A Vacation haven for boatersUntil 1956 when the first bridge to the island was built, Hilton Head, like many of the South Carolina Sea Islands, had a largely untrammeled natural landscape. First home to Native Americans and then to a series of European settlers, after the Civil War the island's entire population consisted of a few hundred descendants of freed slaves. Like other Sea Islanders they lived in small "Gullah" communities where they spoke their own language-a mix of West African and English-and carried on the traditions of their African ancestors, fishing, farming, making baskets, telling stories and singing spirituals.
That all changed in the late 1950s and 1960s when Charles Fraser, whose father owned a lumbering property on Hilton Head, decided to turn the southern end of the island into what is now the Sea Pines Plantation. It didn't take long for other developers to follow, and today the 15-mile-long, foot-shaped island, named "Hilton's Headland" in 1663 by British explorer Captain William Hilton, is home to a half-dozen "plantations"-planned (and often gated) resort communities-with 39,000 permanent residents and more than two million visitors annually. Although a few members of the Gullah community remain, most have moved off the island. As they developed their resorts, Fraser and his successors did a fine job of preserving the island's natural environment, and many wind-swept beaches, maritime forests, marshes and creeks remain unspoiled. The houses and businesses are all tasteful, built according to a "color code" that requires most buildings to be painted in muted earth tones that blend with nature.
Things to See and DoHitlon Head is vacation heaven for boaters. With 10 marinas situated strategically around the island you can stay aboard your own boat and still enjoy upscale resort activities, including 24 championship golf courses, 300 tennis courts, 12 miles of ocean beaches, plus swimming pools, shopping and dining. The list of things to do on this island playground is so large that choosing can be mind-boggling. A good place to begin your visit is the Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center (843-523-3373, www.hiltonheadisland.org) near the bridge to the mainland. Don't worry if your marina isn't nearby. Taxis, rental cars and bicycles (the favored transportation mode here) are readily available.
There is plenty to do besides play golf and go to the beach. Among the highlights are horseback riding on the beach through Lawton Stables (843-671-2586), history tours of Civil War sites and Gullah culture tours to nearby Daufuskie Island, one of the few Sea Islands where Gullah culture survives. Several operators offer trips to Daufuskie, which also has a couple of resorts but is only accessible by boat. Among the tour companies are: Calibogue Cruises (843-342-8677), Outside Hilton Head (800-686-6996 www.outsidehiltonhead.com) and Vagabond Cruises (843-363-9023, www.vagabondcruise.com) at the Harbour Town Resort. You can also take your own boat to Daufuskie and dock at Freeport Marina (843-785-8242) where maps and land-side tours are available. A county-owned dock near Marshside Mama's Café (843-785-4755) is also open to the public. Riding a bike is a great way to explore Hilton Head, go to www.HiltonHeadBikeRental.com to get more information.
Hilton Head's Coastal Discovery Museum (843-689-6767 www.coastaldiscovery.org), right next to the Welcome Center, offers a wealth of information about the island's history, culture and natural habitats. Hands-on exhibits of everything from early Native American life to island geology, flora and fauna orient visitors to this unique island. Trolley, walking and kayak tours that depart from the museum offer an insider's perspective.
Kayak tours, parasailing, eco-cruises and even sails on the historic America's Cup 12-Meter Stars & Stripes are just a smattering of the on-the-water-activities you can enjoy on the island. Several marinas and resorts offer kayak tours and rentals; try Kayak Hilton Head (843-684-1910) or Outside Hilton Head (843-686-6996) at Shelter Cover Marina, which also runs motor-powered eco-cruises. For water-skiing or parasailing, visit Island Water Sports (843-671-7007, www.islandwatersports.info) at the Sea Pines Plantation South Beach Marina or the Palmetto Bay Marina (843-785-3910), which also offers a variety of boating activities. You'll find the Stars & Stripes (843-363-9446) sailing out of Harbour Town Marina at the Sea Pines Plantation, where you can also rent boats and take other water-tours.
Families may enjoy Adventure Cove (843-842-9990, www.adventurecove.com) on the island's north end, which offers two 18-hole miniature golf courses and a giant arcade that could save the day when it rains. The Sand Box, (843-842-7645, www.thesandbox.org), is an interactive children's museum where the eight-and-under set can play in a sandbox (naturally), scale a climbing wall and learn to tie sailors' knots aboard a model of Captain William Hilton's 1663 ship of discovery.
For those who regard shopping as a favorite sport, Hilton Head has plenty to offer. Stores are clustered throughout the island near each of the "plantations." Among them are the Mall at Shelter Cove with such standards Ann Taylor, Chico's and Banana Republic. The Shoppes at Harbour Town at the Sea Pines Plantation range from high-end boutiques to stores selling T-shirts with silly slogans. And for the truly hard-core, there's a Tangier Outlet Mall just a mile off island.
Hilton Head is bicycle nirvana. It's flat and has 50 miles of paved public pathways and nature trails; everything interconnects; you can easily travel from resort to resort, and the beach sand is hard enough for good shore-side riding. Rental bikes seem to be available everywhere, and many companies offer free pick up and delivery. Here are a few of the many choices: Gator Bike Rentals (843-842-3787), Hilton Head Bicycle Company (843-686-6888), Island Cruisers (843-785-4321), Pedals (843-842-5522) and Peddling Pedals Bike Rentals Inc. (843-424-8048).
Unlike some islands, Hilton Head stays alive at night, with outdoor concerts, fireworks at Shelter Cove every Tuesday night in summer and live entertainment at many restaurants. The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina (843-842-ARTS, www.artscenterhhi.org) in the Shelter Cove area offers concerts and plays and is also home to an art gallery.
Restaurants and ProvisionsTwo-hundred-and-fifty! That's the number of restaurants on Hilton Head Island-surely something for every taste and pocketbook. Here we'll highlight a few that are convenient to local marinas.
At Hilton Head Harbor Marina, the area's best kept secret is casual fine dining at Sunset Grille (843-689-6744). Located near an RV park and above a Laundromat, the exterior is unassuming but what awaits inside will wow you.
Sea Pines near Harbour Town's famous candy-striped lighthouse and marina, you'll find the popular Waterfront Cafe (843-671-3399), Crazy Crab (843-363-2722) and the Quarterdeck (843-671-2222), which also has live music. Harbourside Cafe (843-842-1444) and Harbour Town Bakery and Café (843-363-2021) are great breakfast and lunch. For ice cream you won't beat Scoop (843-671-3388). You'll find provisions at the marina complex's convenience store.
The Salty Dog corners the market near the Sea Pines South Beach Marina with the Salty Dog Café (843-671-2233) and its offshoots, the Wreck of the Salty Dog, Jake's Pizza and Salty Dog Ice Cream. There you'll find T-shirts to rival that other famous restaurant canine-Martha's Vineyard's Black Dog-as well as live music on the boardwalk.
Near the marinas on Broad Creek you'll find Captain Woody's (843-785-2400), a favorite with the local folks (so you know it's good) and the Ocean Grille (843-785-3030) for seafood and steaks. The Old Oyster Factory (843-681-6040), the site of an old oyster cannery on Broad Creek, serves fine food with great views. Another waterfront pleaser is the tried-and-true Kingfisher Seafood & Steak House (843-785-4442).
There are several supermarkets on the island, including a pair of Publix (843-689-9977 and 843-842-2632) and two Piggly Wiggly markets (843-842-4090 and 843-785-3881).
Famous Harbour Town Yacht Basin (843-671-2704), with a full line of ammenities and services, is located at mile marker 565.
ChartsUse ChartKit Region 6, page 32, 41, and 58; Maptech Waterproof Chart 94; or Maptech electronic and NOAA paper chart 11507 (1:40,000), 111512 (1:40,000), 11513 (1:80,000) and 11516 (1:40,000).
Navigation and AnchoragesHilton Head Island is located along Calibogue Sound about 25 miles from Beaufort, South Carolina.
From the north on the ICW, enter Skull Creek, which borders Hilton Head Island to the west, just west of Fl G 2.5s 16ft 3M "3," near Dolphin Head. At about SM 553.3, opposite Seabrook Landing, the creek splits. The ICW continues to the southwest. At about SM 554.8, you'll see Skull Creek Marina on the western shore.
Continue south and you'll pass Hilton Head Harbor Marina (843-681-3256), a transient-friendly facility with gas and diesel fuel. At SM 557.6, a 65-foot-high fixed bridge connects Jenkins Island and Last End Point. The ICW curves to the south, along Ferry Point, where you'll find a transient facility. At SM 559.7, the May River joins from the northwest. The ICW runs south into Calibogue Sound. There may appear to be an entrance to Broad Creek around SM 561.7, north of Fl G 4s 18ft 4M "31" and G "29A," but this is not an entrance. The entrance to Hilton Head's Broad Creek begins south of G "1." The ICW continues west; pick up the Cooper River north of Haig Point's Fl 14s 47ft.
Broad Creek enters Calibogue sound from the northeast. This creek cuts through Hilton Head Island and offers several options for transients, including Harbour Town Yacht Basin (just south of the entrance), Palmetto Bay Marina, and Shelter Cove Marina. Palmetto Bay Yacht Center offers full-service maintenance on vessels up to 75 tons. Stick to the markers when entering Broad Creek to avoid Calibogue Shoal. The creek is deep and well-marked.
From the Atlantic
From the east, the safest route to Hilton Head Island from the Atlantic Ocean begins at Tybee Roads. Follow the well-marked channel into the Savannah River, pick up the ICW and follow it north to Hilton Head Island. The other route-straight through Calibogue Sound-is more direct, but shoaling has made the entrance hazardous; only use this route with local knowledge.
If you do decide to enter via this route, pick up Tybee Roads channel northwest of RW "T" Mo (A). Depart from the channel after passing G "15" Fl G 2.5s and head north toward G "3" Q G and Calibogue Sound, being sure to stay west of the Barrett Shoals that's due north of R "4." You should obtain local knowledge before using this passage, as the area shoals frequently.
The safest and most beautiful anchorage area north of Hilton Head is in the Colleton River. From Skull Creek and Port Royal Sound steer into the Chechessee River, favoring the northeastern shore to avoid shoaling. Continue westward around Foot Point on Colleton Neck and into the Colleton River then take your pick of anchoring spots. The current is mild and locals have been known to use this as a hurricane hole.
Shoreside and Emergency Services
Savannah Hilton Head 912-964-6689
Police, Fire, Ambulance:
Checker Cab 843-842-8294
Sea Tow 800-4SEATOW or VHF 16
TowBoatU.S 800-391-4869 or VHF 16