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Exploring Hilton Head in the Summer: Essential Tips for Your Vacation

Updated: Feb 25

Hilton Head Island is a highly sought-after summer vacation spot, popular for its beautiful beaches and warm weather. To ensure you have an unforgettable and hassle-free stay, here are some essential Hilton Head summer vacation tips to maximize your summer experience on the island.

1. Pack appropriately:

Hilton Head can get hot and humid in the summer, so be sure to pack light, breathable clothing, sunscreen, and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.

2. Plan ahead for traffic on your arrival day: 

With only one way on and off the island, traffic can get pretty congested on summer weekends. During the peak summer months, many rentals on the island have a 4:00pm Saturday check-in and a 10:00 am Saturday check-out, which creates extremely heavy traffic on Saturday afternoons going onto the island and on Saturday mornings leaving the island. So what can you do?

  • Look for a rental property that allows you to arrive and depart on any days other than Saturday, it is definitely worth it! Mid-week check in and check out days are even better!

  • Plan to arrive on the island early in the morning or later in the evening when traffic is lighter.

  • If you do have to check in on Saturday, you can avoid the Saturday afternoon traffic by driving in part or all the way on Friday. Book a hotel in Bluffton, Sun City or Okatie for Friday night and wake up on Saturday refreshed and ready for an easy drive onto the island. Once on the island, spend the extra time before check-in time exploring Harbour Town, Lowcountry Celebration Park, or get a head start on grocery shopping.

  • If you must arrive during peak traffic time, be prepared for US-278 and I-95 to get backed up as far as 20 miles before you even get to the island. Have patience. I promise, Hilton Head is worth the wait!

3. Grocery shopping: 

The vast majority of vacationers go grocery shopping immediately after arriving on the island. Locals and frequent visitors to the island know to stay away from grocery stores Saturday afternoons during the summer. As mentioned above, the best bet is to plan to arrive on another day and time.

  • However, if you must arrive on Saturday afternoon, I recommend placing your grocery order online a day or two before your arrival and scheduling pick up at the store or delivery to your rental. Shipt, Instacart, and Cyber Valet Grocery are all online shopping and delivery services on the island.

4. Make Dining Reservations ahead of time: 

With the influx of tourists in the summer, restaurants can fill up quickly. To avoid long waits or not being able to get a table at all, make reservations well in advance of your trip. To find restaurants that take reservations on Hilton Head Island, check online apps such as OpenTable, Resy, or Yelp. Another option is to call the restaurant directly and ask if they take reservations.If you're unable to make a reservation or the restaurant is fully booked, try to be flexible with your dining times. Consider having an early dinner or a late lunch to avoid peak dining hours.

5. Book Activities ahead of time: 

Summer is a busy season for Hilton Head, so it's a great idea to book activities like fishing expeditions, dolphin cruises, and parasailing well in advance.If you're unable to book an activity in advance, consider going during off-peak hours. Activities such as bike rentals and mini-golf may be less crowded earlier in the day or later in the evening.

6. Don’t stress about the weather: 

Summer sees the most rain of any other time during the year in Hilton Head, with the most occurring during August. But don't worry too much about rain here; summer showers are known to be quick! Take advantage of indoor activities: If the weather is too hot or rainy, consider exploring indoor activities such as museums, art galleries, or shopping centers.


7. Rent and ride bikes 

to get from place to place on the island and avoid the traffic. The island has bike paths all across the island, making it easy and enjoyable to explore by bike. Bike rentals are available throughout the island, and many rental companies offer delivery and pickup services. 

  • Pay attention when you're riding bikes on the island. Make sure you STOP at every road or street crossing. Even when bikers have the right of way, many drivers are from out of town and not used to watching out for bikers.

8. Take advantage of the Breeze Trolley. 

The Breeze Trolley is a free trolley service that runs from mid-May to mid-September and provides transportation to many of the island's most popular areas. The trolley runs every 30 minutes and makes several stops along its route.

9. Use a GPS when driving around the island. 

Finding locations on the island can be tricky. The island's attempts to blend buildings in with natural surroundings mean that many buildings are hidden from view from the roads. Local laws regarding the reduction of signage street lights and billboards makes it difficult at times to find the place that you are looking for, this especially true if traveling at night.

10. Use caution when driving in roundabouts. 

There are many roundabouts, in lieu of traditional traffic lights, in Hilton Head Island. It's important to remember a few key safety tips.

  • First, always yield to traffic already in the roundabout.

  • When entering the roundabout, use your turn signal to indicate which direction you plan to go.

  • Once you're in the roundabout, stay in your lane and maintain a slow and steady speed.

  • Avoid changing lanes or stopping in the middle of the roundabout.

  • When exiting the roundabout, use your turn signal to indicate your exit.

  • Remember that any traffic circle you encounter is a circle…if you miss your turnoff, just keep going – it’ll come around again!

11. Check the Tides daily for the optimal beach time: 

Hilton Head is well-known for its wide beaches, but when it’s high tide, there's almost no beach at all. The tide can seriously shift over the course of a day, so make sure you know the peak times each day to enjoy the beach!

12. Be prepared for insects: 

During the summer months, Hilton Head's hot and humid climate brings a variety of insects. It is recommended to bring insect repellent, especially when exploring the more natural wooded areas of the island.

13. Do not feed the alligators: 

Alligators are part of the beautiful ecosystem on Hilton Head Island. It's a privilege to witness these amazing creatures in their natural habitat, but we must respect their boundaries and avoid interacting with them. While this may seem intimidating, it's actually good news because alligators tend to keep to themselves. However, it's essential that we DO NOT feed the alligators! By doing so, we can ensure the safety of both ourselves and these magnificent creatures. A fed gator can become aggressive and dangerous, and that could lead to its death.

14. Appreciate Hilton Head’s “Island Time”:

Embrace the laid-back lifestyle of Hilton Head and savor the moments of tranquility. As you step onto the island, you'll notice that both residents and visitors move at a leisurely pace, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the experience. Instead of solely focusing on reaching a destination, take the time to enjoy the journey. Engage with the local culture, indulge in traditional foods, and participate in community events to truly embrace the island's charm. Make an effort to disconnect from screens and appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds you. By embracing Hilton Head's "Island Time," you'll create lasting memories and connect with the essence of the island.

woman with raised arm and a man with arms around each other's waist. Festival in foreground with several other people.


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