When the alarm sounds at 5:55 a.m., I am momentarily disoriented. Once clarity sets in, I remember I’m at the beach, and I’ve set the alarm to awake early enough to witness the sun rise on the ocean.
The sky is pale, but it begins to illuminate the outlines of the buildings. On the horizon, a pinkish hue begins to form around the clouds, which will provide beautiful texture for the sun once it begins to rise. The event lasts barely a minute, but I’m always glad when I make the effort to see it. Most of our enduring summer memories come from travels to beaches, and the most popular destination for us has been Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
It’s a drive that is doable, albeit long, in one day from here. We often stop for the night, though, in Asheville, North Carolina, to break it up. And whether we stay at the beach a week or just a few days, we always find plenty to do after watching the sunrise.
On HHI, early morning is a great time to enjoy a walk, because the tide is out, and the sand is firm. In some places, small pools have trapped water and stranded crabs or starfish. Near the northern end of the island, barrier rocks also provide ample places to view the marine life that has become temporarily stranded until the tide comes back in. Dolphins are usually visible from the beach during this time, as well.
During the early summer months, sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, so if you’re out early enough, often prior to the sunrise, you may get to witness that miracle of nature. You may also get to watch the turtle return to the ocean or to admire the beautiful trail she leaves behind her in the sand.
But walking along the beach isn’t the only option. Bicycle rentals are popular on the island. While the beach provides a great place to ride, there are also several bike paths. I know about these bike paths because once, we rode too far south while the tide was coming back in. By the time we were ready to return, we could no longer ride in the sand and had to head up to the paths by the road, instead. I think, though, for recreation other than walking and biking, people go to HHI for its over 20 championship golf courses. That’s definitely worth noting.
Also worth noting is the unique shape of HHI, which resembles a foot and is divided into different plantations, or communities. We have often stayed near the heel at the Hilton Head Beach and Tennis Resort, because it truly caters to all budgets and party sizes. We’ve also had good luck with the Holiday Inn near Coligny Beach, as well as other rentals in that area. We have yet to stay at the southern Sea Pines community, but we usually make a point to spend an evening there at the Harbour Town Marina.
While in Sea Pines, grab a bite to eat at the popular Salty Dog Cafe. One of our favorite places to eat while on HHI, though, is New York City Pizza, hands down. Once a small hole in the wall, it has now expanded to three locations. For Lowcountry cuisine, like crab cakes, grilled homemade pimento cheese, potato chip meatloaf sandwiches, and the catch of the day, try A Lowcountry Backyard Restaurant, also known simply as The Backyard. For a neat waterfront place to eat and to watch the boats, we like the Skull Creek Boathouse. Something else I can recommend is the Farmer’s Market in Bluffton, just a short drive from the island, on Thursdays from 1 to 6 p.m. While yes, it features locally grown produce, it also hosts artisans, entertainment and specialty food trucks.
With the turn of the calendar to May also comes the turning of thoughts to summer. While the sunrise isn’t so bad to watch here in Maysville, beach sunrises and all the beach has to offer can be pretty inviting as well.
(Note: Margie Appelman is an English, communications and journalism teacher at Mason County High School and co-founder of the travel blog, Tales from the Trip, which is also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. She can be reached at [email protected].)