For those that do not know anything about Hilton Head, it is very family friendly and doesn’t have all the Spring Break shenanigans that you might expect at Myrtle Beach, SC or Panama City, FL. Single people can enjoy this island, but more so to relax than party.
Hilton Head has most major restaurants and stores “on island” and it gets packed in the summertime (as with any beach) but doesn’t have all the “tourist traps” like Ripley’s Believe It or Not, wax museums, etc. The whole island is well-kept, beautifully landscaped, and classy.
Where to Stay on Hilton Head
At Hilton Head, my wife’s family normally rents a house in the Sea Pines plantation by booking on VRBO. At Hilton Head, there are very few public beach accesses so you either stay at a resort/hotel near Coligny Plaza (we stayed for a long weekend at the Holiday Inn Express-Hilton Head Island which is a 10-minute walk to the beach, plus the property is safe, quiet, & clean) and use the public Coligny Beach Park access or stay on a plantation resort (i.e. gated community with lots of rental houses or villas, beach access, and community swimming pools).
As the plantation resorts as the most common offering, we always go through VRBO. To be honest, a lot of properties listed are by rental agencies posing as owners in recent years, so this can be a little frustrating.
There are easily a half dozen different plantations to choose from, but, our personal recommendation is Sea Pines. It’s arguably the best-rated plantation regarding amenities (plus it doubles as a quasi-retirement community) and has several other perks (to be discussed below) for why other visitors will purchase a day pass to visit Sea Pines.
I will say that we have never rented an oceanfront house. They cost several thousand dollars for the week and are very big. The only way it is cost-effective is if you can split the cost with 3 or 4 families. We normally go with the wife’s family but it’s still out of our price range so we stay about 5-10 minutes away from the beach & pools normally. If you desire oceanfront, it probably will be cheaper at a plantation other than Sea Pines, but that’s my own guess & opinion as we have never tried to look.
Visit the Beach
Of course, the main reason to go to Hilton Head is the beach. The Atlantic Ocean to be precise. If you haven’t been to a South Carolina beach, they are not for thrillseekers but are perfect for small children.
Our two small children (3 and 1 years) loved the beach this summer.
In the summertime or September, the water temp is normally in the mid-80s and very calm waves. You might think you were on one of the Great Lakes.
You might not see any surfers, but there is plenty of beach to build sand castles, etc. As the waves are gentle and an adult can walk out a good distance with only waist-deep water, this ocean might be a way to have your child enjoy the surf without having to get pummeled.
My favorite beach activity is boogie boarding and bodysurfing. Most days the waves are too small for an adult to boogie board, but are great for body surfing. Skimboarding is also a good idea.
One of our favorite activities is biking. We bring our own bikes, but you can also rent some Island Cruiser bikes for about $25 each for the week plus the cost a bike trailer or a bike-mounted baby carrier if you desire. Bike rentals are very cheap at Hilton Head.
You can bike off plantation (the gated resorts), on plantations, or on the beach during low tide (it’s rather difficult dodging people in high tide and still finding firm sand). Our personal preference is biking within Sea Pines because there’s less traffic and it’s how we get to the pool and beach.
Speaking about the Sea Pines plantation, we bike most everywhere. It’s normally a 10-minute bike ride to the beach and a couple minutes longer to the pool. Plus the paths also lead to Harbour Town & South Beach (places to shop and eat). We easily bike 20 miles in one day, but it’s real easy since the ground is flat and the trails are paved.
Visit Harbour Town
One of the reasons to visit Sea Pines is a complex called Harbour Town. There are various gift shops & fancy stores such as Tommy Bahama and a place to get ice cream (Cinnamon Bear is my favorite!).
There is also a nice playground here and in the evenings from Memorial Day to Labor Day, children of all ages can be entertained by local folk celebrity singer Gregg Russell. He’s been performing at Harbour Town for over 43 years so many parents saw him as a child and have the opportunity to bring their own children to the show now.
Another neat activity is climbing the Harbour Town lighthouse. It is only there as a tourist attraction and not an official lighthouse. It costs about $4 per person but you can get a birds-eye view of the harbor. It’s also pretty cool if you want to get a history lesson. The climb isn’t air-conditioned so it might be a little hot during the dog days of summer.
Eat At Salty Dog
Another “cult classic” of Hilton Head is the Salty Dog restaurant. Perhaps you have seen the t-shirts. The original shop is at South Beach which is in the Sea Pines plantation a couple minutes drive further down the road from Harbour Town.
I have never eaten at Salty Dog but I’m told they have good hamburgers & hot dogs.
I will verify that they have good ice cream. We’ve sampled almost every flavor and most of them are pretty good. Personally, we didn’t care for the bubble gum flavor since it reminds us of the dentist’s office.
As a heads-up, one single scoop of ice cream will be $4 almost anywhere on Hilton Head Island. We normally get ice cream once and go to the grocery store to buy some cartons for the remainder of the week to eat at the rental house.
Tip: Save money and every grocery store visit with the Ibotta app. And, get a $10 cash bonus with your first visit.
Visit A Museum
There are two museums you can also visit on Hilton Head Island for a change of scenery.
Museum #1: The Sandbox
The first option is a children’s museum called The Sandbox. At this museum, you can escape the heat (or rain) and children of all ages can have fun at hands-on exhibits. The museum is reasonably priced at $6 for adults & $5 for children. It is located in the hoppin’ part of Hilton Head, just a few blocks away from Sea Pines and the Coligny Plaza beach.
Museum #2: Coastal Discovery Museum
If you like island history and enjoying the outdoors, you will enjoy the Smithsonian affiliate Coastal Discovery Museum. This location is more enjoyable for parents and grade-school children, but, it’s easily navigable with a stroller.
The museum is mostly outdoors, although, it has some indoor exhibits regarding island history and the history of the former Honey Horn Plantation (where the museum is located) that adults will enjoy. There is also a live terrapin turtle exhibit in the main house that the kids will enjoy along with some other hands-on activities.
Outdoors, you can walk on their “Around the Horn” trail that is an educational nature trail that includes a Butterfly House and the opportunity to walk through an awesome stand of Live Oak trees with Spanish Moss growing on them.
The suggested donation is $5 per person and is located on the north side of the island. This can be a great way to fill an afternoon when you need a break from the water.
One final option is to take a daytrip to Charleston, SC (2 hours) or Savannah, GA (45 minutes). Both cities are very similar although I prefer Savannah. It is a little bit smaller & easier to navigate, plus parking is cheaper.
If you go to Charleston, my favorite location is Ft. Moultrie. It is a decommissioned military post located at the mouth of the Charleston Harbor and now belongs to the National Park Service. They have setup the fort to be an interactive time capsule beginning with the original structure from the colonial days constructed with Palmetto logs to walking through the World War II bunkers. It’s awesome & kids would enjoy it.
There is also the aquarium, Ft. Sumter (historically significant but kinda so-so to visit), and shopping at the Market.
If you just want to walk the streets, you can see lots of old, charming Southern homes and churches. Although most churches only have their graveyards open for the public to tour.
You can also shop in Savannah, and they have their own version of Ft. Moultrie (Ft. James Jackson), plus, they have a plethora of streets to walk and discover historic homes and public squares. The movie Forrest Gump was filmed in a Savannah square (when he was sitting on a bench).
You can also visit Beaufort. We’ve gone once and like the quaintness of the town. Beaufort has the historic charm of Charleston or Savannah, but it’s smaller. Instead of walking by 20 or 30 historic houses, you might pass by 10 houses instead. All the city blocks are very close together and there’s plenty of parking, so you don’t have to walk far.
Since I’m not a big shopper, I also like the fact that it doesn’t have as many shops! But, it still has it’s fair share.
Going to the beach is a great option for any family, and, there are a plethora of things to do in Hilton Head with a baby.
Our typical day consists of going to the beach in the morning (before it gets hot & crowded), return to the rental house for naptime, go to the pool for the afternoon and do something outside once it cools off. For a change of scenery, we will take a day to go to a museum, shop :-(, or go on a road trip.
Plus, it’s a relatively cheap trip!
If you have any questions about Hilton Head Island (and Sea Pines resort) my wife will be glad to answer!
Have you ever vacationed at Hilton Head before? What are your favorite beach activities?
Thanks For Reading,
BONUS: Read my articles on how we find sweet vacation deals and stick to a vacation budget!