If your family is seeking a classic seaside vacation with a bonus dash of Lowcountry Southern charm, South Carolina’s Hilton Head is a fine choice. Located on a barrier island of the same name, the world-class sand and surf is the big draw, but this upscale community is no one-trick vacation pony. Hilton Head’s variety of recreational options helps make it a top choice for multigenerational families and reunion groups.
A thriving tennis community and top-notch golf courses are catnip for active visitors. Kayaking provides the opportunity for up-close encounters with marine life and zip-lining will challenge thrill-seekers. If you enjoy cycling, you’d be hard pressed to find a more bike-friendly town.
While the climate is not without seasonal differentiation, winter tends to be quite mild, so there’s year-round outdoor vacation potential.
Tennis and Golf on Hilton Head Island
Considered one of America’s prime tennis spots, Hilton Head is a great place to swing a racket. Locals and visitors play a year-round schedule of tournaments, clinics and matches on clay and hard courts.
Hilton Head is a golfer’s delight. With some two-dozen courses on the island and several dozen just off the island, golfing families will have loads of variety. We stayed at the Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island (843/842-2400), a great family property with golf and tennis privileges at some of the island’s finest facilities. Other hotels also have special arrangements that allow guests to serve an ace or attempt a hole-in-one at top-ranked clubs and facilities.
Get Up-Close With Dolphins
A guided kayak adventure with the enthusiastic employees at H2O Sports was a highlight of our recent trip. The 90-minute tour is appropriate for all levels, as well as children over age 5. You start with a short how-to-paddle clinic before choosing a tandem or single kayak. The cost is $45 for adults, $35 for kids 12 and younger.
As we paddled the peaceful marshland, we saw bald eagles, herons and dozens of dolphins. These playful mammals seemed to enjoy teasing us as they dove and frolicked around our kayaks. It was an encounter with the natural world that we won’t soon forget.
Zipline Above the Hilton Head Canopy
Zipline Hilton Head is a new kid on the block, but it’s quickly becoming one of the island’s top attractions. The course includes eight lines and two suspended sky bridges nestled in a canopy of native low country greenery such as live oaks and loblolly pines. You’ll glimpse Broad Creek as you soar through the trees under the watchful eyes of your competent guides. There’s a dual cable at the very end, so you may race your loved ones across the finish line. You must be 10 years of age and wear proper shoes or sneakers; no flip-flops or sandals allowed.
Kids 5 and older may enjoy the aerial adventure course. You go at your own pace and according to your own ability level. This obstacle course takes you through the trees with six courses, ranging from very easy to daredevil.
Eco-Approved Destination of Natural Beauty
If you’re interested in eco-friendly travel, this community is authentically green. The island’s initial development in the mid-to-late 20th century emphasized environmental preservation over making a fast buck, so rapid development was purposely eschewed in favor of slow-paced growth. Twenty-first century visitors reap the benefits of this sage policy with numerous nature preserves, unobtrusive signage that blends with the natural landscape and miles of designated biking trails.
Pedal Power Around the Island
It’s easy to spin your wheels on Hilton Head with over 60 miles of level bike trails and 12 miles of bikeable packed-sand beach. The Sonesta rents bicycles with wide tires that are perfect for pedaling directly on the hard-packed sand. Biking with the crashing waves as your soundtrack is unbeatable and the surface is perfect for novice bikers who’ve just axed the training wheels.
Rated a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community by the American League of Bicyclists, this town is firmly committed to being a premiere cycling destination. If your hotel doesn’t have bikes, there are dozens of rental shops that will gladly deliver adult and kid-size bikes and helmets to your doorstep.
A Great Family Resort on Hilton Head
There’s lots of variety when it comes to resorts and condo rentals, but the Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island tops the list for families. After completing a $30 million renovation it’s looking mighty fine. Located on a peaceful stretch of beach and surrounded by lush gardens, the hotel incorporates natural elements into the décor, with soothing sea-glass and shell accents gracing the common spaces. The 340 guest rooms and suites are loaded with creature comforts that should satisfy the most discerning guests. Rooms feature a natural color palette inspired by the sea, so expect touches of coral and restful beach tones.
Step outside and you’ll find a heated lagoon-style swimming pool, lap pool and the Atlantic Ocean at your doorstep. The beach is an aquatic treasure trove of sand dollars, starfish and sea sponges.
Adult Fun While the Sonesta’s Children Play
Parents in search of some adult time will find the junior set entertained at the Sonesta’s Just Us Kids supervised club. Open daily Memorial Day to Labor Day and during holidays, potty-trained children 3-5 are welcome to join a half-day program, and 6- to 12-year-olds may stay all day. Consider taking advantage of this time to indulge at the resort’s Arum Spa. All treatments start with a decadent glass of bubbly, so you’ll be properly pampered from the moment you enter this soothing sanctuary.
Getting to Hilton Head Island
Perhaps best of all for reunion groups, Hilton Head is easy to reach with two airports. Hilton Head Airport is just a few miles from town. Most visitors opt to fly into larger Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, just across the border in Georgia and a 45-minute ride from the island. Efficient airport shuttles are available if you choose not to rent a car. Inquire when booking your hotel or visit K Shuttle.
For more information and vacation planning tips, go to Hilton Head Island tourism.
Photos courtesy of Sonesta, Hilton Head Chamber of Commerce and the author
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.