“THE CURE FOR ANYTHING IS SALT WATER — SWEAT, TEARS OR THE SEA” — ISAK DINESEN
Sands. Surfing. Swimming. Sunning. Shores. Sailing. Sanctuary.
Whatever your vision of the “beach life” may entail, the sun-splashed beaches of Hilton Head Island offer as many experiences as there are shells on their sandy shores. From its heel to its toe, here’s an overview of some of the island’s popular beaches and hidden gems.
DOLPHIN HEAD (1)
Located on the northern tip of Hilton Head in Hilton Head Plantation, Dolphin Head beach overlooks Port Royal Sound and includes a mile-long walking path and a quiet two-mile swath of beach only open to HHP residents dotted with vestigial live oaks and pines. Hilton Head Plantation is one of the island’s largest year-round residential communities, and Dolphin Head is more private than some of the island’s other beaches.
Best For: Walking (at low tide), surf fishing and collecting shells
Access: Dolphin Head Lane, inside Hilton Head Plantation
FISH HAUL CREEK BEACH (2)
The area is known for its diverse ecology, (maritime forest, salt marsh and creeks, beach dunes and scrub, and the Port Royal tidal flats. The beach itself is a generous walk from the park, but ambles through a wonderful nature path, and is lightly used for swimming. The beach park, located on the “heel” of the island, is 31 acres of mostly untouched nature, feels like your own private beach and is arguably the scene for the best bird watching in all of Hilton Head.
Best for: Walking, birdwatching, clamming and fishing
Access: Located near the end of Beach City Road, accessible from Fish Haul Creek Park
MITCHELVILLE BEACH (3)
Many locals consider this beach Hilton Head’s best-kept secret. If you’re looking to build sandcastles on a pristine beach, pick another spot. If you’re looking for privacy and beauty in a rich historical setting, this beach is for you. Be sure to check out the incredible story of Mitchelville in the nearby park.
Best For: Privacy, fishing, walking
Access: Located near the end of Beach City Road
ISLANDER'S BEACH (4)
A favorite of locals, Islander’s Beach recently earned a high ranking in Coastal Living magazine’s Top 21 Beaches on the East Coast. It’s less crowded than most Hilton Head spots and swimmer-friendly, thanks to its gentle underwater slope. Parking is at a premium and is mostly reserved for residents and year-round pass holders, with metered spots available for guests. For nearby mid-island visitors, a bike ride or a friendly beachfront drop-off might be the best bet for easy access.
Best for: Locals and swimming
Access: Located at 94 Folly Field Road, at Sparkleberry Lane
FOLLY FIELD BEACH (5)
A bit off the beaten path from the plantations and resorts, Folly Field has more of a locals’ beach feel. With a shorter walk to the beach than nearby Driessen Beach, it is both convenient and quiet. Take a long walk and grab a pit stop and a drink at the outdoor bar at the nearby The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, or spread out your towel and spend the day at one of the island’s wider and uncluttered beaches. Loved by surfers and body boarders, it still can occasionally be treacherous with its riptides and undertows.
Best for: Surfers, walking and biking
Access: Located on Starfish Road, a right turn off Folly Field Road
DRIESSEN BEACH (6)
A long boardwalk connects the maritime forest to the white-sand beach. A long, wide shoreline leaves ample room to spread out, and the flat ocean floor and small waves make it kid-friendly and great for body boarding or just wading. Tucked in a heavily shaded and wooded area, it’s a bit hard to find, but with tons of amenities like parking and restrooms, it’s popular with both locals and discerning visitors alike.
Best For: Day trips, swimming, sunning, locals and in-the-know visitors
Access: Off William Hilton Parkway, at the end of Bradley Beach Road
BURKES BEACH (7)
Located to the northern side of Chaplin Community Park, Burke’s Beach is adjacent to Singleton Beach, divided by the natural folly field. The beach offers seasonal lifeguards and limited parking, but boasts some of the best waves for surfing and boarding. The dog park at Chaplin Park is a nice touch and makes it a great destination for a bark-and-beach day with man’s best friend.
Best For: Surfing, boarding, walking and pets
Access: Just south of Palmetto Dunes at the end of Burkes Beach Road
NORTH FOREST BEACH (8)
Located near over 100 dining and shopping options in one of the island’s oldest neighborhoods, it is one of the places to be on Hilton Head. For surfers, the beach area at Jacana Street is known to offer some of the best waves at high tide on the island. Locals swear by the shoreline as the best on Hilton Head, and the quaint mix of older beach cottages with modern ocean compounds makes for a compelling community feel.
Best For: Swimming, walking and surfing
Where: The one-mile stretch of beach starts at Coligny Circle and runs north to the Sonesta Resort located in Shipyard Plantation.
COLIGNY BEACH (9)
At Hilton Head’s busiest beach you’ll find soft sand and wonderful clean water. Even better, it’s close to the island’s unofficial downtown area. The beach is protected by security cameras and visitors can enjoy free Wi-Fi, volleyball nets and scores of beach rentals and free parking — just not at the popular Coligny Plaza. The beach and the shopping plaza do get a little crowded, but if you like an active and lively beach experience, this is your spot.
Best For: If the crowds are any indication, everybody. Perfect for sunbathing, swimming, biking, an early-morning jog or a romantic date night.
Access: At Coligny Circle, at the intersection of Pope Avenue and South Forest Beach Drive
SOUTH FOREST BEACH (10)
Part of Hilton Head’s “Ocean Community,” South Forest Beach is on a one-mile stretch of beachfront between the Coligny Circle and Sea Pines Plantation gate. It is the largest of the island’s public beaches, and draws more crowds than North Forest Beach. Wide, comfortable and spacious, and buffered somewhat from nearby development, it’s a great all-purpose spot. Venture a little further path the public access point that divides the north and south beaches, and you’ll find even more room to spread out.
Best For: Swimming, fishing, biking and walking
Access: Public access on Alder Lane and Seaside Villas, off South Forest Beach Road
SOUTH BEACH (11)
Located in Sea Pines at the “toe” at the foot of the island near the South Beach Marina. Though the marina area is one of the more popular island destinations for visitors, with its dining, shopping and inventive water sports experiences, the Calibogue Beach itself is relatively quiet, nearly secluded, and is great for just watching the dolphins or a relaxing walk. Don’t go out at high tide, though, as there is little to no beach at that time. If you are not a Sea Pines resident or registered guest, you must pay $6 per vehicle to enter the resort.
Best For: Unique water sports opportunities (kayaking, sport fishing, parasailing, etc.), sightseeing and walking
Access: Near Sea Pines South Beach Marina, best accessed by bike or foot