Nothing beats summer days at the beach, toes in the warm sand, and sun-kissed cheeks as the sun goes down… (Excuse us while we daydream). Okay, aaaand we’re back. Those days are gone for now, but there are still so many reasons to enjoy the beach in the chillier weather, especially during the holidays!
Here’s our foolproof guide to being a holiday beach bum:
Try a Morning Jog
During the fall and winter months it’s easy to get a little lethargic, and maybe pack on a couple extra pounds. I mean, pumpkin beer and Thanksgiving food, how could you not? But there is nothing quite as invigorating as an early morning jog on the beach, with the crisp, cool, salty air on your face. Plus, people who workout in the morning are more likely to tackle other tasks throughout the day. It’ll do wonders for your focus, clarity and can help to lower stress levels. Don’t forget to check the tides first!
Make a Sand Snowman with the Family
We may not have a white Christmas down in the Lowcountry, but we still love to get into the Holiday spirit! Why not bring the kids down to the beach, and build a “sandman?” Bonus points for Santa hat, driftwood arms, and sunglasses. And while you’re at it – snap a few pics and you’ve got yourself a family Christmas card!
One of the most magical things about the beach in the off-season is that it is so quiet and peaceful. There are long stretches of sand that can go untouched for days, so it is the perfect time to get down to the water and find all sorts of treasures, seashells, sea glass, driftwood, coral, sand dollars, etc. Take a solo trip, or bring the whole family and fill a bucket with some ocean goodies!
Crafty Tip: Use all of your treasures and make a beautiful, beachy holiday wreath!
Bundle Up and Star Gaze
One of the best things about our sweet little island is that there is minimal light pollution, meaning on a clear night you can see a full sky of bright stars. Throw on a big cozy sweater, make a cup of hot tea, and make your way down to the beach at night for a spectacular view.
Get your Zen on with a little beach yoga! Go with a group or by yourself and try a yoga practice by the waves. Moonlit yoga is quite delightful, or perhaps on a warm afternoon to soak up some rays. I can’t think of anything more relaxing than a nice Savasana in the sand followed by a trip up to Coligny for a nice winter cocktail. Try a few simple practices here.
Beach Bocce and Other Games
Who says you need to be hot and sweaty to play some awesome beach games? Hilton Head has so many mild days during the fall and winter seasons, where the air is crisp, but it’s only cool enough for a light jacket. This is the absolute perfect time for an afternoon game of Bocce on the beach. Pack a cooler with some snacks, bring a jacket and some towels, and play some games until the sun goes down.
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When it’s time to throw on a light sweater for your day of exploring Hilton Head, that can be a sign that the best time to view the island’s winter wildlife is just around the corner. Due to less visitors and human activity in general, as well as the migratory patterns of certain animals, those who visit Hilton Head during the winter months are in for a treat.
We’ve included a list of only some of the seasonal animals that get the most buzz during the winter season. Keep reading to learn more about some of the best locations on and around the island to spot winter wildlife!
North American River Otter
Although sightings of these year-round residents are scarce, you’ll have a better chance of spotting a family group of otters in the winter months. These aquatic mammals become more active during daylight hours in addition to their usual nightly activity. River otter breeding season runs from late winter to early spring, and typically prefer slow-moving waters like salt marshes and estuaries. Make sure to keep an eye out for these playful animals.
These eye-catching birds are easy to identify, as they have a bright orange beak and yellow eyes. American oystercatchers flock to southern states during the winter months, with the largest number being found in South Carolina’s barrier islands and oyster beds—especially in the Port Royal Sound. As you might’ve guessed, these birds do in fact eat oysters, having mollusks make up their general diet. Once named the “sea pie,” they were renamed the American oystercatcher after they were found breaking open oyster shells. They remain the only type of bird able to do so without letting gravity do the work for them. You’ll be able to spot them easily during low tide.
Another type of bird that likes to spend their winters on the sandy beaches of South Carolina, the piping plover can be seen running across the beach as it forages for food. With a diet mainly consisting of marine worms, snails, and small crustaceans, piping plovers aren’t really interested in exploring anywhere but the beach. Their coloring makes it easy to blend in with the sand, so when they’re not scurrying around during low tide, it’s pretty hard to spot them. piping plovers are unfortunately endangered, and the birds that visit do South Carolina’s shores, typically spend breeding season in the Great Lakes.
There are many types of migratory birds that spend their winters on Hilton Head Island, but the bald eagle is arguably the most exciting type to spot. These mighty birds nest in South Carolina, returning to our shores at the end of August and begin restoring their nests starting in late fall. Bald eagles can be spotted across the United States, and typically stay close to water as their main diet mostly consists of fish—live or carrion. Spotting a bald eagle is a pretty neat experience, but it’s something you don’t normally see every day. At the very least, you can always view the live camera of a nest that’s sponsored by the Hilton Head Island Land Trust.
Although jellyfish season on Hilton Head Island is normally in the summer months, the lion’s mane jellyfish is known to appear during the winter season. Also known as the winter jelly, these jellyfish aren’t typically a problem, since they prefer cooler water and beachgoers do not. If you happen to spot one in the sand on your walk down the waterline, it’s advised that you just leave it be. Although the jellyfish itself isn’t very dangerous to humans, there’s always a risk of an allergic reaction. Still, these jellies are pretty neat and although they vary greatly in size, they’re technically the largest jellyfish species in the world.
Great White Sharks
Before anyone freaks out, the chances of you coming into contact with a great white shark—let alone even seeing one—are very slim. We’ve only included these powerful creatures to this list because they are known to head south on their very wide migratory loop. Great whites are found worldwide, but due to efforts of research groups, scientists and anyone with internet access can now track some of the tagged sharks as they roam. From the data collected, migratory patterns have been pieced together, and the sharks that pass by South Carolina’s coast have more than likely spent their summers in the Northeast where they’ve foraged and bulked up just in time for their winter retreat. These interesting creatures help our ocean stay healthy, so if you’re at all interested in seeing if there’s a shark or two near Hilton Head’s coast, look up a website or download a free app that produces tracking information.
What About Dolphins?
Great news! Hilton Head Island has a substantial population of bottlenose dolphins that stick around throughout the year. Due to the temperate water surrounding the island, these playful creatures can be found in open water, bays, lagoons, and estuaries. If you see one, chances are there are a few more not too far away because they like to travel in groups. Migratory patterns of dolphins somewhat reflects where their food source is headed, so when and where you see dolphins on the island(regardless of the time of year) is most likely associated with which way not only the tide is going, but where the fish, squid, and other crustaceans are headed as well.
Will I See Gators?
The definite answer? We don’t have one. Whether you see a gator or not during the winter months on Hilton Head is entirely dependent on the weather. And if there’s one thing about winters on the island, they are pretty balmy compared to many other destinations you may be traveling from. So, the short answer is: maybe.
Alligators go through something called brumation when the temperature drops. Not as severe as hibernation, cold-blooded animals fall into a state of inactivity to conserve energy. That means, when the sun’s out and the temperature rises to a certain degree, you’ll see them lounging on the banks of ponds once again. As always, keep your distance from alligators and ponds that seem alligator free (because they probably really aren’t).
Best Places to Observe Winter Wildlife
You’ll be able to find most of the types of animals listed while you’re on one of Hilton Head’s many pristine beaches. There are, however, many more year-round and seasonal animals residing in the island’s interior as well. Here’s a few of the best places to spot wildlife on the island:
Audubon Newhall Preserve
55 Palmetto Bay Rd.,
Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
Sunrise to Sunset
This 50-acre nature preserve is located on the south end of the island, and offers interconnected trails through the beautiful native forest ecosystem. Owned and operated by the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society, free guided tours are available on Tuesday mornings.
Visitors of Hilton Head can discover this vast, 605-acre protected habitat that includes trails, bridle paths, boardwalks, and fishing docks. The Sea Pines Resort offers horseback rides and guided tours by boat or by wagon. Don’t miss the 4,000-year-old Shell Ring while visiting.
The Boardwalk at Mitchelville
40 Harriet Tubman Way
Hilton Head Island, SC 29926
Better known as the site of the first self-governed Freedmen’s Town in the United States, the Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park allows visitors to take guided and self-guided tours throughout the property. Set in an already beautiful natural landscape, the boardwalk out to the viewing platform over the marsh is an excellent place for viewing wildlife.
Located just off of Hilton Head Island, this 4,053-acre National Wildlife Refuge attracts migratory birds and is home to many local species year-round. Easily accessible, visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, and saltwater fishing only in the surrounding waters. The refuge is made up of salt marsh, tidal creeks, forestland, freshwater ponds, and brushland.
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Organized by the Island Rec Center, all are invited to the Winter Wonderland Festival at the Shelter Cove Community Park. Enjoy fun carnival games, bounces houses, and don’t miss the children’s parade! Santa has RSVP’d to this event, so make sure to bring a camera!
A Christmas Story: The Musical
Arts Center of Coastal Carolina
Dec. 7-31 | Various Times
Starting on December 7th, the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina will open A Christmas Story: The Musical, a holiday film classic turned musical. Recommended for ages 5 and up, grab your tickets and join Ralphie Parker on his exploits to fulfill his Christmas wish. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.
Historic Holidays on Hilton Head Island
USCB (HHI Campus)
Dec. 10 | 12:00-4:00pm
Attend the holiday tea service or find unique gifts from local authors and artists. Children under 12 are free to attend for holiday stories and complimentary cookies and milk. Learn about the island’s history and support The Heritage Library at this festive event. Purchase tickets here.
Holiday Nights and Lights
Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park
Dec. 3-5 | 6:00-8:00pm
Celebrate the island’s newest holiday tradition at the Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park. In its third year, the park will once again be transformed, welcoming cars filled with cheery visitors looking for some holiday magic and Christmas lights.
Holiday Lights at Shelter Cove Towne Centre
40 Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head, SC 29928
Nov. 23-Dec. 31, 2022
Harbour Town Lights
149 Lighthouse Rd., Hilton Head, SC 29928
Nov. 25-Jan. 1, 2022
**Gate pass required
Santa & Mrs. Claus Visits Shelter Cove Towne Center
40 Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head, SC 29928
Santa and Mrs. Claus will be visiting Shelter Cove to spread some holiday cheer and take festive pictures with the kiddos. Remember to bring your camera!
Black Friday & Shop Small Saturday
Nov. 25th & 26th
Winter Wonderland Festival at Shelter Cove
December’s Friday & Saturday Dates
Fri. 9, 16, & 23 at 5pm-7pm
Sat. 10, 17, & 24 at 12pm-2pm
Shelter Cove Towne Center
28 Shelter Cove Lane,
Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
Dec. 19 | 5:30-6:30pm
Hosted by Chabad Greater Hilton Head
Music, light refreshments, and 9′ Menorah
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The southernmost sea island off of South Carolina’s coast that’s home to just over 400 people, Daufuskie Island remains a mystery to many. Perhaps the secretive nature of the island is part of the allure. That, and the raw, natural beauty that feels untamed and completely forgotten in time.
Daufuskie Island can only be reached by boat, barge, or ferry. Without a bridge connecting it to the “real world,” it’s a perfect sea island escape from reality. And yet, just beyond the Calibogue Sound, Hilton Head Island can still be seen–the Harbour Town Lighthouse’s red and white stands out against the greenery, while the amount of beachgoers at South Beach will make you savor the isolated quiet of Daufuskie’s pristine waterline.
Hardly crowded during the Lowcountry’s peak summer season, Daufuskie makes an ideal day trip any time of the year. You might even prefer taking the trip in cooler temperatures as most activities primarily take place outdoors–the closest thing you’ll get to air conditioning when you’re out and about is the breeze you’ll catch on your golf cart or boat ride.
For those who want to explore the island at their own pace, renting a golf cart is highly recommended. Truly the best way to explore the island, you can easily reserve a rental cart ahead of time from Tour Daufuskie, and find it waiting for you as soon as you arrive at the dock. As fun as navigating the island on your own golf cart can be, first-time visitors might end up missing must-see locations partly because of the island’s layout, as well as not having the full understanding and story behind key landmarks.
The Daufuskie experience becomes very different when you’re shown around by the island experts. Tour Daufuskie offers tours that cover all interests from history, culture, local artisans, or wildlife in the area. You’ll get the most out of your visit without worrying if you’ll be back at the dock in time to catch your ferry or water taxi back to Hilton Head.
Whatever you do, please don’t be fooled by the small-town atmosphere–the island isn’t exactly walkable. The amount of unpaved roads and the distance between landmarks will leave your group exhausted and your shoes full of sand.
Depending on how much time you have to see the island, your day on Daufuskie can be as laid back or as action packed as you’d like it to be. Most people want to stop at some of the better-known landmarks, like the First Union African Baptist Church. Built in 1884, this historic church is also the only active church on the island. Just up the road, you’ll be able to find the Mary Fields School, the very same school house that legendary author, Pat Conroy, taught at and included in his first best-selling book, The Water is Wide. Make sure to walk behind the school for a delicious cup of coffee, chai latte, or frozen lemonade from School Grounds Coffee, now operating out of the old cafeteria.
From there, you’ll have some decisions to make. If you’ve brought along a beach towel and have some time to spare, head over to Turtle Beach for the most secluded beach time during your entire trip to the Lowcountry.
History buffs will want to continue on to the Lighthouse Museum or the Billie Burn Historic Museum to learn more about the Gullah culture and influence on the island.
Those wanting to take home a piece of Daufuskie made by local artisans will definitely want to visit Iron Fish. You’ll also want to make time to tour the distillery for a tasting of the island’s finest rum, bourbon, or vodka. Families will love a trip to the community farm, Melrose Rookery, or a horseback ride on the beach.
Once lunch time comes around, you’ll have an even harder decision to make–where to eat!
From hot chicken to fresh seafood, there are a handful of restaurants that offer al fresco dining under beautiful live oaks or overlooking the water.
At the end of the visit, comfortable boat seats and exciting accounts of the day from fellow visitors await you on the return trip. Consider taking a water taxi or a private charter from Hilton Head Boat Chartersfor a more personal experience. Their knowledgable captains will give you recommendations of what to do in the area, and will point out interesting sites and wildlife along the way–and yes, that includes dolphins!
For more information and discounts for any activities on and around Hilton Head Island, fill out the short form below:
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