BY SLOAN KELLY
Blessed with natural beauty, sandy beaches and a temperate climate, it’s no wonder that Hilton Head Island has earned a reputation as one of the most popular vacation destinations in the United States. The island and nearby Bluffton offer many opportunities for all ages to make fun vacation memories.
Here are a few of the area’s “don’t miss” activities:
- Climb to the top of the iconic lighthouse in Harbour Town for spectacular views of Harbour Town Golf Links, the Harbour Town Yacht Basin and Calibogue Sound. Need to catch your breath as you climb? Displays lining the stairs document the island’s rich natural history.
- Bike the island’s paved leisure trails. Rated as a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community by the American League of Bicyclists, Hilton Head is the ideal place to spin your wheels thanks to more than 60 miles of multi-use trails stretching from one end of the island to the other.
Enjoy myriad adventures at Adventure Hilton Head. Soar through the air with seven zip lines on the course that offer a beautiful view of Hilton Head. Climb trees on a highropes challenge courses or race friends on the GoKart track.
- Get to know the local scene by enjoying our many festivals, which take place almost every weekend and feature live entertainment, bounce houses arts and crafts and, of course, food and drink.
See a movie. The two largest movie theaters are Northridge Cinema 10 on Hilton Head and Cinemark Bluffton. Northridge offers 10 screens, all with reclining seats. Hilton Head also is home to Park Plaza Cinema and Coligny Theatre. Park Plaza is an independent theater with a bar and the owners bring their dogs to work. Coligny is a single-screen theater that shows mostly art house movies. With 12 screens, Cinemark Bluffton is the largest theater in the area.
Lace up your bowling shoes for a day at Station 300 in Bluffton, which offers 33,000 square feet of bowling, arcade games and food. The bumpers can pop up to protect less experienced players from gutter balls, and then go back down when the family champion is up. If you work up an appetite, enjoy a menu of sandwiches, burgers and pizza.
- Play some arcade games. Adventure Cove Mini Golf & Arcade on Hilton Head features air hockey, video games and a creative and well-maintained mini golf course. Before you leave, be sure to trade your tickets in for some fun swag.
FOR YOUNGER KIDS
Play at The Sandbox: An Interactive Children’s Museum. Kids can sit in a real airplane cockpit, climb on a ship, explore the builder’s section, or create a masterpiece in the art room. Located on the island at Lowcountry Celebration Park (Pope Ave.) and Bluffton (Tanger 2 Outlets) The Sandbox is the perfect stop for toddlers and preschoolers.
- Adventure Playground at Celebration Park. Lowcountry Celebration Park features a large reimagined Adventure Playground Ship, complete with climbing nets and mist cannons. The playground includes a wading pool.
Engaging adventures at the library. The library system offers activities, from (interactive) Story Time to short movies.
ON THE WATER
- Take a guided kayak or stand-up paddle board tour through salt marsh estuaries, where if you’re lucky you’ll spot bald eagles, hawks and osprey.
- Watch bottlenose dolphins play in the Atlantic Ocean or in the Intracoastal Waterway during sightseeing tours on motorized boats of all sizes. Pontoon boats, catamarans, center consoles and even sailboats offer excursions, and while they don’t guarantee you’ll see dolphins, the odds are in your favor.
- Catch (and maybe release) a big one. Local charters specialize on inshore, nearshore and offshore fishing around Hilton Head Island. Anglers can catch a variety of species throughout the year, including redfish, cobia, speckled sea trout, flounder and sharks. Tarpon, a majestic trophy game fish, show up in the waters off Hilton Head in the early summer.
- At Lawton Stables, mount a well-trained horse for a ride through the scenic Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Lawton Stables also offers pony rides, a small animal farm and a horse-themed gift store.
THE NATURAL WORLD
Visit the Coastal Discovery Museum, one of the most memorable destinations on Hilton Head Island. Explore natural history and cultural heritage on the 68-acre Honey Horn property. The museum’s trails, gardens, live oaks, butterfly enclosure and horses are just a few of the fun experiences you will encounter during your visit.
- Hike and birdwatch on Pinckney Island. Located between the bridges onto Hilton Head Island, Pinckney Island is a national wildlife refuge. Travel down its wide, wellmaintained pathways to watch blue crabs skitter across coastal mud flats in between tides. Observe blue herons, snowy egrets and other birds as they soar and roost in the trees in and around a secluded pond.
HISTORY AND CULTURE
Visit the historic Mitchelville Freedom Park. Before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, a group of escaped slaves, considered “contraband of war” by the occupying Union Army, were granted a plot of land where they created their own town. The Mitchelville Preservation Project is dedicated to preserving and sharing the triumphant story of the first self-governed settlement of freedmen in the U.S. and the site is amazing lesson in our nation’s history.
- Reserve a tour at the Gullah Museum of Hilton Head. Since 2003, the nonprofit museum has been committed to maintaining Gullah customs, traditions, language, stories, songs and structures in the Lowcountry. The preserved Little House is a quiet, haint-blue cottage just off Gumtree Road, built in the early 1950s before a bridge connected the island to the mainland. The museum also hosts oyster roasts and educational seminars throughout the year.
- Hilton Head Island is renowned for its arts scene. See a professional performance at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, where musicals, plays, dances and national comedy acts take the stage regularly. Or channel your inner artist with a few classes at the Art League of Hilton Head Academy, working with talented local artists in all media and all skill levels. There are also day-long and multi-day courses at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina that run the gamut from visual arts to performing and dance. For a fun souvenir, head over to the Art Cafe, located across the street from Coligny Plaza and paint your own pottery.
FOR OLDER KIDS
- Solve mysteries at an escape room. Are you a secret sleuth? Do you love solving puzzles? If so, try out one of the three escape rooms in the area. Work to solve the puzzles before time runs out. The puzzles may prove to be difficult for the little ones, so this activity is suggested for ages 12 and older.
FOR THE ADULTS
Try local spirits. Head over to Hilton Head Distillery for some adult fun. Take a tour and taste the locally distilled white, dark and spiced rum. If rum isn’t your drink of choice, try the smooth vodka. house movies. With 12 screens, Cinemark Bluffton is the largest theater in the area.
Create your own brewery tour — but be sure to designate a driver or plan on calling an Uber or taxi.
Sip and savor. If wine is more your speed, stop by Island Winery and try out some local wines. The tasting rooms offers wine and cheese pairings.
- Relax at a spa. Don’t miss this opportunity for a pampering session. There are many spas on the island offering everything
BLUFFTON AND BEYOND
Explore Old Town Bluffton — The Farmers Market of Bluffton on Boundary Street is the spot to be on Thursday afternoon; take a stroll down Calhoun Street and check out the variety of vendors selling everything from art to produce, artisanal breads and grass-fed meats. Since opening in March 2021, Burnt Church Distillery on Bluffton Road has welcomed 80,000 customers. Enjoy one of its 22 original cocktails.
Visit the Art Scene. Bluffton is home to great artists. Stop by Red Piano Gallery, or the Society of Bluffton Artists, which features works from more than 100 artists.
Learn about local sea life. Port Royal Sound Foundation Maritime Center has more than 20 exhibits that highlight the ecological, historical, cultural, artistic and recreational aspects of Port Royal Sound. The main exhibit hall showcases animals that call the sound home: sharks, dolphins, marine turtles and countless types of fish. A 3,000-gallon touch tank displays some of the creatures found in the waters just outside the center.
Go kazoo crazy. If you’re up for a drive, grab the kids for a trip to Beaufort’s Kazoo Museum & Factory. You’ll enjoy interactive exhibits, learn about the history of the kazoo, see how they’re made and have the chance to make your own to take home with you. Choose among 14 colors of bodies and caps.