Winter weary travelers from up North will be captivated by the lush green scenery, mild climate and, of course, white-sand beaches of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
Whether you come to play golf, bike around town or explore the island's rich African-American heritage, this laid-back Lowcountry resort town offers a unique weekend getaway.
On this 42-square-mile island off the coast of South Carolina, the picturesque landscape includes thickets of Spanish moss-draped live oak and sabal palm trees (the official state tree) and lagoons, marshes and creeks flanked by hulking alligators.
One of Hilton Head Island's top attractions is the 5,000-acre oceanfront Sea Pines Resort, home to the iconic candy-striped Harbour Town Lighthouse and three championship golf courses including the PGA favorite, Harbour Town Golf Links. Visitors can purchase a guest pass ($6) and spend the day biking, kayaking, horseback riding and walking the nature trails at the Sea Pines Forest Preserve.
Get an introduction to Gullah culture (also called Geechee) on the family-operated Gullah Heritage Trail Tour (Tuesdays-Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Sundays at noon, tickets $32 adults, $15 children 12 and under). Gullah people are direct descendants of enslaved West Africans from the coast of Sierra Leone who were brought to South Carolina and Georgia in the 1700s to farm rice plantations. After the Civil War, abolitionists helped Gullah people transition from slavery to freedom. The tour features neighborhoods and landmarks established during the Civil War and departs from the Coastal Discovery Museum (70 Honey Horn Plantation Rd.) -- worth a visit to learn more about the island's natural history and heritage.
For a taste of Gullah culture, don't miss Dye's Gullah Fixin's (840 William Hilton Parkway, 843-681-8106). Tucked away in an office building off the main drag, Dye Scott-Rhodan's homespun eatery has been in business for a decade. In keeping with Gullah tradition, the soulful Lowcountry cuisine is prepared with simple, fresh ingredients and lots of love. Hours and menus are subject to change, so call before you come. The all-you-can-eat lunch buffet offers dishes like fried chicken, fish and okra stew, lima beans, black-eyed peas, greens, cornbread, cabbage salad, macaroni and cheese and pecan coconut cake. Reservations are required.
Dock and dine
With approximately 200 locally-owned restaurants -- plus quite a few chains and supermarkets including Fresh Market and Piggly Wiggly -- there's no shortage of food options on Hilton Head Island. Many, including Hudson's Seafood on the Docks, Bomboras Grille, Old Oyster Factory and the new restaurant and rooftop bar Poseidon, offer fresh local catches and scenic beach and water views.
Where to stay
The recently renovated Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island (130 Shipyard Drive, 843-842-2400) is an upscale, family- and pet-friendly hotel with beautiful décor inspired by the 11-acre beachfront setting. Perks include the full-service Arum Spa, on-site bike rentals, two heated pools and a 24-hour fitness center.
Take a non-stop, two-hour flight from New York City to the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. Rent a car and drive about an hour to Hilton Head Island.