Crossing the bridge from mainland South Carolina to Hilton Head Island, I asked my kids what they wanted to do first. “Beach,” my three girls, ages 16, 14 and 11, said nearly in unison. After huddling up in scarves, hats and gloves for the past few weeks, they were eager to slip into their swimsuits and run in the sand – I was, too. While we could have spent weeks in Hilton Head, we only had three days. In addition to beach time, we tried to cover as much of the island as possible.
Our hotel, the Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa (marriott.com), stood right up against the Atlantic, making for a quick walk from the lobby to the beach. When we arrived in the afternoon, my kids opened up their suitcases just long enough to grab their swimsuits before we headed down to the sand and waves. Low tide made it prime time for seashell hunting.
Over dinner at Kenny B’s French Quarter Café (eatatkennybs.com), we pored over brochures, deciding what to do for the rest of our trip. My kids talked us into ordering gator bites as an appetizer – by the way, alligator tastes nothing like chicken. We sampled each other’s dishes of jambalaya, fried catfish and blackened whitefish before calling it a night.
My normally late-morning sleepers woke up early to walk along the beach with my husband and me. We strolled throughthe waves for an hour, keeping our eyes toward the distance to spy dolphins.
After, we ate oversized omelets stuffed with bacon and plates of shrimp Florentine Benedict with grits filled our table at Watusi (hiltonheadcoffeeandyogurt.com). Our server peppered us with history about the area and the best spots to visit as we downed our food. We decided to come back later for smoothies at this local favorite.
Our next stop lay along Broad Creek in the watery fissure running almost the entire length of the island. The marsh area welcomes boaters, kayakers and families of dolphins. Hoping to meet some of the hundreds of bottlenose dolphins that call Hilton Head’s waters home year round, we took the 2.5-hour guided kayak tour (dolphindiscoverieshiltonhead.com). The guide shared all sorts of stories while we paddled, explaining the ecology of oysters and pointing out when dolphins were nearby.
After an afternoon on the water, my kids were ready for a big dinner. We bought beef brisket and pulled chicken by the pound at Bullie’s BBQ, an aptly-named eatery wallpapered with images of French bulldogs.
After another early morning walk on the sand, we grabbed granola bars for an on-the-go breakfast and drove to Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/pinckneyisland).
The 4,053-acre area has several trails snaking all over the island, with a mix of island foliage, flat paths and marshlands. We didn’t spy any of the alligators known to roam the refuge – they hibernate in the colder months, from October to March. If I had to do it over again, I would have packed sandwiches from the Island Bagel Co. (hiltonheadbreakfast.com) for a trailside picnic.
A drive around Hilton Head allowed for stops at some of the other popular beach spots we’d heard about from locals – Folly Field became an instant favorite, along with Coligny Beach. We spent so much time exploring that the sun was already setting, so we nixed going to the Harbour Town and lighthouse (one of the quintessential island features, painted in red and white stripes).
We also passed on our planned pizza dinner from Dough Boys (doughboyshhi.com) because my girls insisted on returning to Kenny B’s for our last meal. Eating spicy Cajun food after a long day, the girls started talking about their favorite things they’d seen during our trip. At one point, my youngest turned and exclaimed, “Mom, we should come here every year!”
To start planning your family’s trip, visit hiltonheadisland.org.
Hilton Head’s weather in March can be unpredictable. Here are five activities to keep your family busy:
- Coastal Discovery Museum Learn more about the geology and culture of the area at this popular kid hotspot. coastaldiscovery.org
- Adventure Cove Arcade time! Challenge your kids to a game of Pac-Man or miniature golf, if it’s sunny. adventurecove.com
- The Sandbox Play with magical sand that moves with the flick of a wand, or track a dinosaur by climbing rocks. There are plenty of exhibits to enjoy at this interactive playground. thesandbox.org
- The Kazoo Factory Tour a kazoo factory, make your own kazoo, or stop in at the gift shop for a unique toy at this eclectic destination. thekazoofactory.com
- Outlet Malls Head just across the bridge to shop at the outlet stores in Bluffton. tangeroutlet.com/hiltonhead