It is hard to spend time among the Sea Islands of South Carolina without visiting Hilton Head island. Hilton Head is about halfway between Beaufort SC and Savannah GA. It is one of South Carolina’s major vacation destinations.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Hilton Head Island was home to several plantations, mostly growing sea island cotton. During and after the Civil War, the area was part of the Port Royal Experiment, and became home to hundreds of freed African-Americans, who could buy land and send their children to schools.
The area became one center of Gullah-Geechee society, and remained so for a hundred years as access was limited to private boat and ferry service. In 1956, a two lane bridge was built to the island, and so was the Sea Pine Resort, Hilton Head’s first tourist destination. Today, Hilton Head has numerous developments, both resorts and year-round residents.
|Stoney-Bayard House - via Wikicommons|
Development on Hilton Head has been done under the ecological supervision of the local government. There are mandates to the height and size of buildings and amount of trees and green space required to be included. There are several public parking lots for beach access, and plenty of shopping and restaurants opportunities. I stopped at the tourist information office, and a trip to the Sea Pines Resort was suggested, so off I headed.
One reason for this choice was a chance to visit The Sea Pines Forest Preserve. This nature preserve was created in 1970, and offers hiking trails, horse trails, guided boat tours of the lakes and fishing piers. I drove to Fish Island, where there was parking available, along with picnic tables and shelters. Fish Island is fairly center to the preserve, and sits between Lake Joe and Lake Thomas, two of several lakes you can visit.
The fishing piers here are a great place to enjoy watching some of the local wildlife. Who knows, you might even spot one of the alligators that lives here. There are plenty of trails to walk, through sea forest, swamps and marshes. It is a nice place to enjoy some time with nature.
My other destination in Sea Pines was Harbour Town. Set around the Sea Pines yacht basin, Harbour Town offers a wide selection of stores and restaurants. It is the place to come for fishing and dolphin watching excursions. It is also home to the Harbour Town Light House. First, I chose the Harbourside Burgers and Brew for lunch. This outdoor grill gave me the chance to people watch as I enjoyed my repast, and my seat at the bar (it was a crowded Monday in May) allowed to talk with other vacationers.
The Harbour Town Light House and Museum was final destination in Sea Pines. The light house is privately owned and operated. It was built in 1969, and become an iconic symbol for Hilton Head Island. Its tower is 90 feet tall, and you can climb to the top for a great view of the marina and surrounding area. As you climb the light house you walk through a museum of local history and coast guard memorabilia.
The truth is, much of Hilton Head Island does not feel welcoming, if you are just coming in to visit for a day. Almost all of the developments are behind locked gates. But dig a little bit under the surface, and there is a great time to be had.
Nuts and Bolts:
Getting There - Take US 278 south from I-95. US 278 becomes a toll road on Hilton Head Island. Business 278 is a free alternative, although a slower one.
Sea Pines Resort charges a $9/car entrance fee for day visitors.
The Harbour Town Light House has a $4.50/person fee to climb the tower.