Known for world-class golfing, fishing, water sports and entertainment, you’d be hard-pressed to spend a dull moment in Hilton Head Island or Myrtle Beach. Make the most of your next trip to these two South Carolina cities with our insider guide.
One is a beachside city famous for its legendary golf courses, abundant wildlife and regional Gullah culture. The other is known for its bustling boardwalk, wide beaches, and food and wine festivals. Though Hilton Head Island and Myrtle Beach are only 200 miles apart, these two Lowcountry destinations are paradoxically as different as they are similar.
Nestled between two wildlife preserves on the southern tip of the state, the 42-square-mile, foot-shaped island of Hilton Head offers a secluded getaway packed with luxury golf courses and tennis courts. Despite its size, the island is home to an impressive number of cultural attractions, including galleries, museums and performing arts.
On the opposite side of South Carolina, near the state’s northern border, Myrtle Beach has an entirely different kind of vibe, a family-friendly one. The city serves as a hub for the state’s 60 miles of white sand beaches known as the Grand Strand. Vegas-style attractions and amusement parks provide nonstop entertainment for all ages, but it’s easy to find quieter moments in nature at Myrtle Beach State Park. No matter which city you choose, you can find something extraordinary.
Hit the Beach
Nature is at the forefront of Hilton Head’s beaches, which are surrounded by protected maritime forests and freshwater wetlands. Head to the palmetto- and oak tree-lined Coligny Beach Park for a relaxing day at the shore, or go beachcombing at South Beach on the southern tip, where there’s wildlife like bottlenose dolphins and red-throated loons.
In springtime, try water sports like sailing, fishing and crabbing for Atlantic blue crab. Rent a kayak or canoe at Shelter Cove Marina, the largest on the island, to explore the 11-mile saltwater lagoon or take a dolphin safari at Palmetto Bay Marina.
Boutiques and restaurants line the lively boardwalks of Myrtle Beach, but peacefulness is not far away. Soft white sand, clear blue ocean and sunsets so vibrant they require no Instagram filter can be found on the secluded stretch of the south end at Litchfield Beach. On the north side, Cherry Grove Beach is a quiet, family-friendly destination with a nearby fishing pier and free public parking.
The area is also home to two state parks with lush coastal trails for biking, walking, sightseeing and camping: Myrtle Beach State Park and Huntington Beach State Park. The latter, in Murrells Inlet, houses Brookgreen Gardens, a sprawling sculpture park and wildlife preserve. Make a day of it by stopping at nearby Crazy Sister Marina for deep sea fishing, Jet Ski rentals or a dolphin-watching cruise.
Some of the best golfing in the world can be found in both cities, but their fairways couldn’t be more different. Palmetto, pine and oak trees line the ocean-side holes in Hilton Head, while Myrtle Beach boasts Spanish moss-draped greens and challenging sand traps.
Reserve tee times in advance at Harbour Town Golf Links, one of Hilton Head’s most coveted golf courses and a PGA Tour location. Views of the sparkling Calibogue Sound from the 18th hole at Sea Pines Resort make this elite course in demand. If you can’t get a tee time there, try Hilton Head National, in a storybook-like forest setting; or the three-course combination at Shipyard Golf Club, featuring 27 holes surrounded by tall oaks and water hazards.
In Myrtle Beach, experience the Old Southern charm of Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, featuring an antebellum-style clubhouse and lush greens along the Waccamaw River. Or hone your swing with a pro at the Dustin Johnson Golf School at Founders Group International’s Indian Wells Golf Club, with pine and red oak forested courses through the marsh wetlands.
Bring the Kids
Prime your kids to become future golf pros in Myrtle Beach, dubbed the Mini Golf Capital of the World for its more than 50 courses. Scale the 50-foot “Mayan pyramid” at Cancun Lagoon Miniature Golf or help rescue Tinkerbell at the Peter Pan-themed course, Captain Hook’s Adventure Golf.
Off the greens, more than a day’s worth of attractions await on the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk, including towering rides like the Sky Wheel gondola and the exhilarating Sling Shot, which sends passengers 300 feet into the air at up to 100 miles per hour. For thrills without the motion sickness, head to Broadway at the Beach, a shopping and entertainment complex with attractions such as Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, an IMAX theater and upscale shopping.
Catch a glimpse of Hilton Head’s rich history and heritage by taking a guided tour on Saturdays at the Gullah Museum. Get up close with Hilton Head’s wildlife at the Coastal Discovery Museum, where you can encounter local reptiles, birds and mammals. And if the little ones want to run around, head to the interactive children’s museum Sandbox, featuring activities for kids 8 and younger such as a play kitchen, model airplane cockpit and pirate ship.
Taste the Lowcountry
Famous for its cuisine, South Carolina has more than enough barbecue, seafood and soul food restaurants to warrant its own culinary trip. Whole hog barbecue is an art form here, with four distinctive sauces: spicy vinegar and pepper; light tomato; heavy tomato; and its signature “Carolina Gold” mustard-based sauce. Serious foodies should take a quick detour to Hemingway, about an hour outside Myrtle Beach, to visit Scott’s Bar-B-Que, a third-generation spot specializing in vinegar and pepper pulled pork.
Stop off at Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s to enjoy Hilton Head’s local flavor. This is soul food—scratch-made dishes like country fried chicken and smoked ham gumbo, plus coastal specialties like shrimp and grits, crab cakes and Lowcountry boil. No meat? No problem! Find vegetarian riffs on Southern classics like fried green tomatoes and house-made pimento cheese at A Lowcountry Backyard.
Where to Stay
Club Members can use their Membership to stay at these new Hilton Grand Vacations properties in the heart of South Carolina’s top attractions.
Ocean Oak Resort by Hilton Grand Vacations: Be one of the first to stay at Hilton Grand Vacations’ newest destination, featuring modern high-rises housing 125 two-bedroom suites and located on the exclusive South Forest Beach area of Hilton Head. Relax in luxury accommodations, and enjoy spacious kitchens, spalike bathrooms and sleek interior designs. Steps from the beach, Ocean Oak has sweeping views of the Atlantic coastline and amenities like an oceanfront pool and adjacent bar, a sun deck and an activity lawn. Reservations are now open, with check-in dates beginning January 2017.
Ocean 22 by Hilton Grand Vacations: Minutes from the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade and major attractions, this oceanfront high-rise is equipped with rooms boasting king-sized beds, sleeper sofas, full kitchens and separate living and dining areas. Guests receive complimentary access to more than a dozen golf courses, including Founders Group International’s Indian Wells Golf Club.