Hilton Head is one of the most popular resort islands in the USA and the top tourist destination in South Carolina, primarily due to the abundance of beaches and waterfront activities. But beaches aren’t all it offers; Hilton Head has plenty of other outdoor activities and sights you can enjoy around the island. The best part is that you don’t have to break the bank to explore this destination. If you are planning a vacation in Hilton Head but are on a budget, here are some of our favorite free things to do in Hilton Head SC!
Explore The May River
No “Hilton Head Island Things To Do Guide” can be complete without mentioning the beautiful May River. I remember the first time I saw this beautiful body of water. It was on the Palmetto Bluff property, from their Bluffton public dock (pictured below)…it truly is a special waterway. The May River is a tidal river winding through the Hilton Head Islands from the middle of Bluffton. The river is home to a diverse variety of fish, including the black drum, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, sheepshead, flounder, red drum, largemouth bass, and more. My favorite though is all the dolphin.
You can take an eco-tour or fishing charter to explore the May River during your visit. You can also go kayaking, paddle boarding, or explore other waterfront activities near the river.
Relax on the Beaches
Hilton Island is one of the most popular islands in the US primarily because of its 12 miles of pristine beaches. You can take a short trip to the beachside and spend the day basking on the sunny beaches. Watch the waves crash on the shoreline, build a sand castle, or watch the sunset at the end of the day. My personal favorite of the free things to do in Hilton Head SC list! Everyone loves lounging on the beach listening to the ocean, going for a walk, or making a sand castle.
Coastal Discovery Museum
The Coastal Discovery Museum is an interactive museum located on Hilton Head Island. The museum is a nonprofit organization that allows you to explore the history of the South Carolina Lowcountry. The 68-acre property includes exhibits on the history and wildlife of Sea Islands around Southern Carolina, including Hilton Head. They also offer guided tours, walks, cruises, and various family-friendly events throughout the year.
Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge
The Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge is a back barrier island located between the South Carolina mainland and Hilton Head Island. It covers over 4000 acres of land. They aim to preserve and protect the endangered natural flora and fauna of the area. You can visit the refuge to explore the wildlife, go bicycling around the paved walkways or take a trip hiking through the region. It is one of the top things to do in Hilton Head with kids.
Beaufort County Libraries
The Beaufort County Libraries has a popular branch at Hilton Head Island. The library includes a beautiful outdoor reading space where you can settle down with a book for a peaceful reading session. There is also a ‘Friends of the Library’ bookstore where you can source your favorite pieces of literature.
Apart from this, you will find a collection of magazines, DVDs, public computers, a children’s storytelling area, and a reading room. Overall, it is a beautiful, fully equipped library, well worth the visit and a favorite among the free things to do in Hilton Head SC!
Explore Old Town Bluffton
Old Town Bluffton is a one of the best free things to do in Hilton Head SC. This quaint and charming historic district overlooks the May River. Here you can spend the day exploring historic homes, chic boutiques, antique shops, cafes, and art galleries. The streets are seeping with the rich history of this area and its community and are well worth exploring.
Audubon Newhall Preserve
The Audubon Newhall Preserve is a 50-acre nature preserve located at the south end of Hilton Head Island. The preserve is a native forest ecosystem that helps preserve its many inhabitants.
Visitors are allowed to visit the preserve every day from sunrise to sunset. Inside, you will find a fantastic variety of trees and bushes. There’s even a pond brimming with stunning bird species. These include White Ibises, Herons, Egrets, and Anhingas.
Mitchelville Freedom Park
The Mitchelville Freedom Park is a historical park located on the north end of Hilton Island. Inside the park, you will find many exhibits dedicated to the Mitchellville settlement. It is also the first place in the US where the Africans, just out of slavery, governed themselves. This park preserves the rich history of Mitchelville and educates the public on the story of its inhabitants as they established a self-governed community.
Walk Around Shelter Cove
Shelter Cove is a popular waterfront area located at the center of Hilton Head Island. On over 285 acres of saltwater coastline, it is a bustling community of shops, parks, plazas, a marina, outdoor shopping centers, and plenty of entertainment centers.
Access to the community is free and openly accessible, with an abundance of biking paths and walkways and plenty of parking. You can visit the cove to simply walk around and explore its sights or partake in the many activities available there. It is one of the top-recommended things to do in Hilton Head.
The Church of the Cross in Bluffton
The Church of the Cross is a historic church in Bluffton, South Carolina. It was originally constructed in 1857 atop the May River and has been well-preserved since. It has even been listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. You can spend the day at the church exploring its serene beauty in the outside seating area and study the stunning gothic architecture of the main church.
Palmetto Oaks Sculpture
The Palmetto Oaks Sculpture garden is a famous sculpture garden and art studio in Bluffton at Hilton Head Island. Visitors can freely explore the low country woodland garden and its many sculpted artworks. There are many fun and whimsical projects within the garden. Next to each sculpture is a description of the artist and the story behind the sculpture. It is one of the top free things to do in Hilton Head.
Visit The Harbour Town Lighthouse
Visit the 93 feet tall, the Harbour Town Lighthouse is an unforgettable sight beloved by Hilton Head Island locals and tourists alike. Built in 1969, this iconic landmark reflects the island’s proud maritime heritage and offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding waters. Visiting it is free, however to reach the top is a small admission fee. If you do pay, you can climb the 114 steps and marvel at the stunning scenery. The lighthouse also houses a fascinating museum showcasing the history of both the island and the lighthouse’s construction. Either way, after your visit, why not take advantage of the surrounding Harbour Town area’s vibrant shops, restaurants, and marina? Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned local, the Harbour Town Lighthouse promises an unforgettable experience that’s worth your while.
There are plenty of things to do in Hilton Head SC at no cost. So, just because you are a budget doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy an amazing vacation! Hilton Head Island and its natural beauty, rich history and culture are waiting, and it is easily doable affordably!