Pictures in this post are a combo of "nice" DSLR pictures and pictures from my trusty iPhone.
ARE YOU READY FOR A MASSIVE PICTURE POST? Like really it might take you three days to read this. I'm sorry. I'm wordy. And I like pictures. I did it in two separate posts just so your browser wouldn't completely crash.
Last month, the stars finally aligned to allow a much-anticipated BIG vacation: Hilton Head Island, South Carolina! (By big you were probably thinking like Italy or something, right? Big in my world is going six states away.)
Hilton Head is a resort town located on a small-ish island (just about 42 square miles) at the southern tip of South Carolina. It only has about 37,000 people year round, but that number can increase sevenfold to over 275,000 during peak tourist season. (Insert that "The More You Know" gif here)
Hilton Head (or HHI as the cool kids call it) (I wouldn’t know) (I’m not cool) has been a long anticipated trip for us. Not only is it seriously beautiful, but my aunt and uncle live there and it’s a world-renowned golfing destination. Have I mentioned before how much Chris golfs? A lot. He went to Scotland last year to visit St. Andrews with some golfing buddies and I’m shocked he came home from that slice of golfing heaven.
It. Is. GORGEOUS. This was one of the bike trails in Sea Pines.
We’ve both been to HHI before: me, several times as a child with my family, and then we went once together in 2007 for my cousin's wedding. Since before that trip even ended, Chris wanted to go back to golf with his friends, and I pretty much always want to go somewhere with beaches and palm trees.
We tried to time the trip to be outside of peak tourist season, but with the weather still nice enough to allow golfing and beach time (it doesn't get terribly cold there in the winter, but too cold to hit the beach. Unless you're Canadian.). So we landed on mid-September.
This was Carys's first flight and Emmeline's second. Despite my worries, they both did really well on the flights. Carys had a ticket, obviously, but Emmeline we just had listed as a lap infant with no guaranteed seat. We lucked out, though, and they had an open seat for her and her car seat for all but one leg of the flights there and back. (For future reference....if you can swing it, buy the ticket! Lap infants sucks when said infant is mobile.) Carys thought everything about the airport and flights was magical (we watched a bunch of YouTube flight videos and read a bunch of books to help prepare).
The descent into HHI
We flew directly into Hilton Head, which is a tiny regional airport (I love tiny regional airports for real). We arrived Wednesday evening just in time for dinner. My aunt Mary Jo picked us up from the airport and, after much hugging and fawning, took us to a little Mexican restaurant called Fiesta Fresh, which is one of their family favorites. My uncle Steve and my cousins Nate and Taylor joined us there. It is such a comforting, wonderful feeling to see family you don't get to see often, isn't it? It always fills a little space in my heart that I didn't even know existed.
We'd decided on renting a house for the trip - way cheaper to do that than to book four separate hotel rooms to accommodate our family plus Chris's three golfing buddies. Plus it had a kitchen, plenty of living space, a pool, a washer/dryer...and, for the guys, it was located on the fifth hole at Harbour Town Links. I'm totally hooked on renting from now on. (We've used VRBO twice now.) After dinner, Mary Jo took us to the house that we'd rented. The three other guys that were staying with us didn't arrive until much later. They flew into Charleston (the closest large airport) and had to drive into Hilton Head.
The front of the house
The view from the porch of the front of the house
Because it was dark when we got to the house, we didn't really get to explore the grounds much, and both girls went to bed pretty much right when we arrived. Except then Emmeline woke up in the middle of the night for a couple hours because HELLO time change, which I totally forgot about. So I took her into the huge walk-in closet in our bedroom to play for a bit.
I was amazed that, upon waking, Carys immediately remembered we were at a house WITH. A. POOL. and asked to go swimming right away. Like, she hadn't even gotten fully out of bed yet before she was all, "Can we go swimming now?!?"
Since we were on vacation, I of course said sure. Even though it was only 8am.
This large step in the pool was one of the reasons I was drawn to this house over others - I was hoping Carys could play in the pool without me having to get in every time. And it totally worked.
My uncle Steve totally hooked us up with a huge bag full of pool/beach toys, plus the house had a few stocked as well.
Backyard hammock at the house.
The boys (men, whatever) had a 10 AM tee time at Harbor Town. We were swimming when they played the hole directly behind our house, but we caught them to say hi and give high fives when they were just down the green.
Carys loved sitting on the back porch and watching the golfers.
The next two pics are from Chris's phone, taken while playing Harbour Town.
Later that afternoon, Mary Jo came over and played with Carys in the pool a bit and brought us lunch. I think? Crap, I knew I should have written it all down as it was happening. I've already forgotten the timeline.
The next morning, I took the girls on a morning bike ride with a rented bike and bike trailer. Hilton Head has miles upon miles of bike trails and is mostly flat, so it's super easy and practical to get around with bikes. I rented a bike helmet for Carys and I and brought one for Emmeline (as I wasn't sure they'd have helmets small enough there). There are probably over a dozen bike rental shops on the island, but I found Island Cruisers to be the cheapest (we also rented a pack-n-play for Emmeline to sleep in from them).
Emmeline would not keep her helmet on during the ride. They have no helmet laws there, so it wasn't illegal, but I tried to get her to wear it the entire trip.
We rode about 2.5 miles to Lawton Stables, which is a must for families with animal lovers. Like Carys. They offer pony rides, adult trail rides, and a free petting zoo.
Tell me why I find this so funny.
Obviously we needed ice cream while there.
I'm sorry for all of these but OH MY GOSH.
After the stables, Mary Jo picked us up and took us TO THE BEACH (Coligny Beach, to be exact - the island has many). I say that in all caps because that's how excited Carys was about her first trip to the beach. To be honest....I was pretty fricking excited as well. We stopped at Stu's Surfside Subs to pick up sandwiches to eat for lunch at the beach (DELISH).
I should have recorded a video of Carys's first glimpse of the ocean. We were walking down the boardwalk and she spotted it and took off running straight into the waves. Like no hesitation, just straight in up to her waist. I had been worried about what she'd think of the waves and the salt water but she had zero qualms about it.
She loved the waves. This is her "commanding" them.
This woman is a grandmother and looks better than I do in a swimsuit. Sigh.
We brought the boogie board and Mary Jo showed Carys how to use it, and of course our freaking water baby immediately figured it out and was boogie boarding all over the place.
I bought the pop-up shade tent on Amazon (note: hold out for it to be stocked by Amazon; I got it with free shipping) before we left and shoved it in the bottom of my checked luggage. It fit - barely - but I'm so glad we had it. Emmeline had fallen asleep and slept contentedly in the tent, in the shade, for over an hour.
This beach is packed in the summer, but wasn't too bad at all in September.
Emmeline woke up and I slathered her in sunblock and put the hat on her since she has like no hair to protect her scalp.
That evening, we went to eat at yet another fantastic restaurant (seriously, we didn't have a bad meal the entire trip) called Roastfish and Cornbread. It's BYOB (really) and we saw a couple tables with bottles of wine but we went big and brought some Jack Daniels. I'm pretty sure the entire staff was high as f*ck, and I think half of us had at least one thing wrong on our order, but the food was amazeballs. And once the food came out, no one mentioned the incorrect orders (which were things like the wrong side or the fish cooked the wrong way) because it was all so good. One of the guys said, "This is so good that if the chef felt like I needed to have it blackened instead of grilled, I'll eat it blackened instead of grilled." (Note Feb 2015: This place has apparently closed. Sad face.)
Roastfish and Cornbread
We stopped for ice cream on the way home at Hilton Head Ice Cream Shop. I can't believe I have no pictures of the ice cream itself, but I'm drooling just thinking of it. It. was. DELISH. I did, however, grab a very important picture of the bathroom door. Because PRIORITIES.
The next morning we had more pool time, after which I biked the girls up to Harbour Town, a shopping and dining center with a marina and lighthouse (and the famous Harbour Town Golf Course).
These little green anoles are all over the island. We caught them daily.
At Harbour Town, we ate at Harbourside Burgers and Brews, an open-air restaurant with, shocker, burgers. And brews, presumably. It was good. Not amazing or life-changing, but good. We played on the playground, visited a few shops, climbed 114 stairs to the top of the lighthouse, and got ice cream before heading back to the house.
An adorable playground at Harbour Town.
These iconic red rocking chairs are all over Harbour Town, and although Carys looks sad (?) in these pictures, it's actually her "concerned mother" face, as she's rocking her "baby."
The beach at Harbourtown.
Another iconic Harbourtown view - the lighthouse.
The top of the lighthouse.
And more ice cream from a shop at the bottom of the lighthouse.
A turtle we saw on the ride back to the house.
We stayed in for dinner that night, and Sam - Chris's good friend and best man at our wedding - cooked dinner for everyone. We weren't sick of seafood yet (hint: we never got sick of seafood) so he grilled steak and shrimp. While being pestered by two small children.
Just to show the inside of the house a bit more.
Sam spotted this green tree frog outside our window, and we found another one on the roofline.
The next morning, the old half of the golfing foursome wanted to rest rather than golf again, so they went on a dolphin boat cruise with the girls and I. We didn't see many dolphins on this cruise, but the captain was fun and the views of some of the homes in the area were spectacular (and the captain's commentary was hilarious). This particular cruise departed from Broad Creek Marina and traveled up Broad Creek.
This represents about all of the dolphins that we saw. We saw a fin about six times and that was it.
Artistically painted boat docked in the creek
This boat had been abandoned for close to 20 years. Amazingly still floating.
Some of the houses along the waterway are incredible. See the house on the far left? That's the GUEST HOUSE for the larger house next to it.
That afternoon, I took the girls on another bike ride up to see the Baynard Ruins, the remains of an old plantation house and slave quarters built in the late 1700s. We saw this guy - not the first alligator sighting of the trip, but the best - on the way.
The house was built with "tabby," which is like an oyster-shell-based concrete, and then covered in plaster.
The girls slept in the bike trailer the entire time I was exploring the ruins. I think they fell asleep every single bike trip we took.
On the way back, we saw the gator again. This time, we interrupted some asshole kids throwing rocks at it, so it was in a defensive position.
And we found out why it was so defensive a few feet later, when we came upon the gator's nest. I'd actually passed it on the way to the ruins, but thought it was a mass of electrical cords or something (I don't know okay?). I decided to look closer on the way back, and discovered it was actually a pile of baby alligators. I wish I would have gotten a picture of the babies when they were all clustered together, but as soon as I stepped close, they scattered. You can see quite a few of them in the pic below if you look closely.
See them? Look for the yellow and black stripes. Here's a hint.
I'll zoom in a bit to make it easier. There are three in the (blurry, sorry) picture below.
That evening, we went to Mary Jo and Steve's house for dinner. They made a traditional lowcountry shrimp boil and clam bake and it was amazing. AMAZING. Also I was kind of shocked to see that the clams were alive until we cooked them and I couldn't stop messing with them because I'm awful.
And ice cream sundaes for dessert.
The next day, we swam some more in the morning and took and took another bike ride, this time to the local beach. We discovered that there are tiny access roads to the beach all along the main drive, so, we practically had our own personal stretch of beach for the morning. The downside is that these small access points don't have showers and bathrooms or any other amenities, but the plus is that they're mostly deserted.
A gator, a heron, and some other large dark bird all within five feet of each other.
In the afternoon, Mary Jo picked us up and took us to the Coastal Discovery Museum, a free museum (which alone makes it worth it) that celebrates the island's natural and cultural heritage. It has 68 acres to explore and a number of trails and gardens along which you can wander.
Exploring the children's room
Every single one of those tiny dots was a marsh snail. Millions of them.
A tree filled with egrets.
Oh, look. A tantrum.
She had been sleeping in the stroller up to this point.
I think this night we went to dinner at a place called Captain Woody's, which is known for the grouper melt. I had a delicious shrimp po' boy and a delicious drink. Again, I definitely recommend sitting outside.
Did you make it through?!?!?! If so, reward yourself with a cookie. Or some booze. Or both. Now head on over to read part two here!