Family-friendly musician Gregg Russell might be the luckiest man on earth. Nearly every summer night from Memorial Day through Labor Day, the Hilton Head legend gets to perform tunes from his toe-tapping catalog under the large Liberty Oak in beautiful Harbour Town, the symbolic center of stunning The Sea Pines Resort, a mixed-use residential community and hotel. Yes, the good folks he’s serenading are pretty fortunate, too, but we’ve figured out Russell’s game — he entertains here so he can reside in South Carolina’s version of paradise. Sounds like a fair trade to us. But the good thing about Sea Pines is that there’s plenty of room for everybody under its shady oak. It doesn’t matter if you’re a full-time resident or merely in the neighborhood for a few days; by the time you leave, you’ll be singing the sweet sounds of Hilton Head, too.
Situated between the Calibogue Sound and Atlantic Ocean, Hilton Head tends to get a bit steamy. Needless to say, when you step into Sea Pines’ Inn & Club at Harbour Town, the first thing you’ll notice is the glorious AC-produced breeze. Ironically enough, the next sensation you feel is one of warmth — not from the mercury but from the pleasant staffers at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star luxury hotel working to make your check-in as smooth as possible.
Someone will offer you a bottled water or tea and point out the pool right past the lobby. But before your mind drifts too far away, head to your room. With just 60 rooms and one suite, the Inn is relatively small, but it’s a luxurious Lowcountry retreat. Neutral tones pepper the bedroom while granite countertops and glass-enclosed showers highlight the bathroom. Many units offer patios that have two chairs and a splendid view of Harbour Town Golf Links, home of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage tournament every April (if you want to take a swing on the famous course, you’ll have to visit in September, when it will reopen after being re-grassed).
Gaze to your right and you’ll see your next stop, Harbour Town Clubhouse. Lunch will happen at Links, one of the many headliners of the recently opened golfer’s paradise. At 26,000 square feet of reclaimed West Virginia oak and soft coastal hues, the clubhouse features a restaurant, a 4,600-square-foot ballroom, an oil painting gallery of past RBC Heritage winners and a locker room so pristine you’d think that Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth were regulars.
After feasting your eyes on all the lavish sights, settle into a table that overlooks the greens. And before racking your brain over whether or not you should order something light, go with the bison burger. It’s easily one of the tastiest we’ve ever eaten. The simple but masterfully prepared patty topped with fresh butter lettuce and horseradish white cheddar will leave you pondering seconds. But once you realize you have truffle fries and a mango-strawberry smoothie still to go, you’ll think better of it. In the rare chance you’re not in mood for a burger, the lunch menu overflows with dishes that take a world-class take on American cuisine.
Once you drag yourself from your chair and go outside, you’ll notice the iconic white-and-red-striped Harbour Town Lighthouse between some trees. Walk along the winding path through a stretch of villas — Sea Pines is loaded with private residences — and around a yacht basin until you get to Harbour Town. Like something from a Pat Conroy novel, the happy hamlet is just all kinds of cute. You’ll find a boutique selling summer dresses. There’s a playground and an ice cream shop for the kiddos. There are boats that take you on dolphin tours and even a pirate ship.
Still, the marquee attraction is the lighthouse, a 45-year-old structure that has come to symbolize Hilton Head. As you make the 90-foot ascent, read a brief history of the building and South Carolina as a whole. But no words can express the 360-degree beauty you see atop the lighthouse. At one spot, you notice stand-up paddleboarders in the water; at another, you’ll spy Harbour Town’s 18th hole; and at another, you can see the tree where Russell’s magical sing-alongs occur.
By the time you make the 15-minute walk back to your room, it should be 3 or 4 p.m. If we were talking about anywhere else, we’d probably tell you to stay clear of the beach at such a peak time, but the Inn & Club at Harbour Town recently debuted a beach concierge service that washes away any hassle of finding a park or getting a decent spot in the crowded sand. Andrei (or any of the other helpful attendants for that matter) will not only find you a comfortable position on the beach, but he’ll also equip your group with towels, chairs and umbrellas, and even set up a time to pick you up when you’re done — and it’s all complimentary. Of course, with all the offerings at the just-debuted Sea Pines Beach Club — the site has a retail shop, grab-and-go Surfside Market, Ocean Lounge and spectacular seafood eatery Coast — we’re not sure that you’ll ever want to leave.
Have a detailed peek at Coast’s menu before heading back. Though the establishment has a resort-casual feel (see tan chairs, exposed wood beams, nautical knickknacks on the walls), its menu takes a serious look at the sea. Choices range from grilled tuna steaks to lobster and shrimp pasta, but the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Atlantic ensure that any meal will be a memorable one.
If you want your dinner experience to have a more formal feel, look at the convenient Sea Pines Trolley’s schedule (the shuttle runs until midnight during the summer) and organize a time to get to Live Oak, yet another fresh epicurean endeavor at the resort. Located at the new Plantation Golf Club, this cottage-like eatery emits refinement through a 35-foot rotunda, a breathtaking porch overlooking the 18th hole at Heron Point by Pete Dye, and a kitchen serving freshly shucked oysters, locally snagged grouper and other Lowcountry-inspired bites. Finish the evening off with a refreshing Grey Goose Back Nine (vodka, sweet tea and a splash of lemon) and you’ll forget the fact that you made it through a day with a 98-degree heat index.
Before the temperature rises too much, choose among a host of options for a morning workout: you can hop on one of the bikes and pedal around the campus; you could play one of the three renowned public golf courses (beyond Harbour Town and Heron Point, there’s also the esteemed Ocean Course); or you can lace up the sneakers for a few sets at The Sea Pines Racquet Club, a tennis facility overseen by 1971 U.S. Open winner and 1972 Wimbledon champ Stan Smith. Even if the legend isn’t teaching a class the morning you’re there, the pro shop and 21 clay courts have plenty to keep you busy.
After a few hours swinging your racket or putter, you’ll need to shower up for the rest of the day. As soon as you do that, go down to the lobby and speak to a representative with the BMW Resort Driving Tour, a partnership between the car brand and the Hilton Head hotel running through September that allows guests to borrow one of the of nine models for a three-hour test drive. Try to score your reservation for 6 p.m. You’ll be long back from exploring town by then.
When you leave the property, head for bustling William Hilton Parkway for lunch at Java Burrito Company. Keep your eyes peeled for the shopping plaza; because of strict building codes, most signage and structure exteriors look about the same. (For example, you’ll find a McDonald’s but you won’t see any golden arches.) But trust us, any scavenger hunt for the Mexican grill will prove worthwhile. If you could imagine a Chipotle undertaking a massive, industrial-inspired renovation and adding a cozy coffee shop, you’ll get a feel for the space. Russell doesn’t have a song dedicated to the delicious local snapper tacos yet, but he might want to consider it. Burritos made from sustainably raised chicken and beef are music to your taste buds, too.
Not a 12-minute drive from the restaurant is the Coastal Discovery Museum, an attraction for anyone in the car who wants to know more about the region’s culture and critters. Through an interactive museum, three boardwalks that lead onto Jarvis Creek, an impressive butterfly sanctuary and a host of lectures and tours, you can learn lots about the Lowcountry in a few hours.
Drive back to the Inn to relax and wash off the gator and snake you touched. Try not to think too intensely about the crabs you just befriended because dinner is at Skull Creek Boathouse, a crustacean lover’s dream that locals have flooded for the past few years. The laidback restaurant doesn’t take kindly to stuffiness or reservations, so throw on your shorts and plan for a bit of a wait if you don’t time your trip just right. Whenever you get to your seat overlooking the water, you’ll find a menu filled with fresh catches. From salmon ceviche and tuna sashimi to pecan-crusted mahi mahi and Maine lobster, the kitchen certainly knows its way around the docks. And unlike some places that have a bounty of dinner options, Skull Creek consistently delivers on taste — the seafood chowder blends flavors wonderfully while butterfly shrimp couldn’t be more golden with a paintbrush.
As you make your way across the Charles Fraser Bridge to get back to the Inn, one of Russell’s popular songs, like “When I Grow Up,” might come to mind. There’s no harm in singing along to the chorus. Just remember that his easygoing vocals and lighthearted guitar plucks come from decades of experience around Hilton Head. You’ll be humming along with only two days of ecstasy under your belt.