Top attractions in Hilton Head Island: An upscale, meticulously maintained island full of places to explore!

 

Coligny Beach Park, Hilton Head Island, SC

After doing a 10 week long cross country road trip the previous winter, going from North Carolina to Southern California, my wife and myself’s tingling traveling genes were fully alert and ready for more adventures.  As most people do, we were secretly thinking about our next road trip as our West Coast road trip was slowly coming to an end, right around February, 2023.  

When both of us were working stiffs, every time we would take a vacation (typically a one week affair), the thought of going back to work the following week always made us sad, and frankly depressed.  Because of that, just thinking about the next trip made us immediately happier and more optimistic about life in general.

I’m sure we’re not the only ones who felt this way when seeing your precious vacation coming to an end.  Researching and thinking about the next vacation seemed to be the cure for our ailing hearts and wandering minds…

To that end, thinking about what our next big road trip would be like, took shape right around that February.  We were thinking traveling during the winter months to save money on hotels, and to travel when it’s less busy at most popular destinations.  

We were seriously considering the South/South Central/Deep South, as it had been over 20 years since we last visited places in the South like Savannah (GA), and Hilton Head Island (SC).  When the calendar turned towards December (2023), we had made the decision to make this trip a reality.  Road trip again, here we come!

We chose to revisit Hilton Head Island as our first stop in our winter 2023 road trip, and this time (unlike the first time when we just slept over without seeing any of the attractions), we chose to stay for 5 nights.  We selected the excellent Home2 Suites by Hilton at Hilton Head Island which was the perfect hotel to use as our base camp to explore everything Hilton Head Island has to offer as well as top attractions in nearby Savannah.

Hilton Head Island had undergone extensive growth spurt since our last visit in 2003.  We barely recognized all the residential and commercial buildings as we were driving into the island.  Place looked marvelous, meticulously maintained, and upscale, reminding us of any number of famous beach resort destinations, like Miami, Waikiki, Newport Beach.

We were so happy we decided to make Hilton Head Island one of our major stops on this road trip!  The island has so many places to explore, and without any delay, here are our list for our favorite top attractions:

  • Coligny Beach Park
Coligny Beach Park is Hilton Head Island’s most popular oceanfront park.  Located at the end of Pope Avenue off Coligny Circle, the park features miles of breathtaking beach for everyone to enjoy.

Unlike many beaches in New Jersey that we’ve been to, we like the idea of a public beach accessible by everyone, that does not require a beach pass!  Park also feature free parking (390 free parking spaces, just across the park), which is becoming a rarity these days.

On the day of our arrival (December 21), we decided to check out the sunset at the beach, so we headed out to the park from our hotel.  The drive was short at just over 3 miles from the hotel, and we surely didn’t mind, as we had been driving close to 5 hours to get to Hilton Head Island from Myrtle Beach area.

We found the parking lot easily enough, parked our car, then followed fellow sunset worshippers walking toward the park.  We loved the clean and manicured walkway going towards the park.  It is one of the best beach parks we’ve seen, and we’ve seen some nice ones in Hawaii.


We found the beach area just a short distance from the sign seen above, and saw the nice amenities laid out ahead of us, like a clean bathroom, showers, and plenty of seating areas.  The tropical trees set the scene for the park, reminding us that we were once again back in the South!




Like moths attracted to a light at night, we headed towards the beach, mesmerized by the scenery just ahead of us.  It was magnificent, with the Sun starting to set to the right of us.  We watched the slow motion grandeur happening right before our eyes, and as many sunsets we’ve seen in our lifetimes, it never gets old…

We worshipped the incredible scenery as if it was the very first sunset we’ve ever seen.  We should cherish every little wonderful moments when they come…







  • Fish Haul Beach Park
Located on the northeastern edge of the island nestled within Bay Gall, Fish Haul Beach Park is a hidden little gem.  Overlooking the Port Royal Sound, it offers a quiet respite from the hustle & bustle of downtown Hilton Head Island.

On a clear and sunny morning, we left our hotel for the park, about 6 miles away.  We arrived within about 15 minutes, driving through a secluded part of the island with an unpaved road for the last part of our journey into the park.  After parking, we headed towards the beach area, and was dumbfounded by how exposed the beach was with the receding waters. 

It was a sight we don’t get to see often visiting so many beaches, and this was awesome!  We got to see features of the beach we normally wouldn’t see anywhere else, like deep runnels, ridges, oyster beds, and tiny marine creatures.

There were several curious people who had already walked far into the exposed beach (several hundred yards) to get closer to the waterline.  We did the same to check it out!

Wow, how cool!  We saw an exposed rock wall about 100 feet into the beach, followed by large (and small) oyster beds popping up here and there.  Occasionally we would see tiny crabs trying to dodge out of our way.  It was awesome to see!  We highly recommend checking out this hidden gem.


Exposed beach 

A rock wall


Oyster beds

  • Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge 
Situated between Hilton Head Island and nearby town of Bluffton (SC), Pinckney Island National Wildlife is an important link in the chain of wildlife refuges along the Atlantic Flyway, which attracts thousands of migratory birds each year. 

We headed out of our hotel to the wildlife refuge, which is located about 10 miles away.  We followed the directions from our usually trustworthy Google Maps, but it somehow took us to a gated golf course community near the refuge.

We were stopped by a security guard at the gate to the community and we asked if this was the way to the refuge, and he said no.  He informed us that would be another couple of miles down the road along Route 278/William Hilton Parkway.  

We thanked the security guard and double checked our Google Maps to see if we had made a mistake.  We had not.  It correctly identified the refuge, but it kept telling us the golf community was the right place.  We were a bit flabbergasted by the so-called “intelligence” of technology these days, and decided to use good old human intelligence for once to navigate.

We headed back towards the Route 278, then headed out of Hilton Head Island.  As soon as we did that, we saw the familiar brown road sign for the refuge as we crossed the J. Wilton Graves bridge.  Relieved, we turned right after crossing the bridge and followed the signs for the refuge’s parking lot.  


We drove into the only parking lot that was open that day, and pulled in.  The views opened up nicely!  We got out of our car then walked about 200 feet out to the edge of the marsh to check out the views.  It was awesome.






Normally, the refuge allows vehicle traffic to continue along the refuge, but that day it was under construction.  We used our feet instead of our car to move along.  Time to hike!

We put on our hiking boots then took with us couple of water bottles and granola bars for the hike.  We stopped after a short 10 minute hike along the Main Road, when the views got better.  





It’s amazing how big a place truly is when you’re walking and not taking the car!  We started to see few people already coming back from their hikes/jogs after another couple of minutes of hiking.  

We chatted up a conversation with one of the hikers to ask about the hike there, and we quickly found out the place is even bigger than we thought!  She recommended we try the hike up to the Ibis Pond, just up ahead rather than trying to hike the longer trail branching off to the right or the much longer hikes beyond Ibis Pond.  

We’re glad we heeded her advice, as we were already half tired from just walking about half mile in the vast expanse of the refuge with the sun beating down on us the whole time.  We found out the hike from the parking lot to the Ibis Pond was .9 miles which normally isn’t too bad, but we had already visited and walked the Fish Haul Beach Park just about an hour before.

We settled on making the hike to Ibis Pond our last stop of our hike before heading out of the refuge, as frankly, we were both tired and hungry.  We somehow made it to the Ibis Pond and we looked around the pond to check out the algae covered pond.

Ibis Pond



There was a photographer who was taking photos of various birds and when we approached him, he mentioned there’s an alligator hiding beneath the pond.  It was showing only the very top of his head, his massive body fully submerged under the green colored waters, as he patiently waited for a prey.  It took us few seconds to find it ourselves and it indeed was patient!

He barely moved for few minutes while we waited to see something exciting.  Nothing happened, so we started to walk around the entire pond, marveling at various creatures, land based and otherwise.

By the time we looped around the pond, we were in serious need of a rest area and some shade to hide from the sun.  We found a picnic area with a covered roof!  Yes!!!

We took a break, resting our legs, and cooling down from the effects of the blazing sun.  It was December, yet, the sun was still very hot down in the south.  It felt great to rest…





We took few minutes to enjoy the respite, drink some water, then thought about lunch!  Lunch, here we come.

Honorable mention: Up the Creek Pub & Grill

We didn’t get to eat out much during our 5 day stay at the island, thanks to our utilization of supermarkets for the majority of our meals.  We did however, hear many good things about this restaurant, so we gave it a shot.

It was a nice choice after hiking at the wildlife refuge.  Although small in size, it is located at a creek with waterfront views and it has nice seafood options.  We ordered a grilled & a blackened mahi mahi sandwiches which were really tasty.  It was a much needed treat after a half day of exploring and hiking.

With plenty of free parking just around the corner from the restaurant, it is an ideal spot for grubs (and drinks), very popular just about anytime but especially during sunsets.  Highly recommend it!






In conclusion:

After exactly 20 years, Hilton Head Island has changed, but the change is overall positive.  It did feel upscale back then, but it is much more upscale now.

We really dig the island’s ambiance, at times laid back with a seaside resort vibe and at other times very upscale with a rich & famous vibe.  We had great 5 nights at the island, and we’re glad we finally got to explore the island’s attractions.

We think you’ll agree that the island is one of the best maintained beach towns anywhere, and it is without a doubt, one of the main reasons why the island is so popular with locals and visitors alike.

We thank you for reading and keep up with us on our continuing journey through the American South!


Jake

Wandering Money Pig 



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