I can't believe our month in Hilton Head has come to an end. I will forever remember the colors of the island: green and blue. The lush landscaping surrounded by blue seas will be embedded in my memory always. Below I will share some of our itineraries over the month so that you can easily plan your stay here too! First, I'd like to highlight that living here the past four weeks has brought me to a place of mental stillness I have not enjoyed in many years. Unlike other vacations, this one required no planning. We truly mastered the art of "playing it by ear" and "figuring it out" along the way. Our daily one hour family reading blocks have allowed me to read more books than I have in the past year. My three weeks of detox at the start of the trip really allowed me to do some deep thinking and soul searching without trying to avoid some of the frustrations and pain masked by wine at the end of the day. I have also slowly come to realize which friendships are true friendships, noticing the plethora of text-based friendships I have compared to the few relationships where I actually have conversations with my friends. I have redefined the meaning of busy. New Yorkers are extremely busy, even during a pandemic and surprisingly even during a lockdown. I used to be busy too. Now I realize that I created this busyness in order to assimilate to the NYC lifestyle. I literally had conversations with friends focused on how busy we were, they often felt competitive; who is the busiest? Looking back now, this busyness was just as unimportant as the row of Valentino shoes that are now living in my closet unworn and untouched for the past five months. I have learned that life is so much better when I focus on the abundance of time that I do have and when I surround myself with people who are not too busy. Finally, as we are about to embark on the next leg of our road trip, I feel more certain that returning to NYC is not in the best interest of my family right now. It's been quite a journey this month. If I could track my thoughts over the last four weeks in miles, they would definitely outnumber our countless biking mileage.
Also, worth noting is that when we first arrived on the island no one, and I mean no one, wore a mask besides the five of us. It was quite eerie seeing droves of people mask-less during the Covid outbreak. How did they miss the memo? People were out and about in large groups, without masks and not following social distancing guidelines. We were speechless. Over the last two weeks, we have seen a huge change in patterns. Now, I would estimate that 50-60% of folks wear a mask on the small path that leads to the beach, in public outdoor spaces, and on the bike paths. Living here has also been a huge contrast from the ubiquitous NYC far left/liberal talk. Hearing anti-democrat rhetoric among people you walk by has certainly caught my attention. I am not insinuating one is better than the other, I just appreciate a new perspective.
We rented a house through BestNest by Beverly Serral, a rental service run by Beverly who lives part-time in NYC's West Village. The property is impeccably clean and very well stocked. We had all the cleaning supplies, toiletries, laundry and dishwasher pods, beach gear, and paper goods we could ever need for the entire month. Besides food, we did not have to buy a single item to keep the house running. I highly recommend renting through this company.
Before arriving, we ordered bikes for the month from Hilton Head Outfitters. They delivered the bikes to our property before we arrived and they will pick them up on our check out date. Bikes are a must on the island. We calculated at least 150 miles of bike riding over the past month. Sea Pines, the gated community we are in, has 17 miles of bike trails itself. I think Hilton Head Island has 60 miles of bike trails. We rode these bikes twice daily. We rode to the beach, to the Stoney Baynard Ruins, to the golf courses, to Greenwood Nature Preserve Park, to the different neighborhoods, to get ice cream, to get smoothies, to search for alligators, to see the horses at the stable, to Sea Pines Forest Preserve. We just rode and rode and rode and honestly, never ran out of things to see!
My husband and I grew up in South Florida where the summers are sweltering hot in August. We expected a hot and humid experience in South Carolina as well. Instead, the weather has proven to be just perfect. The island is well shaded by the oak trees keeping us cool at all hours of the day. The evening temperatures are just right and the days are not too humid. My favorite weather pattern here is the almost daily rain shower- mother nature calling everyone in for a quick siesta. We got caught in the rain on our bikes, on a boat, on a golf cart and with each shower, I felt exhilarated by the warm raindrops that showered our bodies with its' kisses. The rain disappears as quickly as it comes, hopefully, you'll be lucky enough to catch it!
We frequented the private beach at Sea Pines. To avoid the crowds we tried to arrive by
9:30 am, which is mostly low tide yielding large stretches of sand and ample space to social distance. The water is beyond refreshing, a perfect temperature especially for folks like me that hate cold waters! A couple of times we visited South Beach in the evening to enjoy the sunset and a different landscape. This last week jellyfish decided to hit the beach and unfortunately, my husband, daughter, and older son each got stung on different occasions. Regardless, we prevailed and kept answering the ocean's beckoning to come into her waters. (The first two pictures below show a less crowded beach early in the morning. The one to the left is what it looked like by 11:30 am, time to go! Below are pictures of South Beach.)
Just recently I began to feel comfortable ordering take out. On Saturday nights we ordered food from either Truffles or Chow Daddy because we loved their selection and quality. Over the last two weeks, we began a tradition of running one mile as a family to Lowcountry Produce Market & Cafe to order smoothies. Every Wednesday after dinner we rode over to Salty Dog for the best ice cream I have ever had. It is so good that I grabbed my own scoop each time rather than just snatching a bite from my kids. Besides these places, we really didn't experiment with much food-wise but we absolutely loved everything we had at all of these spots.
In previous posts, I mentioned day trips to Savannah, Dafuskie Island, and Old Bluffton. Another favorite adventure was a visit to Pinckney Island, about a twenty-minute drive from Hilton Head. We hiked four miles throughout this natural preserve. Although we didn't spot any gators we did see dozens of different bird species and even deer! Pinckney is a wonderful hiking spot and a great way to connect with nature and your fellow walking partners. I should mention that Hilton Head Island is chock full of wildlife. On a regular basis, we would spot alligators, a plethora of bird variations, deer (I had no idea there would be deer here!), and dolphins. Yes! Dolphins in the wild! One morning we were at the beach and we saw a pod swimming 100 feet from the shore! When you're out on a boat you will see dolphins as often as you will spot birds. To me, this is drawn to the island in itself!
(First row of pictures are of Pickney. Others are of wildlife we spotted in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island).
After watching "The Big Year" on a family movie night we thought it would be fun to head over to The Audubon Newhall Preserve, break up into teams and see who can photograph the most types of bird species. Although we failed miserably at spotting birds (the winning team photographed only three birds) we succeeded at finding huge spiders in webs, turtles, fish, and water snakes. Initially, I was afraid to be left alone with my daughter because we read about the massive alligators that live in the pond and roam around, but once I talked myself out of being a scaredy-cat we had a blast walking the different trails in search of wildlife. The coolest part of this experience was the cacophonous singing of the birds. We knew they were all around us but just couldn't quite spot them in the towering trees.
Another memorable excursion was a private boat ride to Vanishing Island with Dolphin Tours Hilton Head. Our captain led us to sea alongside dancing dolphins until we arrived at Vanishing Island, an island in the middle of the ocean that only appears during low tide. As soon as we hopped off the boat we knew we were in for a real treat. The first twenty feet or so of sand were filled with starfish. I have never seen starfish move before. They wiggle and move like octopuses as they search for their way back into the water. The sand bar was also filled with sand dollars that the kids loved collecting along the way (we made sure they only picked up the dead ones and only brought two home with them). We were literally standing on a sandbar in the middle of the ocean! Instead of eating our lunch on the boat ride back, we decide to have it picnic style, on the sand bar because when would we ever have the chance again to have lunch surrounded by starfish in the middle of the sea? This is a must-do when visiting Hilton Head Island.
Regardless of the multitude of activities the island offers, some of the best moments were spent at home. Every day, after lunch me and the kids spend one hour reading. It is fun to be at a point where we can all share and switch off on the books we are enjoying. After reading they spent thirty minutes of workbook activity time. On Friday and Saturday evenings we continued our family movie night tradition, which we implemented when we were in Long Island at the start of the pandemic. Another fun home activity has been journal writing. Before starting our road trip I bought a journal for each of the kiddos and they write an entry every day. Although they don't believe me now, I know they will one day love looking back at these entries. This blog is my own journal capturing our memories, adventures, struggles, challenges, and evolution during this pandemic. Pool time was also a favorite home activity. Personally, my favorite pool memories were the days my daughter and I swam alone and pretended to swim like mermaids, or played lifeguard, or teacher- she seriously taught me how to do so many things! For example, thanks to her I learned how to do a headstand against the pool wall. This is not so easy since our bodies are buoyant! Of course, the countless meals we have eaten at home together are one of the things I am most grateful for during this pandemic. Since mid-March, we have sat at the dining room table together for three meals a day and miraculously have never run out of things to talk about. Overall, I think we had a great balance of indoor and outdoor time ensuring we were active while having enough downtime at home, which nothing can ever compete with.
With all that Hilton Head offers, you can easily spend a month getting lost on the island and in your thoughts. Enjoy!