Hilton Head Island is considered America’s favorite island. With 12 miles of unspoiled beaches; 24 golf courses on-island and over 40 in the immediate area; and dozens of resorts, hotels, and B&Bs, Hilton Head Island is among the premier leisure and recreation centers on the Atlantic coast.
Hilton Head Historic Attractions
The island has a rich past. Hilton Head played host to several events that influenced and shaped the history of the area and the nation. Its geography and placement near the mouth of the Savannah River and at the entrance of Port Royal Sound made the island a strategic food gathering, economic, and military location. The island was named after British explorer Captain William Hilton in 1663.
The oldest known archeological attraction on the island is the 4,000 year old Sea Pines Shell Rings, a nearly perfect circle of oyster, clam, whelk, turtle, fish, and other animal bones and shells. The ring is covered with a layer of dirt and is thought to have been a community gathering and trading place.
In the mid 1700s the island was home to the first cultivation of a cotton strain that would become one of the highest grades of cotton, Sea Island cotton. As South Carolina grew, the Sea Island cotton trade became a vital part of the southern economy.
The Civil War saw the construction of Fort Walker, a Confederate fort located near Port Royal Plantation on the Northeast corner of the island. This was the scene of the Battle of Port Royal, which resulted in a Union victory as the fort fell to over twelve thousand Union troops and renamed Fort Welles. Hilton Head became an important base for the U.S. Navy’s blockade of Confederate shipping for the remainder of the war. Its proximity to Savannah and Charleston made it one of the most strategically important Union bases on the Atlantic coast. Shortly after the Union took the island, Hilton Head became a place where hundreds of former slaves could live freely, own land, go to publicly funded schools, receive government subsidized housing, and serve in the Union army. The community of Mitchelville was formed on the north end of the island by former slaves.
The island has always been used to defend Port Royal Sound. During World War II, the Atlantic coast of Hilton Head Island saw the placement of several large concrete gun platforms, many of which can still be seen and explored along the beaches lining the eastern side of the island. At this time, the island’s full time population was only about 300 people. That would change soon after the end of the Second World War with the construction of the James F. Byrnes Bridge in 1956 which opened the island to vehicle traffic as a fixed link to the mainland. The Byrnes Bridge was replaced by the current four-lane William Hilton Parkway in the early 1980s.
After a fixed link to the mainland was established, Hilton Head Island quickly developed into a resort island. In the 1950s, the original growth forest on the island was nearly completely cut with over 19,000 acres of trees processed by the island’s three lumber mills. As the island was cleared of timber, recreation destinations like the Sea Pines Resort, Hilton Head Plantation, Palmetto Dunes Plantation, Port Royal Plantation, and other resorts started to reshape the economy and lifestyle of the island.
Today, there are dozens of beautiful resorts supporting nearly 60 nearby golf courses and hundreds of other recreational or leisure activities. An annual PGA TOUR tournament, the RBC Heritage has been held at the Sea Pines Resort’s public course, Harbour Town Golf Links since 1969. Other attractions include the Disney Hilton Head Island Resort, Fort Howell and Fort Mitchel, the Leamington Lighthouse, Green Shell Park, and the Xeriscape Garden.
Things to do on Hilton Head Island
One of the best things to do when visiting Hilton Head Island is relax. Hilton Head Island boasts twelve miles of pristine beachfront and is one of the most relaxing places on the Atlantic coast. Lay back and read a book while enjoying perfect weather and a wonderful ocean breeze. For lovers of water sports, Hilton Head is home to a bevvy of choices, from kayaking to paddleboarding to sailing. The island is also well-known for dolphin tours, biking, and tennis. If you have kids, check out the Hilton Head Pirate Experience! Families might also appreciate the thrill of Zipline Hilton Head, helicopter tours of the island and surrounding area, the Atomic VR Arcade, or one of the many mini-golf courses. In between attractions there is plenty of great seafood, Southern dishes, and other award-winning cuisine and spirits, as well as an abundance of hospitality to keep everyone happy.
For more information about Hilton Head Island, visit HiltonHeadIsland.org.
Getting to Hilton Head Island
Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport is conveniently located just a short drive from Hilton Head Island. It is situated approximately 30 miles south west of the island, about a 40 – 45 minute drive. Drive north on Interstate 95 and then east on route 278 until you get to the William Hilton Parkway. Car rental and direct to resort shuttle busses are also available at Savannah/Hilton Head International. For more information on ground transportation from Savannah/Hilton Head International to Hilton Head Island, click here.