Hilton Head Island South Carolina
[ United States ]

Pine Cones and Palm Trees: A Few Hours on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

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 pine cones
A pine cone

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.

HIlton Head Golf Course
I came upon this breathtaking sight during a walk around the golf course … look at that reflection in the water!

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.

Sunrise Hilton Head Island
Just before sunrise
Deserted beach Hilton Head
It’s fun having the beach almost all to yourself!

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.

Beautiful sunrise Hilton Head Island
The sun looks like a big ball of fire
bird on hilton head beach
The early bird catches the worm
Hilton Head beach
I found this little formation so artistic

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.

Yoga on the beach
Yoga on the beach

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!

The Sandbar Hilton Head
The Sandbar restaurant

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.

Hilton Head Brewing Company
We enjoyed the local brews

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.

The Catfish Tugaloo
The Catfish sandwich, with 1000 island dressing on sweet Hawaiian bread
The Tacos de Pescado The Sandbar
The Tacos de Pescado … the sriracha mayo was fantastic!

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.

Hilton head beach showers
Changing rooms and showers at the beginning of the boardwalk
HIlton Head beach swings
Taking a moment to see what my golden years might be like … I wouldn’t mind spending them on a swing by the beach

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 …

Hilton Head Beach
As we walked back up toward the boardwalk, I had to take one last look back at the sea
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  1. I always have such a hard time saying goodbye to the beach. Glad to know I’m not alone. The sunrise stroll sounds amazing! I love those rare times that you get the magic of the beach all to yourself. It feels like heaven. I have never been here but I’m going to have to check it out. When I do, I am eating that catfish sandwich! Thanks for sharing!

  2. This was a GREAT read! My dad vacations in Hilton Head every year, he flies down Memorial Day weekend. I now see WHY he goes. Great pics, thank you!

  3. HHI is my FAVORITE p.ace in the world. Been a dozen times, including my honeymoon!! Glad you got to experience it!

  4. This trip looks incredible and relaxing! I’m from Phoenix too, so that yoga on the beach sounds chilly to me too, but focusing on the birds and working out the body will warm you up!

    Robin // Penn And Quill

  5. I thought this is great. I do not recognize who you might be however definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you happen to are not already 😉 Cheers!

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