Sitting pretty just off the southeast Atlantic coast of South Carolina, Hilton Head Island boasts 19 km of scenic sand-dune-lined beaches, oyster-packed marshes and Spanish-moss-draped live oak trees. Regularly touted as one of the top resort islands in the U.S., Hilton Head provides the perfect semi-tropical platform to enjoy all that the South has to offer-- especially before the high-summer season hits. -- Emma Yardley
stay: If your goal is to be as close as possible to those pristine sandy shores, then Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island is a good bet--it has private access to one of the most swim-friendly beaches on the island. The newly renovated hotel has a distinctly beachy vibe (think coral orange accents and sea-glass sculptures) and, since it's part of the larger Shipyard Plantation members-only community, you get access to the golf courses and pro-level tennis courts. 130 Shipyard Dr., Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. 1-800-766-3782. www.sonesta.com/hiltonheadisland
do: Getting out on the water is a great way to get to know the flora and fauna living in the "Low Country" (i.e. the intertidal area running along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia). Outside Hilton Head takes explorers on their 90-minute Dolphin Eco Tour (US $45 per person; $35 per child 12 and under; two and under ride free) through the grass-lined tidal rivers and creeks in search of the wild Atlantic bottlenose dolphins--and they never come back ashore without a sighting (or in our case, eight). 32 Shelter Cove Ln., Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. 1-800-686-6996. www.outsidehiltonhead.com
savour: Hudson's Seafood House on the Docks employs its own fishing fleet to catch local favourites--oysters, shrimp and soft-shell crabs--and unload them straight into the restaurant's kitchen on a daily basis. Eat outside on the dock right next to the very boats that brought your fresh seafood feast (with all the Southern fixings). Bonus: Hudson's has some of the best sunset watching seats on the whole island. 1 Hudson Rd., Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. 1-843-681-2772. www.hudsonsonthedocks.com
shop: When Canadians cross the U.S. border, one of the first questions they ask themselves is, "Wonder where all the outlet malls are?" Luckily, Hilton Head has a couple of the finest within a 20-minute drive from any island resort. Tanger Outlet Malls 1 & 2 are about 1 km from each other and offer deals at Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, J. Crew, Kate Spade New York, New Balance and Brooks Brothers. 1414 Fording Island Rd., Bluffton, South Carolina. 1-336-292-3010. www.tangeroutlet.com/hiltonhead
see: Hop across Hilton Head's Intercostal Waterway Bridge to the mainland and you'll find the charming historic town of Bluffton. Pick up a Honey Bee Latte to-go from local roasters The Corner Perk and spend the morning browsing the shiny baubles at local designer Spartina 449 or digging through designer dresses at Madhouse Vintage. Walk down to the banks of the meandering May River and visit The Church of the Cross, a stunning structure built by a wealthy plantation owner in 1857. Definitely worth a daytrip. South Carolina Highway 46, Bluffton, South Carolina. oldtownbluffton.com
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