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A mermaid's perfect day on Hilton Head Island

National Geographic logo National Geographic 2/21/2019 Nina Leipold
Sandy paths between the dunes lead down to the beach for scenic views. © Photograph by Aurora Photos, Alamy Stock Photo

Sandy paths between the dunes lead down to the beach for scenic views.

Hilton Head Island lures people in with its laid back beach vibes and vibrant sealife. Whether its swimming with dolphins or learning about Hilton Head's aquatic ecosystems, come discover epic fun for travelers of all ages.

Morning

Rise early and head to the beach to watch the sun peak over the horizon and turn the sky and sea into a phantasmagoria of pinks and oranges. Mornings are the most peaceful time to enjoy the beaches when attendance is at its lowest for the day.

While strolling at low tide, you are likely to come across Hilton Head’s signature sea creature: the sand dollar. Sand dollars are living creatures, and it is illegal to remove them from their ocean homes. Pro tip: Don’t let a local catch you picking up these echinoderms, as they tend to be very passionate about protecting our wildlife, and you may just earn yourself a speech.

The best way to follow up a Hilton Head sunrise is to try out a favorite local breakfast spot. Southern Coney has some of the best pancakes on the island, and they never disappoint!

Afternoon

Work off breakfast with your choice of over 60 miles of bike paths and 24 championship golf courses across the island. However, as exciting as exploring the island by land may be, it would be a rookie mistake to skip out on scouting the area by water. Our diverse ecosystems extend from the marshlands to the ocean. Over 150 resident dolphins live here year-round. I spend most of my day with the local dolphins rather than people, and from experience, I can testify to their friendliness.

Going out on a boat tour is a great way to see them in their natural environment, exhibiting behaviors you would never observe while they are in captivity. There are only two places in the world to witness dolphins strand feeding, and Hilton Head is one of them. Strand feeding is a hunting behavior where the dolphins work together in small groups to create a wave and push fish up onto mud banks. They eat the fish while stranded and squirm back into the water when they are finished. If you are looking for a unique and educational way to learn about the local dolphins, I’m partial to the Mermaid Encounter Boat Tour, but another fun way to meet our dolphins is by Jet Ski. Sea Monkey’s Watersports is a favorite on the island if you’re up for the adventure.

Evening

Hilton Head has around 250 restaurants on the island and with so many, choosing one can be difficult; however, no trip to Hilton Head is complete without grabbing a meal at Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks. Dining on exceptional food is a given here, but there is an added plus of having the Low Country atmosphere right on the water. Nothing beats watching dolphins swim by while you are eating one of the best meals you’ll ever have.

Once dinner has concluded, a skip down to the south side of the island is a must for the sunset. Harbour Town is in the Sea Pines Resort and is home to the infamous candy-striped Hilton Head lighthouse. It goes without saying that the best addition to the iconic lighthouse landscape is the sunset sky providing a picturesque backdrop behind it. Be sure to explore the plethora of options for shopping and dining as well, with live music being a nightly amenity in the summer months.

Nina Leipold is the Mermaid of Hilton Head and local children’s author. She runs a mermaid business with her husband, Rick, that shines a spotlight on ocean conservation and inspires people to make small changes in their daily lives to help protect the ocean and the Hilton Head wildlife.
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