Hilton Head Island. What three words better conjure up images of seaspray and surf. Of charming coastal lighthouses and lush golfing fairways. And, of course, of sun and sand.
The famed barrier island — which sits 45 miles north of Savannah, Georgia, and 90 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina — offers easy accessibility for Cincinnatians. Hilton Head Airport is located five miles from most major resorts and is served by a number of Cincinnati air charter services; larger carriers also fly into Savannah International Airport, located about an hour’s car ride away.
It’s a 12-mile-long, five-mile-wide island loaded with great golfing, great beaches and recreational fun, and terrific seafood delights. Popular island activities include tennis, fishing, scuba diving, parasailing, crabbing, horseback riding, dolphin-watching tours, swimming and water-skiing. (MSN Travel just named Hilton Head one of its “Top 10 Family Beaches.”)
“Anything you’d want to do for recreation, you can find it here. Bocci, fishing, tennis, golfing, whatever. I count 20 golf courses,” says Hilton Head resident R. Dean Roberts, a 1969 graduate of the University of Cincinnati and the president of the Hilton Head UC alumni chapter. Roberts has lived on the island since 1996 (after spending the previous decade vacationing there with his family on a regular basis).
“If you like to bicycle on the beach, the sand on the southern and mid-island beaches is hard-packed,” adds Roberts. “Whatever you do, it’s all lovely here.”
Indeed, there’s a Shore Beach Patrol in charge of maintaining the pristine look of the island’s beaches. Lifeguards and other shore patrol officers take charge of keeping the sandbars clean and safe, as well as supplying the odd deck chair and umbrella if you find yourself in need.
A PLANNED COMMUNITY
Hilton Head is actually a planned community, one of the largest on the Atlantic seaboard. Back in the early 1950s, Charles Fraser — an eco-preservationist who founded Sea Pines Resort — imagined vacation and rental communities that would peacefully cohabitate with the magnificent pines and marshes brimming with sea life. As Fraser once put it, “I selected beauty and set out to make it work economically.”
By selectively using deed restrictions and covenants, Fraser was able to assure his dream of environmental and commercial perfection.
The legacy lives. Today, adults can enjoy nature walks amid the trees draped with Spanish moss, unfettered by the Targets and Wal-Marts of the world, while kids can catch lizards along the Sea Pines Forest Preserve Walkway.
The semi-tropical weather of this coastal community — a haven for salt marshes, lagoons and magnolias — lends itself to relaxing, take-it-easy vacations. The average daytime temperature is 70 degrees, and the average ocean temperature is 69 degrees. The highs can swing from the 60s in the winter months to the 90s in the heat of August.
GO FOR THE GREENS
No question, golf is what it’s all about on Hilton Head. From the legendary Harbour Town Golf Links, home to the annual MCI Heritage of Golf Tournament, to Eagle’s Pointe, Golden Bear, Hampton Hall, Hidden Cypress and Hilton Head National (designed by Gary Player), there’s enough challenging courses to satisfy the soul of any golfer. The Country Club of Hilton Head, located inside Hilton Head Plantation, is a Golf Digest four-star course, while Crescent Pointe is the only public links on the island designed by Arnold Palmer.
Prime golf season, thanks to the balmy weather, is considered March to May and September to November.
It’s hard to imagine ever feeling you’d want to leave this beautiful nature preserve for the more commercial centers in the region. That said, Charleston and Savannah await anyone who gets the itch for some serious shopping, dining and nightlife options.
If you stop in Savannah for a shopping expedition on River Street, be sure to leave time for one of the town’s culinary experiences. The Food Network’s Paula Deen is known locally for her Lady and Sons restaurant on West Congress Street and the Oyster House on Bryan Woods Road. Other hot spots include the Olde Pink House on Abercorn, the Pirates’ House on East Broad, Elizabeth on Thirty-Seventh, and the famed Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room on West Jones (the lunch sitting is at precisely 11 a.m., and is served family style, with heaping bowls passed among the tables).
And if you hop over to Charleston for a day’s shopping expedition, head first to downtown’s King Street and its wealth of shopfronts and unique stores. Make time, as well, for a stop at Citadel Mall with its 100 specialty shops and five — count ‘em — five department stores.
After all, pristine nature has its place. And so does Neiman-Marcus.