Navigating Hilton Head Island
Author: Becca Edwards
Oh, the Griswolds. Out of all their family-bonding-gone-wrong exploits, European Vacation tops my list. Circling the Lambeth Bridge roundabout in London, England, Clark Griswold is pinned by traffic and unable to make a left. It is during this scene that one of my favorite cinematic lines is delivered, again, and again, and again—“Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament!” Every time I approach the Sea Pines circle (which as a mother of three, ping ponging around town, happens more than I would like to count), I am reminded of this quote. So many people seem perplexed by this and other traffic circles on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton. It is as if following the flow of the circle is as fantastical as riding a flying unicorn over a rainbow.
Let me demystify this vehicular phenomenon. If everyone is going a reasonable speed, and there is the space of at least two car lengths between the merging car (you) and the other car (the circling car), you’re good. No need to hesitate. No need to overthink things. Just go. After all, the traffic circle was invented to improve, not impede, traffic flow and to reduce head-on crashes.
Next up, when to take the Cross Island Parkway. This six-mile stretch will cost you $1.25 (you can use your Palmetto Pass) and cuts a 30-minute drive from the north end of the island to the Sea Pines circle to only 10 minutes. I remember the first time I used the Cross Island. I had been away for my freshman year at Washington and Lee University, and when I returned home for a summer of floundering, I drove the parkway with great wonderment. (Now, I could do it with my eyes shut.) Anyway, roughly two miles after entering the island on Hwy. 278, you will see signs for the Cross Island Parkway. Go ahead and make your way into the far left lane then. Because the Parkway is a straight shoot, I would highly recommend cruise control. Also, pay attention to the toll lanes, and know that once you pass the booths, you will merge quite quickly into only two lanes.
As for when to go Cross Island or not, there is some debate. The Hilton Head Chamber blogged, “If you are going to stay in Shipyard Plantation, Long Cove or Wexford, along North or South Forest Beach Drive, or anywhere in Sea Pines Plantation, you will get there much quicker by using the Cross Island Parkway. If you are going to Indigo Run, Hilton Head Plantation, Palmetto Hall, Beach & Tennis Resort or Port Royal Plantation, it is best to use Business 278.” Mid-Island destinations such as Northridge Plaza (which has a movie theatre with epically awesome reclining seats that have lit cup holders) can be a toss-up. First thing to keep in mind: traffic times. After 4 p.m., 278 is like you during cold and flu season—congested and grumpy. Secondly, factor in the weather. A strange phenomenon happens in the South—I call it “rain brain”—and this infliction causes people maneuvering in anything from a downpour to an afternoon shower to drive ridiculously slow and cautious or prematurely employ their flashers. My motto: If it rains, I’m pouring down the Parkway.
Last but not least, let’s look at Hilton Head’s hot spots. Highway 278 actually tells an impressive story. Beginning on the north end of the island, there are streets with names like Cora Lee Lane that honor the Hilton Head natives who inhabited the area post-Civil War and pre-Charles Fraser. Traveling south, you see the island transition into gated communities with old and new businesses. Historian and writer Margaret Greer, who moved to the Island in 1960 and has written five well-loved books about the island, talks about the creative minds and contagious energy that began with Charles Fraser and continues today. “The backbone of Hilton Head is the people—from the natives to the young people moving here today—coming and working together to build a community,” Greer said.
You will find vegetable stands that have been selling fresh, local produce for generations, as well as new developments such as Shelter Cove. Hudson’s Seafood is just off 278 and is the oldest restaurant-business on the island; and The Greenery’s garden retail shop is a charming church circa 1873. Other top picks include Harold’s Diner, Pirate Island’s Golf Adventure, and Honey Horn Planation.
Happy trails; and if I see you on the Sea Pines circle, I’ll do one round of “Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament” with you.