Simple Pleasures of Hilton Head Island
What could be more appealing than twelve miles of Atlantic Ocean beach running along South Carolina’s coast? The roll of the ocean and the kiss of the sun lure me back often when what I want is a casual vacation that offers a choice between activity and complete relaxation. Apparently, over two million visitors feel as I do each year and make Hilton Head Island their choice as a vacation spot.
Unlike many other beach destinations, Hilton Head is set up in plantations designed to protect the privacy of year-round residents, as well as providing the greatest security possible for guests to the island. Shipyard Plantation and Sea Pines Plantation offer the best of the vacation beaches, although garnering beach front property in either locale can be a pricey endeavor. There just isn’t that much available, so staying at one of the many condo complexes within the plantation is a terrific option. Hopping on a bike and pedaling a short distance down one of the many paved trails is worth it for the treasure of personal space once you hit the sand. Room for your towel, room to play Frisbee, or even room to enjoy the gentle surf – all are standard here.
If your idea of relaxation includes more than lying prone for hours on end, Hilton Head offers many water-related activities. There are several marinas for fishing charters, dolphin watching, and sunset sails. Shelter Cove Marina at Palmetto Dunes, Broad Creek Marina, and the Harbor Town Yacht Basin are your best bets for dependable, quality resources. For the more adventurous, South Beach Marina, located at the furthest reaches of the island, is the best known spot for parasailing, windsurfing, jet skiing, and water skiing. Windsurfing is hard work, so I’m much more interested in parasailing. It is amazing how peaceful and quiet it can be floating just a few feet (well maybe a little more than a few) off the ground can be.
Although not nearly as kooky and crazy as its Miami namesake, the energy of the water activities give Hilton Head’s South Beach an electricity of its own. This is where you’ll find Salty Dog Café, the eatery that has spawned that seemingly ubiquitous t-shirt. The restaurant is so popular that they’ve also opened The Wreck of the Salty Dog just around the dock. Don’t miss the onion rings here – they’re light, unique, and completely addicting!
Play and Eat
You can mention outdoor activities at Hilton Head without discussing golf and tennis. Twenty-four golf courses dot the island and provide recreation and challenges for casual and more serious golfers alike. If you want to play the Harbor Town course, be prepared to shell out up to $250 for green fees, depending on the time of day and the time of year you choose to visit. You can play on the island for just under $50, but the well-known courses such as Oyster Reef, Palmetto Dunes, or the Oceans course at Sea Pines will run you somewhere between $60 and $100. That must be why I don’t play golf – not enough bills in my wallet. That, and the fact that I can’t swing a club and consistently hit a ball to save my life. Although to be honest, I did par one hole on Oyster Reef when I was 9. Nothing like beginner’s luck.
I’ve played a lot more tennis on Hilton Head, dating all the way back to when I was two. Each of the plantations has their own tennis center, so a court is always nearby. Many of the condo complexes have their own courts, too. Van Der Meer Tennis Center has been around for 35 years. It’s a great place to brush up your game and maybe spot an up-and-coming tennis star! The Shipyard Racquet Club is also a Van Der Meer facility within Shipyard Plantation. Just off the harbor, Sea Pines Racquet Club is also a highly-respected facility. Ranked as one of the top 25 tennis destinations in the country, the Port Royal Racquet Club offers yet another option for volleys and drop shots.
Where to head once the sun begins to set? A stroll along the harbor in Sea Pines might be in order, followed by dinner at the Crazy Crab. With a plethora of seafood choices and menu prices that are reasonable for the portion sizes, this is a perennial favorite. I actually prefer the location on Jarvis Creek to the one in Harbor Town, simply because the pace is slower and more relaxed. A jazz musician on the deck overlooking the salt marsh is a great way to end a day at the beach.
My personal favorite, as cheesy and old school as it is, is going to the Greg Russell show in Harbor Town. If you’re looking for free and fun entertainment, Greg Russell has been singing under the big oak tree every night since the mid 1980s. The show begins at sundown so make sure you get there a little bit before sunset so you can grab an ice cream cone and settle in for an hour or so. Make sure to see Randy and ask him about the boat you would have won if you only remembered to spell your name with a capital letter.
By Dorian Nunley