Hilton Head may not get the same national attention as Myrtle Beach, but don’t sleep on the sleepy town that boasts a flourishing food and drink scene that rivals its Savannah and Charleston neighbors. It’s here you’ll find some of the freshest seafood that the Deep South has to offer, truly lending itself to the concept of an “island escape.” I’ve rounded up my top five picks below, tailored to five completely different types of diners. It’s the first time in this Florida boy’s life when food took priority over the beach, but after a trip to the places below, you’ll soon see why.
Frankly, there’s no other place to catch the best sunset and no other place to dive into fresh seafood from the island. Nearly everything Hudson’s serves is caught that day, which is why the institution has been popular with locals and tourists for generations. Owner Andrew Carmines is also a true gem of a human, ensuring you leave happier than when you arrive. The menu is extensive but approachable, the drinks are strong but tasty, and the live music is a perfect backdrop to the zen-like state you’ll achieve within minutes. They also randomly serve the best hush puppies I’ve ever tried in my life, so fried food connoisseurs: Get your taste buds ready.
Dining beachside with views of the ocean, Mediterranean architecture, and a man strumming on a guitar? Count me in. The delicious food (come through, fresh crab cakes with drool-worthy tartar sauce) and signature frozen cocktails are simply icing on the cake. Also, get a slice of the flourless chocolate cake or carrot cake. They surprisingly held their own against classic Key lime pie.
I didn’t know what to expect going into Lucky Rooster, but I left with a newfound appreciation for food that I didn’t think would come out of Hilton Head. The restaurant prepares dozens of locally sourced, seasonal options, from fried green tomatoes and butter bean hummus to fish filets and a ridiculously decadent roast bone marrow with red wine jus. But perhaps its most exciting (and visually compelling) offering is the half pig’s head with accompaniments like sliced white bread, sauces, and stewed okra to build your own open-face sandwiches. It was one of the most unique dining experiences of my life, accented only by chef/owner Clayton Rollison and his knowledge of the town’s history and West African culinary influences. He, along with an impressive range of vintage cognacs and aromatized wines, were the best digestifs I could ever ask for.
Before leaving town, hit up Social Bakery for an array of fresh-baked pastries and croissants that will hold you over in the car or airport. It may lead to at least 30 minutes of silence as you nosh on some of the island’s most over-the-top confections like a chestnut bar or grandma’s apple tart, but this break from social stimulation will be welcomed, especially if children are present.
After a day of fun and activity with Zipline Hilton Head (an experience we highly recommend), you’ll want to reward your body’s efforts with some healthy options. Delishee Yo is, perhaps, Hilton Head’s most celebrated vegetarian haunt, priding itself on fresh and nourishing menu options like yogurt smoothies and veggie-heavy wraps. It’s the perfect way to counter all of the oil and butter that makes Southern food so delicious. And frankly, it’s the perfect way to convince yourself that you’re back to being beach-body-ready.
When it comes to island hospitality, Sonesta provides everything you could ever want in a resort: a lively beach bar, relaxing pool, ocean activities, and a yummy restaurant (order the shrimp and grits!) are just some of the perks that, frankly, made it hard for us to leave the property. The staff also goes above and beyond to ensure that you’re comfortable with frequent text check-ins and in-suite goodies like a DIY cocktail kit and bedside chocolates. Canopied by trees and unpredictable South Carolina wildlife, the stunning drive in on Shipyard (road leading to the hotel) is also an unexpected, though welcomed highlight.