26 Best Sights in Hilton Head and the Low Country, South Carolina

Coastal Discovery Museum

North End Fodor's choice

Located on the grounds of the former Honey Horn Plantation, this interactive museum features a butterfly enclosure, programs for children, and guided walks of the 68-acre property that includes historic buildings and barns, marsh front boardwalks, and a wide variety of magnificent trees, such as live oaks, magnolias, and one of the state's largest Southern red cedars. As a Smithsonian Affiliate, the museum hosts a variety of temporary exhibits that focus on a range of interesting historic topics and artistic mediums. Animal tours, history tours, and kayak tours are also available and should be booked in advance. Informative and inspiring, the Coastal Discovery Museum lets visitors experience the Lowcountry up close.

Coligny Beach Park

South End Fodor's choice

The island's most popular public beach is a lot of fun, but during high season it can get very crowded. It has choreographed fountains that delight little children, bench swings, and beach umbrellas and chaise lounges for rent. If you have to go online, there's also Wi-Fi access. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking; showers; toilets. Best for: partiers; swimming; windsurfing.

Harbour Town

South End Fodor's choice

Located within the Sea Pines Resort, Harbour Town is a charming area centered on a circular marina that's filled with interesting shops and restaurants. Distinctive paths covered with white gravel and rows of red rocking chairs add to the small-town feel, while families are attracted to the large playground and live entertainment underneath the Liberty Oak during the summer. Stroll down the pier for excellent views of Daufuskie Island or catch one of the many vessels docked there and ready to set sail for adventure. Rising above it all is the landmark candy-cane-stripe Harbour Town Lighthouse, which visitors can climb to enjoy a view of Calibogue Sound. Summer nights are particularly lovely here, with a breeze coming off the water and music in the air; soak in the atmosphere with a drink at one of the welcoming outdoor bars and seating areas.

Recommended Fodor's Video

Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park

Fodor's choice

Located off Bay Street in downtown Beaufort, Waterfront Park represents the heart of this charming coastal town. It's a great place to stroll along the river walk and enjoy the hanging bench swings. Parents enjoy the spacious park where kids can run in the grass or play on the enclosed playground with views of the Richard V. Woods swing bridge that crosses the Beaufort River. Trendy restaurants and bars overlook these seven beautifully landscaped acres that also feature a pavilion, stage, and historical markers and lead into the marina.

Hunting Island State Park

Fodor's choice

This state park located on a barrier island 18 miles southeast of Beaufort has 5,000 acres of rare maritime forest and 5 miles of public beaches—some which are dramatically eroding. The light sand beach decorated with driftwood and the subtropical vegetation is breathtaking; it almost feels like you're in Jurassic Park. You can kayak in the tranquil saltwater lagoon, stroll the 1,120-foot-long fishing pier, and go fishing or crabbing. For sweeping views, climb the 167 steps of the historic 1859 Hunting Island Lighthouse. Bikers and hikers can enjoy eight miles of trails. The nature center has exhibits, an aquarium, and tourist information. There is also a campground on the northern end that has 100 sites, but be sure to book in advance as these nearly oceanfront campsites fill up fast. Amenities: parking; toilets; grills. Best for: sunrise; swimming; walking.

Old Town Bluffton

Fodor's choice

Charming Old Town Bluffton has historic homes and churches on oak-lined streets dripping with Spanish moss, intermingled with newer businesses like the Salt Marsh Brewing Company. The Promenade Street area is newer and features trendy bars and restaurants. At the end of Wharf Street is the Bluffton Oyster Company (63 Wharf St.), a place to buy fresh local seafood. Grab a sandwich from the Downtown Deli (1223 May River Rd.) and head to the Calhoun Street Public Dock for a picnic with a view of the May River. Another incredibly beautiful spot to visit is the grounds of the historic Church of the Cross (110 Calhoun St.). Originally inhabited by Yemassee people who were driven out by the first English settlers, the town's later population of slaveholders played a key role in South Carolina's secession.

Reconstruction Era National Monument

Fodor's choice
Established in 1862, the Penn Center was the first school for African Americans in the American South. It's now the centerpiece of the Reconstruction Era National Monument, which demonstrates the life and struggles of African Americans in the decades after the Civil War. The York W. Bailey Museum here has displays on the Gullah culture and heritage on the Sea Islands, and the beautiful, live oak-shaded grounds host seasonal events, including a bi-weekly Saturday farmer's market, and the Center remains an active advocate for human rights through its programs and exhibits.

Red Piano Gallery

Fodor's choice

Sculptures, Lowcountry landscapes, and eccentric works by contemporary artists can be found at this upscale gallery in Bluffton.

Sea Pines Forest Preserve

South End Fodor's choice

Located within the gates of the Sea Pines Resort, the Sea Pines Forest Preserve is made up of 605 acres of protected wilderness. There are two entrances: one off Greenwood Drive, about a mile past the main gate, has a parking area; the other is located off Lawton Drive. Walking and biking trails take you past a stocked fishing pond, a waterfowl pond, a 3,400-year-old Native American shell ring, a wildflower field, wetland boardwalks, picnic areas, boat docks, and an outdoor chapel with five wooden pews and a wooden lectern engraved with the Prayer of St. Francis. Nature tours, boat tours, fishing expeditions, and wagon tours are available through Sea Pines and can be booked in advance. Nearby Lawton Stables offers a unique experience to explore the forest on a guided horseback tour.

Greenwood Dr., Hilton Head Island, SC, 29928, USA
843-671–1343-CSA office to call for permits for fishing or group outings
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $9 per car; free for those staying at Sea Pines, Daily dawn–dusk

St. Helena Island

Fodor's choice

Between Beaufort and Fripp Island lies St. Helena Island, a sizeable sea island that is less commercial than the other islands in the area and home to a tight-knit Gullah community. The highlight here is Penn Center, a historic school and museum that was the first school for formerly enslaved people in 1862. Visitors can also see the Chapel of Ease ruins, go to Lands End and discover Fort Fremont Historical Park, or stop by roadside farms and local restaurants.

Alder Lane Beach

South End

A great place for solitude during the winter—and popular with families during the summer season—this beach has hard-packed sand at low tide, making it ideal for walking. It's accessible from the Marriott Grande Ocean Resort. Amenities: lifeguards; parking; showers; toilets. Best for: swimming; walking.

2 Woodward Ave., Hilton Head Island, SC, 29928, USA

Audubon Newhall Preserve

South End

There are walking trails, a self-guided tour, a pond, and eight distinct areas to explore on this 50-acre preserve located off Palmetto Bay Road. Native plant life is tagged and identified in the pristine forest, and many species of birds can also be found here.

Barefoot Farms

Pull over for boiled peanuts, a jar of gumbo or strawberry jam, or perfect watermelons at this roadside stand and working farm on St. Helena Island.

939 Sea Island Pkwy., St. Helena Island, SC, 29920, USA

Beaufort National Cemetery

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, Beaufort National Cemetery is the final resting spot of both Union and Confederate soldiers from the Civil War. The peaceful, well-maintained grounds make this a nice spot to commemorate the dead.

Ben Ham Images

The extraordinary black-and-white large format photography of Ben Ham includes many stirring Lowcountry landscapes.

Burkes Beach


This beach is usually not crowded, mostly because it is a bit hard to find and there are no lifeguards on duty. At sunrise, birds and deer bring the adjacent marsh to life. Visitors must park at the Chaplin Community Park at 11 Cast Net Drive, since there is no longer parking on Burkes Beach Road.

Time a visit around low tide—the marsh flooding during high tide can cut off access.


parking; showers.

Best for:

solitude; sunrise; swimming; windsurfing.

60 Burkes Beach Rd., Hilton Head Island, SC, 29928, USA

Driessen Beach


A good destination for families, Driessen Beach Park has a playground and an attractive boardwalk and sandy path through the dunes. It's often peppered with people flying kites, making it colorful and fun. Amenities: lifeguards; parking; showers; toilets. Best for: sunrise; surfing; swimming; walking.

64 Bradley Beach Rd., Hilton Head Island, SC, 29928, USA

Fish Haul Beach Park

North End

Not ideal for swimming because of the many sharp shells on the sand and in the water, this public beach is a terrific spot for a walk or shell and shark tooth hunting. It is not on the Atlantic Ocean, but rather on Port Royal Sound. Amenities: parking; showers; toilets. Best for: sunrise; solitude; walking.

124 Mitchelville Rd., Hilton Head Island, SC, 29926, USA

Folly Field Beach Park


Next to Driessen Beach, Folly Field is a treat for families. It can get crowded in high season, but even so it's a wonderful spot for a day of sunbathing and swimming. The best waves for surfing break here. Amenities: lifeguards; parking; showers; toilets. Best for: sunrise; surfing; swimming; walking.

55 Starfish Dr., Hilton Head Island, SC, 29928, USA

Highway 21 Drive In

An authentic drive-in experience, Highway 21 Drive In is a charming throwback that's fun for the whole family. Showing a variety of classic movies and recent hits, the family-owned facility has been attracting crowds for nearly 25 years. The old-school concessions stand has everything from popcorn and candy to burgers and corn dogs as well as funnel cakes and root beer floats. Even the ticket prices are a nod to another time, and include double features on two screens. It’s totally worth the trip for this slice of nostalgia to see "where the stars come out at night."

John Mark Verdier House

Downtown Historic District

Built and maintained by the forced labor of enslaved people, this 1804 Federal-style mansion has been restored and furnished as it would have been prior to a visit by Marquis de Lafayette in 1825. It was the headquarters for Union forces during the Civil War. The house museum also features historical photographs, a diorama of Bay Street in 1863, and an exhibit about Robert Smalls, the first African American U.S. congressman. Run by Historic Beaufort Foundation, the museum offers docent-guided tours.

Kazoobie Kazoo Factory

Taking a tour of this unique kazoo factory is a fun and informative experience; you even get to make your own kazoo at the end.

Parish Church of St. Helena

This 1724 church (founded in 1712) was turned into a hospital during the Civil War, and gravestones were brought inside to serve as operating tables. While on church grounds, stroll the peaceful cemetery and read the fascinating inscriptions.

SOBA Gallery

Located in Old Town Bluffton, this small gallery for the Society of Bluffton Artists (SOBA) showcases the work of local painters, sculptors, and photographers.

Stoney-Baynard Ruins

South End

This historic site contains the remains of four structures once part of Braddock's Point Plantation. Captain John "Saucy Jack" Stoney forced enslaved people to build the plantation in the 1790s; it was eventually bought by William Baynard in 1840. Union troops occupied the plantation home during the Civil War, and the home was burned in 1869. The 6-acre site, with the ruins of the main house, a plantation overseer's house, and housing for enslaved people, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Now located within the Sea Pines Resort, Baynard Ruins Park has a small parking area as well as trails and interpretative signs that describe the historical and archaeological significance of the area. If you are staying in Sea Pines, you can ride your bike to the site and explore at your leisure. Guided tours are also available through Sea Pines.

Plantation Dr., Hilton Head Island, SC, 29928, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Open 24 hrs

York W. Bailey Museum

The museum at the Penn Center has displays on the heritage of Sea Island African Americans; it also has pleasant grounds shaded by live oaks. Dating from 1862, Penn Center was the first school for the newly emancipated slaves. These islands are where Gullah, a musical language that combines English and African languages, developed. This museum and the surrounding community of St. Helena Island are a major stop for anyone interested in the Gullah history and culture of the Lowcountry.