If your idea of paradise is miles of white sandy beaches washed by the warm ocean waters of the Atlantic, pack up your flip-flops for Hilton Head Island. The ultimate beach-lovers vacation destination, this South Carolina coastal resort offers 12 miles of irresistibly inviting shoreline to relax in the sun and play in the surf.
Whether you enjoy taking long walks on the beach at sunrise, building sandcastles with the kids or simply sitting in a beach chair and savoring the ocean breezes, you won't find a nicer stretch of coastline to indulge your vacation fantasy.
At low tide, the receding Atlantic waters unveil a wide span of hard-packed beach perfect for bicycle riding, jogging or pushing a stroller. Close to the dunes, the sand is soft and warm - ideal conditions for those who like to sunbathe on a towel.
Even if you're not staying in an oceanfront home or hotel, getting to the beach is easy on Hilton Head Island. Access to the ocean is provided at seven locations.
The most popular by far is Coligny Beach Park at the south end of the island. It features an interactive fountain with 26 synchronized jets, cute little changing cabanas, a gazebo with rockers and Adirondack chairs, old-fashioned porch swings, beachfront volleyball courts and an outdoor bar.
At the other end of the spectrum is Fish Haul Creek Park overlooking Port Royal Sound. This less-frequented beach offers visitors a quiet spot to read, walk the dog or fish in the surf.
Burkes Beach Access is another secluded stretch of shoreline where you can throw a Frisbee, play fetch with Fido or fly a kite. Few visitors even know of this out of the way beach access located mid-island at the end of Burkes Beach Road.
If you're staying on the south end of the island and want to avoid the crowds, try Alder Lane Beach Access. Despite its location next to Marriott's Grande Ocean Resort, this area of the beach is relatively quiet, even in the summer. It also offers one of the island's widest shorelines.
For families, Driessen Beach Park is a great alternative to Coligny. It has everything you need for a fun day at the ocean, including a playground and picnic shelter with grill.
If you're packing a surfboard, you'll want to hit the waves at Folly Field Beach. This friendly mid-island park is where the local kahunas go to shred the surf. The conditions are also gnarly for bodyboarding and windsurfing.
All of Hilton Head Island's beach parks feature outdoor showers where you can clean off the sand and saltwater before heading home. You'll also find restrooms at all but Burkes Beach.
Free parking is provided at Coligny, Fish Haul and nearby Mitchelville Beach Park. At the other six access points, parking is 25 cents per 15 minutes. If you visit Driessen Beach Park during the week, long-term parking is available for 25 cents per 30 minutes.
Don't feel like lugging an umbrella and chairs to the beach? Rent them from Shore Beach Services. They'll even set them up for you wherever you want along the beach. During the season, they also rent body boards, kayaks, aqua cycles and sailboats.
Should you need a lifeguard in the summer months, you'll find them stationed in front of virtually every oceanfront resort hotel, condo complex and beach park on the island.
Dogs are welcome on Hilton Head Island beaches any time of day from the Tuesday after Labor Day until Memorial Day weekend. During the busy summer season, they're allowed before 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m.