Hilton Head for families: What to do and where to stay

5 October 2023

With wide, sandy beaches, gentle surf and endless outdoor activities, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, is one of the top beach destinations for families.

Hilton Head Island is fewer than 5 miles wide and only 12 miles long, but it packs a surprising amount of family fun into that small area. The first thing you’ll notice about Hilton Head is that everything from the buildings to the signage to the mailboxes blends with its surroundings.

Paired with the island’s compact size and beautiful natural beaches, creeks and swamps, Hilton Head has a quaint, nostalgic feel that you don’t often find in popular beach destinations.

I recently visited with my husband and three sons, and it immediately went on the short list of my favorite family beach destinations. Here are my recommendations for what to do and where to stay on Hilton Head Island.

What to Do in Hilton Head

Shopping and dining

Coligny Plaza Shopping Center. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

Most of the island’s shopping and dining outlets are in a few main areas: Harbour Town, Sea Pines, Shelter Cove, Coligny Plaza, Main Street Village and the Village at Wexford. For families, I recommend Coligny Plaza Shopping Center, Harbour Town and Shelter Cove.

Coligny Plaza has a large pirate ship play area and row after row of souvenir shops where your family can find the perfect trinkets to commemorate your trip. Harbour Town, in the upscale Sea Pines Resort area, is close to many of the island’s boat excursions and the Harbour Town Lighthouse. Harbour Town also has an outdoor playground, ice cream and a good variety of shops.

Shelter Cove has morning-to-night dining with coffee shops and bakeries, sit-down seafood restaurants and more. It also hosts live entertainment, including fireworks in the summer, and has a marina with boat excursions and water sports rentals.



Most of the island’s beachfront resorts and rental homes have beach access, but there are plenty of public beach access points as well. Coligny Beach is particularly popular with young children as they can splash in its wading fountain or play in calm waters. It’s also within walking distance of Coligny Plaza Shopping Center.

Driessen Beach Park, Islanders Beach Park and Burkes Beach also have family-friendly amenities like playgrounds, restrooms and picnic pavilions. You can see a full listing of Hilton Head beaches here.

My kids run around too much for us to need beach chairs and umbrellas, but you can buy them from one of the local shops or rent them through Shore Beach Service.

Boat outings


Young children might be especially excited about themed activities, such as a ride on the pirate ship the Black Dagger ($30 for kids older than 2 and free for kids under 2). Kids will get decked out with face paint and pirate costumes before receiving their pirate names and searching for treasure.

Meanwhile, Mermaid of Hilton Head takes families on a boat cruise where kids will encounter a “real” mermaid ($35 for adults, $30 for kids, free for those 2 and under). The cruise can be combined with a dress-up photo shoot ($75). This company also offers Mermaid U Swim School (from $35).

Outside Hilton Head — which has four island locations and one on the mainland — conducts a wide range of guided tours, excursions, fishing trips and lessons. You can get your family out on the water in kayaks or on paddleboards year-round.

The tour company also offers several special “camps” designed just for kids ages 7 to 17. Prices depend on the outing or activity you choose. To give you an idea, kayak tours can cost as little as $40 for adults and $20 for kids for a two-hour trip; a teen stand-up paddleboard adventure that includes lessons costs $45 per child.


Another special experience for the entire family awaits on Daufuskie Beach, where Daufuskie Trail Rides offers horseback riding on the sand or nearby trails. Prices range from $125 to $150 per person (depending on season) for a 90-minute tour; transportation to and from the equestrian center is available as an optional add-on.

Harbour Town Lighthouse

A family trip to Hilton Head wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Harbour Town — the family-friendly dining, shopping and entertainment destination within Sea Pines.

The big attraction at Harbour Town is the unmistakable white-and-red Harbour Town Lighthouse. It’s open for visitors daily, and it costs $4.50 per person to climb the 114 steps to the top. The lighthouse is also a museum, so the kids can learn about the history of the island and its development as a tourist destination.


Cycling and water sports

Hilton Head is one of the most bicycle-friendly beach towns I’ve ever visited. There are more than 50 miles of public bike paths around the island — and that doesn’t even include the hard-packed sand beaches that allow bicycles. Most bicycle rental facilities allow you to take your bike anywhere on the island. Some companies will even deliver bicycles directly to your hotel.

Depending on where you stay, you may be able to rent bicycles through your resort, but there are many local companies as well. A few are Hilton Head Outfitters, Wheelz of Hilton Head and Hilton Head Bicycle Company. There are many others as well.

Most of these companies also rent water sports equipment, including kayaks, paddleboards and surfboards; they also offer beach equipment like jogging strollers, beach carts, wagons and beach wheelchairs.

Where to Stay

If you want a big beachfront resort, you can look to The Westin Hilton Head Resort & Spa. This 416-room property has three outdoor pools, four restaurants, private beach access and daily activities like yoga on the beach, live music and pool games for kids. All guest rooms have balconies, and some have ocean views.

You could also choose to stay in one of the popular resort areas, including the Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort or The Sea Pines Resort. Both offer a variety of accommodation types, along with on-site dining, shopping and recreation. This allows you to make the resort your “home away from home” while on vacation.

For a laid-back vibe with a budget-friendly price tag, the Beach House Hilton Head Island sits right on popular Coligny Beach. it features a tiki hut bar, live music, an on-site restaurant, a large beachfront pool and oceanfront rooms. Suites with bunk beds are available for families looking for a bit more space.


If you can find availability, families will really enjoy Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, a Disney Vacation Club property.

You’ll find Disney’s signature friendly service and special touches — like Mickey-shaped snacks, character meet-and-greets and daily activities — but in a relaxed beach environment. This resort is not directly on the beach, but it is only about a five-minute ride on the complimentary shuttle or a 10-minute bike ride away.

The best way to stay at Disney’s Hilton Head Resort is likely to rent Disney Vacation Club points from an owner and plan well in advance.

Bottom Line

Hilton Head Island had so much to offer. Plus, the beach was immediately accessible when my family didn’t feel like doing anything but playing in the waves or on the sand.

Time seemed to slow down while we were there — something I am always trying to achieve as my kids grow older. After our first visit, I realized Hilton Head Island is one of those beach towns that I can see returning to with my family year after year.

Related reading:

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The best travel credit cards
The 18 best places to travel in 2023
6 real-life strategies you can use when your flight is canceled or delayed
8 of the best credit cards for general travel purchases
13 must-have items the TPG team can’t travel without

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