Hilton Head Island or simply Hilton Head is a Lowcountry resort town located on an island of the same name in Beaufort County, South Carolina, USA. It is 20 miles (32 km) north of Savannah, Georgia and 95 miles (153 km) south of Charleston. The island gets its name from Captain William Hilton. In 1663, Captain Hilton identified a headland near the entrance to Port Royal Sound, which he named “Hilton’s Head” after himself. The island features 12 miles (19 km) of beachfront on the Atlantic Ocean and is a popular vacation destination. In 2004, an estimated 2.25 million visitors pumped more than $1.5 billion into the local economy. The year-round population was 37,099 at the 2010 census, although during the peak of summer vacation season the population can swell to 275,000. Over the past decade, the island’s population growth rate was 32%.
The island has a rich history that started with seasonal occupation by native Americans thousands of years ago, and continued with European exploration and the Sea Island Cotton trade. It became an important base of operations for the Union blockade of the Southern ports during the Civil War. Once the island fell to Union troops, hundreds of ex-slaves flocked to Hilton Head, which is still home to many ‘native islanders’, many of whom are descendants of freed slaves known as the Gullah (or Geechee) who have managed to hold onto much of their ethnic and cultural identity.
The Town of Hilton Head Island incorporated as a municipality in 1983 and is well known for its “eco-friendly” development. The town’s Natural Resources Division enforces the Land Management Ordinance which minimizes the impact of development and governs the style of buildings and how they are situated amongst existing trees. As a result, Hilton Head Island enjoys an unusual amount of tree cover relative to the amount of development. Approximately 70% of the island, including most of the tourist areas, is located inside gated communities. However, the town maintains several public beach access points, including one for the exclusive use of town residents, who have approved several multi-million dollar land-buying bond referendums to control commercial growth.
Hilton Head Island offers an unusual number of cultural opportunities for a community its size, including Broadway-quality plays at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, the 120-member full chorus of the Hilton Head Choral Society, the highly-rated Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, the largest annual outdoor, tented wine tasting event on the east coast, and several other annual community festivals. It also hosts the Heritage Golf Classic, a stop on the PGA Tour which is played on the Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines Resort.