Tourism and Tours

Hilton Head Island | Finding peace and tranquility on Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head Island is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the South Carolina Lowcountry — and for good reason!

The island has clean beaches, loads of incredible seafood restaurants, golf courses galore, and plenty of family-friendly outdoor activities.

It’s also a great place to take a multi-generational family vacation, since Hilton Head has a little something to suit every age group.

I’m going to attempt to cover all the main points you need to know if you’re planning your first trip to the island. Although I live in nearby Savannah, Georgia, my parents have owned a place on HHI since I was in my teens (and my grandfather did before them — in the old Lawton Beach area), so I guess you could say I’m pretty familiar with it.

Hilton Head, S.C.

The most popular time to visit Hilton Head Island is during the summertime, but spring and fall aren’t too far behind. In fact, the island reaches near capacity each year in April when the RBC Heritage event takes place!

Hilton Head is popular during the winter months, too, thanks to snowbirds who visit to escape cold and snowy climates.

In fact, I won’t be too surprised to see the island filled with people year round at some point in the near future! (It’s already getting that way.)

One thing to keep in mind when you’re planning a visit is that Atlantic hurricane season kicks into high gear late in August. Storm chances stay pretty high throughout September and into October.

The threat dies down as the storm season comes to an end in November.

Still, if you plan a visit anytime between mid-August to mid-October, I suggest purchasing travel insurance for hurricanes, just to be on the safe side.

Additional Important Considerations

There are a few important considerations to factor in when you’re planning a trip to Hilton Head. While none of these are necessarily deal-breakers, I still want to mention them.

If you’re traveling by car, there is currently only one way on and off the island. Thankfully, the bridge is divided into four lanes (two in each direction), so your chances of getting stuck on the island for extended periods of time aren’t too bad.
Most of the time-share rentals on the island use Saturday as their check-in/check-out day. That means traffic coming and going during peak tourism season can cause a bit of a gridlock on Saturdays — especially during the midday hours.
Hilton Head’s beaches get really dark at night! This is by design, and it’s done to protect endangered loggerhead sea turtles that nest on the island. That’s great because it means the island has very little light pollution and you can easily see the stars, but it’s not ideal for late-night walks on the beach.

Savannah to Hilton Head

The most common way to get to Hilton Head from Savannah is by car.

Depending on which route you take, the distance between Savannah and Hilton Head varies between 30 to 45 miles. The drive takes a little more than an hour, but it can be quicker if traffic is light.

You can drive along I-95, but I prefer taking the scenic route through Bluffton. To do so, you’ll leave Savannah heading west on Oglethorpe Avenue, cross over the Talmadge Bridge on HWY 17 into South Carolina, and then veer right onto Okatie HWY.

From there, you’ll cross through a roundabout to May River Road, which goes straight through the Old Town section of Bluffton. You’ll see lots of beautiful old oaks along that route!

Exit left on Burnt Church Road and then right on Bluffton Parkway. The parkway spills onto HWY 278, which leads straight to Hilton Head Island.

You could also opt for Uber or Lyft, but a quick glance at their fare estimators tells me it’ll cost you roughly $100 each way to do so.

Hilton Head Parking

The parking in most (not all) of the public beach access areas on Hilton Head Island is free, so you don’t need to allot a large budget for parking.

(That’s just one of many reasons why I prefer Hilton Head to Tybee Island, Georgia.)

Map of Hilton Head

If you look at a map of Hilton Head, you’ll notice the island is shaped like a foot.

Think of the north end of the island (where the heel would be) as a quiet, residential area. Most of the homes in that area are large, higher-end homes, and the beaches are in more of a natural state.

The middle portion of the island (where the arch of the foot would be) is where the majority of the hotels and public beach access points are located.

The southern end of the island (where the ball of the foot and the toe section would be) is where Sea Pines Resort and Sea Pines Forest Preserve are located. That area is also home to Harbour Town Golf Club and the Harbour Town Marina and Lighthouse.

Although beaches in the Sea Pines area are public, the majority of the land along that southern tip of the island is reserved for Sea Pines members and guests. I’d say that area is more exclusive.


There are plenty of hotel options throughout the island, but I’ll split them up by section and will list a few of the most popular ones in each area.

Hotels on the north end of the island:

The Westin Resort & Spa

Popular hotels in the mid-beach area:

Sonesta Resort
Omni Hilton Head

Popular hotels in the Sea Pines area:

The Inn & Club at Harbour Town
Marriott’s Heritage Club
Marriott Monarch at Sea Pines

Hilton Head Home Rentals

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, then you probably know I’ve taken a firm stance against short-term rentals within Savannah’s city limits.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn I feel the same way about Hilton Head. Here’s a bit of the backstory to explain why…

When the bridge to Hilton Head was built in the 1950s, it opened the floodgates for developers to come onto the island and begin buying up as much land as possible.
During that process, those developers displaced thousands of Gullah families who had been living on land their ancestors bought or inherited at the end of the Civil War.
In many instances, when developers obtained the land from the Gullah people, they did so through deceptive practices — which meant Gullah heirs rarely received a fair price for their land.
Once the developers seized the land, they stripped it, constructed new accommodations, and then marketed those properties as luxury resorts.
The newly-constructed resort properties attracted wealthy — and primarily white — families to purchase properties on Hilton Head, thus shifting the demographics of the island. The percentage of African Americans residing on the island was nearly 100% in the 1920 census and had shifted to less than 6% by the 2020 census.

These families are losing their ancestral land at an alarming rate — with only a few hundred estimated acres of Gullah-owned land remaining on Hilton Head Island (that number used to be in the thousands).

If you reserve your home rental through either of the VRBO links in this section, 100% of those commissions will be donated to this Fighting Injustice on Hilton Head fundraiser.

Things To Do in Hilton Head

When it comes to things to do in Hilton Head, the list is a long one.

Of course, most families will want to spend their days on the beach, but that’s not the only option. Hilton Head is also known for its award-winning golf courses and 60+ miles of paved bike trails.

If you’re not into golfing, biking, or swimming, here are some other great options to keep you busy:

  • Go on a sunset dolphin cruise
  • Take a stroll through Sea Pines Forest Preserve
  • Visit Coastal Discovery Museum
  • Explore the Gullah Heritage Trail
  • Visit Michelville Freedom Park
  • Catch fireworks and live music at Shelter Cove
  • Challenge yourself to a round of mini-golf at Adventure Cove
  • Visit Harbour Town Marina and climb the Harbour Town Lighthouse
  • Go shopping at Coligny Plaza
  • Catch a sunset at Shelter Cove Community Park

Finally, if you want to spot some alligators in the wild, you can do just that during gator mating season (late spring) in many of Hilton Head’s parks — Jarvis Creek Park is a good one — or you can head off the island to visit nearby Pinkney Island National Wildlife Rescue.

Hilton Head Restaurants

There are a couple conglomerates that have a monopoly on the top restaurants in Hilton Head. The SERG Group is probably the biggest one. They own quite a few restaurants that are very popular amongst tourists.

Most popular spots:

  • Skull Creek Boathouse
  • Skull Creek Dockside
  • Frankie Bones (my personal fave)
  • Nectar
  • Black Marlin
  • Guiseppi’s
  • Wise Guys

A few additional hotspots on the island (that SERG doesn’t own) include Bullies Barbecue, Old Oyster Factory, Fish Camp, Ela’s on the Water, Hudson’s Seafood, Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte (aka: Charlie’s Coastal Bistro), and Coast.

If you like Jamaican food, I suggest visiting Red Stripes Caribbean Cuisine, which is located at 840 William Hilton Parkway. It’s a Gullah-owned establishment.

Hilton Head Beaches

Hilton Head Island has approximately 12 miles of beaches. Roughly half are ocean facing and the rest look out over the back rivers and inlets.

There’s no such thing as a “private beach” on Hilton Head.

All of Hilton Head Island’s beaches are public from the point where the ocean meets the sand to the high-water mark.

You can be asked to leave if you step off the beach onto a resort or a homeowner’s private property, or if you are breaking beach rules (littering, damaging the dunes, drinking alcohol, etc), but otherwise, the beaches are meant to be enjoyed by all.

From north to south, these are a few of the most well known public beaches and/or access points:

Mitchelville Beach | Quiet, better for walking than swimming
Folly Field Beach | Ideal for families
Bradley Beach | Ideal for families
Burke’s Beach | Ideal for families
Coligny Beach | Most popular, lots of amenities nearby

The beach area around the Alder Lane Access area and Coligny Park is typically referred to as “Coligny Beach,” and it’s generally the most populated beach on the island. Mitchelville Beach (aka: Fish Haul Beach) is the most remote and quietest of the popular beaches.
Hilton Head Island Travel Guide

 Epic Things To Do in Hilton Head Beaches

  • Haunted Tours in Savannah
  • Savannah Trolly Tours
  • Squares in Savannah
  • Savannah Walking Tours
  • Savannah Black History Tours
  • Cemeteries in Savannah

Restaurants in Hilton Head Beaches

These are a few of the most well-known restaurants in Savannah:

  • The Olde Pink House
  • The Pirates’ House
  • Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room
  • The Lady & Sons
  • The Grey
  • Husk
  • Back in the Day Bakery

Breakfast Restaurants in Savannah

  • Auspicious Bakery
  • B Matthews Eatery
  • Big Bon Bodega
  • Clary’s Cafe
  • Fork & Dagger
  • Huey’s on the River
  • Husk
  • Narobia’s Grits & Gravy
  • The Collins Quarter
  • The Grey Market

Historic District Breakfast

  • B Matthews Eatery
  • Clary’s Cafe
  • Double Wide Diner
  • Huey’s on the River
  • The Collins Quarter

Starland District Breakfast

  • 2 Chefs Gullah Geechee Soul Food
  • Back in the Day Bakery
  • Narobia’s Grits & Gravy
  • Troupial Savannah

Best Fried Chicken in Savannah

  • Geneva’s Famous Chicken and Cornbread
  • Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room
  • Savannah Fried Chicken
  • Sisters of the New South
  • The Grey

The Best Burger in Savannah

  • Betty Bombers
  • Crystal Beer Parlor
  • Green Truck Pub
  • Over Yonder
  • Sly’s Sliders and Fries

Restaurants that NEED Reservations in Savannah

  • The Olde Pink House
  • The Grey
  • Common Thread
  • Husk
  • Alligator Soul

No Reservation Restaurants in Savannah

Travelers who plan their daily activities around restaurant reservations to ensure dining at a “must-eat” spot
Travelers who prefer to go with the flow and not be restricted to eating at a certain time

For those of you who fall in the second category, the restaurants below include ten top spots that operate on a first come, first served basis — no reservations necessary:

  • Crystal Beer Parlor
  • Double Wide Diner
  • Green Truck Pub
  • Huey’s
  • Little Duck Diner
  • Starland Yard
  • The Ordinary Pub
  • The Vault
  • Treylor Park
  • Vinnie Van Go Go’s

Favorite haunted tours, haunted houses, and haunted places

432 Abercorn Street

This house was considered one of the most haunted homes in Savannah for almost half a century!

The haunted tales behind it are truly WILD, so there’s good reason why the ghost stories about the Benjamin Wilson House have persisted for so long.

They include narratives of a local resident who killed his own daughter in an attempt to punish her, a gruesome dismemberment of three children, an attempt to convert the home into the headquarters of the Church of Satan, and more.

The Mercer Williams House

The Mercer Williams House | 429 Bull Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401
Tours: Yes. The tours focus on the historic aspect of the home.
Hours: Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. | Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Anyone who has ever read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” knows this now-infamous home was the scene of the crime for Danny Hansford’s alleged murder.

After Jim Williams was tried four times for the murder, he was finally acquitted — only to return to his home and die of natural causes in nearly the same spot where Hansford lost his life.

The Mercer Williams House is a stunningly beautiful home, and the owners are kind enough to allow visitors inside to explore a few main rooms and the carriage house — which operates as a gift shop.

The Sorrel Weed House

Sorrel-Weed House | 6 W Harris Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401
Tours: Yes. The home is open for daytime history tours and evening ghost tours.
Hours: Sunday – Friday 11 a.m to midnight | Saturday 10 a.m. to midnight

The Sorrel Weed House is a very popular stop for spirit seekers.

Tourists have reportedly captured images of ghosts reflected back at them in the elaborate mirrors inside the home, and some people claim to feel a very evil and mysteriously draining energy in the basement.

You can do historic tours there during the day and ghost tours at night. They even offer paranormal investigations on weekend nights that run until 2 a.m.

17Hundred90 Inn

17Hundred90 Inn | 307 E President Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401
Location: Historic District

The vibe at 17Hundred90 is very cozy, and they have a fantastic restaurant on site.

The Marshall House

The Marshall House | 123 E Broughton Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401
Location: Historic District

In a city chock full of historic properties, The Marshall House is easily one of the most historic of all.

It opened in the mid-1850s and has seen all kinds of sordid uses through the years. For example, it operated as a temporary hospital during multiple horrific Yellow Fever epidemics and General Sherman commandeered it to treat wounded soldiers during the Civil War.

East Bay Inn

East Bay Inn 225 E Bay Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401
Location: Historic District

The longer the history, the higher the chances of a property being haunted …and East Bay Inn was built way back in 1852.

Rumor has it there’s a mischievous spirit (nicknamed “Charlie”) who occasionally makes his presence known to believers who stay at the inn.

Foley House Inn

Foley House Inn | 14 Hull Street, Savannah, Georgia, 31401
Location: Historic District

You honestly can’t go wrong with any of Savannah’s bed and breakfast options, but if it’s a haunted house you’re after…it’s hard to beat the Foley House.

Construction crews once discovered a human skeleton inside the walls of the home! It truly doesn’t get much spookier than that.

If you go on any of Savannah’s ghost tours, there’s a good chance the guide will lead you past the Foley House to share the tale of Honoria Foley and the murder she committed when a man snuck into her bedroom late one night.

Hamilton-Turner Inn

Hamilton-Turner Inn | 330 Abercorn Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401
Location: Historic District

The Hamilton-Turner Inn is my favorite splurge option! The interior design is incredibly beautiful, and the location is pretty fantastic, too. It’s within easy walking distance to the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist.

Kehoe House

Kehoe House | 123 Habersham Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401
Location: Historic District

The Kehoe House is another excellent choice if you’re hoping to stay in a haunted mansion!

It’s a luxurious property that’s rumored to be haunted by two twin boys who reportedly fell to their deaths inside the chimney.

The Kehoe House served as a funeral home for a period of time in the 1900s, so I say it has a good chance of being haunted based on that fact alone.

The Pirates’ House

The Pirates’ House | 20 E Broad Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401
Must-Try Dishes: Award-Winning Honey Pecan Fried Chicken, Fried Green Tomatoes, and She Crab Soup

The Pirates’ House has a reputation of harboring spooky spirits whose footsteps echo across the building late at night and ghosts who appear to be real humans, that is — until they disappear into thin air!

The pirate aspect is rather fascinating, and the Herb House portion of the building is one of the oldest surviving structures in the state of Georgia. It was built in 1734.

The Olde Pink House

The Olde Pink House | 23 Abercorn Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401
Must-Try Dishes: Mac ‘n Cheese Poppers, Crispy Scored Flounder, Fried Green Tomatoes, and the Praline Basket for dessert

The Olde Pink House is said to be haunted by the ghost of the original owner, James Habersham. He’s the type of ghost I’d like to have around, since he tidies up after guests and hangs out in the tavern with patrons.

17Hundred90 Inn Restaurant

17Hundred90 Inn & Restaurant | 307 E President Street, Savannah, GA 31401
Must-Try Dishes: Biscuits Drizzled w/Honey, the Rack of Lamb is their most popular dish, the Neptune, and Key Lime Pie for dessert

17Hundred90 Inn ranks as one of the most haunted hotels, restaurants, and bars, thanks to the many ghosts who reportedly live on the property.

The restaurant is where the meanest ghost is said to hang out. He tosses items at the kitchen staff, makes a lot of noise, and is generally just a sourpuss.

Colonial Park Cemetery

Colonial Park Cemetery | 200 Abercorn Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401

Many of the ghost tours stop by Colonial Park Cemetery, since it’s considered the most haunted cemetery in the area.

It is interesting to explore its grounds during the daytime and to peek over the iron fence in search of ghosts after dark.

Bonaventure Cemetery

Bonaventure Cemetery | 330 Bonaventure Road, Thunderbolt, Georgia 31404

This absolutely stunning cemetery is located on the outskirts of Savannah, so you’ll need a car to get to it — but it’s well-worth the trip.

Some of the ghost tour guides like to mention Bonaventure’s haunted factor when discussing the ghost of Little Gracie Watson. Her father was the proprietor at a local hotel and Gracie was popular amongst the guests.

Moon River Brewing

Moon River Brewing | 21 W Bay Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401
Location: Historic District
Must-Try Dish: Expect typical pub fare. There are better places to eat in Savannah.
Drinks: They serve plenty of options, from beer to wine to mixed drinks.

The folks at Buzzfeed: Unsolved and The Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” have both done investigations at the brewery.

Moon River is said to be haunted by angry spirits. Don’t be surprised if you feel pockets of icy cold air or have items knocked off your table while downing a drink there.

Six Pence Pub

Six Pence Pub | 245 Bull Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401
Location: Historic District
Must-Try Dish: The Shepherd’s Pie
Drinks: Single Malt Scotch

Six Pence reportedly has the kind of spiritual energy that guests can actually feel! It’s a very cozy little British pub, but employees complain about light bulbs bursting and similar electrical issues.



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