Do You Need a Rental Car to Explore Hilton Head?

Many people that have only just begun planning their first trip to Hilton Head Island have a long list of questions, and you might be one of them! Which beaches are public? Are there really alligators? Where can you order the best crab legs? The list goes on and on.

One question that tends to come up a lot is whether or not visitors need to rent a car for their stay. Our answer? Yes…and no. Read on for an honest, side-by-side comparison that will help clear up some of the confusion.


Photo by Darwin Vegher

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I’m flying into…

Hilton Head Island Airport

If your plane is landing on Hilton Head Island, you’re already ahead of the game.  If you choose to use a cab service or a rideshare to get to your accommodations, the drive won’t take up too much time since the island itself is only 12 miles long.  Pro tip: you’ll probably have more luck with a local transportation company than a rideshare app, especially if you’re not visiting for spring break or summer vacation.

Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport

Don’t let the name of this airport confuse you. If you land in Savannah, you have an additional one-hour’s drive to get to the island. Cabs and rideshare fares will definitely add up, but sometimes people feel more comfortable with transportation to and from the airport in new places. We’d recommend a car in this situation, but everyone’s different!

Photo by Voo Q

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The weatherman says it’ll be…

Hot                             

This is when Hilton Head shines brightest—literally. Most people will only want to head to the beach, and since the island is known for its convenient public pathways, biking to one of the many beaches is honestly the best way to get there. You can lock up your bikes at the entrances, or take them with you to enjoy a nice beach bike ride. Of course, biking isn’t for everyone, but it’s going to be the most efficient form of transportation, especially in the busier seasons when beach parking tends to fill up fast and traffic starts to increase. Other activities like boat cruises, mini golf, and more are spread out throughout the island, so it all depends on how active you want to be on your bikes.

Photo by Wheelz of Hilton Head

Cold

It’s certainly true that there are far fewer crowds when the weather turns a little chillier, however, what is considered, “cold” to some people may be more refreshing to others. So, feel free to layer up and still rent that bike for an afternoon ride—the sunshine and workout will keep you warm and the fresh air will feel better than being stuck in a stuffy room.  The winter and early spring months are perfect for exploring the surrounding Lowcountry, so you would need a car to reach nearby towns and locations that you won’t be able to if you only had a bike on hand.

Rainy

Our coastal weather can be unpredictable, making planning your trip a little daunting, especially in the summer—or dare we say hurricane season! Most of the time, you can bet that the future forecast of all-day showers will clear up by the time you check it again the morning of, but when it’s hot and humid, don’t be surprised if you get caught in a short afternoon rainstorm.  If you know it’s going to be cold and rainy, just book the rental car. If you have a lot of fancier dinner plans throughout the week, book the rental car or be prepared to spend some money on rideshare or cabs. Getting caught in the rain on a bike is never fun, but don’t think your whole day is ruined—duck into a gift shop or stop for lunch and wait it out.

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Can I really get anywhere on a bike?

Yes, for the most part.  If you’re planning on staying relatively close to where you’re staying—which most people do—then bikes are ideal.  If you’re worried about how you’re going to lug around your cooler to the beach or bags of souvenirs back from the shops, check out the many different attachments that bike shops offer. This goes for child seats and other ways to help those little ones in your group who aren’t able to ride on their own find a way to tag along for the ride.

Sometimes breaking out the bike to go somewhere just isn’t feasible. Have dinner plans that has a dress code? Want to explore Sea Pines, Daufuskie, or Bluffton? There are some reasons why rental bikes aren’t always the answer. If you feel like you need some sort of wheels that aren’t necessarily a rental car commitment, check to see if your accommodations allow you to rent a golf cart on the South End of the island instead!

Photo by Wheelz of Hilton Head

In summary…

For the most part, Hilton Head Island offers a wide array of dining options and activities that are going to be within walking or biking distance. If you’re still unsure that relying on other transportation than just hopping into a rental car is for you, book the rental car.  Regardless of your decision, make sure to research where you’re staying and pack some patience. You’re going to be on island time after all!