Slip the hold of the winter solstice and experience the warmth of island life on Hilton Head
THE BIRDS MAY BE ONTO SOMETHING. When winter’s cold begins its cruel sweep across the northern frontier, it’s a clear invitation for departure. And sure: You can choose to be one of many intrepid campers. You can winterize that RV, run your heat to the max, and power through till the coming of spring. But philosophically, it’s easier to agree with Dante: Deep cold is the harshest hell. Especially when you can opt for paradise. Because mobility gives you the warmer option, there’s no sham and perfect wisdom—in taking flight toward warmer waters. After all, why fight nature?
Taking an avian hint each year, thousands of snowbirds steer their RVs on a migratory pattern that puts all that wintry mix in the side-view mirror. Heading south, where eternal summer is the new winter, inland roads open up into coastland highways. With the windows down and the taste of saltwater in the air, you almost feel airborne. Like riding with a thermal gust beneath your wings. Like you’re ready for island life, if only you could drive there. Take U.S. Route 278 East down to South Carolina’s coastline, and you can.
Gliding across a bridge that arches its back above the Atlantic, you’ll descend into a perfect paradise Hilton Head Island. Tucked between Charleston and Savannah, Georgia, Hilton Head is the second largest barrier island on the Eastern seaboard, just behind Long Island. And what New York is to business, Hilton Head is to leisure. Here, you can lie back on white-sand beaches and watch dolphins breach the gray-blue wavetops. Here, you can park beneath palmetto trees and tee up on endless fairways in a golfer’s Shangri-La. Here, you can lose track of time. And that is a very good thing.
A Resort Made in the Shade
TWO MAIN roads lace their way through Hilton Head Island: Cross Island Parkway on the mainland side and Business 278 on the Atlantic side. Eventually, the two roadways meet at one of many traffic circles on the southern end of the island. Nestled behind the northeast corner of that circle, in a straight shot down Arrow Road, lies the Hilton Head Island Motorcoach Resort. As you turn into the resort, you sidestep the heat of the open road and are immediately cloaked in the cool shadow of a beautiful forest canopy. Live oaks and cypress trees wind their way toward the sun and spread a canvass of shade. Hanging from extended branches, sage-green strands of Spanish moss waft down. Palmetto trees line the drive. Approaching the front entrance, you get the feeling that you’ve arrived at the heart of the island.
And so you have. The Hilton Head Island Motorcoach Resort is a 53-acre expanse of private luxury that is literally made in the shade. Stepping into the front office as you check-in, the resort staff are easy to spot in their hot pink shirts. Smiling, they greet you with, “Welcome to paradise!” And you get the feeling they mean it. Most staff members are workampers who stay at the resort, which is why every guest is treated like a new neighbor. Workamping makes them the perfect resource for folks with Class A and Class C motorhomes, whom the resort is exclusively for. The staff know exactly what you need—no matter what you’re looking for. Need assistance finding your lot? Happy to help. A restaurant recommendation? You got it. RV troubles? No manual necessary. Check-in is a snap, and with your admission, the gates swing wide as you enter.
Just through those gates, natural beauty begins to blend with man-made accommodations. (Making it easy to understand why RVshare voted this place as the #1 Best Luxury Motorcoach Resort.) Jennifer Radford, the activities director on site, says it makes a big impression on guests, “Everybody is always happy to be here. This is paradise, whether you’re here for a night or live here every single day of the year.” It’s a happy entrance indeed. The bright blue waters of the pool catch your eye as they shimmer in the sunlight. The two-level clubhouse rises just behind.
It’s circled by a spa, playground, six pickleball courts, two tennis courts, and a new green space in the making. Relaxation covers the grounds like a wave as guests migrate from place to place with a lightness of spirit that has cast off all burdens. When selecting a lot, you have your choice of a canopy, lake, or clubhouse view. The resort’s 401 lots—all full hookup—come in the 45-foot and 25-foot variety, depending on the space you need. But each one feels private. Jennifer remarks, “The way that the resort has been designed, you feel like you’re in your very own piece of paradise on your lot. And I think that makes a huge difference.
The driveways are stunning and spacious, trimmed with immaculate brickwork and lined with lovely vegetation. Lots with the lake view can hear the rhythmic sound of the fountain. Clubhouse lots can feel a lively pulse of activity. Everywhere, fine patio sets and outdoor kitchens are available to rent, and as you pull into your new drive, you get a warm sensation: This is a community. You can expect friendly smiles. And your pets will quickly figure out that the staff, driving around in carts, keep treats just for them. But as relaxing as the Hilton Head Island Motorcoach Resort is, the island itself has even more to offer. And being less than two miles from Coligny Beachyou’re in the perfect place to explore.
The Sole of the Island
THE ISLAND OF HILTON HEAD has a unique shape: It looks like a shoe—with its heel kicked out into the Atlantic and its toe pointing south back toward the mainland. Covering a compact 42 square miles, the island has a wonderfully diverse footprint. The bright Atlantic beaches, seagrass coves, delightful harbors, splendid shopping centers, and, of course, world-class golf courses are just a few pleasures you’ll discover in South Carolina’s warmer waters. Dipping your toes into the Atlantic is easy. From a spacious parking lot within walking distance, Coligny Beach awaits.
Under the cover of now-familiar palmetto trees and past small shops full of beach gear, the beachfront opens into a series of small grass-covered dunes. As the white sand warms your toes, the ocean lies flat before you like a man asleep in a beach chair with a soft, steady snore. Sailboats and fish boats appear and vanish like deep-sea dreams. Seagulls flit in between tents and blankets. All around, squadrons of children flee their castles and squeal with laughter as they run to the waves, leaving a trail of bright pink pails and plastic green shovels. Even the adults find moments to rise, point out into the surf, and laugh with wonder as the island’s family of dolphins make their circuit through the shallow waters. The bliss of it is, there’s nowhere else to go for hours.
The warm sun on your shoulders is the perfect reward for a perfect migration. Whenever you decide to loose yourself from the beach’s grainy grip , there’s an entire island to explore. Harbour Town lies just shy of Hilton Head’s southern toe with its iconic lighthouse and a walk-worthy seascape flanked by a reef of colorful shops. Even better for golf aficionados, you’ve made a deep drive into a range of the nation’s finest fairways. The Sea Pines Resort includes classic courses like the Harbour Town Golf Links and Heron Point, both masterpieces designed with the deft touch of Pete Dye. Voted by “Golf Digest” as one of the top ten golf destinations in the world, here, you can approach the greens, calculate course hazards, and perfect your strokes like a master. And with a catalogue of classic venues across the island, you can tee off somewhere new each day. Which is just par for the course in paradise.
A Taste of the Sea
EVEN FURTHER DOWN at South Beach, there is the legendary Salty Dog Cafe, named after Jake, a heroic dog who retrieved his owner after three days and nights capsized at sea. But for a real taste of maritime cuisine, circle back inland and tack north up the Cross Island Parkway. Crossing the seagrass splendor of Shelter Cove and then down Marshland Road, you’ll find a hidden treasure tucked against the cove’s northern bank—the Old Oyster Factory. Hilton Head has more great places to eat than you can count. For seafood alone, Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks and Poseidon are big catches come dinnertime. (And the fish tacos at Slapfish just might change your life.) But the Old Oyster Factory is something more.
The multi-tiered building stands alone, jutting up with its back to the cove and a low porch in the setting sun. Just down the bank, boats lie on their side in the low tide. Out back, the massive pile of shells on the shore looks like the walrus, and the carpenter have finished creating a graveyard of delights. There is a rustic, salty feel to the place. It’s in the marshy grass that hides the drive. It’s in the sedentary old truck that sits in front of the entrance. But everything exterior is a shell. There is a pearl inside. Seated by the window facing the cove at dusk, the high tide comes in, and the boats rise to life as does the entire cove.
Even as you order from the menu, the dark fins of dolphins emerge as they hunt fish along the dock, where great blue heron land and spreads its wings. All this unfolds in the gold-green waterlight of sunset just as your food arrives. There’s no wrong decision on the menu, but the seafood tower is the great prize. Packed on ice, an arrangement of six oysters, six mussels, and six jumbo cocktail shrimp rises in succession with split lobster, snow crab legs, and smoked salmon. On the water, you taste the first fruits of the ocean, dressed with capers and served with lemon. This is a flavor far beyond the ordinary. It is the exact thing every RVer searches for the breathtaking power of place.
An Eternal Summer
HEADING BACK to the Hilton Head Island Motorcoach Resort, you may realize it already feels like home. Out one day for adventure. Back home the next to relax. At the resort, you can make your way to the hot tub or ready yourself for water aerobics class tomorrow morning. (The resort offers them every morning, Monday through Friday.) You might just weigh your options poolside by the clubhouse, as more neighbors arrive and get checked in. Amid an eternal summer, you feel like this could last forever. And Jennifer, the activities director, is happy to relay the good news: Forever is an option.
At any given time, the resort has five to ten lots for sale. “We want you to come back or maybe even consider living here. Just being here, it transforms you.” She adds, “It’s funny because I think sometimes when you go on vacation, you find yourself trying to fill your time. Here, you come, and you lose track of time—in a great way.” Indeed, time can become abstract in the warm glow of paradise. So when the northern winter cold dissolves into spring, you’ll have the decision to make. You could migrate back north with nature. Or maybe not. Taking a hint from Hilton Head’s permanent pod of dolphins, you could decide to stay. Come to think of it, maybe those dolphins are onto something.
A GOLF ISLAND TOUR