I took a last-minute trip to a stunning South Carolina beach town with a laid-back vibe. The quiet beaches weren't even the best part.

  • My friend and I booked a last-minute vacation to Hilton Head Island, a beach town in South Carolina.

  • The area was abundant with natural beauty and reminded me of a nature preserve.

  • Hilton Head Island's beaches were clean and beautiful, and I loved the food scene.

Last July, when my best friend and I suddenly found some free time and a yearning for sun and sand, we laid out our options for a trip.

As a resident of South Carolina, I considered plenty of places to visit, from Myrtle Beach to Charleston. But in the end, we ultimately settled on Hilton Head Island.

The beautiful South Carolina town has several white-sand beaches and world-class golf courses. The area, which Condé Nast Traveler named the best island in the US in 2023, is also known for nature and a small-town vibe.

I'd been to Hilton Head Island decades earlier but was eager to see how it had changed over the years. Here's what my experience on the island was like.

A lake surrounded by trees, with reflection of pine trees in the water. A blue sky and white house are in the background.
Our home had great views of one of many lagoons on Hilton Head Island.Julie Peck


I loved hearing the sound of frogs and other animals at night.

A green grog with white underbelly on a window. The background is black
One night, a frog perched on my window.Julie Peck

We soon learned the lagoon in our backyard was bristling with wildlife, including all kinds of birds, different-sized turtles, and a wide variety of frogs.

When nighttime came, the frogs surrounding our house piped up with quite the chorus. It almost seemed like we were camping — but without the hassle of sleeping outside.

When it got dark, I cracked open the sliding-glass doors connecting the main bedroom to the spacious back deck so I could do some stargazing — Hilton Head Island, known for its low light pollution, was the perfect place for this activity.

Sea Pines Beach was beautiful, clean, and easy to get to.

An open book with a blue umbrella and beach in the background. Several people on the beach have umbrellas and tents
I read a book and relaxed on the beach.Julie Peck

One Saturday during our trip, my friend and I left our car at a shopping center and boarded a trolley to Sea Pines Beach Club, where we reserved chairs from Shore Beach Services.

Our first day at the beach was fairly quiet — I assume this was because it was changeover day for most of the rental properties.

Still, it was a diverse crowd, with families, singles, couples, and people of all ages splayed across the sand. We had plenty of room to spread out but didn't really venture from our chairs.

The next day brought more folks out to the beach. But even with more people around, the beach didn't feel too crowded — there was a completely relaxed vibe.

The wide array of food was unmatched, too.

A large metal bowl with several mussels, a sauce, and a green garnish on a table with a white tablecloth
I enjoyed dishes like moules-frites.Julie Peck

Everything we ate on the island was enjoyable, from the delicious first-night, too-tired-to-go-out pizza from Giuseppi's to the pre-beach pastries and fresh-squeezed juice we grabbed at the Harbour Town Bakery and Café.

However, my meal at Chez Georges Bistro and Bar blew my taste buds away. Known for its "French cuisine with a Lowcountry accent," this family-owned and -operated restaurant has a traditional French-bistro menu without any kind of intimidating vibe.

When we walked in, we were greeted as if we were regulars. The menu was packed with classically French cuisine, from escargot and bouillabaisse to cassoulet.

I was thrilled to see moules frites (mussels with fries) on the menu. I opted for the classic Provençal preparation, with white-wine-butter sauce, tomatoes, capers, olives, and herbs de Provence. The dish did not disappoint, and I used the fries to mop up every last drop of sauce.

We also ordered steak frites, and my friend tried the boeuf Bourguignon (short ribs), which were fall-off-the-bone tender.

Hilton Head was a great spot for a last-minute vacation, and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Marsh area with several trees with leaves hanging over water and other plants on the bank
Hilton Head Island had beautiful beaches and nature.Julie Peck

When I first experienced Hilton Head Island decades ago, I perceived it as kind of stuffy. Later, I dismissed it as just a place for golfers and bachelor parties.

But on my most recent, last-minute vacation, Hilton Head Island proved to be the perfect low-key vacation retreat for everyone — beachgoers, nature enthusiasts, and food lovers alike.

From the beaches to the delicious restaurant scene, I had a great time. I'd recommend this island to anyone in need of a beach getaway.

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