It’s no secret that beachy vacations are among my favorites, and that usually means hot sand beneath my toes, the warm sun on my face, and refreshing umbrella drinks in my hand. But this tail-end-of-autumn trip to Hilton Head Island was not my typical beach vacation — the air was crisp, the sand was cold, the sun was weak and the cocktails were replaced by hot tea. And you know what? It was still an awesome experience!
Upon flying into Savannah, Georgia, my boyfriend and I took an hour-long drive northeast until we reached Hilton Head Island. We were astounded by the topography along this drive — there were plenty of palm trees (which are actually Palmetto trees, the state tree of South Carolina), but right next to them were pine trees. What an unexpected pairing of plant life in this part of the country (the palm trees in my hometown of Phoenix are accompanied by cacti). Since we were approaching an island, various bodies of water could be seen during much of the drive, too.
Hilton Head Island is segmented into gated communities, which they call plantations. We stayed in Shipyard Plantation, on the south end of the island, which contains many residences, resorts and walking/biking paths that meander through 27 holes of golf. With only one day to explore our surroundings, we knew we had to make the most of our short time. After all, I’ve been hearing people rave about Hilton Head Island for decades and it was finally my turn to check it out.
Yoga and Walking Along the Beach
Upon check-in, we were told that sunrises over the ocean are a must-see — so we vowed to make use of our resort’s private beach access. We set our alarms for bright and early the next day, and made it to the beach shortly before dawn.
The air was chilly with a brisk wind and the beach was uninhabited, except for a few birds, when we arrived. As we walked up and down the beach for several miles, we marveled at the tranquil sound of the calm ocean waves. It was a bit overcast, but as the sun started to rise, the clouds parted — the sunrise was a beautiful array of coral and golden tones.
And once the sun awoke from its slumber, everything began to spring to life. We started passing others out for their morning stroll or jog, several with dogs who were overjoyed to be frolicking in the sand.
Soon, it was time to meet others from our hotel for the 9 am beach yoga class — the instructor and a few other guests were kind enough to bring us yoga mats. It was still chilly as we reluctantly took off our socks and shoes and stepped into the sand and onto our mats … brrrr! You have to remember, I’m from Phoenix! But after the initial stretching session and holding a few poses, we began to warm up. During our practice, I focused on listening to the birds calling out to each other, the dogs yapping and greeting one another, and the ocean waves rolling in and out. Usually all I have to listen to in a yoga class is the zen music they pipe in and people panting. This was such a peaceful way to begin the day. We ended with a seated meditation facing the ocean, which allowed the sun to warm my face.
Lunch and Shopping at Hilton Head Island’s Coligny Plaza
Next, we took a short van ride into town, to an area called Coligny Plaza. This plaza, which has been known as Hilton Head Island’s downtown since 1955, is packed with about 60 shops and restaurants.
We took our time exploring the shops (you can find everything from hand-dipped candles and surf gear to fudge shops and boutiques filled with apparel and accessories), purchasing souvenirs from friendly shopkeepers and enjoying the quaint and chill vibe.
We had missed breakfast and finally it was time for lunch. Upon a recommendation from a local in one of the shops, we stopped for a bite at The Sandbar. And what a great recommendation it was!
Their menu is so chockfull of Southern- and Caribbean-style comfort food (another fascinating combination, just like the palms and pine trees) that it was nearly impossible to choose just one dish. When I asked the server what we should get, he suggested the fish tacos and catfish sandwich. To experience even more local flavor, we ordered beers from the Hilton Head Brewing Company: India Pale Ale IPA and the Tropical Lager.
Our meals were delicious, each bite cozier and more scrumptious than the next. And the beers were the perfect choice for washing it all down. We chose to sit inside, since I was still cold, but they have a huge outdoor patio and bar area with TVs that would be great for larger groups and game day festivities. If I ever visit again, I’ve got my eye on the Co Co Shrimp, the Lowcountry Tacos with pulled pork, and Jamaican Jerk Pasta. I highly doubt you could go wrong with any of them.
Public Beach Access Across the Street
Finally, we took a walk across the street from the plaza and ended up at the Coligny Beach Park public beach access area. They have a cute changing area with showers, a great picnic shelter filled with Adirondack chairs, a water feature (that is probably a big hit with kids when the temps are warmer) and bench-style swings.
From here, we walked down the boardwalk and onto the beach (which has a mat for wheelchair access). We stood at the water’s edge for a while, watching flocks of birds squabble as the waves rhythmically moved around them. Hilton Head Island is one of those places you could easily imagine yourself living. And it was here that I said goodbye to my beloved ocean — it’s always a difficult task, because I never know exactly when I’ll see the beach again. But that uncertainty and longing is probably part of its magic. Until I see you again, ocean …