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Explore Hilton Head Island Like a Local

By Hilton Head Insider

With miles of pristine beaches, abundant year-round sunshine, and bountiful boat- and farm-to-table dining, it’s easy to see why Hilton Head Island has captured the hearts of generations of vacation-goers. Along with these welcomed visitors who return to our shores season after season, the island is also home to a vibrant year-round community who know the Lowcountry better than anyone else — and are always happy to share.

From beach recommendations to bike rentals, dockside dining to open-water adventure, the options for authentic Hilton Head Island experiences are as varied as the wonderful people who live here. Looking to explore the Lowcountry like a local? Read on to discover a few of our favorite beaches, restaurants, and attractions here on America’s Favorite Island®.

Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin Sea

Hilton Head Island is famous for its beautiful beaches — and for good reason. With more than 12 miles of wide beaches stretching out along a pristine scenic coastline, the island is a true sun-seeker’s paradise. From South Beach to Folly Field, Forest Beach to Driessen Beach, there are so many incredible options to choose from when it comes to a day of toes-in-the-sand relaxation.

Whether you’re here for a visit or call Hilton Head Island home, Coligny Beach Park is a popular choice for beachgoers of all ages. Located at the end of Pope Avenue off Coligny Circle, this lively stretch of sand puts you right in the beating heart of our vibrant island community. Enjoy an array of convenient amenities, including free public parking, restrooms, outdoor showers, and a lounge area with plenty of comfortable porch swings where you can savor a little seaside serenity. Accessible beach matting offers barrier-free access — great for families traveling with strollers, wheelchair users, or anyone with limited mobility — while lifeguarding services, beach umbrellas, and chair rentals are available seasonally. A short stroll away, you’ll find the lush grounds of Lowcountry Celebration Park, along with the restaurants and shops of nearby Coligny Plaza — the perfect spot to grab a bite to eat after a morning of fun in the sun.

Of course, Coligny Beach is far from your only option when it comes to a day of surf, sand, and sunshine. For those looking for that authentic, local-approved experience, secluded Fish Haul Beach Park is the ideal choice. Located in Bay Gall overlooking scenic Port Royal Sound, the beloved seaside spot is nestled in the heart of one of Hilton Head Island’s historic Gullah neighborhoods. A perfect counterpoint to the excitement of lively Coligny, Fish Haul Beach offers complimentary parking and on-site restrooms. It’s a favorite destination for picnics, birding, and wildlife watching, so don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for hermit crabs, egrets, and deer tracks in the sand!

group of women drinking wine

Savor Authentic Local Flavor

When it comes to culinary creativity, the bountiful waters off our scenic coast make for an inspiring muse. It’s no surprise, then, that Hilton Head Island is known for such a vibrant boat- and farm-to-table dining scene. With more than 250 restaurants across the island, including many locally owned and family-run establishments, deciding where to begin your culinary adventure can sometimes be a challenge — which is why we’ve rounded up a few local favorites to make the task a little easier.

If you’re looking for a taste of authentic Lowcountry flavor, The Sea Shack is an absolute must-visit during your stay. Their motto, “not fancy, just good”, truly says it all. A local institution since 1998, this no-frills seafood joint embraces the sea-to-table ethos of Hilton Head Island with classic Southern dishes, catch-of-the-day specials, and authentic flavors made to order. Enjoy a bucket of peel ‘n eat shrimp, an oyster po’boy, or one of their famous seafood platters — then finish it off with a slice of strawberry key lime pie.

For a taste of fresh-caught goodness with a side of waterfront views, Up the Creek Pub & Grill is a perennial favorite among locals. Dine on mouthwatering downhome dishes like steamed shrimp, crab cakes, or their famous Broad Creek burger while you watch the daily parade of boats go by from their expansive dining deck. Located right next door to the exciting attractions of Adventure Hilton Head (think go-karting, ziplining, and a thrilling treetop ropes course), this kid- and dog-friendly restaurant is the perfect refueling spot for a day of unforgettable family fun.

Looking to add a touch of decadence to your stay? The desserts at Hilton Head Social Bakery are the cherry on top of a mouthwatering Lowcountry adventure. With two locations — one in scenic Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina and a second South Island shop near Sea Pines Circle — you won’t have to travel far to satisfy your sugar cravings. Choose from a menu of signature café-style drinks like their Masala Chai Tea Latte and Organic Japanese Matcha, indulge your sweet tooth with a decadent Salted Caramel Tart, or celebrate a special occasion with one of their gourmet specialty cakes. With a wide variety of classic, unique, and gluten-free options to choose from, there’s always something new and delicious to try at this favorite local spot.

Find Adventure in the Great Outdoors

Few places in the world are as naturally beautiful as Hilton Head Island, with its calm coastal waters, winding tidal creeks, and lush maritime forests draped in Spanish moss. It’s the sort of place that can’t help but inspire a desire for outdoor adventure, whether you’re here for a visit or are lucky enough to call our island home. 

If you’re looking to explore the island like a local, you can’t go wrong with an adventure on two wheels. Rated as a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community by the American League of Bicyclists, Hilton Head Island is home to more than two dozen bicycle rental shops and over 60 miles of dedicated leisure pathways connecting you with anywhere you want to go. Browse a wide selection of bicycles for rent (with approximately 15,000 available island-wide!), from mountain bikes and retro-style cruisers to specialty options like tricycles and tandem bikes.

Of course, there’s just as much to see out on the water as there is on dry land — and the outfitters of Hilton Head Island are here to help you do just that. Paddle Broad Creek, venture through the island’s breathtaking tidal marshes, or catch a glimpse of playful bottlenose dolphins frolicking in our coastal waters on an eco tour. Knowledgeable local guides offer a wealth of information about the area’s ecology, history, and culture, letting you experience the Lowcountry through the eyes of those who know it best. Inspired to plan an excursion of your own? Find what you need for the ultimate outdoor adventure, from bicycle and kayak rentals to beach umbrellas and boat charters.

man standing displaying large blue art work

Immerse Yourself in Unforgettable Arts and Culture

Inspiration abounds here on Hilton Head Island — and not just where nature is concerned. Our vibrant coastal community offers an incredible array of artful attractions and can’t-miss cultural experiences just waiting to be discovered, including Broadway-caliber productions, electrifying live music, and some of the finest galleries in South Carolina.

Catch a show at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, where the 349-seat main stage and intimate black-box theater regularly showcase the talents of both local and visiting performers in musicals, comedies, and dramas. Channel your inner artist (and maybe even capture some of that breathtaking Lowcountry scenery) with a watercolor class at the Art League Academy. Or savor dinner, drinks, and a live show at The Jazz Corner — named one of the great jazz rooms of the world by Downbeat magazine.

For cultural connoisseurs looking for that authentic, only-in-the-Lowcountry experience, the Island’s Gullah community is not to be missed. Immerse yourself in this unique culture and its uplifting history, brought to life through traditional cuisine, fascinating historic sites, educational exhibits, internationally acclaimed folk artists, and a singularly evocative storytelling tradition that delights in sharing their stories with both binyas (native islanders) and comyas (visitors) alike.

Lowcountry Like a Local

Does reading this have you daydreaming of an authentic Hilton Head Island adventure? Us too! From boat tours to tasty treats and mouthwatering seafood spots, there are so many incredible hidden gems, local favorites, and off-the-beaten-path experiences just waiting to be discovered here on our shores.

Request your free copy of the Hilton Head Island Vacation Planner and get inspired by the incredible attractions, activities, and amazing experiences to be found here on America’s Favorite Island®.

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