Tips for a Better Vacation on Hilton Head

The seasons

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 souls are seen swimming. Golf and tennis, however, know no seasons.

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.

The summer

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 in summer, 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, take the complementary jitney or plan to walk fairly long distances (at least for children). Tuesdays are good times to go to restaurants, miniature golf, etc, away from Shelter Cove.

In summer, restaurants get quite crowded.  Phone ahead for reservations, though many don't take reservations.  Busiest 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 bird" specials. If you insist on lunch at noon and dinner around 6 PM, plan on long waits. Locals avoid those hours.


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. It can matter a lot if you rent a boat or kayak and end up high and dry for several hours. 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.  If 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 hatchling 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). Try crossing behind the vehicle. 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. More here.

The trolley

Starting in 2019 a trolley service was instituted on the island. It's a green trolley/bus that goes from Coligny Circle up DeAllyon Ave, Pope Ave, New Orleans Rd., and up 278 to Shelter Cove. The fare is $1.00, kids under 46" in height are free. It runs every 30 minutes from 1:00 PM to 10:00 pm (Midnight on Fridays and Saturdays). There is an app that will let you track it in real time and there is a ticketing app as well. The service will be available during summer months. Since this is a new service there may be changes made with experience, so verify the schedule here.


Talk is cheap because the supply exceeds the demand. (unknown)

This page Updated 08/07/19



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