A vacation center of an entirely different kind is found on this large island. On another perfect Spring morning -- brilliant blue sky, soft breeze, temperature about 65 -- we drove across the Intracoastal waterway, stopping at the Hilton Head Island Visitor Center for a detailed map.
Hilton Head is definitely not a destination for a casual traveler. The only parking spaces, even at the (few) public beach access points are metered -- 15 minutes for a quarter, and the meter man was busily writing tickets this Palm Sunday morning. This is an island where you come and stay awhile, go from your condo or hotel to the beach or golf course or tennis court or shopping mall, or ride your bicycle along the bike paths near the roads. Hilton Head beach
The map provided the following statistics: the island is 12 miles long, has 30,000 residents, and over 2,000,000 visitors a year. A total of 41 golf courses are listed: 18 public and 14 private on the island, and 9 off the island but close. More than half of the 29,000 acres is occupied by the eleven "Plantations," or gated and guarded development communities filled with private residences. There are at least 8 tennis clubs, but lots of hotels and resorts have tennis facilities which weren't listed, and that doesn't count the homes with private courts. The bike paths are still under construction, but the whole island will soon be criss-crossed with riding paths. The map listed 35 shopping centers.
Whereas Jekyll Island was quiet and small and geared to the upper middle class and down, Hilton Head Island is large and busy and geared to the middle class and up and up. Hilton Head is for condos and timeshares and vacation rentals which can go up to $10,000 a week in season, and also, it seems, for college beach parties (we figured this out when we saw one slick advertising book for vacation rentals which said, in capital letters, "NO HOUSE, SORORITY OR FRATERNITY PARTIES.")
We walked to the beach and it was beautiful, wide and white and well populated (though not as crowded as it would be in summer.) We heard one family with decided English accents, including five children with high pitched voices.
If you define your vacation in terms of golf, horseback riding, and other active recreation, there's probably no place more desirable than Hilton Head Island. If you're looking for libraries and museums and historical riches, well . . . go someplace else.