I spend quite a bit of time in and around the Hilton Head, SC area. Long-known as a Mecca for golfers and retirees, I find the island extremely enjoyable and I am alone.
One of my favorite attributes of this quaint little town is the wide array of locking possibilities. This is both a blessing and a curse.
For the first-time visitor in Hilton Head, one of the main dilemmas is whether or not to stay in one of the chain hotels near the beach, stay in Sea Pines Plantation or Palmetto Dunes Plantation.
Sea Pines and Palmetto Dunes are both titled Plantations, as they are both surveyed of vast acres of forests and green space. They offer gated security in most areas, and each has their own communities with restaurants, beaches, shopping etc … so that a visitor technically never has to leave the plantation.
In this blog, I'm offering my opinion on what I believe to be the benefits of each area, and what to see while you're there.
South Forest Beach
If I'm staying in a hotel while on Hilton Head Island, I'm usually staying in this area. It has the Holiday Inn Oceanfront, with the infamous "tiki bar". If you stay in this hotel, you sacrifice luxury for location in regards to accommodations, but you still pay the luxury price if it's the high season. In this area, you are almost always with walking distance to many of the shops, grocery stores, and restaurants. Most of the nightlife in this particular area revolves around either the tiki bar at the Holiday Inn, or walking to one of the local bars. You'll find locations and tourists alike in most of the nearby eateries.
The beaches here are crowded during the high season; however, it's not unbearable. South Forest Beach is probably my favorite beach area on the island, you'll have day-trippers, locales, and families on vacation combined in this area. Also, of note are the miles and miles of bicycle trails you'll find through Hilton Head Island. Check out Bicycle Billy and he'll have one delivered to your hotel.
Sea Pines Plantation
Sea Pines is probably Hilton Head's oldest; and most well known plantation. It is over 55 square miles, and contains approximately 33,000 people (according to the 2000 census)
It is home to The Heritage golf tournament, and features multi-million dollar homes, an Inn, as well as, upscale condominiums available for rent.
Whenever I go, I usually rent a condo via ResortQuest.Com or through an individual at Vacation Rentals By Owner.com. Keep in mind that each of these units are all individually owned, so be sure to see pics of the property before you arrive. If you arrive late, ResortQuest.com has an after hours box for keys, and in Sea Pines the property owners can leave keys at the main office and call you in a pass at the gate.
It has many different neighborhoods, and each area has something to offer. If I were staying in Sea Pines, I would either try to stay in the HarborTown area, or the South Beach area. In Harbourtown, you have the upscale shopping and dining, and in either area you have access to some of the finest golf courses in South Carolina. Keep in mind that in this area, you are not close to beachfront. You would either have to drive, bike or catch the local transportation to the Sea Pines Beach Club. This would only be about a 5-10 minute drive.
If you stay in the South Beach area, you still have shopping, and dining, along with the world famous Salty Dog Café (make sure you pick up a T-shirt here … you're not cool if you do not) . This area during the summer comes alive at night, and live entertainment and ice cold beverages abound. There is also a small isolated beach area (South Beach) nearby where you can fulfill your Gilligan's Island fantasy, as it's usually deserted. This stretch of beach also has no public restrooms.
There are many condos to rent in this area as well, and you are about a 10 minute bike ride from the Sea Pines Beach club, where there are ATTRACTIONS, a bar, and a seaside dining.
As indicated, if you have bicycles you can travel through the plantation on the miles of bike trails.
Palmetto Dunes Plantation
Palmetto Dunes Resort was named the # 1 Family Resort in the World by Travel + Leisure Magazine. It is contracted of near 2,000 acres and has 3 miles of beautiful waterfront.
Like Sea Pines, it too is a highly gated community, with the exception of the Shelter Cove Marina area. It has 3 championship golf courses, shopping and dining all within the resort. There are 2 public Beach access areas, The Dunes House and the Disney Beach House. Both of these ATTRACTIONS provide fantastic beach areas, with chair and umbrella rentals, and seaside dining, a bar, and restrooms.
There is shopping within the resort, and in the Shelter Cove Marina area, along with the Shelter Cove Mall which has many of the major retailers. Grocery and many other retail stores are within close proximacy. Bike Trails are really handy here, and even if you're staying across the road in the Shelter Cove marina area, you can bike via a path that goes under the main highway into Palmetto Dunes so that you do not have to cross the road .
I would have to say that the ATTRACTIONS and beach access are better in this area. During the summer, and the off-season, you can find nightly entertainment and dining in the marina area. You can sit among million dollar yachts and watch the sun go down. You can be at almost any of the resorts amenities in a few minutes via a bike in Palmetto Dunes.
To repeat from above, whenever I go, I usually rent a condo via ResortQuest.Com or through an individual at Vacation Rentals By Owner.com. Keep in mind that each of these units are all individually owned, so be sure to see pics of the property before you arrive. If you arrive late, ResortQuest.com has an after hours box for keys, and in Palmetto Dunes the property owners can leave keys at the Security office and call you in a pass at the gate.
MY RECOMMENDED RESTAURANTS
- Black Marlin -86 Helmsman Way, Hilton Head, SC, Great Breakfast / Brunch, Affordable Food, Fantastic View of the Water from the Outdoor Patio. Try the Shrimp and Grits.
- Signe Bakery- 93 Arrow Road, Hilton Head, SC, Nice Stop for a quick Pastry and Coffee, or a "sit-down" breakfast meal. An island institution and serves some great pancakes
- Kenny B's French Quarter Café -70 Pope Ave. Ste A, Hilton Head, SC, Cajun Style Breakfast, with Boudin, Crawfish, grits, plus traditional breakfast fare.
- LUNCH / DINNER
- Jim & Nicks BBQ -872 Fording Island Road, Bluffton, SC, Great Smoked BBQ!
- Ruan Thai -811 William Hilton Parkway, Hilton Head, SC, Fresh Ingredients, Great Prices and Really GOOD Thai food. Their soups are fantastic.
- Skull Creek Boathouse -397 Squire Pope Road, Hilton Head, SC, This is a great place to eat outdoors in the evenings. They have excellent outdoor waterside dining, and an ambiance that can not be matched on the island. Large Trees provide a canopy for your dining pleasure. They have really good Ceviche, Steaks and seafood.
- Crazy Crab -104 William Hilton Parkway, Hilton Head, SC, One of the most popular spots for seafood on the island … it's a little pricey, but worth every penny.
- BLACK MARLIN -See the address above. This is probably my favorite place on Hilton Head for any meal!
I really struggle to recommend one of these areas over the other. I've tried to outline the pro's and con's of each, and honestly if you're on the island anywhere near the beach, there's not too many bad places to stay. If it happened to be my first time in Hilton Head, SC I would probably stay on one of the above plantations, I would not recommend booking directly through the plantation itself, because you pay more money for no added benefit. Stick to Vacation Rentals By Owner.com or Resortquest. As I've mentioned, both of these areas are conducive for families with children, couples or singles. If I were single, I'd probably stay at the Holiday Inn, because although it's good for families as well, it has easy access to nightlife.
I've lived in South Carolina my entire life, and I'm very proud that we have areas like Hilton Head to attract tourists. I hope this post helps make your decision easier, and I hope you get to experience true Southern hospitality while you're in this great state. Once you visit, it gets really difficult to leave, on my last trip to Palmetto Dunes, I actually had a guy tell me that he moved here from up North, because his wife used to cry every time they left to go back home! I hope you experience the same!