5 Ways to Do Hilton Head, S.C., Like a Local

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A woman walks along a path towards a secluded beach on Hilton Head Island.

Hilton Head, S.C., is a popular destination. But experiencing it like a local adds a lot more fun and charm to this small island. Getting off the main roads and going to the hot spots frequented by residents is one of the best ways to travel.

Ready to learn how to do Hilton Head like a local? Let’s get into it.

Why You Want to Experience Hilton Head Like a Local 

Hilton Head is a 12-mile-long island known for its Atlantic Ocean beaches and golf courses. The minute you step on the island and breathe in the salty air, you’ll know it’s time to relax.

While tourists flock to the island from near and far, there’s nothing like getting the local experience. From the food to the beaches and more, those who reside in Hilton Head know better spots than the guide books.

A vacationer holds up a locally crafted cocktail against the backdrop of beautifully sunny beaches on Hilton Head Island.

The Most Crowded Tourist Spots to Avoid in Hilton Head, S.C. 

Travel guides will likely take you to the most crowded tourist spots in Hilton Head. Since beaches are the biggest draw to the island, some get overcrowded. If you’re looking for a more relaxing experience, Coligny Beach, Hilton Head Island Beach, and Singleton Beach are the beaches to avoid. 

Harbour Town can also get very busy. While you’ll likely want to experience it on a visit, you may want to avoid doing touristy things like climbing the lighthouse. Resorts on the island can also get crowded. We recommend looking for alternative stays and entertainment. 

5 Ways to Experience Hilton Head, S.C., Like a Local 

Are you ready to experience Hilton Head like a local? Here are five ways to do so.

1. Do Your Research 

Your research starts here. But after you’re finished with this article, we recommend planning out your visit to Hilton Head, S.C., in more detail. To avoid crowds and experience the island like a local, you’ll need to be prepared to make the most of your time. 

Know which activities you want to do and then research where you’ll stay based on their proximity. The island is big, but it’s helpful to be within walking or biking distance to some things. For example, if you’re planning to be on the beach every day, try to find a vacation rental near the beach you’ll frequent most.

In addition, do some on-the-ground research. Once you arrive at Hilton Head, talk with locals about what they like to do for fun around the island, where they like to eat, etc. You may be surprised about what gems you find.

2. Go to the Right Beaches 

While doing your research, make a note of the beaches you want to experience. The beaches that locals go to are the best since they know the lay of the land better than anyone. Here are three of the best beaches on the island.

A father playfully tosses his son high into the air above his head as they enjoy a beach day along the shore in Hilton Head.

Burkes Beach

Burkes Beach lies off William Hilton Parkway at the end of Burkes Beach Road. There are metered spaces and street parking options. You’ll have a short walk on a sandy path covered by trees and bushes to get to the beach. The beach is large and sandy with an outdoor shower. 

Mitchelville Beach 

Mitchelville Beach is one of the quietest shoreline escapes on the island. It’s located at 124 Mitchelville Road. The beach has natural landscaping and trees around it making it feel unspoiled. It has a bathroom and an outdoor shower.

In addition, there’s a wooden bridge that you can walk on from the beach to Barker Field, a recreation park. It has an observation deck that looks over the marshes for beautiful views of the ocean. 

Folly Field Beach

South Forest Beach

A wooden stairway to a white sand beach on Hilton Head Island.

3. Stay in Boutique Hotels or Vacation Rentals 

Rather than staying in crowded resorts, try a boutique hotel or vacation rental. With Airbnb and VRBO, there are easy ways to find unique, small, and personal rentals to truly make you feel like a local.

Often vacation rentals are in neighborhoods. This is a great way to see how residents live on the island and feel like a part of it all. It can also be much more relaxing than having people trip over your feet at the resort pool!

4. Use Local Transportation 

Using local transportation can help you blend in and experience the island like a local. Try taking the bus to the beach or into town. Taking your bike along or renting one is also an excellent way to see a lot more of Hilton Head.

5. Visit More Than the Beach 

As you can see, the island has plenty of beaches. But there are more things to do than the beach. Here are five fun recommendations to get to know Hilton Head.

Harbour Town

Harbour Town is a quaint place to shop and eat next to a marina. It’s located in The Sea Pines Resort. You can find clothing and home decor boutiques, gift shops, and art galleries. Food choices include top-rated restaurants as well as casual outdoor dining. You can also go on a dolphin tour or do deep-sea fishing from here. 

Boats in a marina as the sun sets over the water in Hilton Head.

Sea Pines Forest Preserve 

Sea Pines Forest Preserve is an area that protects wildlife habitat. You can walk its trails, bridges, and fishing docks. There are also guided boat tours, horseback rides, fishing expeditions, and wagon tours. 

Ruins of Stoney-Baynard Plantation 

You’ll find the Stoney-Baynard Plantation ruins in the Sea Pines area. Two families, the Stoneys and the Baynards, occupied the plantation in the antebellum era. The ruins are of a tabby home they built. You’ll find it off of Plantation Drive.

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge 

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge sits between Hilton Head and the mainland. It was established in 1975 and once included the plantation of Maj. Gen. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. The 4,053-acre refuge consists of salt marsh and tidal creeks. It’s a great place for nature enthusiasts and bird watchers.

A pelican flies close the the water's surface along the coast of Hilton Head Island.

Coligny Plaza 

Coligny Plaza is a shopping center in Hilton Head. You can find clothing shops, dining options, and even a duck pond here. It’s a great place to go when you need a break from the beach and sun.

Traveler’s Tip: While Hilton Head is a popular destination for good reason, we also recommend exploring South Carolina’s best small towns for a unique vacation.

Enjoy Your Trip to Hilton Head, S.C. 

Do you have your bags packed? We hope you get to visit Hilton Head, S.C., soon! It is a great place to spend your vacation, but it’s even better when you get off the beaten path.

Use these tips to explore the heart of Hilton Head. Then, let us know how your trip went in the comments below.

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