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Three of the Best Small-Town Day Trips from Hilton Head Island

Marie McAden Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.
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Discover some of the lesser-known destinations near Hilton Head Island.

Renowned for its championship golf courses, beautiful beaches and outstanding array of shops, restaurants and recreational activities, Hilton Head Island has all the amenities of a world-class resort. But there's plenty more to see and do in the area.

Less than an hour from the island are three coastal communities offering a very different Lowcountry experience. Historic Beaufort on the Broad River and the sea islands of Daufuskie and St. Helena provide visitors with the opportunity to learn more about the history of the South and our special Gullah heritage.

So, get in your car - or hop aboard a ferry - and make a day trip to one of these three fascinating destinations:


Daufuskie Island

One nautical mile from Hilton Head and accessible only by boat, this secluded South Carolina sea island is much as it was 200 years ago. Most of the island remains undeveloped with few paved roads and no traffic lights, preserving its white sand beaches, ancient oak canopies and pristine saltwater marshes. Tour boats and ferries will take you to Freeport Marina, where you can sign up for a bus tour or rent a golf cart to explore the six-mile-long island. Tucked among the lush landscape are a dozen historic landmarks, including the Bloody Point Lighthouse, Cooper River Cemetery, a 130-year-old Baptist church and Mary Fields Elementary School, featured in Pat Conroy's best-selling novel "The Water is Wide." Be sure to stop and visit some of the working artist studios and try one of the island's famed deviled crabs.


Named "The South's Best Small Town" in 2017 by Southern Living, Beaufort is a historical gem with beautifully preserved antebellum homes, walkable oak-shaded streets and a stunning waterfront park overlooking the Beaufort River. The entire downtown is a National Historic Landmark, with more than 50 architecturally significant buildings, some dating to the 1700s. Mixed among the stately mansions and historic churches are hip gastropubs, a fun collection of shops, antique stores and galleries showcasing the work of regional artists. Start your visit by take a carriage ride or van tour to get an overview of the town and learn about its history. Then set off on your own and take your time exploring this charming seaside town. When you're ready for a break, walk over to Henry Chambers Waterfront Park and relax on one of the swings as you enjoy the view of the river and tidal salt marsh.


St. Helena Island

Once home to rice, indigo and cotton plantations, this 63-square-mile sea island continues to embrace the rural heritage and Gullah culture of its native islanders, descendants of West-African slaves brought to the Lowcountry in the 18th century to farm the land. Today, tomato and other summer vegetables are the island's cash crops. St. Helena also has several notable historic sites, among them the Penn Center. A National Historic Landmark, it served as one of the country's first schools for children of freed slaves and a retreat for Martin Luther King Jr. Two other must-see sites are the remains of Fort Freemont, a Spanish War-era fortification overlooking the Beaufort River, and the Chapel of Ease, a relatively intact example of mid-18th century tabby construction. In downtown Frogmore, the heart of the island's business district, you'll find several restaurants specializing in fresh-from-the-trawler fare, one-of-a-kind shops and some neat galleries, including the Red Piano Too on Sea Island Parkway.

Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.