Hilton Head Island in South Carolina is the second-largest barrier island on the East Coast and one of the first ecologically planned cities in the country. Seventy percent of the island is contained within gated communities. Striking a unique balance between blended structures and breathtaking natural beauty and wildlife, this magnificent resort destination has much to offer.
Golf is paramount here with more than 40 championship golf courses. Sea Pines Resort, home of the Verizon Heritage PGA Golf Tournament and the Harbour Town Marina, with its iconic candy-striped lighthouse, is the jewel of the island. I was most struck by the sheer number of trees, a canopy of pines and massive, 100-year-old live oaks dripping with silvery Spanish moss, welcoming you to this semi-tropical retreat, which boasts 12-plus miles of the widest, whitest, most sink-your-toes-into beach I’ve ever walked.
More than 2.5 million visitors arrive each year to enjoy fishing, dolphin watching, water skiing, scuba diving, tennis, biking, kayaking, hiking, dinner cruises and, of course, golf — lots and lots of golf. There are several resorts on the island, many once antebellum plantations. Westin and Mariott both have large, lovely resorts.
My choice is The Inn at Harbour Town for true island ambiance. Considered one of the top golf resorts in the world, it is the only resort on Hilton Head Island to receive all of the following awards: Forbes’ Four-Star Award, Travel & Leisure’s 500 World’s Best Hotels and Conde Nast Traveler’s “The World’s Best Places to Stay, Gold List.”
Although small in size, Hilton Head Island has numerous dining options. Ask a local and they’ll tell you that the finest dining is at sunset on the beach. No worry over reservations, crowds, inattentive waiters or wondering how much to tip.
For a bit more formal dining experience — although everything is casual here — try the Sage Room, a favorite of locals and visitors alike; Michael Anthony’s for upscale, contemporary, fantastic Italian cuisine; Santa Fe Café, a stylish, rustic Mexican spot; and Crane’s Tavern and Steakhouse, for the obvious.
While there, be sure to hop a ferry over to the 8-square-mile, bridgeless island of Daufuskie. Vagabond Cruise will give you an actual tour of Daufuskie, and for the ultimate in sailing around the island, try Advanced Sail Inc. This residential sea island, steeped in legend, lore and mystery, is home to about 425 water-surrounded souls. Split into five sections, it is still inhabited by a small number of Gullahs, or descendants of West African slaves brought over long before the Civil War to work the rich, loamy cotton fields of Daufuskie Island.
Many still employ the Gullah language, a musical hybrid of English and West African. Indian pottery dating back more than 9,000 years has been found on the island and legend has it that most of the old structures are haunted, including the 1883 lighthouse at Bloody Point.
Much more recently, Pat Conroy, one of my favorite authors and a proud adopted son of nearby Beaufort, told of spending one year as the only teacher in the two-room island schoolhouse, teaching children “whom the world had forgotten,” in his unorthodox, do-or-die manner.
“They gave me a boat, told me good luck, and that was all they told me,” he said.
Wide it is, indeed, the beautiful water encompassing Hilton Head and Daufuskie Island — and blue and inviting, and filled with fish waiting to be caught.