Can you believe it’s time for summer vacation already? Where did the school year go? For a lot of families, summer vacation means it’s time to plan a family trip. For those of you who haven’t started planning or can’t decide where to go, I thought I’d share a review of our four favorite family-friendly beach destinations (how’s that for some alliteration). In this series of four posts, I’ll be reviewing destinations that we have visited and share what we loved about each location, provide suggestions on where to stay and recommendations for our “Must Do” items at each location.
These reviews were getting a bit lengthy so I had to break them down into a series of four posts. Each destination has its own unique experiences, so without giving away the locations, I’ve categorized our favorite destinations as:
- Best Beach Destination for Active Families
- Most Budget Friendly Beach Destination
- Best Beach for Nature Lovers
- Most Relaxing, Family-Friendly Beach Destination
So let’s get started!
Best Beach Destination for Active Families
My first review happens to be for the beach we visited again during spring break this year, Hilton Head Island, SC! While this destination can certainly be relaxing, if your family prefers vacations with a lot of activities, shopping, restaurants and night life, Hilton Head is the perfect family-friendly destination for active families.
Why It’s Great for Families: There are lots of the family friendly activities on Hilton Head, from golfing to horseback riding you can do as much or as little as you want. As an added bonus many activities don’t cost a thing! The obvious free activity is the beach. Hilton Head’s beaches are great for building sand castles, flying kites, and on most days boogie boarding can be pretty fun. Beyond the beach you can visit the Lawton Stables , and visit the free petting farm with goats, miniature donkeys, sheep and a whole host of other farm animals.
If petting the beautiful horses isn’t enough, for a fee families with older kids (8 years and older) can opt to take an hour long trail ride. Younger kids (ages 2-7) can take shorter pony rides for only $10.
Other free activities include visits to the numerous playgrounds and parks on the island, our kids really enjoyed visiting Harbour Town.
Harbour Town is a section of the island with a beautiful lighthouse and marina. There are lots of shops and restaurants in Harbour Town and a very nice playground for the kids. In the summer months there are also a lot of family friendly outdoor concerts and events so be sure to check out the events calendar before you go.
Where to Stay: Hilton Head has several very large gated communities referred to as “plantations”. We’ve stayed in condos both in and out of the plantation areas and honestly, deciding where to stay is simply a matter of preference.
If you want to stay in an ocean front property, I’d recommend staying outside of the plantations as you’ll get a little more for your money. If you like being within walking distance to restaurants and shops, staying near Coligny Circle is a great bet. On our last trip we stayed in a beautiful condo with great ocean views just south of Coligny Circle and enjoyed being close to all the shops and activities there. If renting a condo or house isn’t your thing and you’re looking for a good value, I’d recommend The Beach House a Holiday Inn Resort.
The resort is located right next to Coligny Circle and beach front. While we didn’t stay there, we did dine in the restaurant, The Porch and were impressed with the modern, industrial beach-side atmosphere.
The open air dining included a tiki-torch encircled patio with tables by the pool. From the patio, we could have dinner with our family and hear and watch live music at the adjacent Tiki Bar without actually being in the bar. The patio also had a fire pit where you could roast marshmallows and in the evening you can float in the pool or relax in a lounge chair and watch a movie on a large projection screen poolside! Again, we didn’t stay here but considering the location and fun, friendly atmosphere we just might consider it for our next trip.
We’ve also stayed in the Sea Pines plantation, which is where the famous Salty Dog Restaurant and shops are located. There are private parks and beach access in most all of the plantations and if you’re looking for slightly more upscale properties and fewer crowds, staying in a plantation is the best option.
We’re not golfers but Hilton Head has renowned courses and I can say the Sea Pines Plantation Golf Club and course are beautiful. If you look for properties near the golf courses many of them include a private golf cart and rounds of golf.
Must Do: Eat! There are so many great restaurants on the Island and our latest trip to Hilton Head seemed like it was all about the food! Our top three Must visit restaurants are: The Skull Creek Boathouse, the Old Oyster Factory, and the famous Salty Dog restaurant.
The Skull Creek Boathouse
The Skull Creek Boathouse is a casual restaurant located on northwest side of the island and is literally just behind a “boat house” storage facility. This restaurant is a very popular place and they don’t take reservations so plan to dine early or late if you don’t want to wait. Don’t worry if you do have to wait, there’s plenty to help pass the time. Pick up some bean bags at the bar and strike up a game of corn hole in the adjacent game garden.
There are also over-sized legos and games to entertain the kids for a bit. The restaurant is right next to a pier so you can walk out and watch the sunset like we did!
The food was so good! I ordered the Royal Seafood Sampler which consisted of Coco Seared Scallops, “Salt & Vinegar” Crab Cake, and Stuffed Jumbo Shrimp. The crab cake was the best crab cake I’ve ever had; it was crusted in “Salt & Vinegar” chips for a little crunch and some sort of divine remoulade sauce! Oh and be sure to check out the General Store with all sorts of Southern gifts and t-shirts.
The Old Oyster Factory
For a nicer dinner out, The Old Oyster Factory was great. We really enjoyed the Crispy Calamari appetizer and even got our pickiest eater to try some by calling them “sea fries”. The Oyster Rockefeller and Oyster Savannah were so yummy. Inside the restaurant has relaxed elegance and the beautiful wood beams give you a feel of rich history. In fact, the aptly named restaurant is built on the site of the original Broad Creek Oyster Factory that originally opened in 1925.
The restaurant sits on the edge of the island’s Harbour River and offers beautiful views of Hilton Head’s marshlands from the large deck and with windows on three sides of the restaurant every inside table has a nice view.
The Salty Dog
No visit to Hilton Head would be complete without a visit to The South Beach Marina and The Salty Dog. There are actually several dining options: The Salty Dog Café, The Wreck of Salty Dog, Land’s End Tavern, Salty Dog Ice Cream Shop and Salty Dog Pizza all of which are adjacent to the marina and have waterfront dining options. There are also several shops with Salty Dog gear and other souvenirs. In the evenings, there’s almost always live music and fun events happening around the village.
The kids will love visiting Captain, Kiwi and Cherokee, the three macaws that live in the Jake’s Cargo store or are seen hanging out in the courtyard trees. Jake, my 8 year old, loved The Salty Dog restaurant and shops. Of course he was a little partial since the real Salty Dog’s name is Jake!
Don’t let the rain spoil your fun, and get your shopping fix! Hilton Head has plenty of great boutiques for shopping. There’s the Shelter Cove Towne Centre with a variety of shops including a grocery store, a large department store and plenty of other boutiques to suit your fancy.
From there you can move over to the Shelter Cove Harbour for a Mediterranean themed shopping experience with a number of shops and restaurants to choose from, plus the little shopping “village” is right on the Broad Creek so you’re sure to see all sorts of boats coming in and out of the harbor. For If you’re looking for a shop ’til you drop experience, try hitting the not 1 but 2 Tanger Outlet malls that are side by side just over the Hilton Head Island bridges.
Getting on the water is also on our must do list and there are several boating excursions to suit your interests. Fishing excursions, pirate cruise experiences and dolphin cruises. We went through Drifter Excursions and took our family on a sunset dolphin cruise. The cruise was about an hour or so long and guaranteed dolphin sightings. Our kids loved seeing the dolphins up close as they swam next to the boat!
Our family loves riding bikes on vacation and Hilton Head has miles of paved trails to bike until your heart’s content! We’ve rented bikes, bike trailers and tag-a-longs from Island Cruisers and Riding Tigers on our different visits. We had great experiences with both companies. The rentals were reasonably priced and they delivered and picked up the equipment right at our door which was extremely convenient.
The kids loved being able to see alligators (from a very safe distance on a moving bike) during our many bike excursions. We saw 9 different alligators on our last trip!
With so much to do on Hilton Head, you can see why it is one of our favorite family beach vacation destinations. If you take a vacation in Hilton Head, I’d love to hear about your family’s trip!