Hilton Head island's "high" season is from about Easter to Labor Day. Outside of
those dates regularly scheduled events may be rescheduled or cancelled. You
should always call to see what the off season schedules are.
Between the end of Thanksgiving weekend and about Valentines day (February
14), some businesses and especially restaurants might close for refurbishing for
a week or so. Most normal
water oriented activities are unavailable, as boat captains save on liability
insurance (some of the big boats, like the Hilton Head to Savannah trips still
run). Only very hardy soles are seen swimming. Golf and tennis, however, know no
The busiest times on Hilton Head are the weeks of Easter, the Fourth of July and Labor
Day, plus the first week of August. During these times restaurant reservations
are recommended, and you should make reservations for other activities
either in advance or as soon
as you arrive, before they fill up.
Fall is one of the best times to visit Hilton Head. The water is still warm
enough for swimming, and you can be comfortable in shorts. Restaurants are
uncrowded and activities don't fill up. The weather is at its best then.
Spring is wonderful too, though the ocean may be cold.
Most Hilton Head visitors come in the summer, during the summer break for schools. On
very hot days our weather can get very tropical, with sudden thunderstorms
popping up in the afternoon. The storms usually don't last long, perhaps an
hour, but they are often accompanied by lightning. For this reason, outdoor
activities, especially on the water, should be scheduled for the morning hours
(or very early afternoon). You definitely don't want to be on the water or the
beach in a lightning storm, nor do you want to be biking (the temptation to seek
shelter under a tree is too great).
By the way, South Carolina, like most southern states, requires motorists to
turn on their headlights when it's raining enough to use wipers. On rainy days, you frequently see parked cars with headlights on, so don't forget to
turn them off.
Coping with Summer crowds
In the summer, visitors typically leave and arrive on Saturdays. Saturday
morning traffic off the island will be quite heavy, and Saturday afternoon it
will be quite heavy arriving on the island. All you can do is be prepared for
it, make sure you have plenty of gasoline, and be patient. Or you can leave
before dawn or arrive at night.
All grocery stores are very crowded on Saturday afternoons. You can
save yourself some hassle, after driving many hours to get here, by bringing the
first night's dinner and first morning's breakfast, or you can order pizza for
delivery, or pick up Chinese food or other take out for your first dinner. Please
do not buy groceries that require refrigeration before you have checked in to
your accommodations. Sometimes something unavoidable goes wrong and check in is
delayed. Don't add to your aggravation with food spoiling in your trunk.
Parking in Sea Pines public areas is all but impossible, but they provide
free parking just inside the main gate (on your left) and a free shuttle to
Harbour Town, South Beach, Sea Pines Center, the Beach Club and other locations.
Tuesdays in summer Shelter Cove offers free entertainment and fireworks. This
is so popular other parts of the island clear out Tuesday evenings. Needless to
say, parking is a challenge here, although there is a lot of it. If you don't
arrive early, plan to walk fairly long distances (at least for children).
Tuesdays are good times to go to restaurants, miniature golf, etc, away from
In summer, restaurants get quite crowded. Phone ahead for reservations.
days are Thursday and Friday (mom gets a break), least busy are Saturday (most people are leaving)
and Tuesday (Shelter Cove fireworks). A restaurant that serves 150 dinners one
day might serve 500 dinners the next, so service may not be fast. Given kids'
short span of attention, consider going early before the crowds hit if you have
little ones with you. That way you can also take advantage of "early
The tides on Hilton Head routinely run eight feet, sometimes more. If you
leave stuff on the beach at low tide and go somewhere, it may be underwater when
you get back. Tide charts are readily available in visitor oriented
publications. It matters if you want to ride bikes on the beach, which can be
done only near low tide, when the hard sand is exposed. In a few parts of Hilton
Head there is little or no beach at high tide. There are two high and two low
tides in each (approximately) 24 hour period. If you want more information about
tides, click here.
Rules and regulations
Hilton Head has some laws and regulations that may not be familiar to you.
You should look up the beach rules in a visitor oriented publication or read the
signs at the beach. One of the more important laws forbids alcoholic beverages
on the beach (thanks to a few who abused the privilege); it is enforced. There
are laws to protect our flora and fauna, and mostly they follow common sense.
you conform to the old saying "leave nothing behind but your footprints,
take nothing but your memories" you will be fine. When you go beachcombing,
keep in mind some of what you pick up is living creatures (like hermit crabs
inside shells or brown sand dollars), and these are protected. Leaving
fishing line or hooks on the beach creates an obvious problem. Sea turtles
will ingest plastic bags, balloons or foam food containers thinking they
are jellyfish and will die as a result.
More about nature here.
Crabbing is a favorite
sport on Hilton head. There is a minimum size for "keepers", and you
may not keep a female carrying eggs (an orange spongy mass on their underside).
If you should be lucky enough to see a sea turtle or its nest, stay away and
just watch. These are endangered species protected by Federal law. As an
example, the maximum penalty for disturbing a sea turtle nest is 56 years in
prison and a fine of $390,000. These people are serious! Also, there is a law
requiring that lights visible from the beach be turned off or shielded between
May1 and October 31, after 10 PM. This is because hatching sea turtles go toward
light, which in nature is toward the sea. If they go inland they die.
Dolphins are likewise
protected. You may not feed them - again, very stiff fines!
The reason there is no building on the sand dunes is that they are our
defense against storm surge caused by gales or hurricanes. You have probably
seen on TV houses built on the dunes or beaches falling into the sea during
gales or hurricanes. The dunes are fragile, and any disturbance to the natural balance
causes them to vanish. They are held together by the grasses you see growing on
them. Ironically, these grasses are so delicate that walking on them kills them.
For this reason it is against the law to walk on the dunes. The town has
provided walkovers at frequent intervals, so this does not present a hardship.
Bicycling is popular on Hilton Head, and there are many bike paths all over
the island. There are two good reasons to travel by bike - there's no
parking problem and it's good exercise. Bicycle rental companies abound
and rates are usually competitive. Most rent by the day or by the week and use
"beach bikes", which are coaster bikes with no gears. Since the island is
very flat, this is all you need. Also available are kiddie seats, trailers for
kids or paraphernalia and tandem bikes. All rental companies have helmets
and bike locks - use them. Keep in mind, when you are on a path beside a divided roadway
such as Pope Avenue and
you are approaching a vehicle entering the road, the driver will be looking to
his left only, waiting for a break in traffic. If you cross in front of this
vehicle from the drivers right you stand a good chance of being hit (I see it
many times every year). If you rent a bike ask the company what their policy is
regarding stolen bikes. Once in a while someone "borrows" a bike
to go joy riding and then abandons it. Or just avoid this by locking it
up. You can bike on the beach at or near low tide, where the sand is hard
packed. It is not advisable to take a bike into the water, as salt water
is extremely corrosive.
You might be tempted to save money ($25/ week +or-) by bringing your own bike.
If it's a fancy, multi gear bike keep in mind you are bringing it to a very
corrosive environment, and it could end up costing you more in the long run.