When someone says Hilton Head Island the words “free” or “almost free” don’t usually come to mind. Yes it’s expensive to live in this area but after more than ten years here, we’ve discovered some free or low cost things to do when we want to play tourist where we live.
This one’s obvious. You wouldn’t be coming to visit an island if you didn’t plan to spend time at the beach. Your beach day will be basically free but you will likely have to pay for parking so bring some quarters with you. Coligny Beach is recently renovated with restrooms and showers as well as a fountain at the entrance. It’s also near a shopping center with lots of different shops for you to spend even more time during your day. Folly Field is a more simple beach to visit. There are restroom and an outdoor shower area to rinse off before heading back to the car.
Explore Sea Pines
You’ll have to pay to enter the plantation but that’s all you’ll have to spend unless you choose to spend more. This is where the red and white striped lighthouse is located and there are plenty of shops and restaurants as well. Lawton Stables is inside this plantation as well and has a free petting zoo that’s fun for the kids. Back near the lighthouse there’s also a nice playground the kids can play on as well as a short pier to walk out on and look out to some of the surrounding islands. At Christmastime there’s a great light display and lots of activities (movies under the Liberty Oak tree, bonfire and smores, and toy drives). Summertime means live music and movies outside. If you’re parking near the lighthouse, beware. You’re near the ocean and the water will rise as the tide comes in. At times it’s been very close to the parking lot so if that concerns you, find another spot.
Our libraries have really fantastic programs going on. Check in with the branch you’ll be closest to so you can see what’s happening while you’re visiting. In addition to the summer reading programs, they offer lots of fun (and free!) clubs, have places to play in the kid’s areas, and give you a chance to just relax in the air conditioning or get out of the rain.
Coastal Discovery Museum
Throughout the year, Coastal Discovery Museum has really fantastic programs to teach about local culture and traditions as well as the wildlife. Even if you visit at a time when there’s not a specific program happening, it’s still totally worth a visit just to explore the grounds and check out the displays. We’ve been here ten years and still love visiting here.
Need to let the kids blow off a little steam? There’s a playground here as well as a large open area that’s great for a quick football or soccer game. There are lots of shops and restaurants here as well that are fun to window shop at while walking to the park area. Near the walking path is a great spot for pictures as well. With the backdrop of the tidal creek and ocean, it’s beautiful. If you’re visiting during the holidays, you’ve got to visit the Dove Street Lights display that was moved to this location. Santa’s sleigh is available for pictures and sometimes even Santa himself if there. Amid the thousands of lights strung across the street, you might even spot some snowflakes falling.
Just want to experience some Lowcountry wildlife? This is the place to do it. Just use care – lots of our wildlife can be harmful or deadly if you’re not careful. Even locals sometimes miss a snake slithering out of the way or an alligator just off the path. Lots of birds can also be seen here. Located between the bridges onto Hilton Head Island, it can be a little bit tricky to get to and from, so use caution when entering and leaving the refuge.
Walking and Bike Trails
One of the most popular things to do on Hilton Head is travel by bike. It’s a fun way to get around (and helps you work off all those vacation goodies you’ve been snacking on). Be sure you’re aware of the rules of the road for bicyclists and watch out. Sadly far too many bicyclists are hit while riding or crossing roads. That’s not how you want to spend your vacation. Here’s a map you can use to help you get an idea of how you can get around the Island on two wheels. You can always use your own bikes that you’ve brought or you can rent them once you get here.
Visit the Disney Resort
Not many people know there’s a Disney Resort tucked in among the oak trees on Hilton Head. You’ll probably spot the red roof while driving on the Island or even by water, but you won’t realize what it is. There is a gate and you’ll need to buzz in to be able to visit the resort. Here you’ll find touches of Disney throughout the resort and once you find the gift shop and small dining area, you can get yourself a Mickey waffle or ice cream bar. They even have Dole whips! Enjoying a snack on the large porch or even taking it down to the pier is a great way to spend some time.
This is one of our favorite parks to visit. Spend time on the small pier watching the turtles or alligators floating by or even try your hand at fishing. With two different playgrounds, the kids are sure to be entertained and will burn off some energy. The park does have some restrooms and several covered areas with picnic tables. On one side near the water, there’s a small circuit of exercise equipment. Some shade is provided by the oak tree nearby but be careful as the equipment can heat up under the sun.
While this one isn’t free, it’s certainly affordable and is a great way to beat the heat or get out of the rain. When my boys were younger they spent hours here. You might even meet some of the friendly locals who can recommend a great spot for lunch or ice cream after you visit.
What kinds of activities do you like to do while you’re on vacation? Have you visiting Hilton Head Island before? Did your favorite spot make my list?