Just as fall temperatures are turning downright chilly north of the Mason-Dixon line, it's still balmy and summer-like in South Carolina. There's no better season to visit Hilton Head Island, play on the beach and hold onto summer for just a bit longer. The golf courses are lush and green, soft sand beaches are almost deserted, and it will soon be oyster season! Whether you can escape for a weekend of fun or are lucky enough to visit for an entire week, you'll find lots of activities to entertain you and your whole family. In fact, Parents Magazine recently named Hilton Head Island as the number one family vacation destination in the United States for 2013. Here are some of our most favorites activities:
1. Hilton Head Island is perhaps best-known as a premier golfing destination. With over 25 courses on this compact island, there is no shortage of layouts to fit every golfer's level of play from famed Harbour Town at Sea Pines and the Robert Trent Jones Ocean course at Palmetto Dunes. We recently stayed at the newly renovated Omni Oceanfront Resort in Palmetto Dunes where we had access to three Championship courses - Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course, George Fazio Course, and Arthur Hills (where Tiger and Phil sharpened their games as amateurs) and the Shipyard Course is nearby as well. The resort had very large hotel rooms, a fresh casual decor, and very friendly staff, and they offer great golf packages.
#2 Tennis is nearly as heralded as the golf with several famed tennis resorts offering 350 courts with all three types of Grand Slam surfaces. Many courts are lit for night play and some covered in case of rain. Hilton Head is also the home of the prestigious Van der Meer Tennis Center with facilities and trainers to improve anyone's game from beginners to professional players. With numerous racket clubs on the island, vacations can easily reserve court time and participate in group or private lessons.
#3 With 53 miles of paved bike paths leading to the island's most scenic and interesting sites, you'll see lots of fellow cyclists enjoying a ride. Public paths are linked to give you a wide range of options, and there are nature and bike trails as well in private plantation areas for residents and guests. Bikers will find kiosks along the trails with tourist information. Or get off the paved pathways and ride to your heart's content along the 12 miles of hard-packed sandy beaches! You'll find bikes and helmets available at resort properties and through bike rental agencies throughout the island. Many drop off and pick up for your convenience.
#4 Relax At The Beach. Over twelve miles of pristine beaches encircle the island giving lots of opportunities for sun bathing and hunting for seashells and treasurers. Beaches have concessions stands licensed by the local authorities where you can reserve lounge chairs and umbrellas, etc. If you're looking for treasured seashells, consider an excursion to Daufuskie Island or other nearby remote islands and sandbars.
#5 Go Exploring by Kayak or Canoe. Opportunities to silently glide through this pristine marine environment are almost endless. Whether you choose to paddle by kayak, canoe or long board, or perhaps glide by electric boat, you'll find the waterways of Hilton Head are teaming with dolphin, turtles, fish and shore birds of every description. Visitors can explore marshes, creeks, inlets, rivers, lagoons and wildlife sanctuaries. Go it alone with a picnic or sign up for a guided tour with a naturalist leading the way.
#6 Do A Dolphin Watch. The warm waters and calm bays surrounding Hilton Head Island make an ideal habitat for Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin. The dolphin remain in these waters year round with their population swelling during summer months and especially during shrimping season. You are likely to spot dolphin in most any waterway, but to be guaranteed an up close and personal viewing, book one of the many Dolphin Encounters. Boating tours are offered from large excursion boats to small recreational boats, so you can easily choose the style that suits you best. Be aware that feeding or touching wild dolphin is prohibited by law.
#7 Go Fishing, Shrimping or Crabbing The protected marshes surrounding Hilton Head Island are one of our country's most valuable fish and shellfish nurseries. Vacationers will find ample opportunities for fishing in both fresh and salt waters. Charter your own fishing boat and captain, go on a group boat, or toss a line off a local dock. Check in at one of the many charter fishing operators to secure equipment and licenses. If shellfish is more to your liking, take the opportunity to go out on a Shrimping Boat or haul some crab traps - pretty exciting stuff!
#8 Climb The Iconic Lighthouse You can hardly see an article about Hilton Head Island without it containing an image of the red and white candy-striped lighthouse at Harbour Town in the Sea Pines Resort area. When first built by the developer of Sea Pines Resort in 1970, the lighthouse was nicknamed Fraser's Folly, because it really didn't provide any needed navigational purpose. Locals and visitors loved it however and it has become the most popular image of Hilton Head Island. Climbing to the top for spectacular views and to visit the museum is a must. The most popular time to visit is at sunset - bring your camera! The lighthouse is open 7 days a week from 10:00 am until sundown.
#9 By Now You Must Be Hungry! Well you've definitely come to the right place - the caliber of restaurant selections on Hilton Head Island is truly spectacular and the number of talented chefs making the most of fresh local ingredients is exceptional. Whether you're looking for a down-home fish fry shack, a traditional southern boil, or a Food Network celebrity chef experience, it's all here on Hilton Head. One of my favorite spots is Alexanders on Queens Folly Rd Road in Palmetto Dunes. We had a sensational meal there recently. Their custom chef-smoked salmon was the best I've ever tasted - light, silky smooth, rich in flavor, simply delicious. I also enjoyed their sea bass served with a beurre blanc sauce on top of a savory potato gratin - memorable! The restaurant has a nice relaxed elegance with vintage Harley's punctuating the decor, and views out to the lagoon.
#10 Take A Boating Excursion to Nearby Savannah. There's still lots to do on Hilton Head Island, but with Savannah so close by, why not add in a little Georgia charm as well. Take a boating excursion (large tour boat or skippered luxury yacht) for a 2 hours ride along the Savannah River right into the heart of historic Savannah, Georgia. You'll pass historic sites, out islands and enjoy tales of legendary characters and nautical events. Your boat will dock right on bustling River Street where you can shop 'til you drop, connect with a Savannah Trolly Tour or even dine at Paula Dean's Restaurant. Why fight traffic and city parking? - Sit back and enjoy a full day boating adventure to Savannah.
No matter what season you choose to visit Hilton Head Island you'll find lots of activities to entertain you and some of the friendliest folks around. It's time to start planning a visit to this laid-back island where everyone is living the good life! Visit the Hilton Head Island Tourism Site for all the info you'll need to plan a great vacation.