This is the first post in a mini-series entitled #IslandVibes, which is about my adventures on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina (HHI). (Click here to check out the second blog and here to check out the third blog!) In the summer of 2016, I packed up my car and moved down to HHI for a two months to intern with Marriott Vacations Worldwide. I honestly started writing this piece as one blog, but it was getting pretty long and I was still in the middle of talking about the island itself, not even the company or the internship, so I’ve decided to break it up a little more. So without further ado, may I present All About HHI!
Beach. Food. Golf. Repeat.
I have a love-hate relationship with HHI. First, I was able to walk to the beach from the complex I was living in, which was the most amazing feeling. It was about a 10-minute walk through the complex building and down the private walkway to the beach. Also, the island is beautiful and there are some great places to eat. However, on the other hand, there isn’t much more to do other than go to the beach, eat and drink, and golf (which is not my shtick). After all, HHI is an actual island, so there is only so much you can fit on the approximately 12 by 5 mile space. On top of that, a majority of the island is consumed by plantations and timeshares since HHI is considered a “resort island.” Because it is a “resort island,” everything is also decently expensive (of course this is all in comparison to where you traveled from). So despite living by the beach in a tropical climate, you have to consider the time it take you to get on and off island if you need to go other places or have more things to do and retail options.
Traveling Around The Island
Another unique feature about the island is that is completely accessibly by bikes. However, that does mean that all the street signage is lowered, which takes some adjusting to. The island also looks very green and tropical, which is aesthetically pleasing, but not great for people that are directionally-challenged like me, or first-time visitors, which I was… Sometimes it’s hard to navigate because the signage can be slightly hidden by the foliage. Speaking of getting around, there’s one main road that goes through the entire island with many, many traffic circles that are scattered across the island. So if you travel from a place where roundabouts are nonexistent, like me, be prepared to potentially get stuck in one and have to go around more than once to actually get off at the right place!
One of the lesser known facts about HHI is that it is a destination for loggerhead sea turtles. Because of this, the island has a curfew of 10 PM along the coast from May to November, their nesting and hatching season. This is to ensure that the hatching sea turtles go toward the moonlight and the ocean and not toward lit houses and companies instead. To read more about the turtles and this unique island rule, check out this article by the Town of Hilton Head, SC. I should also note that turtles aren’t the only wildlife you’ll encounter. While the island is populated by many different species, I specifically wanted to mentioned that seeing alligators is very common. In fact, there was a small pond/lagoon on the complex property where I stayed, which was home to an alligator! You had to walk past him to get to the beach! As long as you leave them alone and just stay aware of their presence, they won’t affect your time in HHI at all.
For more information on the island, I recommend checking out ExploreHiltonHead.com, which is where this great graphic of the island came from! Another fun fact about the island is that it is shaped like a shoe. Since the shape it pretty distinct, people commonly refer to their location in shoe-terms, ie: the heel, toe, or ankle. For instance, I worked in Port Royal, in the heel.
The Gullah Culture
The Gullah culture is an integral and traditional part of Hilton Head Island as well as several other southern states. Gullah is a culture as well as a language that was brought to America by enslaved African Americans in xxx that highlights specific components of West African culture. Seen most prominently are their artistic expressions, such as basketry, quilting, and storytelling. To read more about their traditions and culture, check out this section of HiltonHeadIsland.org.
The Ohio Strategy
The running joke is that HHI is essentially an extension of Ohio because there are SO MANY Ohioans that stay on the Island. I can truly vouch for that sentiment now because there were countless cars with Ohio license plates that were parked all over the island while I was there. Well, why is that you may ask? What I’ve heard and what I’ve learned from the internet is that HHI previously ran a targeted marketing campaign in the 1950s to engage people from Ohio, and surrounding areas, to travel to Hilton Head. From Cleveland to HHI, it’s about a 12-hour drive straight down I-77, making it an extremely easy trip. So between geo-targeting and and specific demographic targeting based on the data of who was already visiting paired with the travel route, the Ohio Strategy essentially was the “perfect day trip” campaign since travelers could make it to the Island in one day. So don’t be confused when you see a ton of Ohio State paraphernalia scattered around the Island. [Read more about the Ohio Strategy here!]
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to explaining Hilton head Island. Of course, I only spent a couple months on the Island so there are so many aspects I didn’t have time to experience. Let me know if you have any other great travel and tourism tips for HHI and whether or not you’ve ever been before!