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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, foot-shaped 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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Hilton Head Travel Tips

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 beachfront resort. 
  • Budget for the gate fee If you're going to Sea Pines (where the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse sits), be prepared to pay a $6 gate 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. 
  • Budget for the resort fee Many of the island's brand hotels charge a $20 to $25 resort fee per night, per room. Consider looking into a vacation rental if the fees pose too big a blow to your budget.

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 $30 a week.
  • Visit in the fall Once Labor Day passes, the crowds that plagued Hilton Head during the summer disappear, leaving plenty of discounted hotel rooms. Plus, the Atlantic Ocean is still warm enough for swimming. 
  • Make your own meals Many of the island's resorts come equipped with kitchenettes. Avoid racking up pricey restaurant tabs by preparing a few of your own meals.

What to Eat

With its waterfront seat, it should come as no surprise that seafood is the foundation for many of the island's menus. What's more, many of the island's top restaurants are situated on the water. This means that if you want to enjoy an atmospheric sunset dinner, you'll need to make reservations far in advance, especially at the elegant and romantic Old Fort Pub or the equally delicious ELA's Blu Water Grille

However, there are more casual waterfront eateries that don't require reservations (or simply don't take them) like island favorites Skull Creek BoathouseHudson's Seafood House on the Docks and the ever-popular Salty Dog Cafe.

If you want to save on restaurant tabs, consider cooking your own meals. The island is home to several grocery stores, including Harris Teeter, Publix and Whole Foods. Plus, since many of the resort accommodations come equipped with kitchenettes, it's easy to make quick meals in between trips to the beach or the golf course. 

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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 only offers daily American Airlines flights from Charlotte, North Carolina. 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.

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