’Tis the Season: How locals and visitors can live in harmony
Author: Linda S. Hopkins
It’s 3 p.m. on a summer Saturday on Hilton Head Island. In a momentary lapse of judgment, you went off-island to shop or run a few errands, and now traffic is backed up for miles. You make it home and realize you are out of a few essential food supplies, so you head to your closest grocery store. The aisles are jam packed with road-weary, excited travelers, stocking up for the week ahead. The checkout line snakes around to the back of the store where you fall into place. The 10 people ahead of you have overflowing buggies, and the express lane is closed….You decide to put your three items back and return tomorrow.
You pull out of the parking lot and head down 278 towards home. The minivan in front of you is in the left lane going 30 mph with the blinker on. Obviously, the driver has no clue where to turn. It’s almost dinnertime now, and you’re not in the mood to cook. So, you call your favorite restaurant for reservations, but no tables are available until after 9 p.m. What’s a local to do?
Start by adjusting your attitude. Pop a cork, order takeout, or slide into your flip flops and head to the beach for an evening stroll or a refreshing dip in the ocean before sunset. Go down to Harbour Town or over to Shelter Cove Harbour and catch a local band or kids’ show. Play tourist for a few hours and join in the fun. Now, relax and show some love to our visitors, because without them, we would not have many of the conveniences we all appreciate and enjoy.
While you are invested in your property and/or business and doing your part to support our local economy, without the annual influx of visitors, life here would surely be more costly and less luxurious. In addition to the seasonal revenue pumped into area businesses, accommodations taxes and beach preservation fees (paid by businesses renting sleeping accommodations for less than 90 days) fund town land acquisition and periodic beach renourishment. Hospitality taxes (money generated from prepared food and beverage sales, which naturally spike this time of year) pay for many public safety projects and other capital improvements we get to enjoy year-round.
Unless you were born here, you were once a visitor, too. So please roll out the red carpet and treat our tourists with kindness and respect. Happy guests are likely to return, and they may even be your future neighbors.
If you are among the 2.5 million visitors who will cross the bridge to Hilton Head Island for a vacation this year, welcome! We’re genuinely glad you’re here. Yes, our beaches, leisure paths, restaurants, grocery stores and golf courses are a bit crowded in the summer, but you are the reason many of these amenities exist. Thank you.
If you are a savvy traveler, you know that endearing yourself to the locals is the best way to get honest, accurate information. We know all the secrets—like where to buy the freshest seafood, which restaurants have the best food and service, where the fish are biting, which ice cream shop is the coolest and what shopping centers have what you want. Just ask.
While in vacation mode, having gotten a taste of the island lifestyle, many of you will entertain the idea of owning a piece of this paradise. It’s not your imagination. Hilton Head Island has a distinct allure, and we don’t blame you for wanting to stay. Here’s what we would like you to know about our community.
Many of us are retired, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is on a perpetual vacation. Some of us are busy working, building businesses, raising families and volunteering. Forgive us if we seem impatient at times, as we are dealing with the same everyday challenges that you face at home.
So what’s it like to live here? Life centers on three essential values: nature, convenience and community. Often billed as the nation’s first environmentally sensitive, “eco-planned” resort, in spite of its steady growth, Hilton Head Island remains a haven for nature lovers. Notice the waving palms, magnificent moss-draped oaks and pristine waterways decorating our world, with no glaring lights, gaudy billboards or tacky carnival rides to compete with starry skies and moonlit beaches.
It may be hot as blazes now (in the South, we call them dog days), but the weather, in general, is subtropical and temperate. Hilton Head Island experiences all four seasons. Fall brings crisp air, oyster roasts and outdoor festivals. Spring paints the town with bursts of color on a canvas of lush green grass and fresh foliage, inviting us out to play. No snow shovel required for winter, but a sweater and light jacket will come in handy. Steamy summer days are freshened by gentle sea breezes and ocean waves lapping at our toes, but be prepared for an afternoon thunderstorm.
Beyond the natural beauty, a multitude of conveniences contribute to the serenity. In addition to 12 miles of beach and eight beach parks, the island boasts nearly 60 miles of public pathways and more than 50 miles of multi-use trails within private developments. By the way, the Town of Hilton Head Island is recognized as one of the top 25 bicycle-friendly communities in the United States and one of 21 to achieve the Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community award from the League of American Bicyclists. Hilton Head Island is the only Gold Level community in the Southeast and only one of two on the East Coast to receive this designation.
We’re also blessed with a variety of community and recreational parks for picnics, sports, concerts and events, as well as a rowing and sailing center—not to mention the manicured golf courses, upscale tennis facilities and diverse venues for boating, fishing, swimming and other water sports.
Wherever you choose to live, on the island or in Bluffton, rare is the occasion when you will drive more than 15-20 minutes to get where you’re going: Restaurants, schools, shopping centers, churches, grocery stores, hair salons, banks, medical facilities and more are all within an easy drive. Two airports service the area: Hilton Head Airport, located on the island and the Savannah/Hilton Head International airport, about a 45-mile drive from the island, making business and leisure travel a snap. And when you live here, you learn when and how to avoid traffic snares and grocery aisle congestion.
While like a small town in many ways, Hilton Head Island offers an unusual number of cultural opportunities for a community its size: a performing arts center, art galleries, choral society, symphony orchestra, and events such as the Hilton Head Wine Festival (the largest outdoor tented tasting on the East Coast), the Hilton Head Motoring Festival and Concours d’ Elegance, the RBC Heritage PGA Tour event, and many community festivals and family-oriented affairs.
Educational opportunities include public and private schools for children as well as the University of South Carolina-Beaufort’s Hilton Head campus, Technical College of the Lowcountry, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Lifelong Learning of Hilton Head Island.
Setting the community apart most are the friendly and fascinating people who choose to live here. Most everybody is from someplace else, making for a diverse mix of backgrounds, experiences and stories: think Southern hospitality with a multi-cultural spin.
So, dear traveler, we welcome you. If you don’t know your way around, we understand. It took us a while, too. The lights are dim and the signs obscure…and sometimes your GPS is confused. Don’t hesitate to ask us for directions; and if you’re lost or feel the need to drive slower than the speed limit, please be courteous and allow other drivers to pass on your left. Watch for bicyclists and pedestrians, and remember to use your turn signals when changing lanes or exiting a traffic circle.
If you’re riding a bicycle, please use caution and obey all traffic signs, including the miniature stop signs on our leisure trails. While we have a lovely hospital, we hope you have no reason to take a guided tour of the ER.
Please leave our beaches, pathways and roads clean; don’t feed or harass the alligators; and don’t pick the sea oats. We take pride in the beauty and quality of our environment, and we hope that you will enjoy, appreciate and respect all that makes Hilton Head Island an ideal place to vacation and live.
Be our guest. Have fun, and do come again!