On the coast of somewhere beautiful. Sure, it’s the name of a country song, but it fully embodies my vacation attitude. Of all the places in the world to visit, I prefer to be on the coast of somewhere beautiful. Turns out there are two such places to visit within a half a day’s drive from Atlanta. While separated only by one nautical mile of dark blue Atlantic waters, Hilton Head Island and Daufuskie Island, S.C., are worlds apart. Oh, they share the same characteristics … family friendly, a haven for golfers and spa-goers, cottage rentals and often luxurious accommodations. But that is where the similarities end. One island welcomes an influx of travelers during holiday breaks and summer vacations in search of endless dining, shopping and fun, while the other feels deserted and asks visitors to do nothing more than chill.
Downtime on Daufuskie
I am not a do-nothing kinda gal. I do not nap. I check e-mail constantly. And when I plan a vacation, I most often find myself booked solid with activities, shepherding my family to the next item on our itinerary in hopes of seeing everything there is to see. But Daufuskie Island is the place that even Type- A personalities like me can go to relax. Here is an island far removed from any hustle and bustle. In fact, cars are not welcome on this island, and besides the resort’s few restaurants and its general store, this is a place where families walk, bike or golf cart around, slowly moving themselves between the beach, pools, golf courses, spa and several strategically placed rocking chairs and hammocks affording ocean views and a cool breeze.
I was visiting the island with my family, which, quite honestly, worried me a bit. How in the world would I get all of our stuff on a ferry and to a cottage without my car? Traveling with a then-3 year old and a 22 month old, I had bags upon bags filled with extra clothes for the daily changes that were sure to ensue when my kids spilled breakfast, lunch and dinner upon themselves, not to mention potty training or diaper accidents. Of course, there were diapers, toys and kids’ food. I wasn’t sure this was the best option for our stay. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Upon arrival to the ferry dock located on Hilton Head Island (a second dock is provided in Savannah), there was ample parking and a welcoming staff who schlepped our plethora of bags away with the greatest of ease. From the car to the room, we wouldn’t have to lift a finger. With my biggest worry eroded, I was free to enjoy our stay, which began with an hour-long ferry ride complete with dolphins popping up throughout the journey as if on cue. Once docking on the island, a bus carried us for a 10-minute ride to the main resort for check in. Here, the plantation-style Melrose Inn announced the laid-back atmosphere that would continue throughout our stay. Although 52 spacious guest rooms offered breathtaking ocean views, we chose to stay in one of the cottages adjacent to the beach. Our home-away-from-home was one of a string of two to four-bedroom cottages complete with living and dining areas, a full-sized updated kitchen, washer and dryer and screened-in porches overlooking the ocean or golf course. (Oceanfront villas and rentals of estates are also available.)
Our ocean view was interrupted only by a few tall trees, most of which had woven hammocks filled with our neighbors swinging in the breeze and enjoying the view. Just down the lane, where fellow travelers in golf carts would pass with a wave, awaited a playground and kids’ cottage that we never found time for, as the three miles of beach and the pools were the only playground my children wanted to traverse. Two pools and a kiddie wading pool were serviced by the staff of the Beach Club, bringing cold drinks and tasty grub when the mood struck. The Beach Club also houses a fitness center and basketball and volleyball courts, but chasing after our little ones was the only exercise we needed during our stay.
With world-acclaimed golf, including Condé Nast Traveler naming Daufuskie as one of the top golf resorts in the world, my husband spent one afternoon hitting the links of the Melrose Course. Designed by Jack Nicklaus for what was formerly a private golf club to the elite prior to the resort’s purchase in the 1990s, the tight course winds through trees and water is one of two 18-hole courses providing golfers a year-round challenge. My afternoon in the pool with the kids wasn’t quite as strenuous as my husband’s afternoon. Still, I felt it only fair to sample a treatment at the resort’s Breathe Spa.
Far removed from the Inn and cottages, Breathe Spa is housed in another plantation- style building, where rocking chairs lure guests out of doors in bathrobes before and after treatments, including the signature Surf and Sand Body Polish, which, as the name suggests, utilizes natural beach elements to exfoliate and polish the skin.
Dining on the island is also a breeze, with four restaurants when we felt like being catered to and a general store making it easy to grill out and make dinner at “home.” The more formal Jack’s Place, located at the Melrose Clubhouse, seemed to be much too formal dining for my toddlers and I thought about leaving, but the wait staff reminded me that Daufuskie is for families, presenting us with children’s menus and pulling out my daughter’s chair for her to sit. Breakfast buffets at the Melrose Inn’s second floor dining room overlooking the great lawn, gazebo and eventually ocean, served up fresh fruits, bakery goods and standard morning fare. But my favorite was driving our cart barefoot to the general store and having a deli sandwich whipped up before me, grab- bing a couple of Coca-Colas and a bag of chips, then heading back to my cottage for lunch on the porch.
Daufuskie touts itself as being a departure from civilization, and folks visiting this island tell me this is what Hilton Head Island was before everyone discovered its secret. The slow, almost nonexistent pace of Daufuskie Island had my husband seriously consider extending our stay. Not only did it have a calming effect on us, our children seemed right at home and I lost that sixth sense a mother always has — to be on alert for danger — as this felt like the safest place on earth. I almost hate letting this secret out.
Hi-jinks on Hilton Head
After a few days of near solitude on Daufuskie, stepping off the ferry in Hilton Head to encounter a bit of traffic was a jolt to our systems. While Daufuskie was small and intimate, Hilton Head seemed larger and imposing (it’s only 12 miles long and 5 miles wide, however); a feeling that quickly faded as we were welcomed back to civilization at the Westin Resort and Spa, one of only a few hotels offering beach access. Most visitors to Hilton Head Island rent homes and cottages, especially in the Sea Pines Resort, which is home to the island’s famed lighthouse, striped in red and white like a barbershop pole. More than 6,000 villas, 3,000 hotel rooms, 1,000 timeshare units, 2 RV resorts and one campground illustrate the popularity of the island, as well as its capability to provide something for everyone. For families like us, the 412-room Westin was the perfect choice: two oceanside pools and a path directly to the beach were immediately available to us when the elevator doors opened, not to mention food and drink from Turtles Beach Bar & Grill. Of course, the fact that this Westin is the first in the United States to feature the hotel’s world-renowned Heavenly Spa didn’t hurt either.
We checked into our adjoining rooms, where mom and dad had a sitting area and a king-sized, down- covered bed, and the kids shared two queen-sized beds, also drenched in goose feathers. Our balconies overlooked the pool and the ocean with its white miles of wide beach strand stretching as far as our eyes could see. As dad and the kids promptly hit the beach, I took the time to ease myself from Daufuskie time in the serenity of Heavenly Spa. Sampling the signature Indigo massage, which combined a traditional full-body massage with rare iolite stones to channel my energy through Charka points and an indigo light casting a soft blue over the room, I could feel the vibrations of energy pass through me before succumbing to the powerful hands of my masseuse, who knew just how to remove my kinks.
After so much seclusion, we decided to venture out for shopping and dinner at the Sea Pines Resort. The heavily wooded island strives to preserve its natural envi- ronment, and city rules and regulations limit structure heights and paint colors, as evident in the signage of even chains like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. In fact, the island was the first eco-planned desti- nation in the country. While it looks more natural to the eye, it can make it difficult to navigate in the car, but we found our way to the southern tip of the island and Sea Pines, where a string of cars lined the gate to enter on what was sure to be a fun-filled Friday night.
We decided to see what all the fuss was about, heading directly to the South Beach Marina for dinner at the famous Salty Dog Café. The village of clapboard- style shops looked straight off the pages of a New England magazine as we pulled up a chair to get our fill of traditional beach grill food. Then it was off to Jake’s to purchase the must-have tees (the store has shirts for all sizes, including pups, as well as kitschy gear). We heard the shop- ping was even better at Harbour Town, where the lighthouse stands sentinel over the Liberty Oak. It is here that visitors come from miles to watch Gregg Russell perform children’s songs, a tradition that has brought back parents who once sat beneath the oak as children. More seafood restaurants and shopping can be found here, and I couldn’t resist doing some early holiday shopping, especially in the Christmas store, before finally sinking into one of the many rocking chairs overlooking the marina. From this perch, we could rock to the music coming from Russell, as well as the Jimmy Buffett-style performer at the Harborside Café. The scenery was made perfect by the setting sun that lit the sky in a variety of colors.
Hilton Head’s amenities seem endless. Countless golf courses like those found at Sea Pines, Hilton Head Plantation, Port Royal, Wexford, Indigo Run and the Palmetto Dunes, where the Westin was situated, could have kept my husband playing for weeks. Boat tours from morning dolphin cruises to sunset cruises could have had us on the water from morning until night, as well as charter fishing boats, dining cruises, kayaks, wave- runners and charter sailboats. Adventure Cove’s miniature golf and arcade games could have left my children’s heads spin- ning. And we could have hiked, biked and eaten our way into the next month, but instead, we let the island’s laidback side take hold and we quite simply planted ourselves beside the pool, the longest walk from our reclining chairs to the beach when we needed a change of scenery. Turns out Hilton Head Island is just as good as Daufuskie in giving visitors a place in which to do nothing at all but just relax.
They may be two different islands, but South Carolina’s Daufuskie and Hilton Head both aim to please and this family returned to the mainland with smiles on our faces.