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Why Go To Hilton Head

To fit in on Hilton Head, you're going to need to slow down. This 42-square-mile barrier island might often welcome a wealthier clientele, but you don't need to rush to keep up with the Joneses. Follow the leisurely pace of the residents – the population is part descendant of the Gullah, or the freed slaves who settled in the area, and part East Coast mainlanders who make Hilton Head their second home. Your fellow vacationers will likely be white-haired retirees (thanks to the world-class fairways) and young families (thanks to the clean beaches). So if you're looking for a rollicking nightlife scene, this may not be the spot for you. This isn't to say there's no nightlife – it exists, but usually in the form of leisurely sunset dinners and live music on the waterfront. In short: If you've come to Hilton Head, you've come to relax.

If you know anything about the island, you know that golfing, tennis and "spa-ing" are how it earned its moneyed reputation. But you could spend an entire vacation here without ever swinging a golf club or a tennis racket. The island is full of natural wonders, including the Coastal Discovery Museum and the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, not to mention 12 miles of sandy beaches. So whether you came to get up close and personal with low country wildlife, perfect your backhand or simply relax on the sand, Hilton Head has something for you.

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The U.S. News & World Report travel rankings are based on analysis of expert and user opinions. Read more about how we rank vacation destinations.

Best of Hilton Head

Hilton Head Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best time to visit Hilton Head is April and May as well as September and October. Spring and fall offer fewer crowds and lower lodging rates all the while maintaining temperatures that are still beach-friendly. Summer is also a great time to visit the island, as the weather is perfect for swimming in the ocean. If you're not one for crowds, which Hilton Head gets a lot of during the summer, you may want to opt for a visit during the shoulder seasons. If you want to save some money and don't mind bringing a couple sweaters with you to the beach, winter isn't a bad time to visit either thanks to high temperatures in the mid-60s. 

Weather in Hilton Head

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Average Temperature (°F)
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39
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42
71
48
78
54
85
62
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86
68
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71
48
63
41
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Average Precipitation (in)
0.16
0.12
0.16
0.12
0.12
0.24
0.24
0.28
0.2
0.16
0.08
0.12
Jan
Feb
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Apr
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Aug
Sep
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See details for When to Visit Hilton Head

Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center

What You Need to Know

  • Budget for a rental car Most of Hilton Head's attractions are spread out, meaning you'll need your own set of wheels if you want to explore beyond your resort. 
  • Budget for the resort fee Many of the island's brand hotels charge a resort fee per night, per room. Consider looking into a vacation rental if the fees pose too big a threat to your budget.
  • Be aware of the gate fee If you're going to Sea Pines (where the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse sits), be prepared to pay a $8 fee per car. Sea Pines is a privately owned residential community (one of many on the island), meaning it's not maintained by the town, county or state. If you're staying there, however, you can easily obtain a complimentary pass.

How to Save Money in Hilton Head

  • Explore by bike With more than 60 miles of trails, Hilton Head is a bicyclist's dream. Not to mention, you can cut gas costs by biking around the island. You can rent a bike for around $40 a week.
  • Visit in early fall Once Labor Day passes, the crowds that plagued Hilton Head during the summer disappear, meaning you're more likely to run into lower hotel rates. Plus, the Atlantic Ocean is still warm enough for swimming. 
  • Consider a vacation rental The many luxurious accommodations that dot Hilton Head Island can get very expensive if you stay for more than a few days. Consider opting for a vacation rental to cut costs. You could also prepare your own meals if you rent a house, saving money on dining too. 

What to Eat

While in Hilton Head, there are two dining experiences you absolutely cannot forgo. The first, dine on as much low country cuisine as you can. Second, make sure you do so alongside some water views. Skull Creek Boathouse offers both. Located in northern Hilton Head, the Skull Creek Boathouse dishes up classic low country dishes, such as Carolina shrimp and grits and the low country boil.  The low country boil is a big dish that is meant to be shared, featuring a mash up of red potatoes, corn on the cob, spicy sausage and shellfish (usually shrimp or crab) all of which are boiled in a giant pot. Once the ingredients have cooked to perfection, they are then traditionally served in one big pile on a picnic table covered in newspaper. From there, patrons are encouraged to pour on the sauces, which typically include cocktail sauce, hot sauce and tartar sauce. 
If you aren't traveling with a big party, grubbing down on any seafood will get you the proper low country foodie experience you're looking for. The cuisine's identity is based entirely on the bounty of the coast, which technically stretches 80 miles from the Savannah River in Georgia to Pawleys Island in South Carolina. Seafood reigns supreme, by default, as well as grits and rice, which, due to the climate, flourishes in the surrounding region. You'll find these staples at A Lowcountry Backyard, which features a cozy, backyard-style outdoor eating area with small stage for live music. Here, you'll find low country-style sandwiches and burgers as well as fried green tomato dishes and fresh catches from the nearby Calibogue Sound. Another popular spot for seafood is The Crazy Crab, which boasts locations in both Harbour Town and Jarvis Creek. For some South Carolina-style barbecue, hit up One Hot Mama's for wings and ribs, or Bullies BBQ for some pulled pork sandwiches.
If it's fine dining you're after, head to The Quarterdeck, located along the water right next to the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse. Though southern cuisine is the backbone of Hilton Head's dining scene, other flavors are represented here, including Italian. Heed the advice of past visitors and try Michael Anthony's Cucina Italiana or OMBRA Cucina Italiana. There's also The Sage Room, which has its own chef's table, an on-site sommelier and hearty dishes that range from a house filet and champagne poached scallops.  

While in Hilton Head, there are two dining experiences you absolutely cannot forgo. The first, dine on as much low country cuisine as you can. Second, make sure you do so alongside some water views. Skull Creek Boathouse offers both. Located in northern Hilton Head, the Skull Creek Boathouse dishes up classic low country dishes, such as Carolina shrimp and grits and the low country boil. The low country boil is a big dish that is meant to be shared, featuring a mash up of red potatoes, corn on the cob, spicy sausage and shellfish (usually shrimp or crab) all of which are boiled in a giant pot. Once the ingredients have cooked to perfection, they are then traditionally served in one big pile on a picnic table covered in newspaper. From there, patrons are encouraged to pour on the sauces, which typically include cocktail sauce, hot sauce and tartar sauce.

If you aren't traveling with a big party, grubbing down on any seafood will get you the proper low country foodie experience you're looking for. The cuisine's identity is based entirely on the bounty of the coast, which technically stretches 80 miles from the Savannah River in Georgia to Pawleys Island in South Carolina. Seafood reigns supreme, by default, as well as grits and rice, which, due to the climate, flourishes in the surrounding region. You'll find these staples at A Lowcountry Backyard, which features a cozy, backyard-style outdoor eating area with small stage for live music. Here, you'll find low country-style sandwiches and burgers as well as fried green tomato dishes and fresh catches from the nearby Calibogue Sound. Another popular spot for seafood is The Crazy Crab, which boasts locations in both Harbour Town and Jarvis Creek. For some South Carolina-style barbecue, hit up One Hot Mama's for wings and ribs, or Bullies BBQ or some pulled pork sandwiches.

If it's fine dining you're after, head to The Quarterdeck, located along the water right next to the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse. Though southern cuisine is the backbone of Hilton Head's dining scene, other flavors are represented here, including Italian. Heed the advice of past visitors and try Michael Anthony's Cucina Italiana or OMBRA Cucina Italiana. There's also The Sage Room, which has its own chef's table, an on-site sommelier and hearty dishes that range from a house filet and champagne poached scallops.

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Getting Around Hilton Head

The best way to get around Hilton Head is by car and bike. Hilton Head is small (only 42 square miles), so you don't need to travel too far to get from one part of the island to the other (it takes about a half-hour by car). And with more than 60 miles of bike-friendly trails that weave through the island, you may find that you won't need your car all that much to begin with. Keep in mind that there is little to no public transportation on the island of Hilton Head. If you're staying at a resort, it will likely offer an area shuttle, otherwise, there's the seasonal Breeze trolley service.

Hilton Head Island Airport (HHH) is the main airport that services Hilton Head. While this is the closest airport to Hilton Head's resorts, it offers a limited flight schedule. Many travelers fly into Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV), which sits about 45 miles south of Hilton Head. From there, travelers usually opt to rent a car, hire a taxi or take a ride-hailing service, such as a Lyft or Uber, to get to the island.

Photos

Hilton Head1 of 26
Hilton Head2 of 26

Hilton Head's Harbour Town district, a pocket inside the island's gated Sea Pines resort community, is home to the iconic candy cane-striped lighthouse you've likely seen splashed across the island's postcards.

Sean Pavone/Getty Images

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