Hilton Head Island, S.C. | Travel | Smithsonian

Hilton Head Island, S.C.

A remarkable population who have brought their love of art, music and learning to create a remarkably rich culture for a small town

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Most people know Hilton Head Island as a resort with 12 miles of beach, 300 plus tennis courts, and more than 30 golf courses, the most famous being Harbor Town. If they're some of the at 3 million who visit here each year, they've found most residential areas are protected by guards and gates, signs for and entrances to shopping areas are hard to see, hidden behind banks of trees that line the main road and when night falls, no street lights illuminate the way. But the Hilton Head the 36,000 or so residents know is so much more. Yes, the main beach is beautiful, protected by sand dunes and a town government that controls growth. But the true beauty here is the elegant live oak branches which drape spanish moss over roads and yards and edges of the marshland that surrounds the rest of the island. The beauty is in the view of millions of oyster beds during low tide, Great Blue Herons swooping over your car as you pass a pond where an alligator suns himself and cormorants dry their outstretched wings. Walk along the islands north bluff and Port Royal Sound and see pelicans gliding inches about the water, looking like Klingon War Ships in search of prey while a bald eagle and an osprey vie for territory nearby. The physical beauty only enhances the islands other assets; a remarkable population who have brought their love of art, music and learning to create a remarkably rich culture for a small town. We have a wonderful symphony orchestra that not only maintains a full concert schedule between October and May, but also promotes a youth symphony and an annual international piano competition which draws competitors from all over the world. For variety, there's a jazz club on island, chamber music concerts, an arts center that produces spectacular shows, a youth community theatre, a huge community chorus as well as several other choral groups, multiple art galleries and exhibits for many local artists. Probably the most important aspect of town life is the commitment of so many to spending time giving back a little of what they have. A local doctor started an organization called Volunteers in Medicine which provides health care to those without other options. There is always a habitat for humanity project, numerous thrift shops run by volunteers for the humane association, cancer, some local churches, etc. Finally, there are clubs to cover just about everything else from boating, birding, rowing, history, collecting (anything), plus a life-long learning organization whose members talk about subjects ranging form the CIA to the Civil War. This is a truly remarkable place for a small town, my small town.

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