CH2’s “Top 10” List for Tourists
Author: Special to CH2 | Photographer: John Brackett
You’ve made it.
After 10 hours of planes, trains, and automobiles, you’ve finally checked into your timeshare villa, beachfront house or hotel room. You have done battle with all of the other island visitors at Piggly Wiggly, Publix or Harris Teeter, and have your morning necessities…coffee, tea, Red Bull. Now what?
Let us help. We know it can be difficult sorting through all of the paraphernalia thrown at you from the moment you cross over the bridges. There is plenty to do here. The editorial staff at CH2 has come up with this list to help. Or at the very least, it may entertain you while you sit on the beach, wait for a table or go to the loo.
1. Hang out at a real beach bar.
As in one with a view of the water. Order a frozen concoction and feel the stress ooze out of your body. Watch the sunset in your bathing suit and listen to the chatter of other vacationers planning their tomorrows. To be honest, that is what the locals do every weekend. We like to hang out at these places (The Tiki Hut, Pool Bar Jim’s, Sea Pines Beach Club, to name a few) and pretend we are on vacation, too. There’s a reason this is first on our list. You need a drink after your travels to get you into the right frame of mind.
2. Get out on the water!
You’re on an island for Pete’s sake! Get out there and enjoy it. Our indigenous wildlife is a big draw, and some sort of dolphin-watching excursion is a must. If you enjoy exercise, a kayak tour is a good way to get up close and personal with these playful creatures. For those who have never operated a kayak, don’t fret. All local guides give a short tutorial before your trip, and it’s an extremely easy vessel to maneuver. If you would rather let someone else do the work, there are plenty of dolphin cruises of the motor-driven variety as well.
If you are up for a physical challenge along with your eco tour, try paddle boarding. It is becoming wildly popular in the Lowcountry as a way to become one with nature and get a good workout in the process. Again, it isn’t as hard as it looks. The worst that could happen is you fall off of your board and get a little wet. But in that 95 degree heat, you probably won’t mind.
For a slightly different perspective, we suggest parasailing. A bird’s eye view of the island at around 800 feet in the air is a great way to get on the water without getting in it.
3. Splurge on dinner
There are two things that we have an abundance of on Hilton Head Island: traffic circles and restaurants. We suggest avoiding the former, if possible, and trying as many of the latter as time and/or your budget permits. There are over 25 eateries with a view of the water from your table, so start with those. We listed them all in this magazine last July, so for those of you who missed it, catch up here: celebratehiltonhead.com/article/1915/table-for-twowith-a-view.
It may be tempting to just go to that big chain restaurant where you know you’ll get a decent burger/steak/waffle, but don’t do it. Step outside the box and try a tucked-away gastronomical delight that only someone who lives here could tell you about. Order the seafood special, a nice bottle of white wine and ask the waiter to take your photograph. Make a tradition of visiting that restaurant every year. It will be one of those little things that you look forward to.
But with over 200 restaurants to choose from, how do you decide? Which brings us to the next must-do item on our list…
4. Ask a local.
We are known for our hospitality here in the South, even though most of us are from Ohio or New Jersey. We love to share our opinions on the best seafood dish/martini/steak you can get around these parts. If you are staying at one of those fancy hotels, ask the concierge. They send about 200 people a day to over 200 restaurants, so they know what they’re talking about. Be sure to tell them what’s most important to you (wine list, view, budget, kid-friendly, etc.) so they can match you with the right establishment. And for heaven’s sake, make reservations—especially if you are here with a large party of aunts, uncles, grandparents and six to ten kids.
Another good resource is that gal/guy sitting next to you at the local coffee shop. Look for a laptop; if they are working, they probably aren’t on vacation. Strike up a conversation and ask for recommendations. Who knows? You could become great friends with a resident and have a free place to stay next year.
5. Go golfing.
Golf is near and dear to our hearts around here, whether we actually play it or not. It may be the reason you are here now. Perhaps you saw our candy-striped lighthouse while flipping through the channels on your television on a Sunday afternoon back in April. Hilton Head Island’s Harbour Town Golf Links plays host to the PGA TOUR’s Heritage of Golf tournament. And thanks to RBC and Boeing, that tournament will be drawing visitors back to the island for at least five more years. The way we see it, if you can play on a course that Phil Mickelson has played, then why not?
Granted, July isn’t necessarily the best time to golf because it’s just so hot. However, if you can get an early tee time and remember to stay hydrated, golf should be on your to-do list. A word of caution: those prehistoric beasts we call alligators like to hang out on our courses as well. If your ball happens to land in close proximity to one, we suggest taking a stroke and dropping your ball in a safer location. Although generally docile, ’gators are faster than they look and should be avoided.
6. Shop ’til you drop
Full disclosure: The editorial staff of this magazine is primarily female, so there was no way this wasn’t making the list. When you purchase that unique necklace/dress/bathing suit on vacation, you have fond memories of the trip every time you wear it. For specialty stores and boutiques, start with the Village at Wexford, Sea Pines Center and Harbourtown. If it’s a day of marathon shopping at over 80 name brand outlets you seek, head to Tanger 1 & 2, right over the bridge in Bluffton (you passed it getting here). And while you are out there…
7. Visit Old Town Bluffton
Have lunch at Captain Woody’s or the Cottage on Calhoun Street. Wander through the art galleries and sit for a spell on the banks of the May River. Have a frosty beer or two at The Dispensary. If you are staying at a house or condo, pick up some fresh seafood for dinner at the Bluffton Oyster Co. If by chance you happen to make it to Bluffton on a Thursday afternoon, you are in for an even bigger treat: the farmers market. It’s like a street party with fruits and vegetables.
Don’t forget this is supposed to be a vacation. Stop checking your e-mail and returning phone calls to the office. It will be there when you get back.
Grab a book or your favorite trashy magazine (People, Us Weekly, Maxim… the one you’re reading right now), and park yourself on the beach. This has probably not been over-stated enough in the media over the last 20 years, but in case you missed it, wear sunscreen! If you are planning on making a day of it, start with a minimum SPF of 30. Pick up shells, build a sandcastle. Did we mention you should wear sunscreen?
9. Get a little culture
Chances are it’s going to rain while you are here. Our standing forecast from June-September is “30 percent chance of scattered showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon.” Take this opportunity to learn something about the Lowcountry. Check out the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn Plantation on a rainy afternoon. They have special programs that introduce the kids to local wildlife (snakes, alligators, owls, opossums, armadillos & more), as well as a “Birds in the Lowcountry Salt Marsh” exhibit which runs June through September. For an evening of the arts, Smokey Joe’s Café will be playing at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina through July 24.
- 10. Finish with a bang**
Fireworks, we mean. During the summer months, Shelter Cove Harbour plays host to HarbourFest with family activities seven nights. If you have children, this is a must-do, but even if you are here on an adult vacation, we recommend it. Have your photo taken with the giant statue of King Neptune. Be entertained by the hilarious Shannon Tanner in the Shelter Cove Pavilion (he’ll be the tallest guy wearing a brightly colored beanie hat—you can’t miss him). Have dinner overlooking the water at a variety of restaurants. Shop at all of the boutiques along the harbor. Finish the evening by watching the fantastic fireworks display at around 9 p.m. (fireworks on Tuesday nights only).
There’s no way we could touch on everything you can do here, but hopefully this is enough to get you started. Oh wait! We forgot one…
11. Start planning your next trip to Hilton Head Island.
Advice for Tourists…from the Locals
We polled our Facebook fans and did informal surveys at random bars to come up with this very good advice for all of our visitors.
Use LOTS of sunscreen! Sunburn is not a good look. Also find out about the times you are allowed to walk your dog on the beach. This guy was so sad when he was sent off the beach with his dog. He had to take the dog all the way back to his parent’s house! – Ashley K.
(CH2 did the homework for you on this one…
Always stop at the stop signs on bike paths! Watch out for cars! :) – Haley McCafferty
Please support Local Bars and Restaurants and stop doing all that grocery shopping. All the small businesses here count on you!! – EP
Remember to YIELD on the circles not STOP, and to use your turn signals! – L. Shaw
Take a nap in the late afternoon so you can go out and check out the live entertainment available on the Island at night. You miss out on a lot by going to bed at 9:30. There is alot a talent on this Island every week!! – John Biddle
“Like” Hilton Head restaurants and entertainment venues in Facebook before your trip to get their current specials and updates. – Amy Tapley
Need us to take care of your pet while you’re sightseeing? Call Amy and Sue at Animal Magnetism- 843-681-5353. – Amy C. Miller
Check out the local musicians we have! Everything from Rock, Motown, funk, rap, reggae, blues, classical, children’s shows and stuff in between! There is unlimited talent here and something for everyone! – Melissa Ann Landry-Lewis
Check out The Groovetones, Candace Woodson, The Simpson Brothers, Sterlin and Shuvette, Patwa and Christian Young and the Santana duo, and a bunch of cool acts at the Electric Piano Bar. – Tony Reyes
Apply sunscreen to the tops of your feet at the beach or when wearing sandals…really. – Linda Warnock
Thank you, thank you, and thank you, for choosing to spend your vacation with us! You could have gone anywhere in the world, but you chose to visit Hilton Head Island. – PP
Tip your waiter 20%. They will much appreciate it. Also, do not forget to make reservations at restaurants, ESPECIALLY if you have a big party. – Kelly
Saturday afternoons tend to be the busiest at the grocery stores. Plan on going to the beach in the afternoon and eating out Saturday night! Sunday morning is a great time to grocery shop – no one in their right mind is awake yet! – LB
When riding up on a bike trail, be courteous and let others know you are approaching from behind. – Catherine
Have fun. Remember, you are on vacation! – Dan
Don’t feed the alligators or play with the snakes (they are most likely poisonous!). – MB
If you see someone fishing on the beach, it would be wise to swim AWAY from them. – Greg