Sands. Surfing. Swimming. Sunning. Shores. Sailing. Sanctuary. Whatever your vision of the “beach life” may entail, the sun-splashed beaches of Hilton Head Island offer as many experiences as there are shells on their sandy shores. From its heel to its toe, here’s an overview of some of the island’s popular beaches and hidden gems.
1. SOUTH BEACH
Best For: Unique water sports opportunities (kayaking, sport fishing, parasailing, etc.), sightseeing and walking. Located in Sea Pines at the “toe” of the island near the South Beach Marina. Calibogue Beach is relatively quiet, nearly secluded, and is great for just watching the dolphins or a relaxing walk. If you are not a Sea Pines resident or registered guest, you must pay $9 per vehicle to enter the resort.
Access: Near Sea Pines South Beach Marina, best accessed by bike or foot. $9 per vehicle to enter the resort.
2. SOUTH FOREST BEACH
Best For: Swimming, fishing, biking and walking. Part of Hilton Head’s “Ocean Community,” South Forest Beach is on a one-mile stretch of beachfront between the Coligny Circle and Sea Pines Plantation gate. It is the largest of the island’s public beaches, and draws more crowds than North Forest Beach. Wide, comfortable and spacious, and buffered somewhat from nearby development, it’s a great all-purpose spot. Venture a little further away from the public access point that divides the north and south beaches, and you’ll find even more room to spread out.
Access: Public access on Alder Lane and Seaside Villas, off South Forest Beach Road.
3. COLIGNY BEACH
Best For: Everybody. Perfect for sunbathing, swimming, biking, an early-morning jog or a romantic date night. At Hilton Head’s busiest beach you’ll find soft sand and wonderful clean water. Even better, it’s close to the island’s unofficial downtown area. The beach is protected by security cameras and visitors can enjoy free Wi- Fi, volleyball nets, scores of beach rentals and free parking — park at the beach parking, not Coligny Plaza. The beach and the shopping plaza do get a little crowded, but if you like an active and lively beach experience, this is your spot.
Access: At Coligny Circle, at the intersection of Pope Avenue and South Forest Beach Drive.
4. NORTH FOREST BEACH
Best For: Swimming, walking and surfing Located near over 100 dining and shopping options in one of the island’s oldest neighborhoods. For surfers, the beach area at Jacana Street is known to offer some of the best waves at high tide on the island. Locals swear by the shoreline as the best on Hilton Head, and the quaint mix of older beach cottages with modern ocean compounds makes for a compelling community feel.
Access: The one-mile stretch of beach starts at Coligny Circle and runs north to the Sonesta Resort located in Shipyard Plantation.
5. BURKES BEACH
Best For: Surfing, boarding, walking and pets. Located to the northern side of Chaplin Community Park, Burke’s Beach is adjacent to Singleton Beach, divided by the natural folly field. The beach offers seasonal lifeguards and limited parking, but boasts some of the best waves for surfing and boarding. The dog park at Chaplin Park is a nice touch and makes it a great destination for a bark-and-beach day with man’s best friend.
Access: Just south of Palmetto Dunes at the end of Burkes Beach Road.
6. DRIESSEN BEACH
Best For: Day trips, swimming, sunning, locals and in-the-know. A long boardwalk connects the maritime forest to the white-sand beach. A long, wide shoreline leaves ample room to spread out, and the flat ocean floor and small waves make it kid-friendly and great for body boarding or just wading. Tucked in a heavily shaded and wooded area, it’s a bit hard to find, but with tons of amenities like parking and restrooms.
Access: Off William Hilton Parkway, at the end of Bradley Beach Road.
7. FOLLY FIELD BEACH
Best for: Surfers, walking and biking. A bit off the beaten path from the plantations and resorts, Folly Field has more of a locals’ beach feel. With a shorter walk to the beach than nearby Driessen Beach, it is both convenient and quiet. Take a long walk and grab a pit stop and a drink at the outdoor bar at the nearby The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa.
Access: Located on Starfish Road, a right turn off Folly Field Road.
8. ISLANDER’S BEACH
Best for: Locals and swimming. A favorite of locals, Islander’s Beach recently earned a high ranking in Coastal Living magazine’s Top 21 Beaches on the East Coast. It’s less crowded than most Hilton Head spots and swimmer-friendly, thanks to its gentle underwater slope. Parking is at a premium and is mostly reserved for residents and year-round pass holders.
Access: Located at 94 Folly Field Road, at Sparkleberry Ln.
9. HISTORIC MITCHELVILLE FREEDOM PARK
Best for: Walking, birdwatching, clamming & fishing.The public beach access at this historic site is located on the “heel” of the island. It boasts 31 acres of mostly untouched nature, feels like your own private beach and is arguably the scene for the best bird watching in all of Hilton Head. The beach itself is a generous walk from the park.
Access: Near the end of Beach City Road.
10. FISH HAUL CREEK BEACH PARK
Best For: Privacy, fishing, walking. Many locals consider this beach Hilton Head’s best-kept secret. Adjacent to Barker’s Field, this beach park (formerly Mitchelville Beach Park) was recently renamed. It’s not for swimming, but is great for beach-combing, hunting for sharks’ teeth and digging for clams.
Access: Near the end of Beach City Road, on Mitchelville Road.