Hilton Head Travel Guide with Family
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Effortless Guide: Hilton Head Island with Family

Hilton Head Island is a charmingly low-key destination and escape with pristine beaches, world-class golf courses, and lush nature reserves. You’ll find and endless amount of family-friendly things to do on Hilton Head, from biking on scenic trails to dolphin-watching tours. We have wonderful memories of spotting alligators (safely) while biking the kids to the beach, and then sitting on the beach watching a pod of dolphins pass by. The island’s unique blend of relaxation and adventure, coupled with its rich cultural heritage and delicious Lowcountry cuisine, makes it an unforgettable vacation spot. It’s a destination you’ll go to once and then be hooked. 

Pier on family trip to Hilton Head Island

The nearest airport to fly into is Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV), and the drive from there is about an hour without traffic. Depending on flight options where you live, you could fly into Charleston International Airport and then make the approximately 2-hour drive. Our guide on which airport to fly into when visiting Hilton Head Island will help you plan this step. We recommend renting a car if you’re flying to Hilton Head Island. If you live close enough to drive, that is of course perfection.  Let’s dig in.  

Planning your Stay

Where to stay on Hilton Head Island – Vacation Rental vs Beachfront Hotel 

There are many areas within Hilton Head Island itself and properties to stay at in each geography. Of course, we want to make things easy – simply make a choice between a vacation rental or a beachfront hotel.  Once you decide this, the rest of the planning will fall into place.  

  • Vacation Rental: If you are with family, a large group, or staying for a week, book a vacation property within the Sea Pines Resort. The homes have a lot of character and most have been well updated. You will want to be within biking or walking distance to the beach to fully utilize being within Sea Pines, which has a network of walking paths. Yes, there is a beach shuttle, but we’ve avoided it thus far as we enjoy biking or walking to the beach.
  • Beachfront Hotel or Resort: If you are staying just a few nights or prefer the ease of a resort, book a room at one of the gorgeous hotel properties in or near Palmetto Dunes. This will avoid cleaning/service fees and you likely won’t have as big of a need for a kitchen as the on-site dining options will take care of the food for you. You’ll find private beach access and golf and tennis facilities at many of these properties. 

Staying in Sea Pines

Admittedly, this is our favorite option. We love the look, feel, comfort, hominess, vibe, etc. about being in Sea Pines. It’s an escape!

Sea Pines Resort is situated on the southern tip of Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, offering a picturesque setting along the Atlantic coast. Although officially named Sea Pines Resort, it is more commonly known and referred to by locals and visitors alike as Sea Pines.

Most vacation rental homes will offer some conveniences like beach chairs, or beach access, and provide a parking pass for entering Sea Pines (saving you a $9 fee per car for entry).  There will be many, many houses to choose from and inventory is best the farther out you book. Most people who rent in this area never look to go back to any other area on Hilton Head Island. 

Finding a property:

  • VRBO – Extensive offerings of houses for short-term rental
  • Booking.com – Select “entire home” or “houses” to filter the results

Breezy tip: Breezy tip: If you go in the off-season, look for a house with a heated pool option and then any weather dips won’t ruin your fun!

Top beachfront resort options for families 

Staying at a resort in Palmetto Dunes is ideal for families because of its prime location on Hilton Head Island, offering easy access to beautiful beaches, world-class golf courses, and a variety of water sports. The area is known for its family-friendly atmosphere, with resorts that cater to all ages through kids clubs, spacious accommodations, and diverse dining options. Yes, we said kids club!

Almost any search for the best family resorts on Hilton Head Island will turn up these favorites. They are stunning, postcard-perfect properties. Most, if not all, have on-site dining, bicycle rentals you can coordinate through them, fitness centers, access to golf and tennis, etc.

  • Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort: Known for its great service, elegance overall, beautiful beachfront, and spacious rooms. It offers pools, a golf course, and tennis courts as it is affiliated with Palmetto Dunes.
    • The largest floorplan has two queen beds in one room. If this is perfect for you — perfect. There is always the option to book connecting rooms, as well.
  • The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa: This resort provides a great location with beach access, refreshing pools, and farm-to-table dining. It also features a Heavenly Spa and world-famous golf courses. 
    • They just launched a new Resort Bunk Suite, with a king bed and bunk beds. Price this option out if that floorplan would work for you! Otherwise, the largest family offering has two queen beds in one room.
  • Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island: Family-friendly destination that offers a blend of comfort, luxury, and leisure. It features multiple on-site restaurants, a zero-entry lagoon swimming pool, and the full-service Arum Spa for relaxation. With its oceanfront location, the resort provides easy access to tennis, golf, beach activities, and bicycle rentals.   
    • If you are looking for a kids club and have kids 5-12 years old, this is your location. There is a fee, but it is available in full or half-day increments from 9 am-5 pm. Friday and Saturday evenings have night-out options.  
    • Room types for families of 3 include King + couch options, but families of four need to share a room with two Queen beds. 

Properties with additional space for families 

Families traveling often have kids on different sleep schedules, light sleepers, ones who snore, etc. Let’s get some doors between the beds, right?! 

  • Villamare Resort – Reviews rave about the location of this property. There are two-bedroom floorplans available. It does get sold out, so do book in advance.  
  • Marriott’s Grande Ocean – Also amazing reviews and two-bedroom villas available, with a full kitchen.  

We stayed at the following property on our first visit to Hilton Head Island. It is more budget than the other offerings, so you get more space for less money. It would be great for a first experience on Hilton Head Island.  

  • Coral Sands Resort: A fantastic choice for families, offering fully equipped villas with amenities like washers and dryers. The resort is centrally located within biking or walking distance to Coligny Beach.  

Every vacation property you book in the Sea Pines Resort area is likely to provide enough space for a small family if that is your main goal. This is where we stay on every visit now – it’s idyllic. If you have a larger group (5+) and want to be under one roof, many houses in Sea Pines can accommodate this. You’ll notice that a lot of the properties are very well cared for and updated in the interior. A nice perk we like to look for is a house that offers beach chairs, towels, and such for you to use.  

Things to do on Hilton Head Island 

Family things to do are plentiful

Families will love Hilton Head Island for its beach fun, dolphin cruises, and pirate adventures. Explore the Coastal Discovery Museum and The Sandbox Children’s Museum for educational experiences. Enjoy mini-golf, arcades, and biking trails for active entertainment. Don’t miss Coligny Plaza for shopping and dining, and Harbour Town events. With beautiful beaches, interactive attractions, and outdoor activities, Hilton Head Island promises an unforgettable family vacation filled with laughter, learning, and leisure. Whether it’s beachcombing, wildlife watching, or playful exploration, there’s something for everyone in this coastal paradise. We recommend building in some extra time into your Hilton Head itinerary to go with the flow (i.e. fit in hiking/mini golf/beach based on how you’re feeling or the weather), but booking a few activities on the water in advance. 

With so many of the activities perfect for family, we created guides of things to do in Hilton Head that include with kids, when it rains, at night, in Sea Pines, etc.

If you are in Sea Pines, you’ll enjoy walking or biking to breakfast at Low Country Produce or C’est Bon. They are both right next to each other, and you’ll enjoy delicious bread like glazed yeast doughnuts or avocado toast.

Beaches in Hilton Head Island

Overall, we recommend whichever beach is near your stay in Sea Pines or the beachfront resort area. Your favorite beach will be whatever is closest! As guests of either, you will have access to these private beaches.  

Public access beaches to consider are Coligny Beach Park (access off Coligny Circle), Driessen Beach Park (access at the end of Bradley Beach Road, has a playground, and cheap parking), and Folly Field Beach Park (access off Folly Field Road).  

Family tours on the water

Many tour options on Hilton Head Island bring you through the marshes and onto the water. These are a few of our favorites.

Pirate Adventure Ship: We did this tour and highly recommend it with kids. They get a pirate name and sword, among other pirate-y things like face paint, on this 1.5-hour adventure on the Black Dagger. It’s easy on the adults as well.

Vanishing Island Dolphin Tour: This tour is one to remember, we’ve done it twice! Walking on a sandbar surrounded by water is truly idyllic and the kids will be digging in the sand to their heart’s content. The ride there is just enough boat time and you should see some dolphins on the way. It is often noted as “likely to sell out” and has 24-hour cancellation. Book this one! 

Visit Lawton Stables

Lawton Stables are located within the convenient Sea Pines Resort and are well-rated. Even if you don’t book a tour, it’s nice to drive by and see the horses.

Directly from their site, you can book in advance a 60-minute carriage ride (age 3+) or a 60-minute trail ride (age 8+). They have pony rides for kids ($15, 18mo to 7 yrs old) or you can explore their animal farm for free or buy food to feed them from the gift shop.   

Hilton Head Island with Family at Lawton Stables

Most iconic Hilton Head restaurants

All of these are well-known, classic places to frequent. Go early enough to get a few photos at the restaurant in addition to the dining experience.

  • Skull Creek Boathouse – No reservations, so go early. They’ll take your phone number so you’ll find it relaxing to wait while either getting a drink at the bar and strolling around the piers, and/or the kids can play on the playground to pass any time away. You’re likely to find live music and the patio is quite large. This is our must-do dining every time we visit. The seafood is amazing and the kids like the kid’s menu.  
  • Black Marlin Bayside Grill – Wonderful setting and a bit more formal than other dining, so recommend it more for adults. Book a reservation in advance to limit your wait time.
  • The Salty Dog – This is within Sea Pines. So, if you’re not staying in Sea Pines, plan it the same day as any other Sea Pines activities, like visiting the Harbour Town Lighthouse. You may have a wait, but there is normally plenty to do as you wait, such as picking up a quintessential The Salty Dog t-shirt. A lot of the dining is outside, and on busy nights you will likely have live music.  

Places to eat seafood on your trip 

Seafood is a must if you’re on Hilton Head Island with your family. Here are a few top picks for getting local flavor on your trip: 

Getting to know Hilton Head Island 

Best time of year to visit Hilton Head Island 

The best time for families to visit Hilton Head Island is during the summer months when the island comes alive with activities and the warmer temperatures make for perfect beach weather. The kids would throw a fit if they saw the ocean and it was too cold to swim!

That said, Hilton Head Island is a delightful destination throughout the year, with each season offering a special allure.  

In the spring, the island has mild temperatures and vibrant blooms, perfect for enjoying outdoor sports and the start of sea turtle nesting season. It’s worth noting that the island reaches near capacity in April due to the RBC Heritage golf tournament, so if you prefer a quieter visit, plan around this event. The summer months bring warm, sunny days ideal for beach fun, water sports, and many family-oriented events. As the crowds thin out in the fall, visitors can enjoy the tranquil atmosphere, pleasant weather, and outdoor festivals. Finally, winter provides a peaceful getaway with mild temperatures, allowing for comfortable golfing and the chance to partake in the island’s festive holiday spirit. No matter the season, you’ll be happy with your choice. You will surely get an itch to move permanently to Hilton Head, whenever you visit.  

The Landmarks Are Iconic 

Hilton Head Island is steeped in history, with landmarks that capture the essence of its rich past. The Harbour Town Lighthouse, with its distinctive red-and-white stripes, is not just a beacon for ships but a symbol recognized worldwide Fort Howell, an earthworks fort from the Civil War era, tells stories of the island’s strategic importance. The Baynard Plantation Ruins offer a glimpse into antebellum life and the island’s transformation over centuries. These iconic landmarks are not just tourist attractions, they are testaments to Hilton Head’s enduring legacy and cultural heritage. 

You can bike pretty much anywhere 

On Hilton Head Island, you can enjoy an extensive network of biking trails that spans about 60 miles of bike paths, with an additional 100 miles of public pathways and connections. These trails connect residential, commercial, and recreational areas, making it easy to explore the island’s natural beauty and attractions by bike.  You will want to secure a bike rental for your visit. Popular bike rental companies we like include Hilton Head Bicycle and Peddling Pelican. Schedule these in advance and they deliver the bikes to your accommodations!

Home to 26 championship golf courses 

Golfing on Hilton Head Island is an experience unlike any other. With over 26 championship courses, the island is a golfer’s haven. These courses are designed by golf legends like Robert Trent Jones Sr., Pete Dye, and Jack Nicklaus, ensuring world-class golfing. The Harbour Town Golf Links, for example, is a PGA TOUR venue that challenges players with its narrow fairways and small greens, demanding precision and strategy. 

The beauty of golfing here is not just in the game but also in the surroundings. Many courses are set against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean or nestled within the island’s lush, natural landscapes, providing stunning vistas. The Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Golf Course is renowned for its picturesque ocean view at the 10th hole. 

The temperate climate allows year-round play, making it a perfect golf destination no matter when your trip is scheduled. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a casual player, Hilton Head Island’s golf courses offer a memorable experience that combines the love of the sport with the appreciation of nature’s beauty. 

Tennis (and pickleball) player’s paradise 

Playing tennis and pickleball on Hilton Head Island is an exceptional experience, often described as a tennis player’s paradise. The island boasts more than 300 tennis courts, ensuring ample play opportunities. With facilities like the Palmetto Dunes Tennis & Pickleball Center and the Van Der Meer Tennis Center, which offer a range of programs for all skill levels, tennis enthusiasts can enjoy top-notch courts and instruction.  

Whether you’re looking to improve your game or just have fun and get some exercise on vacation, Hilton Head Island’s tennis scene is vibrant and welcoming, making it a fantastic destination for tennis lovers. 

See our guide for extensive tennis options.

Home to many outdoor hiking areas 

Hilton Head is known for beaches and golf, but while you’re here you should plan to enjoy some of their lush and memorable hiking trails. 

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is a sprawling sanctuary where over 14 miles of trails meander through diverse habitats, inviting you to discover the island’s wildlife and breathtaking marshland vistas.  

The Sea Pines Forest Preserve enchants with its 400 acres of lush landscapes, where elevated boardwalks guide you through ancient swamps and a 3.3-mile trail promises an immersive journey into the heart of the island’s natural splendor. Parking is easy to find here.

For a more intimate encounter with nature, the Audubon Newhall Preserve offers a tranquil 0.6-mile trail that winds around a serene pond, framed by majestic oaks and educational insights into the local flora. For those seeking an easy stroll, Jarvis Creek Park provides a 0.9-mile paved path abundant with wildlife, perfect for all ages and abilities. 

Alligator spotting across the island 

Seeing alligators on Hilton Head Island is indeed special and quite common due to the island’s natural freshwater and brackish environments. Alligators are an integral part of the local ecosystem and can often be spotted sunning themselves on the banks of lagoons or golf courses. They are most active during May and June, which is their mating season. While alligators are fascinating to observe, it’s important to maintain a safe distance and never feed them, as they are wild animals and can be dangerous if provoked. 

For a safe and educational experience, there are guided alligator tours available that allow you to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. That said, we recommend a dolphin tour if you need to make a choice.

You’ll see dolphins while you’re here 

Dolphin watching on Hilton Head Island is a truly magical experience. The waters around the island are home to a large population of Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins, which you can often see frolicking close to shore. We see them every year!

FAQ about traveling to Hilton Head Island 

  • How long is Hilton Head Island: Hilton Head Island is a barrier island approximately 12 miles long. Source: Brittania
  • How large is Hilton Head Island? Hilton Head Island is 5 miles wide and 12 miles long, taking about 30 minutes to cross the island by car. For reference, the square footage is quite larger than Manhattan.  
  • Is Hilton Head Island really an island? Yes! This South Carolina island is commonly referred to simply as “Hilton Head”. But, it is indeed an island. However, no ferry or boat is needed as you can drive directly onto the island.   
  • What day trips can you do from Hilton Head Island? Our top recommended day trip is to Savannah or Daufuskie Island, due to proximity. You will find that once you’re on Hilton Head Island, you want to stay nearby as there is so much to do! Other options include Beaufort, Charleston, Tybee Island, or St. Simons Island.  
  • Are there good grocery stores on Hilton Head Island? Most certainly. You can wait to get your groceries until you’re on the island. Publix is a popular go-to option, and there are also Whole Foods, Kroger, and The Fresh Market.  

Summary

As you prepare for your family’s Hilton Head Island getaway, armed with insights into the best accommodations, family activities, dining spots, and outdoor adventures, you’re poised for an unforgettable and easy experience. You’ll quickly see why it’s one of our favorite vacation destinations. Hilton Head Island has everything you need!

So pack your bags, soak up the sun, and get ready to create lasting memories on this idyllic island paradise. For more details, peruse the rest of our Hilton Head Island guides, including a guide of things to do when it rains in Hilton Head. Happy, breezy travels!

For more family-friendly traveling ideas, check out our most recent family guides including car seat travel tips and flying with a lap child.

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2 Comments

  1. We visited Hilton Head Island last year and enjoyed our time there. It’s easy to see why it is such a popular place to visit!

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