Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach: Ultimate Guide to the Best Vacation Spot

Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach, which do you pick? If you are planning an exciting vacation on the shores of South Carolina, you have come to the right place. You can’t wait to hit the beach and chow down on some tasty barbecue and fresh seafood you’ve heard so much about.

And, of course, there are beautiful golf courses. Ever played a few holes on a jaw-dropping oceanfront course? Now that sounds amazing.   

On top of that, you want the best destination for late-night drinks and dancing on the beach in a relaxing, family-friendly atmosphere. Plus, activities like cycling, hiking, and fun adventures in the water, like kayaking, paddle boarding, and parasailing.  

So now it’s time for some research. You’ve landed here because there are two places that best describe the setting you’re looking for: Hilton Head Island and Myrtle Beach. But which is better for you to visit?

Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach: The Facts

Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach are popular travel destinations for locals and people across the country. So when comparing the two, let’s first discuss the facts.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

  • Total area: 69.2 sq. miles
  • Population in 2022: 225,300
  • Receives 15 million visitors annually, with June – August as peak months
  • Referred to as the “Grand Strand”
  • Founding location of Sports Illustrated

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

  • Total area: 23.69 sq. miles
  • Population in 2022: 408,000
  • Has over 60 miles of beach and 90 golf courses
  • Considered the seafood capital of South Carolina
  • Hilton Head Island and Myrtle Beach are around a 4.5-hour drive from each other

Now, let’s examine things you’ll find at Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach across a few categories: beaches, attractions, golfing, watersports, and nearby places to visit.

Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach: Beaches

Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach are South Carolina’s best coastal getaways. They are the perfect places to unwind and enjoy exceptional scenic views of the Atlantic.  

Hilton Head has over 12 miles of pristine white sand beaches along its coastline. The beaches are public, though some are privy to private access. Visitors can partake in water activities like jet skiing, sailing, and parasailing at many of its locations along the shores.    

Coligny Beach is the most popular beach to visit at Hilton Head and is often seen across “top beaches in the USA” lists. Visitors can enjoy splash pads, bicycle rentals, volleyball courts, and a plaza home to various eateries and oceanfront bars. 

Folly Field Beach Park is a family beach favored by surfers and those looking to swim in the ocean.

Burkes Beach is also known for its strong waves suitable for surfing. Some beaches, like Driessen Beach Park and Islanders Beach Park, are best known for their picnic tables and grills, while others have amenities like vending machines, playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts, and fenced dog parks. 

Most of the beaches at Hilton Head have seasonal lifeguards and outdoor showers.       

Myrtle Beach has over 60 miles of public beaches along the Grand Strand.

Myrtle Beach is the most popular beach to visit, home to an oceanfront amusement park, scenic boardwalk, shopping and entertainment centers, and fresh seafood restaurants. Plenty of watersports like banana boating, jet skiing, and parasailing are available.

Surfside Beach is a revered family-friendly beach that hosts occasional fireworks celebrations and festivals throughout the year. At the same time, Cherry Grove has taken on the title of one of the prettiest beaches in South Carolina. 

Looking to fish? Garden City Beach’s 668-foot-long pier is a hotspot for anglers and even offers live band performances in the evening. 

For a quieter experience on the shores, Litchfield Beach is perfect for plopping down on a beach chair, cracking open a good book, and listening to the waves in the distance.          

VERDICT: Myrtle Beach gets all the points here. You’ll find far more fun attractions, boardwalks, and water activities lining its 60-mile stretch of coastline. There are also more crowds to enjoy activities while still having enough space to find a quiet and cozy spot on the sand.   

Myrtle Beach vs. Hilton Head: Attractions

Don’t just think of Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach as popular beach destinations. There are also plenty of exciting things to do and places to visit.

Hilton Head’s Harbour Town Lighthouse is a prominent landmark and a fascinating place to explore. It features an observation deck overlooking the Atlantic, a museum, and a gift shop.

At the Coastal Discovery Museum, visitors can learn about the natural history and wildlife across the island through interactive experiences.

The most popular place to enjoy shopping, leisure strolls, dining, events/festivals, and stunning sunsets is Shelter Cove Town Centre, especially during summer evenings and nights. Coligny Plaza also shares the same notoriety.  

Kids will enjoy racing toy cars, art rooms, and ‘grocery shopping’ at the Sandbox Interactive Children’s Museum, and numerous outdoor playgrounds are scattered around the island.

You’ll also want to check out Liberty Oak tree. A centuries-old moss-cloaked tree that’s hosted wedding ceremonies, live concerts, and the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina for performing and visual arts shows.

Myrtle Beach’s top-rated attractions include Carolina Opry, a high-energy theatre show that combines music, comedy, dance, and special effects. In addition, nature-orientated family favorites Ripley’s Aquarium and Alligator Adventure are must-visits.

Undoubtedly, Broadway on the Beach is the most popular place to visit at Hilton Head any time of year. A 350-acre shopping and entertainment complex home to specialty shops, restaurants, movie theaters, scenic boardwalk views, events/festivals, and a 187-foot tall SkyWheel (Ferris Wheel) at Pavilion Park.

You’ll also find plenty of boutiques, restaurants, nightlife venues, and shows at Barefoot Landing. And if you want to experience heart-pumping rides and attractions, check out Free Fall Thrill Park, or better yet, get splashed at Myrtle Waves Water Park.  

Searching for family-friendly things to do? How about dinner and a live show at Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament? Plus, the Ripley brand is prevalent across Myrtle Beach. So feel free to let the kids enjoy trips to Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odd-itorium, Haunted Adventure, and Moving Theatre. 

VERDICT: Both locations are jam-packed with attractions. But if you’re traveling with the kiddos, Myrtle Beach scores points for offering more options that the entire family can enjoy. Nevertheless, I’d recommend Hilton Head as a better destination for couples.   

Myrtle Beach vs. Hilton Head: Golf

South Carolina is a premiere golf destination. Although it’s home to hundreds of golf courses, the best places to tee off in the Palmetto State lie directly on its picturesque Atlantic coastline.

Hilton Head is outfitted with 33 world-class golf courses across Lowcountry. Twenty-four are championship golf courses designed by prominent course architects, including Robert Trent Jones Sr., Jack Nicklaus, and Pete Dye.

Plus, whether a novice or expert, young or old, anyone looking to sharpen their golf skills can take lessons from top teaching professionals using state-of-the-art resources at several prominent golf schools in the area.

Best of all, every year since 1969, Hilton Head has hosted the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, currently the only PGA TOUR event in South Carolina, at Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort.   

Myrtle Beach has been dubbed the golf capital of the world. With a whopping 90 golf courses, it’s become one of the country’s top golf destinations. It has the backing of multiple awards and high rankings to prove it, including being named in the “Top 200 Resort Golf Courses in the U.S.” by Golfweek.

Some of its courses, like The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, have previously hosted U.S. Women’s Open and Senior PGA Championships. And like Hilton Head, many golf resorts have been designed by legendary course architects, including Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, and Jack Nicklaus.

Additionally, Myrtle Beach is home to over 50 mini golf courses. So the entire family can enjoy a friendly but competitive game on a themed course. During summer, many courses along the Grand Strand offer a “kids play free” deal.  

VERDICT: When it comes to golf, choosing between Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach is tough. You’ll definitely want to visit Myrtle Beach’s mini golf courses if you have kids or are a young couple that loves to go a few rounds on a themed course.

If you consider yourself an amateur or intermediate player, Myrtle Beaches 90 golf courses are favorable. But if you’re an expert golfer, the prestigious courses at Hilton Head will be your best bet for a fun challenge.  

Myrtle Beach vs. Hilton Head: Watersports and Other Activities

Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach offer fun water sports and activities, from relaxing boat trips to adrenaline-pumping excursions on the waves.   

Hilton Head is perfect for a memorable bottlenose dolphin tour along the region’s salt marsh ecosystem.

Visitors can take charter fishing boats for a fun day out on the water. Boating over shallow creeks or heading dozens of miles out in deep Atlantic waters to catch mackerel, stingrays, and sharks.

Furthermore, Hilton Head offers tandem or guided kayaking, catamaran, and paddle boarding tours, as well as rentals for tubing, jet skiing, and sailing aboard an American Cup boat.

Myrtle Beach provides every bit of water sports and activities you’ll find at Hilton Head, including dolphin tours, surfing, banana boats, parasailing, jet skiing, and kayaking.

Myrtle Beach gets bonus points for its additional excursions. Shark Wake Park, a large floating obstacle course with slides and climbing towers, and scuba diving tours. 

VERDICT: Myrtle Beach is better for families and young travelers for water sports and activities. Many activities will take place in the Atlantic and along the Intercoastal Waterways. 

Hilton Head also offers tours and activities along the shores of the Atlantic. Many activities occur in marsh systems and outbacks, which may be better for older travelers and couples looking for a quieter, romantic adventure on the water.

Myrtle Beach vs Hilton Head: Day Trips

You can take plenty of exciting day trips from Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, but which is closer to the top travel destinations?

Hilton Head is a 2-hour drive from Charleston, SC, and a mere 1-hour drive from Savannah, Georgia.

Savannah is another stunning coastal city teeming with well-preserved architecture and historical buildings, including traditional southern Antebellum-styled homes, sprawling manicured parks, fascinating food culture, majestic oak trees, and scenic riverboat cruises.  

Myrtle Beach is roughly a 2.5-hour drive from Charleston, SC, and a 2-hour drive from Wilmington, North Carolina.

Wilmington is another coastal city with beautiful beaches. It’s best known for its mouthwatering fresh seafood, pictorial riverfronts, close-knit community, breweries, and a popular film location for stories in Antebellum South.

VERDICT: Hilton Head scores big here. Savannah’s short drive away makes it a must-do day trip if you plan on spending a few days in the region. While Wilmington is just a 2-hour drive from Myrtle Beach, that extra hour can persuade you not to visit, even though you probably should!  

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About the author
Steve
Steve is the owner of Paddle About, a blog that's all about helping people get out and enjoy nature. He loves to kayak, camp, hike and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not out exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.