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Best Things To Do in Hilton Head Island

AOL PICK from our Editors
Activities at Hilton Head are action-oriented and include golfing, hiking, swimming, riding wave runners and sailing. Golf is the big activity—check ahead to see which of the island's more than 25 courses offer public tee times. In high season, it can be hard to snag a spot on the green. Aside from that, beach activities are naturally popular. The island has more than 14 miles of beaches, some of which are public, some private. Many are hard enough to ride a bike on, and beach biking is a classic Hilton Head pastime. When Hilton Headers are done with all this activity, they like to relax at the island's many spas or sip a cocktail in waterfront bars. If there's ever a time to splurge, it's on a post-beach massage at one of the luxe resorts.

Sea Pines Forest Preserve

Neighborhood: Hilton Head
On an island where so much of the land is neatly mowed, manicured and closed to the public, this 605-acre preserve feels like an oasis of nature. The forests, wetlands and ponds are crisscrossed with 8 miles of hiking trails and a number of wooden boardwalks. Don't miss the Indian Shell Ring, a mound of seashells left behind thousands of years ago by the nomadic Native American tribes who once inhabited the area. In spring, lie in the blooming wildflower field and watch the clouds drift overhead. The most popular trails are the 1-mile Blue Arrow Trail and the 2-mile Orange Arrow Trail, marked by—you guessed it—blue and orange arrows. Though the ponds are stocked with fish, only property owners at the Sea Pines community are permitted to cast their reels, so don't even be tempted.

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Sea Pines Forest Preserve  

H20 Sports

Neighborhood: Hilton Head
Calling all adrenaline junkies! Does golf put you to sleep? Think relaxing on a beach blanket is a boring waste of time? Then check out this adventure water sports outfitter that offers parasailing, waterskiing, waverunner, kayak and paddle board tours and lessons. Parasailing is particularly memorable—participants are strapped into harnesses and lifted off the deck of a speeding boat by a parachute. Soaring above the water, you get a bird's eye view of the island and the coast for nearly 25 miles in all directions.

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H20 Sports  

Palmetto Dunes Golf

Neighborhood: Hilton Head
The swank Palmetto Dunes island resort has three world-class golf courses whose roster of past players reads like a who's who of golf: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, the list goes on. The Robert Trent Jones Course has been rated one of the best courses in the Southeast by Golfweek magazine. The George Fazio Course is considered one of Hilton Head's most challenging. The Arthur Hills Course is arrestingly beautiful—don't miss the course's historic Leamington Lighthouse, which dates back to the early-1880s. Reserve your tee times well in advance if you want to get on the green.

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Palmetto Dunes Golf  

Coastal Discovery Museum

Neighborhood: Hilton Head
This small museum is a worthy place to start out your Hilton Head exploration, with five or six changing exhibits on the history and culture of the island. Past exhibits have included displays of Gullah sweetgrass baskets and black-and-white photos of South Carolina's rural byways. More interesting than the indoor exhibits, though, are the three boardwalks winding across Jarvis Creek on the museum's Honey Horn property. Keep your eyes open for fiddler crabs on the exposed mud flats below. There's also a walking trail, a butterfly garden and a Lowcountry heritage garden full of native crops, like indigo, rice and sweetgrass.

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Coastal Discovery Museum  

Beaches

Neighborhood: Hilton Head
Hilton Head has some 12 miles of beaches facing the Atlantic Coast, the Calibogue Sound and the Port Royal Sound. The town provides four public beach access points: Alder Lane Beach, off South Forest Beach Drive; the Coligny Circle beachfront; Driessen Beach Park, at the end of Bradley Beach Road; and Folly Field Beach Park, off Folly Field Road. The sand is fine, beige and hard-packed enough to support a bike. The ocean floor slopes gradually and the waves are fairly gentle, making the Hilton Head beaches relatively safe for everyone, including children. Coligny Beach is the most crowded and popular with families, while Folly Beach is big with surfers (don't expect any gnarly waves, sorry).

Old Town Bluffton

Neighborhood: Bluffton
Across the causeway from Hilton Head lies the charming mainland town of Bluffton. The town was first settled by early-19th century plantation owners from South Carolina's interior, who chose breezy coastal Bluffton as the place to build their stately summer homes. Those homes now give Bluffton an antebellum charm, with streets lined with gnarled oak trees and a historic waterfront downtown of restored 200-year-old shop buildings. Most Hilton Head regulars make at least one day trip to Bluffton during their stay for a bit of shopping and lunch at one of the picturesque cafes. Also worth checking out is the 18th-century Church of the Cross and the Heyward House Historic Center, a former plantation house that now serves as the main visitor's center.

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Old Town Bluffton  

Harbour Town Lighthouse

Neighborhood: Hilton Head
This 90-foot lighthouse may not have a storied history (it was built in 1970), but its red and white stripes have become a Hilton Head icon. It's open for climbing, which is a particularly fun rainy-day activity for families with children. On sunny days, you can see for miles around. The shop at the top hawks jewelry and collectibles. The small lighthouse museum gives you the background on the lighthouse's history, but we can't claim it's particularly fascinating. Still, it's worth it to come up here for the view.

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Harbour Town Lighthouse  

Advanced Sail Inc.

Neighborhood: Hilton Head
This sailing company runs two charter catamarans, the big comfy Pau Hana, which seats 49, and the nimble Flying Circus, which seats only six. Families love to ride on the slow, steady Pau Hana, while the more adventuresome prefer Flying Circus, the island's fastest catamaran. Groups may charter either boat for cruises and dolphin-watching tours. Savvy Hilton Head regulars know to reserve their Flying Circus sunset cruises well ahead of time. Bring your own food for picnics, and BYOB if you fancy an on-the-water cocktail. However, beware sea sickness, as the waves can kick up out here in no time.

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Advanced Sail Inc.  

Harbour Town Golf Links

Neighborhood: Hilton Head
Home to the famous Verizon Heritage Tournament, this golf course is considered one of the South's finest. Golf greats like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman have all teed off here, and you can, too. As part of the Sea Pines Resort, it's one of many Hilton Head courses open to the public. Designed by Pete Dye in 1967, the course is par 71 from all three sets of tees. The notoriously challenging 18th hole is one of golf's classic crucibles. Aim for the lighthouse in the distance, but beware—you're only a whisper away from out-of-bounds.

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Harbour Town Golf Links  

Vagabond Daufuskie Island Tour

Neighborhood: HiltonHead
Swampy Daufuskie Island was made famous by Pat Conroy in his autobiographical book "The Water is Wide," in which he called it "Yamacraw Island." Once home to an isolated group of Gullah families, various developers have had a crack at turning the island into a resort, with little lasting success. Accessible only by boat, Daufuskie has thick Sea Island vegetation and a sleepy, lost-in-time feel. Vagabond Cruises is one of several operators who take day-trippers from Hilton Head to Daufuskie. Once on the island, you have the option to take a guided historical tour, or rent a golf cart and explore the island on your own. Afterward, everyone meets back for a Lowcountry lunch at the Old Daufuskie Crab Company.

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Vagabond Daufuskie Island Tour  
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