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Hilton Head

Photo by Liz Mitchell

Hilton Head Itineraries

Hilton Head Beyond the Beach

Hilton Head Day Trips

Hilton Head Fall Vacation

Hilton Head Tours: African American History

Hilton Head’s Best Golf Weekend

A barrier beach resort area with famed golfing

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Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, is wildly popular for upscale golf, tennis, water sports and its renowned beach. The beach is wide, uncrowded, clean, accessible and safe. The small barrier island is located off the U.S. Atlantic Coast. It boasts a luxurious resort atmosphere with sub-tropical climate. Shopping, unique special events and delicious local cuisine also draw visitors.

It’s a vacation destination featuring Southern hospitality, easy living and relaxation for families, golfers, couples, singles and group tours. After one visit, everyone plans to return soon.


Hilton Head Island’s Location

The island is 12 miles long and five miles wide, connected by a bridge to the mainland. It also offers ferry access to Daufuskie Island, a tiny and special spot with pricey homes and undeveloped beaches. It’s a real getaway for visiting golfers and a small number of lucky homeowners.

Hilton Head, part of South Carolina’s Lowcountry region, is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Broad River and the Intracoastal Waterway. Newcomers call it big water! All this water, plus sparkling sunrises and sunsets over lush vistas, creates a huge draw for inland visitors.

The Intracoastal Waterway extends almost the entire length of the eastern seaboard. The local section, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, runs through Hilton Head and Beaufort County. It’s often misspelled and usually mispronounced.

The ecosystem is special here because of the mingling of salt and fresh water. Estuaries are created where terrestrial, freshwater and saline habitats overlap. These are fertile nurseries that sustain marine fishes and shellfishes.


Enjoy the Great Outdoors

Spring arrives early on Hilton Head, usually in early March. Spring brings bright green marsh grasses that give way to the deep blue Atlantic Ocean. Winter is short-lived and characterized by the changing colors of the marsh grass.

Because of the region’s pristine natural environment, there are plenty of easy and adventurous opportunities for fun on land and water. Life is serene; southern relaxation is on tap.

Many magazine polls frequently rate Hilton Head a top vacation spot in the United States. Retirees and second home buyers from northern urban areas also choose Hilton Head for a get-away.


Hilton Head Off Island

Residents refer to it as “on island,” while everything else is “off island.” Go off island on any trip for more variety of fine dining and adventure.

For doses of art and history, base yourself in Hilton Head and then venture out to small mainland towns and nearby islands. They’re easy to reach within Beaufort County. Visits to Bluffton and Port Royal and the city of Beaufort are noteworthy. Nearby history of the slave culture is especially relevant to many families.


Don’t forget to click on the yellow bar above for Hilton Head details about when to go, what it costs, transportation, informative background reading (on historyculturecuisinerecommended readingart, music), other valuable websites and maps, a photo montage, and more details.


Enjoy these itineraries or ask for help planning your own:

The Best Golf Trip

Beyond the Beach

Day Trips from Hilton Head

African American History and Culture 

Hilton Head Visits for the Best Fall Festivals


When To Go

Hilton Head is welcoming to visitors year-round. The subtropical climate offers sunny days, golfing weather and temperatures for beach walking and biking all year.

Swimming and most water sports are limited during the winter months of January and February.

How Much Time To Spend

Spend a week for family vacation, as many accommodations require a seven-day stay during the prime summer season especially.

Spend a long holiday weekend or golf weekend anytime during the year.

Spend a few months if you want to escape cold climates and winter blizzards.

High and Low Season

High season is July and August with filled beaches, heavy traffic and busy restaurants and shops. Families with kids choose this for primary summary vacation time. Everything is open for long hours.

Shoulder seasons for several months before and after high season are the best times for golfing, couples visits or group tours. Some of the water sports may be limited, and restaurant and shopping hours may be somewhat shorter.

January and February are the slowest seasons but still quite a favorite time for seniors and many Snow Birds who are the retirees escaping  from cold northern winters for a couple of months.

Weather and Climate

The climate is sub-tropical with an average daytime temperature of 68°F and an average ocean water temperature of 68°.

Summer is hot with high humidity and lends itself to beach vacations.  July and August are the hottest months with temperatures averaging in the mid-70s to high 80s. Coastal breezes are reminders that the ocean cools the shoreline more than the inland.

Spring and fall are temperate and offer long lazy days for pure relaxation.

Winter is short and only presents itself for a few days in occasional spurts of chilly temperatures in the 40s and 50s.

Events and Holidays

Local Festivals and Events are the best time to visit Hilton Head. Follow Hilton Head Essentials for updates or new events.

National Holidays include:

January (1st): New Year’s Day
January (third Monday): Martin Luther King Jr.Day
February (third Monday): Presidents’ Day
May (last Monday): Memorial Day
July (4th): Independence Day
September (first Monday): Labor Day
October (second Monday): Columbus Day
November (11th): Veterans’ Day
November (fourth Thursday): Thanksgiving Day
December (25th): Christmas

Time Zone

Hilton Head is located in the Eastern time zone.

To check the local time in Hilton Head, click here: World Time Server

Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (on the second  Sunday morning of March at 2 am). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (on the first Sunday morning in November at 2 am), clocks shift back one hour to standard time. The entire U.S. (except most of Arizona) participates in this ritual of “springing forward” and “falling back.”

What To Pack and Wear

Pack bathing suits (with cover ups for ladies), shorts, tee shirts and flip flops for summer visits. Pack casual clothing for dining in the preferred restaurants. Everything is casual and low-key with no formal wear expected. Pack a jacket for winter visits.

Bring sunscreen or plan to buy it before the first beach walk.

Golfers should always pack collared shirts.

What it Costs

Moderate costs can be expected throughout Hilton Head and the surrounding Beaufort County area if compared to urban areas or international tourist destinations.

Golf discounts are offered by many of the major hotels which promote packages. Inquire when booking accommodations.

Coupons for discounts on dining or shopping specials can often be found in free magazines available in visitor centers, grocery stores and many other businesses.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $US.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $150 for a double
$$ => Rooms $150-$300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

Eat
$ => Up to $15 for average main course at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$ => $16-22 for average main course at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$$ => $23 for average main course at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their friend or subscribe to their e-mailings.

 Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you decide what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.

Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities and available here. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

Money Saving Tip: Costco, because of its behemoth size and price negotiating power, offers great low prices for most major car rental companies. Yes, you need to purchase an annual Costco membership first, but it more than pays for itself with what you’ll save with a typical week’s car rental (i.e. searches turn up a mid-size car through Costco for $225 and a comparable car through another aggregator for $325.)

Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to (or within) the U.S. goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation – About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical Health – services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.

Trip Interruption  – For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150 percent of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay – Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage  – Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10 percent or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage just in case, no matter what. Hilton Head is not known for being hurricane-prone, but still it could happen.

Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework. Check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregator sites like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

If you have pre-existing health conditions: Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance: If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have stripped down coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As shared space lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Currency

U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans have an understandably tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.

Coins in wide circulation include the penny (one cent), nickel (five cents), dime (ten cents) and quarter (25 cents). The 50-cent and one-dollar coins are seen occasionally.

Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so plan to have twenties or smaller bills in hand. ATMs usually dispense $20 bills.

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

ATMs

If you get money from an ATM machine, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, U.S. banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of cash back when paying for your goods. This is an easy way to get cash while on the go.

Credit Cards

Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout the U.S.

Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. This goes for U.S. residents traveling out of state. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card which doesn’t make sense if it is lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.

Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any U.S. travel experience, whether urban or rural. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but other costs should also be taken into consideration. General guidelines include:

Restaurants

For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In many states, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.

To complicate matters, many restaurants in the major metropolitan areas New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco are moving to a no-tipping model in which service is included. The verdict isn’t yet in on whether this new model will stick, so be sure you understand the tipping policy at each restaurant you visit.

Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included, usually for groups of six or more people. But in this case it will be itemized in plain sight on the bill, if you look closely for it.

Hotels

Most bell staff receive $1 to $2 per bag if they assist; if someone carts all of your bags to your room, expect to tip $5 to $10.

Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2 to $3 per day and about $5 per day in higher-end properties.

At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets around $10 to $20 per day. Concierge staff do not normally expect a tip for simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Car valet staff expect $2 when returning your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually receive 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.

Other costs

Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops or hotel gift shops for all of the above.

Sales Taxes, Lodging Taxes & Resort Fees

In South Carolina, the combined total for state and local taxes on all retail goods and services varies from 4% to 8%, depending on where you are. In general, cities have higher taxes than rural areas do. Taxes are not usually included in display prices, unless otherwise stated.

Lodging tax also varies by location in South Carolina, ranging from 10% to 14%. This tax applies whether you are staying at a private vacation rental, a bed-and-breakfast, or a full-fledged hotel. Taxes are not usually stated up front in the advertised room rate. Neither are the mandatory nightly resort fees being charged by an increasing number of hotels. Sometimes this fee covers internet access, parking, and a few incidentals, while at other times it’s merely a surcharge for amenities that should be free. Beware that third-party booking agents, especially online, often don’t include resort fees in their reservation charges, so you may be unhappily surprised by the final bill when you check out.

Transportation

Visitors usually drive to Hilton Head and other parts of Beaufort County.  The drive itself is an interesting experience with the last several miles delivering scenic waterway beauty to introduce vacation. It’s not on the way to anywhere. It is literally off the South Carolina coast and is a destination in itself.

If flying, plan to rent a car at the airport. You will need  to drive to see and do everything while in the area. Public transportation is limited, although taxis are available.

Getting There

Highway access is via I95 and U.S. 17, both of which skirt along the west edge of Beaufort County. The access directly into Hilton Head is via I95, Exit 8, or into Beaufort from U.S. 17 onto U.S. 21 and then S.C. 170 to U.S. 278.

Flying into the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) also is an easy option. The airport is located approximately 45 miles south in the neighboring state of Georgia, and is an easy drive directly into Beaufort County via I95. Airlines serving this airport include Allegiant, American, Delta, JetBlue, SunCountry, United, with occasional changes. These offer several non-stop flights daily to cities including Chicago, Houston, Boston, Newark, New York, Philadelphia, Columbus, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, and Detroit.  The airport itself is attractive and convenient with an air of Southern hospitality.

Rental cars can be arranged at the airport.

The Hilton Head Island Airport (HHH) operated by Beaufort County is served by American with daily flights to Charlotte.

Arrive on your own boat and find several great marinas welcoming your visit.

Getting Around

It’s necessary to have a car to get around, as public transportation is quite limited. The U.S. 278 Business route runs directly onto Hilton Head Island and through the middle of the island all the way to the southern end. Major resorts are easily accessible from this route. At the southern end of the island, a traffic circle leads into the ultimate resort at Sea Pines Plantation and to the southernmost cross streets that lead to other hotels.

It helps for a first-time visitor to establish a general acquaintance with the island during daylight hours. While it’s a small destination, signage at night can be difficult to find. Once oriented, everything is laid out in a logical order. To arrive directly at the south end of the island, use U.S. 278, which is a $1.25 toll road referred to as the Cross Island. This avoids busy or slow traffic, although it also misses some shopping and dining opportunities as well as several of the large resorts. It’s the most direct route to Sea Pines, Coligny, Forest Beach, or Shipyard. Directions provided by resort staff would be advisable if a first-time visitor is seeking the smartest or quickest arrival route.

Other

A word about plantations is needed. Plantations on Hilton Head denote what might be called neighborhoods in other towns. These are not traditional working plantations of southern movie lore. The various plantations are gated and consist of private sections with single family homes, sections with tennis or golf villas which may be rentals or permanent residencies, and in most of the plantations, a large oceanfront hotel. These plantations also include golf courses, tennis facilities, biking, and walking trails throughout the spacious areas set among the lowcountry’s mixture of evergreen palm, palmetto, and lush plantings.

On the U.S. 278 drive onto Hilton Head Island, the Bluffton community has golf courses, outlet shopping and convenient dining. The small historic town of Bluffton is a mile or two to the right via S.C. 46. While Bluffton is not a destination in itself, the concentration of art galleries and cafes creates a nice stop during a Hilton Head vacation and especially during one of the Bluffton festivals.

The city of Beaufort, which is located on the island of Port Royal, and additional sea islands  to its southeast are accessible on U.S. 21 which is an easy connection from Hilton Head via S.C. 170. From the southernmost of these sea islands, which is Fripp Island, Hilton Head is in the direct line of sight, but you can only cross this distance by boat

Daufuskie is the only island among these which is not connected to any others by bridge. It is accessible only via boat from marina departure points on Hilton Head Island.

Background

Hilton Head Island was developed in 1956 by Charles Fraser. From its early population of 300, it’s grown to a year-round population of 39,000.  It was the first eco-planned community in the country.

The island itself is not on the way to anywhere. It is literally off the coast of South Carolina and a destination in itself.

Barrier islands are long narrow offshore deposits of sand and or sediment. These islands run parallel to the coast line. Barrier islands are found all over the world, and can be seen along the eastern coast of the United States.  They are very prominent in South Carolina, with Hilton Head Island being the largest barrier island in the state.  During hurricanes and Nor’easters, this type of island acts as a buffer or barrier to the mainland coast.

Hilton Head is probably one of the best examples of a barrier island being a popular vacation spot. Vacation homes and condominiums pop up on barrier islands almost like someone planted a seed in the sand and a set of homes grew.

History

From 8000 B.C. Native American visits are documented, most notably with a shell ring from 1335 A.D. on the banks of Skull Creek.

Spaniard Francisco Cordillo explored here in 1521, and in 1663 Capt. William Hilton sailed from Barbados. The discovery of Hilton Head was pure serendipity for William Hilton when he set off in search of a port.

The plantation era from 1700 until 1860 found the island inhabited by slaves and their overseers, not by the plantation owners. Union troops occupied the island early in the Civil War.

Mitchelville was known as the nation’s first freedmen’s village built during the Civil War. Efforts are ongoing to preserve the ruins.

The history of Beaufort County is best learned with a guided tour or from a noted historian’s work such as that of Professor Emeritus Lawrence Rowland. The most detailed story of the county is The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina: 1514-1861 by Rowland, a local historian who speaks with a true passion for the tales he tells.

A serious historian also will be interested in these works of noted South Carolinian Walter Edgar:
South Carolina: A History
Partisans and Redcoats: The Southern Conflict That Turned the Tide of the American Revolution
The South Carolina Encyclopedia

Culture

The culture is southern and proud of it. Much of the folkways and foodways can be attributed to the descendants of slaves who live on the islands. Their arts, crafts such as basket weaving and food preparations were brought to the South Carolina lowcountry from Africa by their ancestors. The similar climate supported the cultivation of rice and vegetables which became a mainstay of the southern diet.

Etiquette

Southern manners are expected, and courteous driving is recommended with patience required during summer arrivals and departures which are typically on Saturdays. During the peak tourist season in July and August, travel delays can be expected with the single access route onto the island being packed for a few hours, especially on weekends.

Southern manners include speaking to strangers with friendly smiles and spontaneous conversation anywhere.

Don’t be in a big rush for anything. Enjoy slowing down for vacation time, as this Lowcountry is sometimes called the Slow Country.

Some laws related to the beach are important to note.

Beaches in South Carolina are public property and free to visit; free public access to the beach is sometimes a different story in this area, as a few private neighborhoods and resorts have restricted access which should be noted.

Remember to treat the beach with respect. Whether it’s a public access beach or accessed via a privately owned resort property, it may have different rules or restrictions, but a few tips should be remembered as common courtesies.

Dunes: nature’s plan for protecting the shore is washing sand up to create dunes. Whether signs are posted as reminders or not, dunes are damaged by walkers, sunbathers or pets. Law prohibits walking on the dunes, by humans or pets.

Sea oats: sometimes planted or appearing naturally, the lovely grass holds the sand in place along the dunes, and it should not be disturbed.

Space: an American custom, more than in many other countries, is to allow personal space. Park your chair, umbrella, kids or stuff a reasonable distance away from others. It’s nice manners to allow privacy for conversation and to keep your own music or phone calls to yourself.

Dogs: if allowed on some beaches, often with leashes required, dogs sometimes annoy non-owners, and pet waste must be collected and disposed properly. Otherwise, it’s a serious health hazard, and fines may be imposed for owners leaving it on the beach. Laws governing dogs on the beach may vary from one area to another and during different times of day or seasons.

Golf carts: these are plentiful on public streets in resort communities. Only licensed drivers can legally operate a golf cart, and only during daylight hours. Regular laws applying to other vehicles also must be observed, such as stopping for stop signs and signaling for turns.

Lifeguards are only provided during daytime hours during the summer season within the central sections of the main beaches. They are trained to advise of any known hazards such as dangerous rip currents or storm warnings.

Cuisine

Local fresh seafood (plus meats and produce from nearby farms) is one of the highlights of many vacations to the South Carolina Lowcountry. Fish, oysters and shrimp choices vary with the seasons. The waters provide plentiful fish and shellfish from fresh water and salt water. Most restaurants offer daily specials with the freshest direct from the docks.

Dining ranges from dozens of casual seafood restaurants to four star fine dining and world-class wine lists. The non-seafood diner will be happy with plenty of meats or vegetarian items. Fast food, delis, chain restaurants, ice cream shops, bakeries and catering are here too, but are not among the top recommendations.

Recommendations are important in finding the locations as well as choosing the best food, as many are tucked away in villages or shopping centers and not visible from the main route. It’s not easy to drive around and hope to find a place to eat. It’s wise to plan and get directions before getting away from the hotel or condo. During the busy summer, it’s especially important to get reservations to avoid a wait.

The Bluffton oyster and the Daufuskie oyster are names well known to lovers of the mollusk which was once a prolific crop picked, canned and shipped to connoisseurs worldwide from South Carolina waters. The Daufuskie name has been purchased by an Asian producer and no longer denotes the actual South Carolina product. The Bluffton oyster still is one of the most desired due to the river water quality producing its sweet luscious flavor.

Cobia, tarpon and shark are the fish caught in Atlantic waters during the summer, and red snapper also is found off shore, while redfish and flounder are available year-round.

Shrimp also is an important local seafood and an important industry along the coast. The local shrimp is far superior in any taste test, and visitors have only to attend one of the festivals in its honor to recognize this. It’s available year-round, although largest and best during the months with an “r” in the spelling with the local high season usually beginning in early October and continuing through several months of the winter.

Frogmore stew is on some menus and often the main dish at outdoor festivals. It’s similar to a seafood gumbo, always cooked in a big pot with shrimp, sausage and corn on the cob. Sometimes the gumbo version will include crab meat and be served over rice. No frogs are involved!

Barbecue never goes out of season, and several restaurants specialize in the juicy flavorful concoction. It may be cooked in a pit, in a big outdoor cooker or over a grill. If it’s in a pit, chances are good that it’s a whole pig from which your sandwich or plateful will be picked.

Several international cuisine choices are available if the typical southern seafood is not wanted.

Religion

Religion  is predominantly Protestant, and all southern states are considered part of what is sometimes called the Bible belt.

Religion has always played a part in the lives of southerners, and the churches which have withstood the years continue to attract residents seeking the community connection. Hundreds of churches welcome visitors for worship and special events which remain a critical part of the community.

Visitors find the architecture and historic uses of the churches beautiful and fascinating, and the cemeteries which are invariably adjacent tell stories of their own. Many of these are only open by appointment other than for the regular worship services when visitors are welcome.  Whether open or not, several can be of interest on a leisurely drive through the winding country roads or small towns.

Praise houses are much in demand by visitors seeking a view of the African American culture which is prevalent in the Beaufort County area. Praise houses were the tiny structures built and used by slaves who were not allowed to worship with their masters. The houses were the center of many African American communities and were known for the loud singing and shouting in praise. Several remain standing in the rural areas. None are still in use. None are open for public view and cannot be found easily without a guide. Only a few knowledgeable local native guides will include one on a tour and invite visitors inside.

Language

English is the only native language, although there is an increasing Spanish population and Spanish translation can be found in a few locations.

Recommended Reading

Pat Conroy is one of the most famous authors who lived in Beaufort  until his death in 2016, and known for his powerful novels which depict his early South Carolina life. His 70th birthday was celebrated  in 2015 with a huge multi-day festival.

His books The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini were made into Oscar-nominated films, and his book The Water is Wide was made into the film “Conrack.” It was based on his experience teaching poor black children in a two-room school on a nearly forgotten island off the coast of South Carolina.

Although fiction, these novels are a good look at some of the nuances of South Carolina life.

The history of Beaufort County is best learned from a noted historian’s work such as that of Professor Emeritus Lawrence Rowland.

The most detailed story of the county is The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina: 1514-1861 by Lawrence Rowland, a local historian with a true passion for the tales he tells.

A serious historian also will be interested in these works of noted South Carolinian Walter Edgar:
South Carolina: A History
Partisans and Redcoats: The Southern Conflict That Turned the Tide of the American Revolution
The South Carolina Encyclopedia

Art

Visual arts are prevalent in the area, especially throughout the small towns of Bluffton and Beaufort which are considered art towns for the dozen galleries located within a short walk in each town.

Folk artists specializing in mixed media, oil and acrylic paintings often depict the southern culture and the early days of slavery in the islands. Internationally recognized artists living and working here whose work is widely exhibited and collected include Diane Britton Dunham and James Denmark. The well-known Jonathan Green is a native of this county and often appears for special events. Cassandra Gillens, whose work is roughly similar to Green’s, was recognized nationally with six pieces of her art as background in the 2008 Warner Brothers film “Nights of Rodanthe.”

Folk art is not the only style found in the eclectic galleries or among the local working artists; it is, however, recognized as especially important in depicting the lowcountry lifestyle. Folk art is sometimes whimsical and locally often tells stories of the Gullah culture. Artists are sometimes self-taught rather than having formal study in a specific genre.

Performing and visual arts are presented at the Arts Center and at the University of South Carolina’s Beaufort Performing Arts Center. Local and regional talent can be seen in frequent street festivals and in restaurants and clubs.

The Community Foundation of the Lowcountry sponsors a biennial public art exhibition, anticipated for 2017 and 2019, previously scheduled from October through December, which includes large scale outdoor sculptures juried in from a large national field. The goal is for the jury to select one piece for permanent display locally.

Movies

Beaufort has been the setting for a number of major feature films including Forrest Gump, The Great Santini, The Big Chill, Prince of Tides, GI Jane and Forces of Nature, among others.

More than a dozen major motion pictures have been filmed in Beaufort and Hilton Head, and it’s not uncommon to notice residents or visitors such as Tom Berringer, Joel Silver, Ron Howard or others from small or big screen fame.

The Beaufort International Film Festival, with its eleventh year in February 2017, welcomes dozens of entries in feature film, shorts and documentary categories and celebrates a week-long event of showings, seminars and parties.

Music

Marlena Smalls and the Hallelujah Singers, based in Beaufort County, are known to international audiences for the Academy Award winning film “Forrest Gump.” The Hallelujah Singers performed, and Marlena was cast at Bubba’s Mom. Their concerts and Marlena’s solo performances and teaching programs are in demand all over the world featuring original music with interpretations of the Gullah culture.

Candice Glover, a Beaufort native, won the 12th season competition in “American Idol” and returns often to perform for special events.

The Hilton Head International Piano Competition has grown and thrived since 1996, and it attracts competitors from many nationalities who are between the ages of 18 and 30. The juried event is a four-round competition for cash prizes plus a Carnegie Hall performance. The competition is one of the country’s leading such events for classical piano music.

Live music may be enjoyed regularly in many clubs on Hilton Head such as the Jazz Club and Ruby Lee’s and in several Beaufort waterfront restaurants. Watch for featured events with memorable local talent such as  Earl Williams or Cool John Ferguson.

Websites and Maps

Follow International Show & Tell for the Hilton Head EssentialsBeaufort’s Best and Bluffton’s Best categories where frequent event updates and new images are posted.

Visit the local chamber of commerce site for general tourist information.

Other

Some flora and fauna are unique to the Lowcountry of South Carolina and are the backdrop for the tropical feel.

The Southern live oak tree is an almost-evergreen which thrives in the moderate salinity of southern soil. The long-lived tree sometimes spreads wide and grows for as much as 500 years. It is sometimes home to Spanish moss which is the majestic dripping decoration only seen in certain parts of the South.

Spanish moss is not Spanish and is not moss. It is a flowering plant in the bromeliad (or pineapple) family. Found in the sun or partial shade hanging on trees throughout the coastal south, it lives on air and rain. It is not a parasite which causes damage to its host tree. It shelters spiders and other creatures, and when it has fallen to the ground may contain chiggers. Crafters and gardeners sometimes pop a handful of moss into the microwave to kill any potential mites. Then it may be used around potted plants or in craft projects.

Legend holds that Henry Ford stuffed the seats of his first Model T car with Spanish moss. Mattresses and pillow stuffed with it were sometimes determined to cause itching to unsuspecting users when research was not as sophisticated to discover the existence of mites.

The Southern Magnolia tree is a large evergreen tree commonly found in South Carolina and often in the maritime forest growing with the palmetto trees.

The short palmetto trees and tall swaying palms are signatures of the islands. The palmetto is the state tree of South Carolina and also of Florida.

The loggerhead turtle is an endangered species with its own determination to succeed. Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina are the chosen coastline of these reptiles. The species itself is endangered by pollution, coastal construction and incidental capture by commercial fishing.

Dozens of female sea turtles nest in the dunes along the Atlantic coastline beginning in May and deposit more than a hundred eggs each. During approximately 60 days of incubation, the eggs are in constant danger from such predators as foxes, raccoons and dogs; or the nest sometimes is too near the high tide line or a walkway.

The town of Hilton Head funds a Sea Turtle Protection Program managed by the Coastal Discovery Museum. Volunteers search for nests and carefully protect the eggs with wire cages, monitor nests and then help the hatchlings on their long trek back to the ocean. Their route to returning to the ocean is the light of the horizon. Oceanfront beach lighting is prohibited during the hatching season, as it confuses the hatchlings. These tiny babies can grow up to be 300-pound sea turtles, although about one in every ten thousand lives to maturity.

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