Last week, we started talking about winter beach trips to destinations close to Atlanta. This week, we’ll talk about Hilton Head Island, just about an hour north of Tybee Island. If you’re driving from Atlanta, the easiest route is I-75 south to I-16 east, then north on I-95 to Exit 8 (US 278) which takes you directly into Hilton Head. Depending on traffic and speed, it’s usually a 5 or 6 hour drive for us. Obviously, some drivers will make it in less time!
Like Tybee Island, Hilton Head was originally inhabited by Native Americans, then home to various European explorers and settlers. Also a military outpost through the War of 1812 and the Civil War, and the site of industries from shipbuilding, to cotton, to timber, to seafood, access was limited until the first bridge was built in 1956.
Around that time, developers began purchasing property and selling it for vacation homes. And in 1961, the first golf course was built. Through the years, it has grown to include a multitude of resorts
– everything from Disney (but no theme park) to Hilton to Marriott, to almost every chain you can think of, as well as numerous privately owned motels, rental homes, and a few B&Bs. Even though most are not directly on the beach, virtually everywhere is just a short stroll or bike ride away, and bike rental stands are plentiful.
Golf is still king on Hilton Head. Over twenty world-class courses, both public and private, offer plenty of options to tee up. Many resorts offer golf packages including carts and even clubs, if you forgot to bring yours. Breathtaking views, peaceful surroundings, and challenging courses provide a unique experience for amateurs and pros alike.
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And if you don’t golf, don’t worry. There’s plenty to do – everything from fishing charters to miniature golf, along with 12 miles of gorgeous white sand beaches. Both free and metered parking are available at the various beach access locations. Be sure to read and obey all posted signs to avoid unfortunate surprises. Pets are allowed on most beaches during the off-season – after Labor Day to before Memorial Day. During the busy season, they are restricted between the hours of 10am and 5pm.
Hilton Head Island is divided into communities called “plantations,” each with its own flavor or personality. Sea Pines was the first, developed in 1956.
Here you’ll find Harbor Town with its famous Salty Dog Café and the distinctive lighthouse as well as numerous other restaurants and shops. It’s well worth the $6 per car admission price.
Eating establishments throughout the island include everything from fast food and the usual chains, to local bars and seafood joints, to high-end luxury restaurants.
One of our local favorites is Hudson’s on the Docks, just a short drive off of US 278. Originally a seafood processing plant opened in the 1920s, Hudson’s has operated as an authentic seafood restaurant and market for more than 40 years, offering fresh caught seafood and down-home sides. You can watch the fishing fleet pull up and unload their catch while you eat.
If true beach-type seafood restaurants are something you seek out, be sure to try the Sea Shack, tucked into an office park off the main drag. Plan to wait in line for a while, but order your fresh seafood cooked any way you like it – it’s all cooked to order.
Another favorite, especially for the breakfast buffet, is Kenny B’s French Quarter, also locally owned and family operated. It’s in a strip mall close to the beach. And although New Orleans is the main theme, somehow the UGA and other sports memorabilia don’t detract from the atmosphere or the food. You’ll see photos of several generations of the famous mascot Uga! Fresh yummy beignets are available at every meal!
Hilton Head is a planned community – no flashing signs or garish designs – which makes for a lovely overall impression. However, if you’re arriving at night, be sure to use your GPS, because it’s sometimes difficult to find the low-key signs!