Hilton Head vs. Virginia Beach (The Best Vacation Option)

Hilton Head or Virginia Beach, which is best to visit? Both are popular beach destinations. 

Each location has gorgeous beaches, great water activities, beautiful golf courses, festive events, and captivating attractions, but where should you go?

While deciding where to book your east coast vacation, let’s discuss what you can expect from Virginia Beach and Hilton Head. 

By the end, you’ll better understand which checks off more of your requirements for a fantastic trip.

Here are the facts…

We’ll start by getting acquainted with a few facts from each region:   

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

  • Total Area: 69.2 sq. miles
  • Population: ~38,000
  • Over 60 miles of public passageways and trails
  • Over 40 golf courses; more than 23 championship courses
  • It has13 miles of coastline

Virginia Beach, Virginia

  • Total Area: 497 sq. miles
  • Population: ~450,000
  • It’s the largest city in Virginia
  • Climate is humid subtropical
  • 28 miles of public coastline

Now, let’s examine things you’ll find at Hilton Head and Virginia Beach across four tourist-centered categories: attractions, beaches, golf, and watersports.

Hilton Head vs. Virginia Beach: Attractions

Hilton Head’s Shelter Cover Town Centre and Coligny Plaza are primary destinations for tourists looking to enjoy scenery shopping, dining, and local events and festivals. 

Harbour Town Lighthouse, the most famous landmark in Hilton Head, features an observation deck that allows visitors to peer out over the Atlantic and a museum and gift shop.

If you want something to do with kids in Hilton Head, head to Sandbox Interactive Children’s Museum. They’ll enjoy racing toy cars, art rooms, and shopping at a mock supermarket.

The Coastal Discovery Museum is also an excellent place for kids to learn about the natural history and discover different species of wildlife across the island.

Another prominent landmark on Hilton Head is the Liberty Oak tree. The centuries-old tree is a highly sought-after site for wedding ceremonies and live concerts.  

Virginia Beach’s 3-mile boardwalk, home to numerous hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues, is a must-visit place.

Likewise, Town Center is a popular destination for dining, shopping, and events. You’ll find the Funny Bone Comedy Club, Zeiders American Dream Theater, and APEX Entertainment as popular places to visit in the area.   

Other unique things to do in Virginia Beach include:

  • A nature hike at First Landing State Park
  • Riding the Ferris Wheel at Atlantic Fun Park
  • Exploring art murals in the Vibe Creative District

Virginia Beach’s Military Aviation Museum showcases real warplanes that can still fly until this day. The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art celebrates local, national, and international artists. Kids can enjoy interactive exhibits, massive antique toys, and train collections at the Children’s Museum of Virginia.

If you’re fond of animals, check out the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, or visit Black Bay National Wildlife Refuge to explore diverse habitats and wildlife species.

For landmarks, you’ll want to grab a photo at the iconic King Neptune Statue and at Cape Henry Lighthouse.

Finally, you can’t ignore the fact that Busch Gardens is only about an hour’s drive from VB…so there’s that!

VERDICT: Virginia Beach wins big when it comes to the best attractions. Not only do visitors have more variety, but you’ll also find that most of the main attractions are conveniently located oceanside or near popular beaches. So you could easily check off popular attractions each day.

Hilton Head vs. Virginia Beach: Beaches

Hilton Head’s 13 miles of beautiful public beaches are one of the most popular reasons to visit the Grand Strand. 

You’ll want to visit Coligny Beach, known for its oceanfront bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues. In addition, it has splash pads, volleyball courts, and many bicycle rental shops. 

Love to surf? Folly Field Beach Park and Burkes Beach are popular hotspots.

Furthermore, you’ll find no shortage of picnic areas and grills at many of Hilton Head’s other beaches, like Driessen Beach Park and Islanders Beach Park. 

Plus, extra amenities at these beaches include vending machines, playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts, and walk-up restaurants that serve burgers and drinks.  

Virginia Beach is more than one stretch of a single beach. Instead, it hosts 28 miles of public beaches along its shores.

Most of the action takes place at The Oceanfront, home to many hotels, dining, entertainment options, and Virginia Beach’s famous boardwalk. It’s also popular for surfing, cycling, rollerblading, and scenic jogs along the shores.     

Grommet Island Park and Little Island Park of Sandbridge Beach are perfect getaways for families. Each offers picnic areas, grills, courts for various sports, fishing areas, and sprawling playgrounds for the kiddos.

Virginia Beach has far quieter and cozier beaches along its coast than more action-packed areas. For example, Chesapeake Bay, Chick’s Beach, North End, and Croatan Beach are known for gentler waves and smaller crowds. 

However, the beaches still provide basic beach amenities and fun activities like surfing and fishing. This relaxed vibe is also why locals favor these spots.

VERDICT: Virginia Beach scores again. Its coastline stretches much further, meaning you’ve got more beach options to choose from while staying close to popular places in town. Moreover, the Virginia Beach Boardwalk provides better activities and entertainment along its shores than Hilton Head.     

Virginia Beach vs. Hilton Head: Golf

Hilton Head has 40 public golf courses, with more than 23 championship golf courses.

Established course architects designed the courses, including Robert Trent Jones Sr., Jack Nicklaus, and Pete Dye.

With those kinds of numbers and designers, it’s no surprise that Hilton Head hosts the RBC Heritage PGA Tour event each year. As of today, it’s the only PGA TOUR event in all of South Carolina.

Furthermore, whether a novice or expert, anyone can hit the links and sharpen their skills with help from top teaching professionals at several top golf schools in the area.

Virginia Beach is home to five public golf courses owned by the city: Virginia Beach National Golf Club, Stumpy Lake Golf Course, Red Wing Lake Golf Course, Kempsville Green Golf Course, and Bow Creek Golf Course.  

The courses, designed by golf legends, incorporate bentgrass greens, slopes, wetland areas, and fairways to create beautiful and challenging landscapes for golf enthusiasts.

If you prefer a more leisurely, fun approach to golf, try one of the miniature golf courses around Virginia Beach Boardwalk. Shipwreck Golf, King Neptune’s Indoor Backlight 3-D Mini Golf, Jungle Golf of Virginia Beach, or Topgolf are popular options.

VERDICT: Hilton Head is the clear winner. Its prestigious golf courses are highly sought after by golf experts across the country. Moreover, playing on a PGA TOUR course designed by legendary designers is as good and challenging as it gets.   

Virginia Beach vs. Hilton Head: Water Sports + Activities

Hilton Head is widely renowned for fishing, dolphin tours, and fun water sports and activities.

Prepare to embark on a beautiful bottlenose dolphin tour in the region’s marshes or link with a charter fishing boat for a half-day of fun in the shallow waterways or deep Atlantic waters.

Additionally, there are plenty of places to rent kayaks, catamarans, paddle boards, and jet skis for exhilarating adventures in the ocean or outback.  

Virginia Beach’s water sports and activities include fishing, paddle boarding, parasailing, dolphin tours, kayaking adventures, and whale watching.

Virginia Beach’s best places to surf include:

  • 1st Street Jetty
  • VA Beach Pier
  • Croatan Beach

There are plenty of surf camps, too, that the entire family can enjoy.

For kayaking, the region’s local waterways, bays, and shores off the Atlantic provide stunning views of Virginia Beach from the water. You can join guided or self-guided kayak trips. It’s best to explore the calm waters of the Narrows and Back Bay, paddle alongside dolphins at Chesapeake Bay, or launch directly into the Atlantic.  

Love to fish? Grab a spot on one of four fishing piers or hitch a ride on a charter boat for a half-day fishing expedition out on the waters.

Plus, visitors can experience whale-watching tours along the Atlantic from December through March and dolphin tours all year round.

VERDICT: Both offer great excursions out on the water, but Virginia Beach gets the W for whale-watching tours. Otherwise, since both offer the same activities, you’ll want to decide based on the surrounding scenery. For that, I’ll also roll with Virginia Beach.   


Which is better for vacation Hilton Head or Virginia Beach? It boils down to the type of vacation you want. If you want a bustling scene with more activities and action, VB is the spot for you. But if you want a more relaxed vibe with fewer people, Hilton Head is your spot. Both beach destinations are one of a kind. It just depends on the vibe you are after.

Featured Image Credit: ©[ABEMOS] via Canva.com

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About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not 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.