CH2’s Top 10 List! • Things to do on Hilton Head Island
Author: Paul deVere | Photographer: Dana Rose
David Letterman said he didn’t feel qualified. David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace (The Book of Lists authors) complained about the pay. And Russell Kick (how much would you pay for a last name like that?), author of The Disinformation Book of Lists (A must summer read. Includes a list titled: “Airline Personnel Who Say UFOs Are Real”), said, “Sure, I’ll do it. Isn’t Hilton Head part of the Lesser Antilles?”
So the task fell to moi. Having a scientific bent, I did a scientific survey.
(Participants included my dentist, my doctor, my children , my wife , my new dog, my new fish , and several very winsome young ladies [ages 3-74] on our beach, and myself.) The following Top 10 List is, therefore, without question, totally reliable. Unless you want to do something else.
10. Dolphin Cruise. “Maude, they look so real!”
This isn’t any “Flipper” excursion. Excluding whales cavorting in the ocean, there may be nothing more beautiful than our bottle nose dolphins doing their dance. Our dolphins are the ultimate “surprise” in the Lowcountry. There is no telling what they will decide to do.
This is not “Sea World.” This is their world. Whether you’re in a power boat, sailboat or a kayak, this is the real thing. And there is nothing better than the “real thing” when it comes to dolphins. You might run into a “pod” of up to 15 dolphins, or you might see a solitary show-off leaping effortless out of the water. Our guys and gals make Flipper look like a sissy.
9. Lawton Stables. “Giddyup!”
Ask for Harley. He’s Lawton Stables’ very own Clydesdale. This handsome and rather large horse will pull you around as proud as if he were drawing the Mother Ship (Budweiser wagon).
Even if you’re a greenhorn, the horses at Lawton Stables are used to dudes trying to mount from the wrong side and totally patient as you take a trail ride through Sea Pines’ 600-acre forest preserve.
Just think. While one spouse is at the beach and the other re-landscaping a fairway, the kids (lucky them) can be at the stable’s Summer Camp, learning how to muck stalls and ride a real horse. Talk about show-and-tell day when they get back to school.
And here’s a freebee! Lawton’s Animal Farm (it has nothing to do with George Orwell) is home to smaller critters, like goats, donkeys, sheep, a pot-bellied pig, a llama, miniature pony, and rabbits. It’s free to guests. Petting encouraged.
8. Shopping. “Is that debit or credit?”
Hilton Head Island (and Bluffton) may not be the official small business capital of the world; it just seems that way. Not long ago, a Chamber of Commerce survey found the three major reasons folks visited Hilton Head Island: the beach, golf and … shopping.
There’s this story about Charles Fraser, the Godfather (meant with enormous respect) of Sea Pines and today’s modern resort communities worldwide. In 1969, when he was building Harbour Town Yacht Basin, he was trying to attract big names, like Sak’s 5th Avenue and Tiffany’s to open up a storefront in his little “Mediterranean Village.” There were no takers. Instead, some local entrepreneurs figured they could do a little business at this place nobody knew about. Harbour Town is, of course, a must visit. But so are Coligny Plaza, South Beach Marina, Shelter Cove Harbour, Shops at Sea Pines Center, and Calhoun Street in Bluffton.
We even have our own piece of suburbia: outlet malls just off U.S. 278.
7. ’Gators and Other Fauna. “Maude, they look so real!”
Ladies and gentlemen and tiny tots: You have entered a world unbeknownst to the vast majority of Americans. This be the Lowcountry. If you want to blind yourself with our sugar sand beaches and pristine (“Blade number 4,923,458, please move a little to the left. There that’s better.”) fairways, fine. We’ll take you money.
But if you have even the slightest interest in what Hilton Head Island was and is, you owe it to yourself to visit the Coastal Discovery Museum. Take Dr. Emory Campbell’s Gullah Tour. Or, if it’s raining, the museum’s “Getting to Know a Gator” program is perfect.
6. Harbour Town Light House. “Maude, is that really Greg Russell?”
Mr. Fraser (mentioned above), wanted to create a memorable symbol for Sea Pines back in ’69. Boy, did he get one. While the lighthouse at Harbour Town never saved any seafarers, it is seen by millions of visitors every year and many more television viewers during the PGA Tour’s Verizon Heritage golf tournament.
During the day, you can shop ’til you drop and climb the lighthouse for an extraordinary view of Calibogue Sound and beyond. (While you climb, you’ll also get a little history lesson about Sea Pines and Hilton Head.) Come evening, under the Liberty Oak and stars, family favorite, Greg Russell performs. Be prepared to be part of the show!
5. Gone Fishin’
When you get out of sight of land, and your charter boat captain says, “Beyond there be dragons,” you know you’ve got the right guy (or gal). Of course, there are no dragons “beyond there” (I have it on good authority they are a little further east and south), so you can laugh along with everyone else as soon as you get the kids to stop crying.
When it comes to fishing, your choices are many. True blue anglers head for the Gulf Stream. However, that’s 70 miles out there—one way. There are a number of charters that will take you to offshore reefs that are closer in. And there are inshore charters that explore our tidal creeks and lagoons.
What’s waiting out there for you? Tarpon, drum, flounder, striped bass, spotted sea trout, no-see-ums.
4. Bikes. “Maude, I love your leather jacket.”
No. Not those kinds of bikes. Bicycles! There are almost 50 miles of bike paths outside gated communities, and more than 50 behind the gates. Rent a bicycle built for two or one which allows you to pull the babies along behind you in a cool trailer. You want to see the island? Leave your car in the parking lot and give sea gulls a target. Hop on your bike and peddle on down to the swimming pool or beach. When on the beach, try to avoid those prone objects attempting to get second-degree sunburns.
3. Daufuskie Day Trip
Daufuskie? It’s an island just southwest side of Calibogue Sound. When you were topside of the Harbour Town Lighthouse (see #6), that’s the island you were looking at. Or, if you were wise enough, you did the parasail thing, and zoomed over the beaches of Daufuskie, wondering why, on a Sunday morning, there were only two people on the beach!
You have to go by ferry, about a 45 minute ride. And when you get off on the public dock, you’ll think you’ve walked into another world. It’s the island author Pat Conroy wrote about in The Water Is Wide (read the book). Though Daufuskie has changed (development), you can still get a sense of what Hilton Head was like (pre-development), especially in the historic district.
And somehow, put Marshside Mama’s on your schedule
This is a tossup. We have two types of sand on Hilton Head Island. One type is washed by the Atlantic and surrounding waters. The other type lines hundreds of bunkers on golf courses.
Beach sand is definitely where you want to be. We have 12 miles of it, new beach parks, easier access and skinny guys who still get sand kicked in their face.
Beach combing is allowed. Dogs aren’t, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. in the summer. If you decide to spread out and have a little siesta, protect yourself from the sun and those irritating people on bicycles! (See #4.)
There’s an oft’ told tale that when the young Sea Pines founder, Charles Fraser, was elaborating on his plans, the listener, an older gentleman, scoffed. “Charles,” the gentleman said, “what makes you think people will want to live on a South Carolina island in the middle of nowhere?” Purportedly, Charles replied, “Air conditioning.”
Of course, what he really meant to say was “golf.” But Charles didn’t play golf. But friends did. So the first of the island’s golf courses was created. Now the world associates the game and the island as being inseparable. As one young wag asked, “If you didn’t have golf courses, where would the alligators live?”
Which is to say, if your ball goes into a water hazard, don’t go in after it.