atlantic Flyway. During the late spring and early summer, Ibis Pond here is a hotspot to see species of breeding heron and egrets. Wood storks and painted buntings also arrive in the summer months, and large alligators can be seen at the refuge year round.