3 Best Day Trips from Charleston


Slide 1 of 20: Charleston has more than enough to engage even the most particular visitor, but there’s nothing wrong with venturing a little further afield of the spire-capped city every now and then. Drive an hour in any direction, and you'll find plenty of history and nature (not to mention good old-fashioned golf) to enjoy on these Charleston day trips: Camp out in Georgetown to learn about the state's watery history, and spend the night in a historic home; play pirates in the morning and scour Hilton Head's famous beaches by afternoon; and hit Beaufort to explore a world-class state park and reward yourself with a hearty dinner—it's all possible with a free day or two, and a sense of adventure. Click the link to read our complete Charleston guide.
Slide 2 of 20: Located on Port Royal Island, Beaufort is famed for its Antebellum mansions and architecture, some of which date  to the early 18th century. The town is the second oldest in the state and combines a rich history with beautiful coastal backdrops.
Slide 3 of 20: Set the scene: what does this place look like? If you're wondering where the old bull in question is, just look up: the tufted head is mounted above the bar in this cozy-contemporary restaurant. Dark walls and muted lighting keeps the ambience warm, spruced up by quirky touches like a British-style public telephone box in the corner. Who else is here? The crowd is mostly younger, and trendily-dressed, though the decor isn’t so edgy that it puts off anyone above the age of 40. Did you have your choice of drinks? The drink menu typically has a good selection, whether you're into bourbon flights or freshly-made frozen bevs. Wines on tap make for an affordable way to try new tipples and the beer selection straddles the familiar, local, and imported. Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. The chefs are enthusiastic about local produce and seasonality, and the menu reflects that, changing based on availability. But the general output is high-quality, gourmet pub food, with bar snacks like wasabi deviled eggs leading the charge. Typical starters and ‘middle plates’ might include bites like white anchovies with mint, or house-made ricotta gnocchi, with carrion-forward entrées like braised lamb shank. And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? The bartenders are all knowledgable, and can you through their favorite concoctions with charm. What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? If you want to hit that sweet spot between a casual dinner and a special celebration, then this gastro pub checks all the boxes.
Slide 4 of 20: How do we find this place, and once we have, what does it look like? Large, looming trees almost obscure the sleek façade of this restaurant—but foliage gives way to a bright, contemporary space that, with its low lights and angular interiors, is equally stylish to any city dweller's swanky home. What was the crowd like? There’s a sense of refinement to the diners here, but it stops just short of pretension. They've done their research on the surprisingly complex dishes, and they're here to finally get a taste. Tell us about the drink menu—a good variety, or a tightly-edited list? The cocktail selection rotates with the seasons, but it never abandons the classics. Some, however, are elevated with slight variations: you might have raspberry peach Grand Marnier in your Bellini, or West Indian bitters in your Manhattan. The wine list is large, but not overwhelmingly so, and deserves a serious perusal. Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. Calling shrimp n' grits your signature entrée is a bold move—this is the South, after all—but it really is a best-seller, and for good reason (actually, two: house-made broth and house-cured bacon). Of course, seafood is a major player across the menu, from a silky bowl of crab bisque to freshly shucked oysters off the raw bar. And, lest you think there are no surprises left to be had, there's also an entire sushi menu. And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? It takes a lot of chutzpah to dub something as seemingly simple as shrimp n' grits your signature move—but servers know what goes into it all, and are happy to set you straight if you ask. They can also take you through the virtues of each possible entrée and, once you've chosen, help you select the ideal wine to go with it. What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? You can take dinner on the waterfront or in the more urbane dining room—but no matter where you're sitting, the enthusiasm of Chef Brian Waters is going to shine through.

Slide 5 of 20: Tell us what you see. The double balconies and Spanish Moss framing the façade make this 19th-century antebellum house almost the quintessence of a Southern mansion. If you close your eyes, you can almost pretend you're at Tara. What are the other patrons like? Guests are well-to-do—they're staying at an antebellum mansion, after all—but they're generally a fun-loving and gregarious breed. Public spaces are rarely entered without a cocktail in one hand, and rarely left without having made some entertaining conversation (and a few new friends). Give us the deets on your room: What did you like about it? There are a couple of cottage and suite options, but the regular rooms in the actual inn have charming, shuttered windows, and sleek, classic, dark wood furniture, with velvet footstools and little alcoves in the exposed brick to keep things interesting. The pink and white bathroom was small but efficient, and the water pressure in the shower was good. How about the little things, like mini bar, or shower goodies? Were there any little touches that really made your stay? Fresh cut flowers were a lovely touch, though they only added to the already-sweet scents wafting through the shutters. Tell us about the food situation—do they serve breakfast? Aperitifs? The breakfast is a hearty Lowcountry spread: there were piles of fluffy, steaming homemade biscuits, along with some seriously tasty French Toast. Food clearly isn't an afterthought—there's also wine and cheese available each evening at 5 p.m., and a choice of toothsome desserts that's ferried out around 7 p.m. How was the service? The breakfast servers and kitchen staff are chipper and bright—their friendly, good-natured charm makes for a nice start to the day. Anything stand out about other services and features? The bright yellow dining room, with its high ceilings and fresh flowers, feels especially elegant. Bottom line: worth it, and why? If you’re looking for some traditional Southern hospitality and environs, then this beautiful house comes straight from central casting.
Slide 6 of 20: Zoom out. What’s the big picture here? The company is well established and some cursory research as to the ethics of how they treat their animals returned some very positive and encouraging results. It’s certainly a professional set up, but with a homespun feel, and our tour guide very charismatically welcomed our small group (the four rows of the carriages can fit eight people very comfortably) and introduced us to our happy shire horse, Angus. Tell us about your fellow tourees. It’s a leisurely tour that lasts just under an hour, and so it’s great for more mature visitors who might have mobility issues on an extended walking tour. An interest in local history, architecture, and churches will probably be an advantage, but the tour isn't esoteric, and being partial to just ambling along and listening to an entertaining guide talk about their town is really enough. How are the guides? Our guide was experienced and well-drilled on the highlights of the tour, which included some detail on local history, some of the specifics of the Antebellum architecture styles, Civil War history and even some natural history given the town’s beautiful natural harbor and the tour taking place amid the evocatively southern Spanish Moss. It didn’t come across as robotic or soulless, though, nor overly dramatic—it was a perfectly pitched summary of the town and its general points of interest. Anything you’ll be remembering weeks or months or years from now? The town’s historic homes are perhaps its most interesting feature. The entirety of the historic district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and there are some incredibly preserved homes, such as the Robert Smalls House and The Anchorage (which both date back to the late 18th century). There’s even older history on view at the Parish Church of St Helena, parts of which date back to 1712, and just slowly meandering along with trees on one side and the water on the other was delightful. Another thing that stood out and was especially welcome given the nature of these tours was a readiness from the guide to talk in detail about the care of the horses and the procedures in place for their wellbeing—it was very reassuring and assuaged any concerns about animal welfare (tours are cancelled if the temperature is over 80 degrees, for instance). So: money, time—how can we make the most of both? The tour is the perfect way to orient yourself as you arrive in Beaufort, and is especially expedient for day trippers, combining almost everything you would need to know as a primer to the destination into under one hour. It’s comfortable, informative, and entertaining, and almost everyone would appreciate some part of the overall experience.
Slide 7 of 20: Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about? This is the most popular State Park in South Carolina, and for good reason. You've got five miles of supple white sand beaches, and plenty of room for remote walks, fishing from piers, and secluded picnics—everything's possible at this glorious Eastern edge of Beaufort County. How accessible is it? Once out of Beaufort, it’s just a 25-minute drive along U.S. Route 21 into the heart of the State Park. There’s ample parking, too—just remember to bring a fiver for admission. Decent services and facilities, would you say? Fishing is one of the more popular activities at Hunting Island, so you'll see plenty of feet dangling off the pier. But if you'd rather lap up some waves while casting your line, you can also fish right on the shore, toes in the sand. You can rent rods and reels from the Nature Center if you didn't BYO, and there's also a store in the visitor reception area and a gift store at the lighthouse. How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf? There are no formally designated swimming areas, but most places are perfectly calm and amenable to swimmers of all levels. Anything to check out, besides the beach, itself? Obviously, there's sand—but Hunting Island also has acres upon acres of protected marshes and wetlands that are ideal for bird and wildlife watching. Take a walk down one of the nature trails to get close-ups of painted buntings and slim white egrets. Anything special we should look for? The island's most unique feature is the historic lighthouse, the only publicly accessible one in the state. It's about 170 steps to the top, but the views of the surrounding seascape are well worth the schlep. Bring $2 for admission. If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for? The draw of this State Park is the sheer variety of activities it offers, from birding to sunbathing, and hiking to sightseeing. Best of all, everything's accessible and easy to do.
Slide 8 of 20: This historic town on the Hammock Coast remains a charming seaport and tourist spot. Sometimes referred to as Little Charleston, it boasts a number of beautiful Antebellum homes and the entire downtown area is on the Register of Historic Places.
Slide 9 of 20: Give us the wide-angle view: what does this place look like? This handsome, 19th-century Southern mansion enjoys all the charm of its age, along with the perks of a more recent restoration. Framed by trees and perfectly-trimmed hedges, it sits in splendid isolation on its Prince Street lot, elegant and proud, like a buttoned-up gentleman with his chest puffed out. Who else is staying there? The guests skew older—they prefer romantic architecture from a bygone era, and a slower-paced, more genteel brand of hospitality. Mostly, you'll see them lounging on porch chairs in comfortable, but never unseemly, clothes. How was your room? What did it look like? My second-floor room, The Marbry (named for the owner’s great-grandmother), was traditional—think dark blue curtains, polished hardwood floors, and a fireplace—but not bogged down in fusty period details. The queen-sized bed was comfortable, but it was the surrounding tranquility that really made getting up more challenging than usual. And the amenities—anything you wanted to stash in your bag and take with you, or wished you could replicate at home? The bathroom was standard, but it was the alcove, equipped with a small vanity mirror and sink, that felt like a decadent addition to the room's old-world aesthetic. I wanted to fetch my valet, until I remembered I didn't have one. _Anything special you want to call out, either about the decor or the service? The host, Rob Henry, is a whiz in the kitchen, and the European continental breakfast might include anything from his considerable repertoire—hope for the ham and onion quiche, or the pimento cheese and ham biscuits. Talk to us about the staff. When people use the term 'Southern Gentleman,' they're talking about Rob—and on top of his impeccable manners, he's a super-knowledgable and accommodating innkeeper. Bottom line: would you book this place again, and why? It’s well worth forgoing the more corporate options for a more personal stay at 620 Prince. The place marries historic charm with modern-day convenience, and it'll give you a much better sense of your surroundings.

Slide 10 of 20: Tell us about your first impressions when you arrived. If you’re coming into the restaurant from the river side, you may not even notice it at first: the dark wooden frontage blends perfectly with the boardwalk, while the slightly fancier street side is marked by a striped awning and colorful signage. Inside, the design scheme is maritime mixed with rustic chic—think oars, boughs, and all manner of aquatic kitsch on the walls. What was the crowd like? Everyone here is a seafood lover, but you can spot the more serious aficionados almost immediately—they'll be the ones arriving by boat. Generally, though, you can expect a dressed-down, casual crowd ready to dig into a fresh catch. What should we be drinking? The drink menu trusts you to know what you like, and there aren’t any prescriptive cocktail choices beyond the holy trinity of frozens (margaritas, daiquiris, and coladas). There are a healthy number of local craft brews you can choose from, and the extensive wine list sections off bottles by grape variety, then classifies them further by whether or not they're "interesting." Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. The menu isn't solely seafood, but you'll at least want to try the freshest (and most popular dishes), if only out of deference to the coastal location. If we're talking apps, the McClellanville Crab Balls are a perennial favorite—or you can just dive right in with a half-pound of chilled shrimp. The fresh fish entrees are seasonal and catch-dependent, but there’s always the seafood casserole (yep, and it's tasty) or crab cakes. And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? The coastal air and the smell of saltwater puts everyone in a good mood, and the servers with their fresh-faced friendliness are no exception. They’re happy to share their particular favorites and steer you through the catches of the day. What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? There’s already something indulgent, albeit casual, about the experience of waterside dining; and when a menu complements the location so well, you really can’t go wrong.
Slide 11 of 20: Zoom out. What’s this place all about? It’s a state museum, but it looks at the maritime history of South Carolina through a local prism; you'll get to understand how the museum (and you) ended up here. The building, which fully opened in 2011, is housed in a two-storey, warehouse-looking structure. How was the permanent collection? There’s all manner of artifacts that help to tell the story of the region’s maritime heritage, from early examples of wooden dugout canoes (some dating back to the Civil War era) through to scale models of tall ships and sailing boats. There’s also a fair amount of art, and standalone artefacts like bells and sailing accessories. What did you make of the crowd? The museum draws both maritime history enthusiasts and those interested in local lore. It’s low-key and laid back, and you can browse without too much of an agenda. On the practical tip, how were facilities? The museum is fairly small, so it’s easy to get around. Gift shop: obligatory, inspiring—or skip it? Pick up a poster or a book commemorating the local Wooden Boat Show, an annual tradition that goes back over a quarter of a century. You can also snag some maritime-themed jigsaw puzzles and t-shirts. Any advice for the time- or attention-challenged? You can cover pretty much the entire museum in 90 minutes, depending on your level of curiosity.
Slide 12 of 20: What's the deal with this place? What appears to be an unassuming home in fact houses what’s billed as the country’s first Bed & Brew (yup, that's a bed and breakfast that makes its own beer). The house is a disarming shade of bright teal and has an all-American look about it; it's sizable, tidy, and in a good looking part of town. What’s the crowd like? Owner Joseph Baxter and his mother, Clare Reigart, have created a casual ambience at the B&B, and guests here are typically unified not by their aesthetic but by their enthusiasm for craft beer. Joseph is a beer expert—he's been brewing the stuff for over 20 years—and hawks his award-wining brews to eager guests. And your room: comfy, or crummy? There are just three bedrooms, and all have hardwood floors, queen beds, and an unpretentious, homely quality that endears them to visitors passing through. The bed was perfectly comfortable, as good as any comparable bed and breakfast. What's the room service situation? How about breakfast? Breakfast can be tailored to guests’ needs (within reason), and if you’re in the mood for bagels or certain cereals, then the owners will try to have them ready for you—just give them a day's notice. Tell us about the staff: what were they like? Both Joseph and Clare are friendly, enthusiastic hosts and know a fair amount about the local area. And if you’re a craft brewing nerd, then you’ve come to the right B&B. Did anything in particular wow you? There’s a lovingly prepared charcuterie board prepared each evening for your gastronomic pleasure. It’s the perfect vehicle for delving into some of Joseph’s latest beer creations. So, bottom line: would you book this place again? The craft beer element is a novelty, but it’s backed up by sincere, welcoming inn-keeping.
Slide 13 of 20: This upscale resort jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean is actually a collection of smaller islands and one of the most alluring Lowcountry spots you can visit. High-end resorts overlook spectacular stretches of sand, and the downtown neighborhood has a lively and eclectic dining and nightlife scene.
Slide 14 of 20: How did it strike you on arrival? Palm tree-lined gardens give way to a modern-looking country club-hotel hybrid. There’s an understated, quiet grandiosity to the sleek pyramid-shaped roofs and muted colors. What’s the crowd like? The crowd's a mix of golf-casual and marina-chic, simultaneously dressed down and buttoned up—it's amazing what a bit of Ralph Lauren can do. The good stuff: Tell us about your room. My Tennis View Queen had, unsurprisingly, views of the tennis facility, but with plenty of lush greenery to offset any dullness. The teal and cream color scheme was beachy and calming, with a hit of bright, floral curtains for charm, and the comfortable linens and mattresses lived up to the high standards of the rest of the hotel. How about the little things, like mini bar, or shower goodies. Any of that find its way into your suitcase? There wasn’t much that was surprising, though a complimentary shoe-shining and pant-pressing service was a nice touch. Presumably, it's a feature often used by the well-heeled folk who stay here. Important question: What's the food situation like? There are half a dozen or so dining options in and around the larger resort area that the hotel is part of. Links, An American Grill is a good spot to hit after you play 18. And the staff? Friendly and accommodating, or something to be desired? Maybe it's too easy to think kindly the check-in staff—they are offering you a glass of champagne on arrival, after all—but the welcome was genuinely warm and professional. Anything stand out about other services and features? Whether it’s childcare, gyms, spas, even parking—whatever stuck with you. The resort's three world-class golf courses are one of the main reasons for staying here, and fans of the links will find themselves extremely well-cared for. Bottom line: worth it, and why? The hotel is plenty nice, and being part of a larger resort means that the choice of amenities alone should keep it high on any visitor’s list.

Slide 15 of 20: Why did this hotel catch your attention? What's the vibe? The 11 acres of tropical gardens set the scene for this idyllic resort, located on a stretch of the region’s most alluring coastline. The extensive grounds mean that the resort retains an air of exclusivity despite being surrounded by similar properties. The towering, light-flooded lobby has huge mirrors and artistic flourishes that elevate the place above its peers. What's the backstory? The resort opened in 1984 under Marriott and Sonesta took over in 2012 with immediate plans to renovate. A $30 million refurbishment promptly took place in 2013, resulting in this 340-room resort with extensive new facilities and landscaped grounds. The striking lobby was built in place of a nightclub, and the entire resort, with improved pool facilities and lounges, was elegantly upgraded. Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? My Ocean View Guest Room had fairly good views of the sea and swaths of the lush gardens. The decor reflects the Sonesta aesthetic foreshadowed in the lobby, with whites and creams used as a background canvas and splashes of colors (in my case bright oranges, though some rooms have dark browns) that really pop, giving the rooms a very modern look. A private balcony was accessible through sliding doors, and there were panoramic levels of comfort, including a large bed with cushioned headboard surrounded by a stylish, slate-gray frame. The bathroom was equally modern, with a shower/tub combo, an iHome docking station, and a Keurig coffee maker to round out the amenities. Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? There was free, high-speed internet that held its speed throughout the resort. Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? The resort houses six food and beverage outlets, the most formal of which is their flagship eatery, Heyward’s Restaurant, open for breakfast and dinner. The dinner menu especially celebrates Lowcountry classic such as Crab Bakes and Fried Green Tomatoes, with locally-sourced seafood also a favorite, particularly the creamy shrimp and grits. There are four more casual options, all with outdoor seating options and family-friendly menus. There’s also a dedicated ice cream parlor, Sonesta Scoops. And the service? Resort levels of relaxation are apparent from the get-go, with an impressive staff-guest ratio and the feeling that all your needs are catered for as soon as you arrive. Staff quickly and charismatically orient new arrivals, and settling into the resort is effortless. Staff are discreetly available throughout the gardens and lounging areas, and the resort hits the right levels of service—not overwhelming but easily accessible. What type of travelers will you find here? The resort is fairly upscale, and well-to-do families mingle with young and older couples. The ambience is less of a party crowd and more refined, with most people reading or sunbathing. The resort is popular around school breaks, so the highest levels of tranquility will be outside of those times. What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? The resort enjoys a plum location, centered on one of the best beaches in the region and surrounded by other resorts, the Shipyard Golf Club, and some tennis courts. The Coligny Plaza shopping center is also just next door, and the best of Hilton Head is really on the doorstep. Is there anything you'd change? The ocean views aren’t completely uninterrupted, but given that it’s mostly the tropical gardens that are in the line of sight, it’s not too much of a problem. Any other hotel features worth noting? The pool areas and the spa were the most welcome renovations as the resort reopened, both pools are heated and have ample loungers and cabanas and enjoy shade from the tropical foliage. The luxe Arum Spa has a full complement of massages and beauty treatments and there’s a 24-hour fitness center, bike rentals, and an onsite market for incidentals. With the beach just a couple of minutes away in foot, guests can easily spend their whole vacation without leaving the premises. Bottom line: Worth it? Why? The resort is stylish without being stuffy, and the amenities and levels of service are well worth the rates, even considering the resort charges. It’s a peaceful, scenic, and great value resort.
Slide 16 of 20: Zoom out. What’s the big picture here? Technically, you're on a boat touring the Calibogue Sound, but as far as the kids can tell, you're on a grand pirate adventure with some live action role play thrown in. Rogue pirate route this is not—it's all well organized and choreographed. Tell us about your fellow tourees. The adventure is marketed for children ages two to 10, along with their good-natured parents, and there’s a good mix of ages represented. You can count on benches and places to rest but, as one can imagine, firing the water cannons does require a basic level of mobility. How are the guides, then? The guides are well-trained, and help to foster that suspension of disbelief early on—no bad santas, here. On arrival, kids get a quick 'pirate school' tutorial, and choose their own pirate names, don costumes, and get temporary tattoos (provided it's okay by you). Once out on the water, activities are fully supervised—no man overboard—and the climax, which comes when the gang fends off the bad guys with water cannons, is actually a riot to watch. Anything you’ll be remembering weeks or months or years from now? The upkeep of the kids' energy by the guides was particularly impressive. For adults, there was also some incredibly photogenic coastal scenery to take in—that is, if you could tear your eyes away from the action. So: money, time—how can we make the most of both? This is definitely a child-focused activity, best for energetic, outgoing (and possible marauding) kids, and parents who just want to sit back and watch the controlled drama unfold, while at the same time, getting a new perspective of the Hilton Head coast.
Slide 17 of 20: Why did this hotel catch your attention? What's the vibe? Perhaps this resort is Disney for people who don’t like Disney, or at least the crowds, expenses, and relentless merchandising present at their theme parks. This lodge-themed retreat isn’t attached to any theme parks—the nearest one is a five-hour drive away—and is a more traditional resort, albeit one with its own water slide and a more family-focused approach than many Hilton Head resorts. What's the backstory? The property was developed on the 15-acre island of Shelter Cove Harbor, and it opened in 1996. It was intentionally marketed towards families with young children and its hunting and fishing lodge aesthetic, while not reflecting any specific Disney movies, is in line with the slightly kitsch design of many of the company’s resorts. It has the feeling of a high-end summer camp. Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? The rooms are true to the hunting lodge style, with bed headboards and lamp stands made out of materials resembling tree stumps and the like, so it maintains a fun, rustic ambience. My deluxe studio was an entry-level accommodation, with the green and blue color palate that all of the rooms employed to reflect the natural themes of the resort. The set up is fairly basic but perfectly presentable and for families, the functionality will be much more welcome than fancy tech, especially the small balcony/patio, dining table and kitchenette in the slightly larger rooms. There’s a shower/tub combo, and the room can sleep a family of four comfortably. Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? The wifi is free and seemed to hold up across most of the resort. Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? There are two family-friendly dining options at the resort, both of which operate seasonally, so be sure to check before making your booking. Signals is more of a sit down restaurant/cafe and Tide Me Over is a quick pitstop with a few picnic tables. Both have breakfast and lunch options with all the typical dishes that children might enjoy, including burgers, pizza, pasta, and salads. Grilled fish and sweet potato fries make up the more sophisticated end of the menu. There are ‘seasonal’ dinner services, but outside of this, evening options are limited to self catering or going to one of the dozens of restaurants that are close to the resort. And the service? Service, as you might expect from a Disney property, is cheery and perky, with the staff well-drilled at handling the specific requirements of families with young children and seemingly endless reserves of patience. Orienting and situating new guests has been honed to a fine art, and the activities and general levels of service are well-supervised and helpful. What type of travelers will you find here? The guests seemed to consist entirely of families, which is not surprising and is what the resort was designed for. It feels slightly less manic than resorts at Disney theme parks, perhaps as the stresses and tiredness levels associated with visiting these parks has been removed, letting families experience a different energy. Activities are on site or at the beach via a short shuttle, and so it just seemed generally more chilled out. What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? Although on its own island, the resort is just over a mile from the beach. However, Disney has its own facility that’s essentially an annex to the hotel (called Disney’s Beach House) where you can rent beach gear such as umbrellas and chairs, relax in the lounge, and there are even indoor games if the weather’s bad. The Beach House also has its own pool. Is there anything you'd change? A year-round option for onsite evening dining would be a good addition, though there are several options within easy striking distance. Any other hotel features worth noting? There are two pools on site, one for very young children and one for older kids, the latter coming with water-park-like amenities such as a water slide and fountains. The resort also organizes lots of child-friendly activities, such as fishing and crabbing, campfires and movie showings. There’s also the option of bike rentals, guided nature walks, dolphin spotting, golf and tennis and there’s also a fitness center as well as a large hall for games and crafting. Bottom line: Worth it? Why? There are some fine resorts in Hilton Head but not too many of them focus on families and small children, and so this Disney outpost is a welcome addition to the available options. Parents will find the place secure and their children well looked after, and though dining is slightly limited, the activities and beachside annex will also be appreciated.
Slide 18 of 20: Let’s start big picture. What’s the vibe here? Hilton Head usually brings to mind the beach, and for good reason—but this area of lush, dense greenery bucks that reputation a bit. The reserve's 650 square acres are a veritable playground for nature lovers, part maritime forest, sand ridge, scenic wetlands, and natural ponds. There’s also a 4,000-year-old history to the area, and most of it represented along its many trails. Any standout features or must-sees? The Shell Pines Sea Ring, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a pretty spectacular archaeological site made up of thousands of oyster, clam, and mussel shells. It’s thought that the site was a religious or social gathering place for the Native American tribes who inhabited the region. There are also large wildflower fields and boardwalks that you can reach through swamplands. Was it easy to get around? The bike paths and nature trails are clearly marked, and all you really need is some bug spray, sunscreen, a small picnic basket, and your curious brain. All said and done, what—and who—is this best for? It’s the perfect escape from the golf-crazed vacationers and overdevelopment in and around Hilton Head. Hotels and spas and golf courses are all very well, but escaping into nature is something not to be missed.
Slide 19 of 20: Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about? Who'd have thought that this thin sliver of soft sand would be the most popular beach on the island, and by far? It’s a prime, five miles of perfect, Atlantic coastline cutting across the southern half of Hilton Head, and it's damn near perfect. How accessible is it? The main access point is at Coligny Beach Park, which sits at the end of Pope Avenue. Traffic can get pretty crazy during peak times, though on the upside, there’s free parking available. Decent services and facilities, would you say? The amenities at Coligny Beach Park are one of the main reasons why this particular beach is so popular (beyond its natural charm, of course). Sand showers, shops, restaurants, and well-maintained restrooms are all part of the allure. How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf? The boardwalk leads you down to pristine sands and the Atlantic Ocean, with calm waters that are perfect for swimming (surfing, not so much); and with lifeguards on duty, it’s also very safe. If you’re lucky, you can spot pods of dolphins playing and feeding not too far out. Anything special we should look for? Everything you're likely to need can be found in the Plaza, and around the Coligny Beach Park area. Kids tend to gravitate toward the water feature, where they'll cool off during the hottest summer months. If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for? It’s a great beach all around, with plenty of amenities, and which families will especially appreciate.
Slide 20 of 20: What were your first impressions when you arrived? There’s no shortage of places to sample the seafood and Lowcountry classics in and around Hilton Head, and so it’s refreshing to have the option for thoughtful, classic Italian food. This upscale trattoria on New Orleans Road has an industrial-rustic design aesthetic, and falls on just the right side of romantic, a pleasing waft of pancetta and other continental delights greeting its loyal customers. Dine in the cool, low-lit main dining room or the slightly more casual shared table in its marketplace annex. What’s the crowd like? There are many options for a special occasion meal in the area, and this spot is as well-liked as any, with couples and families rolling up for birthdays, anniversaries, and reunions. There’s a distinct lack of stuffiness, encouraged by the staff, resulting in a chatty, dynamic dining room that feels comfortable and intimate. What should we be drinking? The wine list is naturally a celebration of some great Italian varietals, and there are plenty of choices around the $40 per bottle mark for a cheeky lunchtime glass or three between friends, and plenty of serious labels if you're looking to bring out the big guns for a birthday. Wines by the glass tick off the main regions nicely, and the restaurant also offers some intriguing flights if you're new to Italian wines. Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. Fresh, homemade pasta makes up the formidable foundations of a menu that doffs its culinary cap to the old school of Italian cooking, but which isn’t restrained by its conventions. The antipasti board of meats and cheeses is a singular delight with wonderful portions of prosciutto, soppressata, and fontina. The beet salad with fresh mint and oranges combines sophisticated layers of flavor, and the baby calamari in white wine is a popular starter. The entrees revel in the classics, from a deceptively simple bolognese to more intricate black tagliatelle with shrimp or the wonderful speck-stuffed chicken breast. The freshness emanates from the plate, and if any of the dishes particularly take your fancy, the restaurant also runs its own cooking school on site so that you can recreate your favorite back at home. And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? The liveliness of the dining room is impressively maintained by the perky, charismatic staff, who do a wonderful job of creating a European-style ambiance that adds to the authenticity of the dining room. The wait staff are knowledgeable and help keep the menu accessible, and the sommelier takes particular care to line up the perfect accompaniment from a wine list that might be unfamiliar to some. What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? If you value culinary authenticity and appreciate a caring chef and staff, then this is the place to go, especially if you’ve exhausted your tolerance for crab and shrimp around town and want to diversify your experience somewhat. There are enough classics for traditionalists and innovation enough for the more adventurous, but either way it’s reassuringly professional and impressively tasty.

Charleston has more than enough to engage even the most particular visitor, but there’s nothing wrong with venturing a little further afield of the spire-capped city every now and then. Drive an hour in any direction, and you’ll find plenty of history and nature (not to mention good old-fashioned golf) to enjoy on these Charleston day trips: Camp out in Georgetown to learn about the state’s watery history, and spend the night in a historic home; play pirates in the morning and scour Hilton Head’s famous beaches by afternoon; and hit Beaufort to explore a world-class state park and reward yourself with a hearty dinner—it’s all possible with a free day or two, and a sense of adventure.

Click the link to read our complete Charleston guide.

BEAUFORT, S.C.

Old Bull Tavern

Set the scene: what does this place look like?
If you’re wondering where the old bull in question is, just look up: the tufted head is mounted above the bar in this cozy-contemporary restaurant. Dark walls and muted lighting keeps the ambience warm, spruced up by quirky touches like a British-style public telephone box in the corner.

Who else is here?
The crowd is mostly younger, and trendily-dressed, though the decor isn’t so edgy that it puts off anyone above the age of 40.

Did you have your choice of drinks?
The drink menu typically has a good selection, whether you’re into bourbon flights or freshly-made frozen bevs. Wines on tap make for an affordable way to try new tipples and the beer selection straddles the familiar, local, and imported.

Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss.
The chefs are enthusiastic about local produce and seasonality, and the menu reflects that, changing based on availability. But the general output is high-quality, gourmet pub food, with bar snacks like wasabi deviled eggs leading the charge. Typical starters and ‘middle plates’ might include bites like white anchovies with mint, or house-made ricotta gnocchi, with carrion-forward entrées like braised lamb shank.

And how did the front-of-house folks treat you?
The bartenders are all knowledgable, and can you through their favorite concoctions with charm.

What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here?
If you want to hit that sweet spot between a casual dinner and a special celebration, then this gastro pub checks all the boxes.

Saltus River Grill

How do we find this place, and once we have, what does it look like?
Large, looming trees almost obscure the sleek façade of this restaurant—but foliage gives way to a bright, contemporary space that, with its low lights and angular interiors, is equally stylish to any city dweller’s swanky home.

What was the crowd like?
There’s a sense of refinement to the diners here, but it stops just short of pretension. They’ve done their research on the surprisingly complex dishes, and they’re here to finally get a taste.

Tell us about the drink menu—a good variety, or a tightly-edited list?
The cocktail selection rotates with the seasons, but it never abandons the classics. Some, however, are elevated with slight variations: you might have raspberry peach Grand Marnier in your Bellini, or West Indian bitters in your Manhattan. The wine list is large, but not overwhelmingly so, and deserves a serious perusal.

Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss.
Calling shrimp n’ grits your signature entrée is a bold move—this is the South, after all—but it really is a best-seller, and for good reason (actually, two: house-made broth and house-cured bacon). Of course, seafood is a major player across the menu, from a silky bowl of crab bisque to freshly shucked oysters off the raw bar. And, lest you think there are no surprises left to be had, there’s also an entire sushi menu.

And how did the front-of-house folks treat you?
It takes a lot of chutzpah to dub something as seemingly simple as shrimp n’ grits your signature move—but servers know what goes into it all, and are happy to set you straight if you ask. They can also take you through the virtues of each possible entrée and, once you’ve chosen, help you select the ideal wine to go with it.

What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here?
You can take dinner on the waterfront or in the more urbane dining room—but no matter where you’re sitting, the enthusiasm of Chef Brian Waters is going to shine through.

Rhett House Inn

Tell us what you see.
The double balconies and Spanish Moss framing the façade make this 19th-century antebellum house almost the quintessence of a Southern mansion. If you close your eyes, you can almost pretend you’re at Tara.

What are the other patrons like?
Guests are well-to-do—they’re staying at an antebellum mansion, after all—but they’re generally a fun-loving and gregarious breed. Public spaces are rarely entered without a cocktail in one hand, and rarely left without having made some entertaining conversation (and a few new friends).

Give us the deets on your room: What did you like about it?
There are a couple of cottage and suite options, but the regular rooms in the actual inn have charming, shuttered windows, and sleek, classic, dark wood furniture, with velvet footstools and little alcoves in the exposed brick to keep things interesting. The pink and white bathroom was small but efficient, and the water pressure in the shower was good.

How about the little things, like mini bar, or shower goodies? Were there any little touches that really made your stay?
Fresh cut flowers were a lovely touch, though they only added to the already-sweet scents wafting through the shutters.

Tell us about the food situation—do they serve breakfast? Aperitifs?
The breakfast is a hearty Lowcountry spread: there were piles of fluffy, steaming homemade biscuits, along with some seriously tasty French Toast. Food clearly isn’t an afterthought—there’s also wine and cheese available each evening at 5 p.m., and a choice of toothsome desserts that’s ferried out around 7 p.m.

How was the service?
The breakfast servers and kitchen staff are chipper and bright—their friendly, good-natured charm makes for a nice start to the day.

Anything stand out about other services and features?
The bright yellow dining room, with its high ceilings and fresh flowers, feels especially elegant.

Bottom line: worth it, and why?
If you’re looking for some traditional Southern hospitality and environs, then this beautiful house comes straight from central casting.

Sea Island Carriage Company: Historic Carriage Tour

Zoom out. What’s the big picture here? The company is well established and some cursory research as to the ethics of how they treat their animals returned some very positive and encouraging results. It’s certainly a professional set up, but with a homespun feel, and our tour guide very charismatically welcomed our small group (the four rows of the carriages can fit eight people very comfortably) and introduced us to our happy shire horse, Angus.

Tell us about your fellow tourees. It’s a leisurely tour that lasts just under an hour, and so it’s great for more mature visitors who might have mobility issues on an extended walking tour. An interest in local history, architecture, and churches will probably be an advantage, but the tour isn’t esoteric, and being partial to just ambling along and listening to an entertaining guide talk about their town is really enough.

How are the guides? Our guide was experienced and well-drilled on the highlights of the tour, which included some detail on local history, some of the specifics of the Antebellum architecture styles, Civil War history and even some natural history given the town’s beautiful natural harbor and the tour taking place amid the evocatively southern Spanish Moss. It didn’t come across as robotic or soulless, though, nor overly dramatic—it was a perfectly pitched summary of the town and its general points of interest.

Anything you’ll be remembering weeks or months or years from now? The town’s historic homes are perhaps its most interesting feature. The entirety of the historic district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and there are some incredibly preserved homes, such as the Robert Smalls House and The Anchorage (which both date back to the late 18th century). There’s even older history on view at the Parish Church of St Helena, parts of which date back to 1712, and just slowly meandering along with trees on one side and the water on the other was delightful. Another thing that stood out and was especially welcome given the nature of these tours was a readiness from the guide to talk in detail about the care of the horses and the procedures in place for their wellbeing—it was very reassuring and assuaged any concerns about animal welfare (tours are cancelled if the temperature is over 80 degrees, for instance).

So: money, time—how can we make the most of both? The tour is the perfect way to orient yourself as you arrive in Beaufort, and is especially expedient for day trippers, combining almost everything you would need to know as a primer to the destination into under one hour. It’s comfortable, informative, and entertaining, and almost everyone would appreciate some part of the overall experience.

Hunting Island State Park

Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
This is the most popular State Park in South Carolina, and for good reason. You’ve got five miles of supple white sand beaches, and plenty of room for remote walks, fishing from piers, and secluded picnics—everything’s possible at this glorious Eastern edge of Beaufort County.

How accessible is it?
Once out of Beaufort, it’s just a 25-minute drive along U.S. Route 21 into the heart of the State Park. There’s ample parking, too—just remember to bring a fiver for admission.

Decent services and facilities, would you say?
Fishing is one of the more popular activities at Hunting Island, so you’ll see plenty of feet dangling off the pier. But if you’d rather lap up some waves while casting your line, you can also fish right on the shore, toes in the sand. You can rent rods and reels from the Nature Center if you didn’t BYO, and there’s also a store in the visitor reception area and a gift store at the lighthouse.

How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
There are no formally designated swimming areas, but most places are perfectly calm and amenable to swimmers of all levels.

Anything to check out, besides the beach, itself?
Obviously, there’s sand—but Hunting Island also has acres upon acres of protected marshes and wetlands that are ideal for bird and wildlife watching. Take a walk down one of the nature trails to get close-ups of painted buntings and slim white egrets.

Anything special we should look for?
The island’s most unique feature is the historic lighthouse, the only publicly accessible one in the state. It’s about 170 steps to the top, but the views of the surrounding seascape are well worth the schlep. Bring $2 for admission.

If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
The draw of this State Park is the sheer variety of activities it offers, from birding to sunbathing, and hiking to sightseeing. Best of all, everything’s accessible and easy to do.

GEORGETOWN, S.C.

620 Prince

Give us the wide-angle view: what does this place look like?
This handsome, 19th-century Southern mansion enjoys all the charm of its age, along with the perks of a more recent restoration. Framed by trees and perfectly-trimmed hedges, it sits in splendid isolation on its Prince Street lot, elegant and proud, like a buttoned-up gentleman with his chest puffed out.

Who else is staying there?
The guests skew older—they prefer romantic architecture from a bygone era, and a slower-paced, more genteel brand of hospitality. Mostly, you’ll see them lounging on porch chairs in comfortable, but never unseemly, clothes.

How was your room? What did it look like?
My second-floor room, The Marbry (named for the owner’s great-grandmother), was traditional—think dark blue curtains, polished hardwood floors, and a fireplace—but not bogged down in fusty period details. The queen-sized bed was comfortable, but it was the surrounding tranquility that really made getting up more challenging than usual.

And the amenities—anything you wanted to stash in your bag and take with you, or wished you could replicate at home?
The bathroom was standard, but it was the alcove, equipped with a small vanity mirror and sink, that felt like a decadent addition to the room’s old-world aesthetic. I wanted to fetch my valet, until I remembered I didn’t have one.

_Anything special you want to call out, either about the decor or the service?
The host, Rob Henry, is a whiz in the kitchen, and the European continental breakfast might include anything from his considerable repertoire—hope for the ham and onion quiche, or the pimento cheese and ham biscuits.

Talk to us about the staff.
When people use the term ‘Southern Gentleman,’ they’re talking about Rob—and on top of his impeccable manners, he’s a super-knowledgable and accommodating innkeeper.

Bottom line: would you book this place again, and why?
It’s well worth forgoing the more corporate options for a more personal stay at 620 Prince. The place marries historic charm with modern-day convenience, and it’ll give you a much better sense of your surroundings.

River Room

Tell us about your first impressions when you arrived.
If you’re coming into the restaurant from the river side, you may not even notice it at first: the dark wooden frontage blends perfectly with the boardwalk, while the slightly fancier street side is marked by a striped awning and colorful signage. Inside, the design scheme is maritime mixed with rustic chic—think oars, boughs, and all manner of aquatic kitsch on the walls.

What was the crowd like?
Everyone here is a seafood lover, but you can spot the more serious aficionados almost immediately—they’ll be the ones arriving by boat. Generally, though, you can expect a dressed-down, casual crowd ready to dig into a fresh catch.

What should we be drinking?
The drink menu trusts you to know what you like, and there aren’t any prescriptive cocktail choices beyond the holy trinity of frozens (margaritas, daiquiris, and coladas). There are a healthy number of local craft brews you can choose from, and the extensive wine list sections off bottles by grape variety, then classifies them further by whether or not they’re “interesting.”

Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss.
The menu isn’t solely seafood, but you’ll at least want to try the freshest (and most popular dishes), if only out of deference to the coastal location. If we’re talking apps, the McClellanville Crab Balls are a perennial favorite—or you can just dive right in with a half-pound of chilled shrimp. The fresh fish entrees are seasonal and catch-dependent, but there’s always the seafood casserole (yep, and it’s tasty) or crab cakes.

And how did the front-of-house folks treat you?
The coastal air and the smell of saltwater puts everyone in a good mood, and the servers with their fresh-faced friendliness are no exception. They’re happy to share their particular favorites and steer you through the catches of the day.

What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here?
There’s already something indulgent, albeit casual, about the experience of waterside dining; and when a menu complements the location so well, you really can’t go wrong.

South Carolina Maritime Museum

Zoom out. What’s this place all about?
It’s a state museum, but it looks at the maritime history of South Carolina through a local prism; you’ll get to understand how the museum (and you) ended up here. The building, which fully opened in 2011, is housed in a two-storey, warehouse-looking structure.

How was the permanent collection?
There’s all manner of artifacts that help to tell the story of the region’s maritime heritage, from early examples of wooden dugout canoes (some dating back to the Civil War era) through to scale models of tall ships and sailing boats. There’s also a fair amount of art, and standalone artefacts like bells and sailing accessories.

What did you make of the crowd?
The museum draws both maritime history enthusiasts and those interested in local lore. It’s low-key and laid back, and you can browse without too much of an agenda.

On the practical tip, how were facilities?
The museum is fairly small, so it’s easy to get around.

Gift shop: obligatory, inspiring—or skip it?
Pick up a poster or a book commemorating the local Wooden Boat Show, an annual tradition that goes back over a quarter of a century. You can also snag some maritime-themed jigsaw puzzles and t-shirts.

Any advice for the time- or attention-challenged?
You can cover pretty much the entire museum in 90 minutes, depending on your level of curiosity.

Baxter’s Brewhouse Inn

What’s the deal with this place?
What appears to be an unassuming home in fact houses what’s billed as the country’s first Bed & Brew (yup, that’s a bed and breakfast that makes its own beer). The house is a disarming shade of bright teal and has an all-American look about it; it’s sizable, tidy, and in a good looking part of town.

What’s the crowd like?
Owner Joseph Baxter and his mother, Clare Reigart, have created a casual ambience at the B&B, and guests here are typically unified not by their aesthetic but by their enthusiasm for craft beer. Joseph is a beer expert—he’s been brewing the stuff for over 20 years—and hawks his award-wining brews to eager guests.

And your room: comfy, or crummy?
There are just three bedrooms, and all have hardwood floors, queen beds, and an unpretentious, homely quality that endears them to visitors passing through. The bed was perfectly comfortable, as good as any comparable bed and breakfast.

What’s the room service situation? How about breakfast?
Breakfast can be tailored to guests’ needs (within reason), and if you’re in the mood for bagels or certain cereals, then the owners will try to have them ready for you—just give them a day’s notice.

Tell us about the staff: what were they like?
Both Joseph and Clare are friendly, enthusiastic hosts and know a fair amount about the local area. And if you’re a craft brewing nerd, then you’ve come to the right B&B.

Did anything in particular wow you?
There’s a lovingly prepared charcuterie board prepared each evening for your gastronomic pleasure. It’s the perfect vehicle for delving into some of Joseph’s latest beer creations.

So, bottom line: would you book this place again?
The craft beer element is a novelty, but it’s backed up by sincere, welcoming inn-keeping.

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C.

The Inn & Club at Harbour Town

How did it strike you on arrival?
Palm tree-lined gardens give way to a modern-looking country club-hotel hybrid. There’s an understated, quiet grandiosity to the sleek pyramid-shaped roofs and muted colors.

What’s the crowd like?
The crowd’s a mix of golf-casual and marina-chic, simultaneously dressed down and buttoned up—it’s amazing what a bit of Ralph Lauren can do.

The good stuff: Tell us about your room.
My Tennis View Queen had, unsurprisingly, views of the tennis facility, but with plenty of lush greenery to offset any dullness. The teal and cream color scheme was beachy and calming, with a hit of bright, floral curtains for charm, and the comfortable linens and mattresses lived up to the high standards of the rest of the hotel.

How about the little things, like mini bar, or shower goodies. Any of that find its way into your suitcase?
There wasn’t much that was surprising, though a complimentary shoe-shining and pant-pressing service was a nice touch. Presumably, it’s a feature often used by the well-heeled folk who stay here.

Important question: What’s the food situation like?
There are half a dozen or so dining options in and around the larger resort area that the hotel is part of. Links, An American Grill is a good spot to hit after you play 18.

And the staff? Friendly and accommodating, or something to be desired?
Maybe it’s too easy to think kindly the check-in staff—they are offering you a glass of champagne on arrival, after all—but the welcome was genuinely warm and professional.

Anything stand out about other services and features? Whether it’s childcare, gyms, spas, even parking—whatever stuck with you.
The resort’s three world-class golf courses are one of the main reasons for staying here, and fans of the links will find themselves extremely well-cared for.

Bottom line: worth it, and why?
The hotel is plenty nice, and being part of a larger resort means that the choice of amenities alone should keep it high on any visitor’s list.

Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island

Why did this hotel catch your attention? What’s the vibe? The 11 acres of tropical gardens set the scene for this idyllic resort, located on a stretch of the region’s most alluring coastline. The extensive grounds mean that the resort retains an air of exclusivity despite being surrounded by similar properties. The towering, light-flooded lobby has huge mirrors and artistic flourishes that elevate the place above its peers.

What’s the backstory? The resort opened in 1984 under Marriott and Sonesta took over in 2012 with immediate plans to renovate. A $30 million refurbishment promptly took place in 2013, resulting in this 340-room resort with extensive new facilities and landscaped grounds. The striking lobby was built in place of a nightclub, and the entire resort, with improved pool facilities and lounges, was elegantly upgraded.

Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? My Ocean View Guest Room had fairly good views of the sea and swaths of the lush gardens. The decor reflects the Sonesta aesthetic foreshadowed in the lobby, with whites and creams used as a background canvas and splashes of colors (in my case bright oranges, though some rooms have dark browns) that really pop, giving the rooms a very modern look. A private balcony was accessible through sliding doors, and there were panoramic levels of comfort, including a large bed with cushioned headboard surrounded by a stylish, slate-gray frame. The bathroom was equally modern, with a shower/tub combo, an iHome docking station, and a Keurig coffee maker to round out the amenities.

Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? There was free, high-speed internet that held its speed throughout the resort.

Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? The resort houses six food and beverage outlets, the most formal of which is their flagship eatery, Heyward’s Restaurant, open for breakfast and dinner. The dinner menu especially celebrates Lowcountry classic such as Crab Bakes and Fried Green Tomatoes, with locally-sourced seafood also a favorite, particularly the creamy shrimp and grits. There are four more casual options, all with outdoor seating options and family-friendly menus. There’s also a dedicated ice cream parlor, Sonesta Scoops.

And the service? Resort levels of relaxation are apparent from the get-go, with an impressive staff-guest ratio and the feeling that all your needs are catered for as soon as you arrive. Staff quickly and charismatically orient new arrivals, and settling into the resort is effortless. Staff are discreetly available throughout the gardens and lounging areas, and the resort hits the right levels of service—not overwhelming but easily accessible.

What type of travelers will you find here? The resort is fairly upscale, and well-to-do families mingle with young and older couples. The ambience is less of a party crowd and more refined, with most people reading or sunbathing. The resort is popular around school breaks, so the highest levels of tranquility will be outside of those times.

What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? The resort enjoys a plum location, centered on one of the best beaches in the region and surrounded by other resorts, the Shipyard Golf Club, and some tennis courts. The Coligny Plaza shopping center is also just next door, and the best of Hilton Head is really on the doorstep.

Is there anything you’d change? The ocean views aren’t completely uninterrupted, but given that it’s mostly the tropical gardens that are in the line of sight, it’s not too much of a problem.

Any other hotel features worth noting? The pool areas and the spa were the most welcome renovations as the resort reopened, both pools are heated and have ample loungers and cabanas and enjoy shade from the tropical foliage. The luxe Arum Spa has a full complement of massages and beauty treatments and there’s a 24-hour fitness center, bike rentals, and an onsite market for incidentals. With the beach just a couple of minutes away in foot, guests can easily spend their whole vacation without leaving the premises.

Bottom line: Worth it? Why? The resort is stylish without being stuffy, and the amenities and levels of service are well worth the rates, even considering the resort charges. It’s a peaceful, scenic, and great value resort.

Pirates of Hilton Head

Zoom out. What’s the big picture here?
Technically, you’re on a boat touring the Calibogue Sound, but as far as the kids can tell, you’re on a grand pirate adventure with some live action role play thrown in. Rogue pirate route this is not—it’s all well organized and choreographed.

Tell us about your fellow tourees.
The adventure is marketed for children ages two to 10, along with their good-natured parents, and there’s a good mix of ages represented. You can count on benches and places to rest but, as one can imagine, firing the water cannons does require a basic level of mobility.

How are the guides, then?
The guides are well-trained, and help to foster that suspension of disbelief early on—no bad santas, here. On arrival, kids get a quick ‘pirate school’ tutorial, and choose their own pirate names, don costumes, and get temporary tattoos (provided it’s okay by you). Once out on the water, activities are fully supervised—no man overboard—and the climax, which comes when the gang fends off the bad guys with water cannons, is actually a riot to watch.

Anything you’ll be remembering weeks or months or years from now?
The upkeep of the kids’ energy by the guides was particularly impressive. For adults, there was also some incredibly photogenic coastal scenery to take in—that is, if you could tear your eyes away from the action.

So: money, time—how can we make the most of both?
This is definitely a child-focused activity, best for energetic, outgoing (and possible marauding) kids, and parents who just want to sit back and watch the controlled drama unfold, while at the same time, getting a new perspective of the Hilton Head coast.

Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort

Why did this hotel catch your attention? What’s the vibe? Perhaps this resort is Disney for people who don’t like Disney, or at least the crowds, expenses, and relentless merchandising present at their theme parks. This lodge-themed retreat isn’t attached to any theme parks—the nearest one is a five-hour drive away—and is a more traditional resort, albeit one with its own water slide and a more family-focused approach than many Hilton Head resorts.

What’s the backstory? The property was developed on the 15-acre island of Shelter Cove Harbor, and it opened in 1996. It was intentionally marketed towards families with young children and its hunting and fishing lodge aesthetic, while not reflecting any specific Disney movies, is in line with the slightly kitsch design of many of the company’s resorts. It has the feeling of a high-end summer camp.

Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? The rooms are true to the hunting lodge style, with bed headboards and lamp stands made out of materials resembling tree stumps and the like, so it maintains a fun, rustic ambience. My deluxe studio was an entry-level accommodation, with the green and blue color palate that all of the rooms employed to reflect the natural themes of the resort. The set up is fairly basic but perfectly presentable and for families, the functionality will be much more welcome than fancy tech, especially the small balcony/patio, dining table and kitchenette in the slightly larger rooms. There’s a shower/tub combo, and the room can sleep a family of four comfortably.

Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? The wifi is free and seemed to hold up across most of the resort.

Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? There are two family-friendly dining options at the resort, both of which operate seasonally, so be sure to check before making your booking. Signals is more of a sit down restaurant/cafe and Tide Me Over is a quick pitstop with a few picnic tables. Both have breakfast and lunch options with all the typical dishes that children might enjoy, including burgers, pizza, pasta, and salads. Grilled fish and sweet potato fries make up the more sophisticated end of the menu. There are ‘seasonal’ dinner services, but outside of this, evening options are limited to self catering or going to one of the dozens of restaurants that are close to the resort.

And the service? Service, as you might expect from a Disney property, is cheery and perky, with the staff well-drilled at handling the specific requirements of families with young children and seemingly endless reserves of patience. Orienting and situating new guests has been honed to a fine art, and the activities and general levels of service are well-supervised and helpful.

What type of travelers will you find here? The guests seemed to consist entirely of families, which is not surprising and is what the resort was designed for. It feels slightly less manic than resorts at Disney theme parks, perhaps as the stresses and tiredness levels associated with visiting these parks has been removed, letting families experience a different energy. Activities are on site or at the beach via a short shuttle, and so it just seemed generally more chilled out.

What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? Although on its own island, the resort is just over a mile from the beach. However, Disney has its own facility that’s essentially an annex to the hotel (called Disney’s Beach House) where you can rent beach gear such as umbrellas and chairs, relax in the lounge, and there are even indoor games if the weather’s bad. The Beach House also has its own pool.

Is there anything you’d change? A year-round option for onsite evening dining would be a good addition, though there are several options within easy striking distance.

Any other hotel features worth noting? There are two pools on site, one for very young children and one for older kids, the latter coming with water-park-like amenities such as a water slide and fountains. The resort also organizes lots of child-friendly activities, such as fishing and crabbing, campfires and movie showings. There’s also the option of bike rentals, guided nature walks, dolphin spotting, golf and tennis and there’s also a fitness center as well as a large hall for games and crafting.

Bottom line: Worth it? Why? There are some fine resorts in Hilton Head but not too many of them focus on families and small children, and so this Disney outpost is a welcome addition to the available options. Parents will find the place secure and their children well looked after, and though dining is slightly limited, the activities and beachside annex will also be appreciated.

Sea Pines Forest Preserve

Let’s start big picture. What’s the vibe here?
Hilton Head usually brings to mind the beach, and for good reason—but this area of lush, dense greenery bucks that reputation a bit. The reserve’s 650 square acres are a veritable playground for nature lovers, part maritime forest, sand ridge, scenic wetlands, and natural ponds. There’s also a 4,000-year-old history to the area, and most of it represented along its many trails.

Any standout features or must-sees?
The Shell Pines Sea Ring, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a pretty spectacular archaeological site made up of thousands of oyster, clam, and mussel shells. It’s thought that the site was a religious or social gathering place for the Native American tribes who inhabited the region. There are also large wildflower fields and boardwalks that you can reach through swamplands.

Was it easy to get around?
The bike paths and nature trails are clearly marked, and all you really need is some bug spray, sunscreen, a small picnic basket, and your curious brain.

All said and done, what—and who—is this best for?
It’s the perfect escape from the golf-crazed vacationers and overdevelopment in and around Hilton Head. Hotels and spas and golf courses are all very well, but escaping into nature is something not to be missed.

Coligny Beach Park

Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
Who’d have thought that this thin sliver of soft sand would be the most popular beach on the island, and by far? It’s a prime, five miles of perfect, Atlantic coastline cutting across the southern half of Hilton Head, and it’s damn near perfect.

How accessible is it?
The main access point is at Coligny Beach Park, which sits at the end of Pope Avenue. Traffic can get pretty crazy during peak times, though on the upside, there’s free parking available.

Decent services and facilities, would you say?
The amenities at Coligny Beach Park are one of the main reasons why this particular beach is so popular (beyond its natural charm, of course). Sand showers, shops, restaurants, and well-maintained restrooms are all part of the allure.

How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
The boardwalk leads you down to pristine sands and the Atlantic Ocean, with calm waters that are perfect for swimming (surfing, not so much); and with lifeguards on duty, it’s also very safe. If you’re lucky, you can spot pods of dolphins playing and feeding not too far out.

Anything special we should look for?
Everything you’re likely to need can be found in the Plaza, and around the Coligny Beach Park area. Kids tend to gravitate toward the water feature, where they’ll cool off during the hottest summer months.

If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
It’s a great beach all around, with plenty of amenities, and which families will especially appreciate.

Michael Anthony’s Cucina Italiana

What were your first impressions when you arrived? There’s no shortage of places to sample the seafood and Lowcountry classics in and around Hilton Head, and so it’s refreshing to have the option for thoughtful, classic Italian food. This upscale trattoria on New Orleans Road has an industrial-rustic design aesthetic, and falls on just the right side of romantic, a pleasing waft of pancetta and other continental delights greeting its loyal customers. Dine in the cool, low-lit main dining room or the slightly more casual shared table in its marketplace annex.

What’s the crowd like? There are many options for a special occasion meal in the area, and this spot is as well-liked as any, with couples and families rolling up for birthdays, anniversaries, and reunions. There’s a distinct lack of stuffiness, encouraged by the staff, resulting in a chatty, dynamic dining room that feels comfortable and intimate.

What should we be drinking? The wine list is naturally a celebration of some great Italian varietals, and there are plenty of choices around the $40 per bottle mark for a cheeky lunchtime glass or three between friends, and plenty of serious labels if you’re looking to bring out the big guns for a birthday. Wines by the glass tick off the main regions nicely, and the restaurant also offers some intriguing flights if you’re new to Italian wines.

Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. Fresh, homemade pasta makes up the formidable foundations of a menu that doffs its culinary cap to the old school of Italian cooking, but which isn’t restrained by its conventions. The antipasti board of meats and cheeses is a singular delight with wonderful portions of prosciutto, soppressata, and fontina. The beet salad with fresh mint and oranges combines sophisticated layers of flavor, and the baby calamari in white wine is a popular starter. The entrees revel in the classics, from a deceptively simple bolognese to more intricate black tagliatelle with shrimp or the wonderful speck-stuffed chicken breast. The freshness emanates from the plate, and if any of the dishes particularly take your fancy, the restaurant also runs its own cooking school on site so that you can recreate your favorite back at home.

And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? The liveliness of the dining room is impressively maintained by the perky, charismatic staff, who do a wonderful job of creating a European-style ambiance that adds to the authenticity of the dining room. The wait staff are knowledgeable and help keep the menu accessible, and the sommelier takes particular care to line up the perfect accompaniment from a wine list that might be unfamiliar to some.

What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? If you value culinary authenticity and appreciate a caring chef and staff, then this is the place to go, especially if you’ve exhausted your tolerance for crab and shrimp around town and want to diversify your experience somewhat. There are enough classics for traditionalists and innovation enough for the more adventurous, but either way it’s reassuringly professional and impressively tasty.

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