When I picture Hilton Head Island, S.C., so many images come to mind. From the quaint harbor town and lighthouse, to 12 miles of white sandy beaches, to sunshine and bike rides with hidden treasures and ocean views, these scenes all remind me of hoppy times with my family. Whether your family likes to golf, ride bikes or do water sports, you’ll find recreational fun for everyone at Hilton Head. Hop along for our top tips for visiting Hilton Head with kids to get some ideas on how to make your Hilton Head vacation the most memorable family vacation yet.
Our Top Tips for Visiting Hilton Head with Kids
Transportation While Visiting Hilton Head with Kids
Hilton Head is located in the southern tip of South Carolina, about 20 miles northeast of Savannah, Ga. Whether you are driving or flying, it is easy to get to.
If you are flying to Hilton Head, there are two airport choices:
- Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) is about 45 miles away. This airport has 26 non-stop destinations, but some routes are seasonal.
- Hilton Head Island Airport is just five miles from Hilton Head resorts. It has non-stop service to just a handful of cities, but it offers connecting options from over 100 cities worldwide.
Arriving and Exploring Hilton Head by Car
Both airports have Uber and Lyft service to Hilton Head, and there are a number of taxi services available on the island. If you are renting a car and driving to Hilton Head from SAV, take I-95 north to Exit 8 and head east. Follow the signs to Hilton Head Island. You’ll take Highway 278 about 18 miles, then cross the bridge to Hilton Head. Keep an eye out for signs for the Cross Island Expressway.
You’ll want to acquaint yourself with the car seat laws in the region so you can be prepared to bring or rent the proper child restraints.
The following laws apply to private cars and taxis in South Carolina:
- Babies under 2 years old must use a rear-racing car seat until they have outgrown the height and weight limits of the seat.
- A toddler up to 2 years of age who has outgrown the rear-facing child passenger restraint system must be secured in a forward-facing car seat in a rear passenger seat of the vehicle until the child exceeds the highest height or weight requirements of the restraint system.
- A child at least 4 years of age who has outgrown his forward-facing car seat must be secured by a belt-positioning booster seat in a rear seat of the vehicle until meeting the height and fit requirements for an adult safety seat belt. The belt-positioning booster seat must be used with both lap and shoulder belts.
- A tadpole at least 8 years old or at least 57 inches tall may be restrained by an adult safety seat belt if the child can be secured properly. That means the lap belt fits across the child's thighs and hips and not across the abdomen; the shoulder belt crosses the center of the child's chest and not the neck; and the child is able to sit with his or her back straight against the vehicle seat back cushion with knees bent over the vehicle's seat edge without slouching.
- All drivers and passengers must wear seatbelts in cars and taxis. The seatbelt law does not apply to public transportation such as buses.
Know the Weather Before Visiting Hilton Head with Kids
Hilton Head is known for mild winter weather and hot, humid summers. Peak travels times are April through August. There are a few weather issues to consider when planning your trip. June through August can bring frequent thunderstorms (getting about 6 inches of rain per month). The hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. The drier months are from late fall through spring (averaging 3 inches per month). The official beach season at Hilton Head is April 1 through Sept. 30.
April, May, September and October are nice times to visit, with lower crowds and beachy weather. Mid-April to May falls in that sweet spot with lower chance of rain, fewer crowds and summer weather (getting into the 80s in May).
In summer, warm temperatures may feel even 10 degrees warmer due to humidity, so be sure to stay hydrated and carry water with you. Highs will be in the upper 80s to 90s, making that pool and ocean water a great way to cool off.
Balmy winters make Hilton Head a “snowbird” favorite destination despite it being the slower season on the island. Be sure to check the weather forecast, though, because even though temperatures may get into the 70s, the average highs tend to be in the low 60s and dip into the high 50s in January. Be aware that no matter what the thermometer reads, many watersport companies and restaurants close up until spring. Winter is also the least expensive time of year to visit (with prices highest in the summer).
Fun Activities to Do at Hilton Head with Kids
Hilton Head is all about frogtastically fun outdoor recreation and water sports. We amphibian sorts love the variety of water and land activities when visiting Hilton Head with kids. Your family will, too!
Make a Splash with Water Sports
Water sports are popular in the warmer months. You can go sailing, fishing (be sure to get a saltwater fishing license for anyone 16 and up), jet skiing or take an excursion to visit dolphin friends, sea turtles or even sharks. More adventurous families can try parasailing, which is actually quite easy and peaceful. Wakeboarding and tubing are also exciting options. Athletic families will love stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking or canoeing. You can explore on your own or go out on a tour with a naturalist to learn about the birds, manatees, dolphins, turtles and other sea life in the area. There’s so much to do on water that it’s hard to narrow it down! If you prefer to relax on the water, you can simply rent a pontoon and cruise around or go out on a boat tour. Argh, me heartys! There’s even a pirate ship adventure!
Explore Hilton Head by Land
If you like to keep your feet (or wheels) on the ground, there’s cycling and golf. Hilton Head has an extensive, well-marked bike path system. The wide paths are kid-friendly and make for a great way to explore the island or even reach restaurants and stores. The island is only 12 miles long and 5 miles wide. Its flat terrain is perfect for a family ride. You can play miniature golf as a family or hit the links if you are more serious golfers. Hilton Head has over 24 championship golf courses. If you have room to improve your game, golfers of all skill levels can benefit from some pointers from PGA-trained instructors at the Golf Academy of Hilton Head at Sea Pines.
If you have animal-lovers in your crew, visit Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. You can be on the lookout for the white-tailed deer, foxes, bobcats and alligators.
Any tennis players out there? The Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center has 23 clay courts and two Nova ProBounce courts.
Did we forget exploring by air? Make that jump and try a zip-lining canopy tour to get spectacular aerial views and a little excitement along the way.
Be a Beach Bum
Don’t froget about all of the beautiful sandy beaches for swimming and relaxing! Ahhh ... I love digging my toes into the warm sand and just kicking back. Even though the beaches are public, the access may be private. Lifeguards are on duty at many beaches during the beach season. Coligny Beach Park is the largest and most popular beach. You can rent anything you need there and buy food, too, so you can make a day of it.
If you are looking for quieter beaches, try one of these beautiful public access beaches (you can even ride your bike there):
- Alder Lane
- Burkes Beach
- Chaplin Community Park
- Folley Field
- Islanders Beach Park
Pack reef-safe sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and UV swimwear. Hop over to learn more tips about how to pack for a beach vacation with kids.
Pick Some Rainy Day Activities
When the weather does not cooperate with your beach plans, or you need a break from the sun, get a jump on planning some indoor entertainment. Take small tadpoles up to age 8 to The Sandbox Interactive Children’s Museum. The museum is designed to be kid-led and for parents to play with their children.
The tadpoles won’t complain it if you take them to the Adventure Cove Arcade. Also, the climate controlled (i.e., air-conditioned) Island Playground has indoor entertainment such as climbing walls, bouncy houses and all you need to help busy froglets burn some energy. Don’t froget to call first to confirm open play times.
You can also do some souvenir shopping or get some ice cream at the covered Coligny Plaza. If you are bargain hunters, the Tanger Outlets have covered walkways.
Another option is to climb the Harbour Town Lighthouse, although you might want to save that trip for a clear day so you can take in the amazing views.
Catch the Fireworks
If you are visiting on a Tuesday, don't miss HarbourFest. From mid-June to mid-August, Shelter Cove Harbour presents a family-friendly festival with carnival games, face painting, live music and fireworks (fireworks go off at 9:30 p.m., weather permitting). There is also a fireworks show on the Fourth of July.
Be Aware of Safety Issues at Hilton Head
Even though Hilton Head is a safe area, there are some natural hazards that are good to be aware of. Take steps to protect your family from the sun with sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, UV wear and umbrellas and avoid the sun during peak times (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) Bring a small first-aid kit with you with antibiotic ointment/cream, bandages, tweezers and pain relievers for both adults and children.
Natural hazards you may encounter include jellyfish or stingray stings, crab, snake, or tick bites and cuts from oyster shells. Alligators live in the area. Stay away from them and do not feed or tease them.
If you suffer from sea sickness, bring medication if you plan to go out on boats or participate in water sports. Even I get a littler greener than usual when boating, so I take meclizine the night before I am going on a boat. That always gives the medicine plenty of time to get into my system and leads to smooth sailing with no issues. Bring whatever methods work best for you.
You'll want to keep your eye on the tide at Hilton Head when visiting the beach or going out on a boat or even canoe. Hilton Head gets dramatic tidal swings that affect beaches, creeks, estuaries and the Calibogue Sound. You should know when high tides and low tides are. There are two high tides and two low tides each day. The beaches may be mostly covered in water during high tide but have much more sand exposed during low tide. Try to visit the beach during a low or falling tide, or you may find your belongings suddenly underwater or your children caught in deeper water than you'd like as the tide moves in. Try to plan your water sports and boat trips around the tidal schedule. Be aware that a falling tide can create a current in the channels. Plus, you have to use caution when boating at low tide due to sand bars and other obstacles.
Stay at Kid-Friendly Hilton Head Hotels
One of our top tips for visiting Hilton Head with kids is to stay at a tadpole-friendly hotel. You do not have to go all the way to Florida to get your Disney fix! You can stay at Disney's relaxing Hilton Head Island Resort. The resort has a Big Dipper pool with a water slide for the big kids, and a Little Dipper Pool for tadpoles to frolic with water-spitting frogs and other fun features. Hop on the free shuttle to the Disney’s Beach House, which sits on 3.5 acres of beachfront property just a mile from the resort. And, yes, you can get Dole Whip there! The resort offers programs for kids, teens and families that offer a sprinkling of pixie dust and Disney magic.
Much of Hilton Head's accommodations are houses and condos, but there are some other kid-friendly hotels nestled on the island. The Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort has a nice pool and beach, bike rentals and a variety of restaurants on-site.
The Inn & Club at Harbor Town has cribs, toys and childproofing items. Older kids will get a kick out of ordering off of their own room service menu or attending the summer day camps. The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa has a kid-friendly pool and beach. It offers full- and half-day activities for tadpoles ages 4-12, as well as movie nights.
Do you have tips for visiting Hilton Head with kids? Be sure to share them with us in the comments below! Did you know that Undercover Tourist is hopping into family-friendly cities, including Hilton Head, Vero Beach and Miami? Be sure to check out our discount tickets, hotels and rental car reservations. And keep hopping back, because we are adding more products weekly!