Summer Family Fun on Hilton Head Island
Author: Teresa Fitzgibbons
Every summer, thousands of visitors descend upon Hilton Head Island to frolic on stretches of white, sandy beach, dip into the temperate waters of the Atlantic or conquer challenging fairways. Since most of these visitors are families, it’s hardly surprising that Hilton Head offers dozens of family-friendly activities designed to delight. Isn’t it time for your family to spend some time together and take advantage of having a resort in your backyard?
Spend a day on the water
The ocean and beach are the island’s greatest attractions. Without a doubt, local beaches are the island’s number one destinations for both visiting and local families, but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the island’s waters.
A plethora of dolphin and nature cruises, sailing and fishing charters, and other nautical adventures offer families the opportunity to explore local waters and experience face-to-face encounters with dolphins, shore birds, and other coastal creatures. Area captains are often well-versed in both regional ecology and local lore and make the tours as educational as they are fun. Some boats only allow up to six passengers onboard, guaranteeing your family an intimate encounter with nature.
Maybe your family would rather be a little more “hands-on” with nature. If so, a deep sea or shark fishing trip may be in order. The waters of the Gulf Stream are only a boat ride away from the island, and a number of local charters can provide your family with the ultimate in family sport fishing.
If your children are older and you don’t mind a little exercise, rent a kayak and spend the day investigating the Intracoastal Waterway, Broad Creek, or the tidal marshes surrounding Pinckney Island, either on your own or as part of a guided tour. If you prefer something a little more tranquil, you can paddle the 11 mile lagoon that meanders through Palmetto Dunes Plantation.
There are plenty of other ways to engage in a nautical voyage; several larger cruises embark from Harbour Town each day for evening, dinner, fireworks, day, or sunset cruises. If you’re part of a family of thrill-seekers, you may want to try setting out under full sail with one of the local sailing charters or taking a thrill ride aboard the Triple Threat. Families can also rent a powerboat and all the accessories for the day. Water skis, kneeboards, wakeboards, as well as instruction on how to use them are available at Harbour Town Marina. There are a number of local jet-ski and wave runner rentals too. If that’s not exciting enough, try parasailing.
Families with small children may be better off visiting Waterfun Park, where shallow pools filled with whimsical creatures, waterslides, and gently cascading waterfalls await. A snack bar and 18-hole miniature golf course provide the perfect spots to dry off before heading home.
Get the lay of the land
Land-loving families may want to take a walk on the wild side through one of the unspoiled, pristine nature preserves that dot the local landscape. The Sea Pines Forest Preserve is home to a number of hidden treasures, including an ancient Indian Shell Ring, a wildflower meadow, and several lakes. Families can enjoy the Sea Pines Forest Preserve in much the same way as Hilton Head’s earliest explorers did—on horseback! Trail rides through the Preserve are scheduled by Lawton Stables. Hayrides are also available at various times throughout the year. Lawton Stables is also home to the island’s only petting zoo. Miniature horses, sheep, goats, rabbits, and even cows live on the farm, and families are welcome for a fun and furry educational experience.
Pinckney Island offers more than 4,000 acres of primitive coastal habitat and miles of hiking and biking trails through its maritime forest. Water Day Outfitters conducts two-hour bike tours over Pinckney Island, or you can tour at your pace.
Hilton Head Island is a golfer’s paradise. Perhaps your family would enjoy a day on the fairways, or if your golf skills are not quite up to par, at one of the four miniature golf courses on the island, each with its own theme ranging from the Caribbean Islands to pirates. Adventure Cove also provides an impressive arcade for those who prefer indoor games!
Thanks to the Island Recreation Association, Hilton Head boasts an impressive park system, each park with its own unique attractions. Crossings Park offers numerous athletic fields, a basketball court, and baseball diamond, as well as the Bristol Sports Area, the island’s only skate park with ramps, rails, and a roller-hockey rink.
If your family includes a furry friend, Chaplin Park with its dog park and beach access may be the perfect place to while away a Saturday afternoon. It also offers picnic facilities, athletic fields, and paved trails.
Shelter Cove Community Park has a panoramic view of Broad Creek and is a picturesque place for a family picnic. Wide open spaces make it a good spot for kite-flying, too. Be sure to visit the Veteran’s Memorial while you’re there, an impressive tribute to the men and women who have fought for America’s freedom.
The island’s newest park, Green Shell, lies off Squire Pope Road. It’s the perfect place to partake in a bit of island history. The park contains remnants of an Indian village shell ring, an aged cemetery, and an interpretive nature trail leading out to an observation deck over Skull Creek. The Island Recreation Center also provides ample opportunity for family recreation with its swimming pool, basketball and volleyball courts and athletic fields.
Rainy day fun
Of course, sometimes the sun doesn’t shine. Take advantage of the occasional rainy day and enjoy some indoor family fun. Without a doubt, the Sandbox Children’s Museum is the area’s premier rainy-day destination. Parents can either play along or enjoy watching their youngsters explore and learn about the world around them. Imaginative children can pilot a plane, captain a ship, build at a construction site, or ascend the prehistoric themed climbing wall. An art center and Loggerhead sandcastle with magic sand are among other exhibits.
Other rainy days ideas include a visit to the public library—a place that’s certain to have something for everyone in the family. Story times and other children’s activities are planned throughout the summer. Families with older children can enjoy some quality time bowling at Main Street Lanes. Real little ones may be better off at the soft indoor play area located at The Mall at Shelter Cove.
At the Art Café, the whole family can indulge in some creative fun. A little inspiration can turn your family into artists while you paint pottery and create beautiful mementos of your day together. The Art Café fires each piece in their kiln. Speaking of art, if your children are old enough, visit one of the many local art galleries. Calhoun Street in Old Town Bluffton has a number of eclectic galleries and friendly artists including local favorites, potter Jacob Preston and painter and folk-artist Amos Hummell.
Learn about the Lowcountry
The Lowcountry is rich in history, so take your kids on a family field trip this summer. The island’s native Gullah culture is an integral part of Hilton Head and the surrounding isles. Isn’t it time to learn a little more about it? Two-hour Gullah Heritage bus tours depart from the Coastal Discovery Museum each day. The Daufuskie Island Root Doctor Tour, which features songs performed by Marlena Smalls, visits Daufuskie Island’s Gullah landmarks in a funky old bus.
A self-guided walking tour through historic Bluffton features 19 post-Civil War buildings and 10 antebellum homes, including the Heyward House, an 1840s structure, open for tours, that still contains some original furnishings, a summer kitchen, and a slave cabin. If there’s a Civil War buff in your family, stop by one of the island’s Civil War landmarks, including Fort Howell off Beach City Road, which has the most intact fort remains on the island and is open daily, or by Fort Mitchell near the Old Fort Pub, which contains cannons as well as remnants of the old fort’s mounds. The Stoney-Baynard Plantation ruins in Sea Pines are also a must see for the history fanatic in your household.
The Coastal Discovery Museum offers exhibits on Lowcountry history and ecology as well as dozens of tours and cruises. Various special programs for children and families are held throughout the year.
Take a day’s vacation
Why not get off Hilton Head Island or out of Bluffton for a day? While day trips to Savannah, Beaufort, and Charleston are undoubtedly fun, there are a number of other day trip destinations that don’t require very much travel at all.
Daufuskie Island is truly a world apart. While there are various cruises and organized tours of the island, many locals find they enjoy exploring it on their own. Your family can enjoy the ferry ride to Daufuskie where you can rent four-seater golf carts or explore the island by foot or bike. Some areas, such as Haig Point, are restricted, but visitors are welcome to explore Bloody Point, the Old Winery, First Union African Baptist Church, Pat Conroy’s old schoolhouse, crab shacks, Gullah cottages, and cemeteries that date back hundreds of years. The Daufuskie Crab Company Store and Restaurant offers island relics, books, and crafts for sale. There are also numerous inimitable art galleries on the island.
Outside Hilton Head also offers guided tours of Daufuskie as well as custom-designed family adventures including kayak, fishing, crabbing, and boating trips.
An evening out
Local celebrities, Gregg Russell and Shannon Tanner, entertain locals and visitors alike with their crowd-pleasing shows, featuring both old favorites and original music. Both performers invite children to join them on stage and incorporate plenty of family-friendly humor into their interactive shows.
Gregg Russell, a veritable island icon, is entertaining his second generation of fans underneath Harbour Town’s Liberty Oak Tree. In addition to his music, families can also enjoy the atmosphere of Harbour Town and its shopping and dining. The Gregg Russell Playground with its fantastic play area and tree house wrapped around the giant oaks is a favorite stop for local kids.
Shannon Tanner’s whimsical show is set in the electric atmosphere of Shelter Cove Harbour. Besides enjoying Tanner’s show, families can also get an up-close view of the Tuesday night fireworks. If you want to avoid the crowds that invariably flock to the harbor, stop by Shelter Cove Community Park where the Island Recreation Association hosts a family dance party every Tuesday night.
Coligny Plaza is a wonderful place for families to spend either an afternoon or an evening out. Families can stroll along the duck pond or lushly-landscaped walkways while browsing the diverse shops, unique restraints, and colorful ice cream parlors. In the center of the plaza are fun kiosks and a stage that is often the site of live performances.
Dinner and a movie is always a surefire way to please everyone in the family. Sea Turtle Cinemas, the newest area movies theater, has 12 large-screen movie theaters with VIP sections and an arcade, not to mention nearly a dozen family-friendly eateries within the plaza. If Bluffton is out of your way, Park Plaza on the island’s south end or Northridge Cinemas on the north end can be a great place for a family night out as well.
If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path, take a ghoulish ride on the Ghost Ship and hear haunting Lowcountry legends form a native storyteller. The fully narrated cruise departs Harbour Town and makes a stop at the Marshland Graveyard where Captain James Kirk is buried.
Few places offer the wealth of family fun and recreational opportunities that Hilton Head does. This summer, be sure your family takes some time out to enjoy the same things that lure families from around the world to the island’s shores year after year.