South Carolina Trips October 10, 2022
by Cristy We Spent An Affordable Long Weekend In Hilton Head, South Carolina The Entire Family Loved
If you’re looking for a unique, one-of-a-kind adventure the entire family will enjoy, look no further than Hilton Head Island, a coastal oasis tucked between Savannah, Georgia, to the south and Charleston, South Carolina, to the north.
Hello! I’m Cristy, the expert on all things West Virginia here at Only In Your State. But recently, my family and I ventured down from our Appalachian perch into the Lowcountry for a budget-friendly long weekend at “America’s Favorite Island” — beautiful Hilton Head, South Carolina. This wasn’t our first trip to Hilton Head Island, so we already knew exactly how to pack our short visit full of all the best Hilton Head has to offer. Here’s a three-day itinerary of my family’s absolute favorite things to do on HHI, all of which are surprisingly affordable for this elite vacation destination.
Day 1: Beach
It is technically possible to visit Hilton Head Island without visiting the beach, but why would you want to? There are seven public access beaches on the island: Alder Lane Beach, Coligny Beach Park, Fish Haul Park, Driessen Beach Park, Burkes Beach, Folly Field Beach Park, and Islanders Beach Park. On our most recent trip, we visited three of them.
Day 1, Stop 1: Coligny Beach
Coligny Beach is probably the island's most popular beach, with beautiful white sand, free parking, a pirate ship-themed playground, and plenty of nearby restaurants (don't miss the chance to order some of the best and cheapest seafood on the island from
The Sea Shack
). The downside to all these amenities is that Coligny Beach is always busy...
Day 1, Stop 2: Burkes Beach
...which is why my family actually prefers to venture into the Atlantic Ocean from the much quieter Burkes Beach instead. Park for free at Chaplin Community Park and take a short paved path to the beach mat boardwalk for easy beach access. Spend the day riding the gentle waves that lap against the shores of this barrier island (we had a blast with both boogie boards and inner tubes), or relax in the sun with your toes in the sand. Build an epic sand castle or two, but make sure to fill any holes you dig before you leave for the sake of the sea turtles that call the Hilton Head beaches home.
Day 1, Stop 3: Fish Haul Beach
Finish off this beach day with an evening stroll along Fish Haul Beach on Port Royal Sound. Parking is also free here at this hidden gem on the northern shore of the island. This beach fronts the sound rather than the ocean, and it's our favorite beach for spotting sea creatures and shells. If you can time your walk for low tide, you can access acres of tide pools. Every time we visit, we see snails, hermit crabs, sand crabs, horseshoe crabs, oyster beds, and more. What a full day of free fun in the sand and sun!
Day 2: Sea Pines
Another day of adventuring found us in Sea Pines, a gated access community on the far end of Hilton Head Island. It's home to Hilton Head's world-famous PGA Tour golf course and the iconic red-striped Harbour Town Lighthouse. Vehicle passes to get through the gate for a day are $9 in cash (as of September 2022), but that $9 bought our family a full morning of fun.
Day 2, Stop 1: Lawton Stables
Our first stop through the gate was
. This free-admission and family-friendly animal farm has delighted my kids since they were barely old enough to walk.
Horses, ponies, donkeys, alpacas, goats, chickens, pigs, goldfish... you'll get a chance to see, pet, and/or feed all these beautiful animals and more as you wander through this well-kept farm! (Note that animal feed, pony rides, and trail rides are available at Lawton Stables for an additional cost.)
Day 2, Stop 2: Harbour Town
Next, we headed to Harbour Town. We strolled along the docks and out to the pier, admiring all the boats and watching for dolphins as we went. We did not climb the lighthouse to enjoy the expansive view of the island this time, although we have on other visits.
Day 2, Stop 3: Sea Pines Forest Preserve
Finally, we ended our time in Sea Pines at
Sea Pines Forest Preserve
, where we strolled along the Rice Field Boardwalk and then the Rice Dike Trail. I am fascinated by the history of this little island (more on that in Day 3); who would have guessed that rice was a chief Hilton Head crop in the 1840s? My creature-loving eight-year-old would also want you to know about all the interesting animals we encountered at the preserve, including a harmless snake, multiple turtles, and dozens of blue-tailed skinks.
Day 3: History
As I've already alluded to, Hilton Head Island is brimming with some unique and fascinating history. Historic roadside markers throughout the island detail some of the stories that have arisen from this area over the years and provide a good starting point for the history lover. But there are other ways to get some hands-on experience with the past here as well.
Day 3, Stop 1: Green Shell Park
Greens Shell Park is more than just your typical community park with a playground, although it is that. It also sits adjacent to both a notable ancient Native American mound and a more recent Gullah cemetery. The shell mound is one of the few undisturbed mounds on the Carolina coast, built during the Mississippian Period in 1000 to 1500 A.D. And Gullah culture is limited to just a handful of places in the world, one of which is Hilton Head Island.
Day 3, Stop 2: Coastal Discovery Museum
Even more engaging than Greens Shell Park, the free-admission
Coastal Discovery Museum
on the same end of the island features a historic house museum, multiple gardens (my family's favorite is definitely the carnivorous plants), a butterfly house, another shell ring, a salt marsh, the cowling from the Atlas V rocket, and much, much more. We've learned an impressive amount about the island's history and ecology just from our handful of visits here.
Day 3, Stop 3: Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
One final stop, on your way off the island, mixes both history and nature. Pinckney Island, a primitive wildlife refuge, is crisscrossed with trails featuring historic ruins, a hidden beach, and a plethora of plants, birds, butterflies, amphibians, and water views. Learn about the Pinckney family, key figures during the American Revolution. If you have the time and energy, take the four-mile gravel road hike or bike to the far end of the island, where you'll find a
Nights 1 and 2: Hilton Head Resort
One of the least affordable parts of any vacation to America's Favorite Island is the overnight stay, with many resorts charging several thousands of dollars per week for family accommodations. We avoided this by planning our trip at the last minute and booking a villa at
Hilton Head Resort
This two-bedroom condo stay was the most expensive part of our trip, yet still surprisingly affordable (the last-minute rate for
the condo we chose
was under $375 total, including fees, for two nights near the end of August) compared to other island resort options, especially when you consider the added benefit of all the amenities included with any stay here: an indoor lap pool, wading pool, and hot tub, two outdoor pools, an indoor track, tennis courts, a badminton court, two on-site restaurants, a gift shop, a bike rental agency, and private beach access via a boardwalk across a beautiful, wildlife-rich marsh.
The villa we stayed in was small but comfortable. The resort itself isn't Hilton Head Island's newest complex, but it was absolutely perfect for our adventurous young family. It rained during parts of our visit, so it was a life-saver to have some indoor activity options when we couldn't be out hiking or riding the waves.
And that’s how my family of four took an affordable, kid-friendly vacation to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. It wasn’t our first trip to this island, and it won’t be our last. What other budget-friendly attractions did we miss? I’ll add them to my bucket list for the next time we’re in the area!
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Address: Hilton Head Island, SC, USA