A Birthday Trip to Hilton Head

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The beach has healing properties beyond the salty air, wouldn’t you agree? I know I’m not the only one that looks out at its vastness and feels something greater than me.

When Dad passed away in May (honestly that still feel so weird to type and makes my eyes sting), I came home and told David I needed a beach trip on the calendar immediately. We booked a place in Hilton Head for my birthday weekend. We invited Mom and my heart jumped when she accepted. It would be my first birthday without him. It would give me a milestone to hold on for and a location that I knew we’d feel connected to him. It was set.

Last week we packed the car and took the four hour drive in the rain to get there. After viewing the forecast, we had low expectations of the trip, as it called for a lot of rain. We packed board games and vodka and were determined to make the best of it. Yet somehow Mother Nature smiled down on us and we ended up with pretty incredible weather (by our standards- 70’s and overcast) almost the entire time.

David, the girls, and I arrived Wednesday afternoon. We were pleased when our rental appeared to be as described! This four bedroom/three bath house is within the Sea Pines community.
Pros: excellent location (2 miles to Coligny Square, 3 miles to Harbor Town, and a hundred yards from the beach via your own private path plus you can see the ocean through the trees from the porch), large bedrooms with en suite baths, clean and well kept, great washer and dryer, air conditioning worked beautifully, has a pool, rocking chairs on the back porch.
Cons: the kitchen in tiny (while it has a nice, new fridge, it’s not conducive to much cooking), it’s dated and could use some upgrades to the bathrooms.

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We wasted no time unpacking our things and rushing down to the beach. Again, we thought it was going to pour the whole time, so we wanted to be outside as much as we possibly could. Knowing we were going to dinner soon, I didn’t let Kaitlyn change into her suit. Mistake. Within minutes she was drenched from the waves, but her pure joy in doing so meant I couldn’t even be a little upset. She rinsed off and jumped in the pool upon our return to the house before finally drying off and putting on clothes for dinner.

With the weather looking clear we took our bikes to eat in Coligny Square at The Sandbar. Though the reviews are good, I’d give it a 3/5 stars. The food was OK, the service was OK, but the live music was fun! We ordered drinks and oysters and while neither Hailey nor Kaitlyn was particular thrilled with them, I was proud of them for giving them a try. We biked back after dinner in the dark, which was VERY dark, despite our two flashlights, but the girls thought it was the grandest of adventures!

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Thursday morning we woke up and drank coffee on the back porch watching the waves until the girls woke up around 8:30, begging to bike. We had a small breakfast and took off, headed to Harbor Town. You know those places that offer comfort because they stay exactly the way you remember them from your childhood? Harbor Town is one of those places for me.

The girls played on the swing set that I recall playing on myself, and next to the swing I pushed Hailey on when she was a baby and a few years later when she was a full-blown toddler. We walked the docks, ate lunch at The Crazy Crab (4/5 stars because the atmosphere was kid-friendly and fun, and the crab was tasty!), and caught lizards (that I told Kaitlyn were baby alligators).

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We headed back home early afternoon to welcome our VIP visitor- MOM! 

We helped her unload then immediately went to walk the beach and breathe in the salty air. We didn’t have any plans for dinner but knew we wanted to bike somewhere so I looked up a place called Coast at the Sea Pines Beach Club, about a one mile ride from the house. What a gem of a spot this turned out to be! (5/5 stars) The weather was beautiful, they had live music playing at just the right volume (I’m 37 now which is basically “I’d still like to be able to have a conversation” years old), there was plenty of outdoor seating, the martini was delicious, and the food was incredible. I had grilled scallops over risotto and they nailed it!

It really was a perfect evening. The girls would wander back and forth to the bridge to the beach and the adult were able to completely relax and exhale. I highly recommend this place.

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Friday began with a beach workout then we fill the rest of the day with bike riding. We brought all our own bikes with us to the island. Even though there are a plethora of rental spots, we decided for maximum comfort we’d bring our own. While we do ride around our neighborhood quite often, I was truly impressed at how well the girls did with the biking. Hilton Head is flat and has miles and miles of trails, which is helpful, but many cross over roads and you have to pay attention. They both loved it and on Saturday alone we biked over 14 miles.

We biked to lunch at The Salty Dog Cafe. (4/5 stars) It’s pretty much a must-visit spot. The hush puppies were a huge hit and my crab cake was excellent- loaded with crab instead of breadcrumbs. I feel I should mention the pain killers were quite tasty, too. It’s David’s favorite drink order on any beachy type of vacation. 

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After lunch we biked to Harbor Town. The front had started to bring in cooler air and it was crazy to walk the pier and the beach while shivering. Somehow it didn’t deter the girls from ice cream, so they enjoyed that while the adults opted for coffees instead. We climbed trees and looked at boats before deciding to bike back to the house. We did half the ride on the beach and it was a huge hit. The girls chased after sea gulls and the hard-packed sand made for a comfortable ride. It was a trip highlight for sure!

That evening we decided to stay in. We ordered pizza from Dough Boys (which was excellent) and finally learned to play Settlers of Catan. You guys, it took us an hour to learn that crazy game, but now I am so hooked; it is SO much fun!! It’s definitely too complicated for Kaitlyn but I’m thinking we might be able to teach it to Hailey. Just had to give it a shout out because I’m pretty sure it’s my new favorite.

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I couldn’t believe how quickly Saturday came. Knowing it was our last day, we knew we wanted to fill it up with fun. The girls number one request? More biking! I love how hooked they were on it and am already looking into more bike-friendly family vacations. Let me know if you know of any!

We biked to breakfast at Watusi Cafe, a breakfast/brunch spot I would highly recommend (5/5 stars). Mom and I got matcha oat milk lattes and my meal was a blacked shrimp and veggie hash that was excellent. From there we surprised the girls by  biking to Legendary Golf. We spotted a gator on the ride, which I geeked out over- so neat!

I can’t remember the last time we played putt-putt, but it was such a blast! The combination of the fall-like weather and the girls being at ages they can comprehend the intent and actually play the game were contributors to the fun. Hailey ended up getting TWO hole-in-ones and earned an ice cream surprise for her efforts.

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We biked back to the house as the sunshine started to poke its way out. We spent the afternoon on the beach. David brought his music and the cooler, mom and I brought towels, beach chairs, and a tennis ball, which ended up providing us with endless entertainment. The girls drew a soccer field on the beach and we kicked that dang tennis ball around for over an hour. It was a beautiful afternoon.

As evening approached we showered up and got in the car for the first time since we arrived on the island to make the 15 minute drive to Skull Creek Boathouse (5/5 stars). I had been before and knew it has a beautiful outdoor setting and live music. We are always on the hunt for live music. We arrived shortly after it opened and they were already busy so we spent the wait wondering the docks before being seated at a prime table.

It was colder than any of us were anticipating, but it didn’t hamper our good time. In fact, it inspired me to go with one of my favorite dishes of all time- spicy seafood pasta! It totally hit the spot. We got home late, tucked the tired girls in, then played another two games of Settlers of Catan; I’m hooked.

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Sunday was my birthday. 37 years old.

I woke up early and walked down to the beach by myself to watch the sun come up. So much of my grief journey feels very private right now. I hope I want to share more about it as I continue to process, but for now I feel protective over my healing. I will share, though, that I spent this early morning on the beach, looking at the ocean, and I listened to, for the first time since he passed, voicemails my dad had left me over the years. Some were short and simple and more recent, and others were from years ago, where he told me how proud he is of me. I cried. I’m crying now as I type this.  It was hard but it felt like the right way to begin my first birthday without him here on Earth. 

I returned to the house to good morning and happy birthday hugs from my mama, David, and the girls. I have so much to be grateful for.

We had to be out of the house by 10:00, so we packed up, loaded up, then drove to Hudson’s for a birthday brunch before going our separate ways back home. Hudson’s is where my mom and dad ate when they honeymooned at Hilton Head almost 42 years ago. It felt bittersweet to be there, but I’m so grateful that my mom was there with me. 

The hush puppies were crisp and my shrimp and grits was delicious and I got teary-eyed while opening cards from David, the girls, and my mom. Emotional as it was, it was a great send-off to a wonderful trip and a fitting way to celebrate turning another year older.

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Thank you, Hilton Head, for continuing to be a special place for my family. And while I enjoy some summer sunshine, I think early fall might just be my favorite time of year for a beach trip!

I got several questions on Instagram about our trip (recommendations and such), so if you are planning a trip there and have any questions that I didn’t answer in this post, put them in the comments and I’d love to answer them. 🙂

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