From the moment I stepped foot in South Carolina, a sense of peace and calm washed over me. I drove directly to the Wyndham Vacation Rental that was to be my home for the next several days. The six-bedroom villa was complete with a swimming pool, hot tub, deck, and private access to the beach. Wyndham offers in-home spa services, so post-flight, I was quickly ushered onto a massage table by Fountain Spa Hilton Head Island to work out those nasty kinks that come from lugging luggage to and fro.
That evening I dined at the newly opened Vine restaurant that’s embracing the farm-to-table movement and also boasts an eclectic wine list and inventive cocktail menu. The owner came to our table to discuss how they use local and natural ingredients when possible and that the Brussels sprouts salad was a new addition to the menu, which changes weekly. I was persuaded to try the swordfish with olives and feta over polenta.
The next morning I took a stroll on the beach. Post-morning walk I headed into town for a little cultural stroll through the Sea Pines, what natives deem to be the birthplace of modern Hilton Head Island, and Harbour Town, which includes the marina basin and the island’s candy-cane striped lighthouse. Climb the lighthouse for a breathtaking view of the island before taking a boat tour to scour Calibogue Sound for dolphins.
I made a quick stop for lunch at Skull Creek Boathouse, famous for its large menu and even larger Blue Point oysters, deviled eggs topped with smoked salmon, and peel-and-eat shrimp.
The next day I had a true culinary treat: a lunch visit to chef David Vincent Young’s restaurant
Chef David’s Roastfish & Cornbread, to sample authentic Gullah cuisine. The chef, who’s a native Hilton Head Islander, offers a variety of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options on his extensive menu, such as quinoa, brown rice, and lentils for those who are gluten-free and vegan, and they can prepare any fish without flour, explained the chef.
Young explained that he grew up eating vegetables and local food that came from the region. When he opened the establishment to showcase the Gullah cuisine that his grandmother taught him how to make, he also unveiled additional influences, having lived and worked with a Jewish family for close to six years. One can often find traditional Jewish dishes like matzo ball soup cropping up on his seasonal menus. The menu also includes local grouper, lightly blackened, with brown rice and collard greens sautéed with rutabaga and turnips.
In the evening, we headed to family-friendly Hudson’s on the Docks, a local, family-run seafood restaurant that has had a presence on the island since 1967. The restaurant is best known for serving local seafood, such as oysters and shellfish, right from the island’s water. My final dinner in town was a Low Country boil, complete with oysters, shrimp, corn on the cob, and sausage served right on the dock itself, just in time to watch the sun set.
When the sun went down, we made a stop at the "Barmuda" Triangle, a cluster of drinking establishments: The Lodge, One Hot Mama’s, The Brew Pub, Reilleys Grill and Bar, and Jump and Phil’s Bar and Grill, all located within one courtyard. They had something for every type of person, from club-style dance music to bands playing oldies hits, to a few more low-key pubs.
Before packing my bags to head to the airport, I had one more stop to make, this time for brunch at Signe's Heaven Bound Bakery & Café. The bakery has been an Island institution for more than 36 years. From scones to muffins to brownies and cookies, the bakery and café has something for everyone.
What I found on Hilton Head Island wasn’t what I imagined the South would be. What I found, though, was a great culinary destination with truly inspirational local cuisine.
Hospitality was provided to the author.