So, you have decided your next vacation is taking place in South Carolina: the Palmetto State. A fitting nickname for a state full of beautiful beaches and palmetto trees.
In recent years, the tourism industry has been on the rise in South Carolina and no wonder. This state is home to 300 golf courses, 187 miles of coastline, and for adventurous foodies it also has the hottest pepper in the world!
In particular, both Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach have become popular destinations in South Carolina, and picking one can be challenging. Especially as they have several similarities, such as beachfront resorts, wonderful sandy beaches and great seafood dining.
Yet despite being in the same state, both Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach not only feel different but they are very different too.
Luckily we know and love both destinations, so we’re here to help!
Below we show you which one is the most family friendly, which has the better nightlife, what the beaches are like in both and compare the activities you can do in each and more.
All to help you make the right decision between Hilton Head vs Myrtle Beach!
Hilton Head vs Myrtle Beach: A Quick Overview
Hilton Head Island, most commonly known as just Hilton Head, is a gorgeous beach resort town located along the South Atlantic Coast.
As a barrier island in the lowcountry, this place is famous for its stunning beaches and many golf courses which have wonderful views of the sea. It’s a very laid-back place – a lot more so than Myrtle Beach – where people go to relax, take it easy, and play lots of golf.
Nature around Hilton Head is a tourist attraction in itself: the lowcountry is very beautiful, and isn’t just a geographic feature, but a cultural one as well. Particularly in regards to food.
With the Atlantic Ocean views, the lowcountry culture, and the relaxing beaches, Hilton Head has become popular for weddings and honeymoons. It’s definitely a place for relaxation and enjoying the view and good food, rather than partying and dancing. It’s also a little more expensive than Myrtle Beach, mainly because it’s a more upscale place.
Hilton Head is also considered to be very safe for tourists. It is a small town, so people there tend to close shop early, and there’s almost an “unofficial” curfew as most places will be closed by 10pm.
It’s definitely where the focus is on enjoying nature, outdoor activities (hiking, sightseeing, bird watching, etc.) and playing golf.
Myrtle Beach is on the other side of the coin from Hilton Head. It’s packed full of activities away from the beach, and is popular with college students, party-goers and active vacationers. It’s very well known for its lively nightlife, shopping malls and amusement parks.
It also has plenty to do in nature if you want to be outside and enjoy the coast, albeit the focus on nature is not as strong as in Hilton Head.
In fact if you choose Myrtle Beach over Hilton Head expect less golf, nature and laid back lounging but instead busy beaches, parties and lots of activities. So don’t expect things to stop after 10pm like Hilton Head, as in Myrtle Beach you will always find something to do after sundown.
That arguably makes Myrtle Beach the less family friendly option for parents with young children, as it can get lively and is a favorite destination for college summer breaks.
Although the main reason Myrtle Beach attracts 20 million visitors per year is that it’s at the hub of a 60-mile continuous stretch of beach called the ‘Grand Strand’.
Myrtle also attracts many visitors because it’s an affordable destination. It doesn’t matter how big (or small) your budget is, there’s plenty of accommodation and food options to choose from. So if you are on a tight budget, Myrtle Beach may be a better choice than Hilton Head.
Hilton Head vs Myrtle Beach: Activities and Beaches
Regarding the beaches, both Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach have wonderful stretches of sand. The weather in South Carolina is fantastic during the summer in both locations, and August is probably the best month to visit either Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach.
However whilst Myrtle Beach will cool down after the summer is gone, Hilton Head remains a little warmer. So that potentially makes it a better beach destination as Fall arrives.
The fewer crowds during this time of year, and in Hilton Head in general, also means you can enjoy outdoor activities, golf and the lowcountry without huge crowds. That’s not always possible at Myrtle Beach where the action very much revolves around the beach.
Hilton Head not only has great beaches on all sides, but it’s also been previously named one of the top ten family-friendly destinations in the United States!
The beaches are wide, pristine and long, so there’s plenty of room for everyone to enjoy the sand in relative privacy. The waters are calm most of the time, so it’s also a very good place for small kids and toddlers to enjoy the sea.
The white sands on the island are gorgeous, but can be a little coarse at times. Albeit that’s not really an issue. But a big plus point is that due to the somewhat secluded location of Hilton Head, most of the nature surrounding the beaches remains intact so there’s many undeveloped stretches. With that being the case, the beaches there remain very picturesque and relatively unspoiled. That’s not the case at Myrtle Beach which is very developed.
As for where to visit, Coligny Beach is a must. This place is often referred to as one of the best beaches in America, and it’s probably the most lively beach on Hilton Head too. If ever a rare beach party was to happen in Hilton Head, it’d likely be here!
Burkes Beach is a more laid-back, secluded white sand beach which tends to be a more “refined” beach experience. It’s a lovely place for a picnic and long sunset walks. It’s also popular with surfers due to the barrel waves there.
Sea Pines Beach in Hilton Head tends to be the preferred destination for families as it has lifeguards, restrooms, picnic tables, showers and even a few bars.
Lastly, if you want to go someone very few people go, then head to Fish Haul Beach Park. This place is secluded and hard to reach, and is more park than beach. It’s a fantastic place for bird-watching, fishing, hiking, and swimming in peace and quiet.
As for what else there is to do in Hilton Head it’s all about being outside and enjoying nature! There’s some excellent tournament-level golf courses, and some wonderful hiking trails thanks to the well preserved and pristine nature.
The sand at Hilton Head is also a lot firmer than in other beach locations so biking on the beach is an activity a few people enjoy. Other than that, there’s plenty of places to enjoy your morning walk, go kayaking, and simply take in the scenery.
Myrtle Beach, on the other hand, has lots of entertainment options away from the beach and nature.
This destination is likely the best option for vacationers who want to have lots of activities available, and who don’t care about having privacy and peace on the beach. This city is urbanized, loud and the place to be if you want to meet new people, socialize or party.
That said, while Hilton Head’s beaches are arguably more family friendly, Myrtle Beach has more going on for older kids.
Myrtle Beach is known by some as the mini-golf capital of the world. So whereas Hilton Head is all about serious golf, Myrtle Beach is a much more relaxed and fun environment. It has three unique amusement parks with rides and roller coasters, as well as several arcades spread around town. All of which can help keep kids amused.
For adults, there are golf courses in and around Myrtle Beach too – around 80 – so you can still have a serious game if you wish. .
As for the beaches in Myrtle Beach, they tend to be larger than the beaches in Hilton Head, and the beach communities are also a lot larger too. They have an energetic vibe to them, and the beaches are far more “commercialized” and developed than those on Hilton Head.
The most famous beach, called Myrtle Beach of course, is huge, busy and there’s lots of activity. The biggest Ferris Wheel on the East Coast sits right beside this beach, whilst there’s also a Ripley’s Aquarium within walking distance too. It’s a place you can easily spend a whole day.
If you’re looking for a more low-key beach experience, then Surfside Beach may suit. This place is more secluded and has gentle waves and soft sand – perfect for young children.
Hilton Head vs Myrtle Beach: The Nightlife
But what happens after the sun sets?
Well, you should have an idea by now of how the Hilton Head vs Myrtle Beach nightlife showdown is going to go!
Without a doubt Hilton Head has a nightlife that is far more quiet and easygoing than Myrtle Beach.
Don’t expect beach parties or raves that last all night, and be prepared to leave the bar at 10 or 11pm. However there are some great places to grab a cocktail and watch the sunset or listen to live music in the evenings. (Recommended: A Local’s Guide to Hilton Head Nightlife).
The town itself doesn’t have a lot of city lights, high-rise buildings and neon signs. Their focus is on nature and preserving the beautiful landscape.
Myrtle Beach, on the other hand, has a diverse array of options for nightlife action. Alongside great restaurants, pubs, and bars, there’s also wild beach parties. There’s plenty of beach bars and clubs, and even pool parties if that’s what you’re looking for.
This is also a prime destination for Spring Break and college summer break vacations, so the city does attract many college students looking to have fun.
With all of that going on, alongside casinos, nightclubs and more, Myrtle Beach has become known for its action-packed nightlife with lots of dancing, drinking and loud music.
Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach: Our Final Thoughts
Hilton Head is the obvious choice for laid-back couples or families that want to enjoy the sea, sun and nature. This place is pristine and undeveloped, but that also means there’s not many activities to do away from golf and adventuring in nature. But it is the perfect beach destination for families with toddlers and young children.
You will also get more privacy at the beaches in Hilton Head than in Myrtle Beach. The nightlife is very laidback and not much happens after 10pm, but if you like to get up early and enjoy the outdoors more than drinking and partying, then Hilton Head will be the better choice.
In contrast, Myrtle Beach is far more lively, developed and loud. The beaches are beautiful but busy, however there’s also many things to do. That includes activities for older kids like arcades, aquariums, amusement parks and more.
It’s also a more affordable option that Hilton Head. And if you want to socialize and party, the nightlife in Myrtle Beach is famous and lively. There’s plenty of things to do when the sun goes down, so that’s important to factor into your decision when deciding between Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach.
Whichever one you choose, Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach, we hope you have a great time. Enjoy!