Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach: Which Carolina Beach Is Better?

When you are ready for your next beach vacation in South Carolina, you might compare Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach as a potential getaway location. These two beach destinations are among the most popular tourist destinations in South Carolina, but they are very different.

Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach as Beach Destinations

There may be no two beaches more different from each other in all of South Carolina. Hilton Head Island offers a more relaxed atmosphere that is popular with families and retirees. While Hilton Head Island offers plenty to do, Myrtle Beach offers a bustling boardwalk surrounded by high-rise hotels.

Hilton Head Island has more restrictions, which limit the types of developments that occur on the island. The restrictions aim to preserve the island’s natural beauty and charm. These restrictions inherently contribute to the more family atmosphere that so many know and love. You won’t find a SkyWheel in Hilton Head, but you will see beautiful and expansive beaches, natural marshes, and so much more.

In comparing Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head is much more raw and natural.

Location and Geography: How Close Are Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach?

While you might expect the two beach towns to be closer since they are both in the relatively small state of South Carolina, Hilton Head Island is about four hours south of Myrtle Beach. The interstate (I-95) runs up the east coast, but it doesn’t run as close to the coastline as you would expect.

The interstate actually sweeps away from the coastline in South Carolina. This makes it difficult to make it to the state’s beaches. Driving down from Charlotte, I am always surprised by how far you have to drive on backroads or state highways. This is true even after crossing I-95 toward the coast.

In this regard, Hilton Head is much more accessible. The interstate runs much closer to Hilton Head Island, which is also nearby to Savannah. Hilton Head shares an airport with Savannah, so Hilton Head Island is a little easier to get to than Myrtle Beach.

Hilton Head Island (HHI), South Carolina

The beautiful island is located on the southern coast of South Carolina. The Atlantic Ocean mostly surrounds the island. Of course, the Broad River (a tidal channel) borders the northern edge of the island.

One reason that I love the island is that it isn’t as overdeveloped as many beach communities. It’s a fairly big island covering 69 square miles and boasts 12 miles of beautiful beaches.

Massive oak trees cover the island. It doesn’t feel like you are on an island until you reach the beach. Still, there are plenty of palm trees and marshland too. The Hilton Head Island Trust preserves the natural habitat of the island. Its 300 acres include the Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy, Cypress Converancy, and Fort Howell.

You will see signs all across the island reminding visitors to stay away from alligators. I’ve never seen one while visiting, but they clearly thrive in the marshes. The alligator signs remind you of the island’s still natural state.

Harbour Town Lighthouse is one of the many activities to do on Hilton Head Island.

Myrtle Beach (MYR), South Carolina

Myrtle Beach is the largest city located along the 60-mile stretch of South Carolina that is known as the “Grand Strand.” The Grand Strand is one of the most popular beach destinations in the United States. Endless hotels, golf resorts, and other beach-themed attractions fill the stretch.

In fact, around 20 million people vacation along the Grand Strand each year. Myrtle Beach sits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which makes it a great place to visit if you like water sports, boating, or even fishing.

The Grand Stand is located just south of the North Carolina state line, making it a popular destination for all of the Carolinas.

What is the Difference Between Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach?

While Hilton Head Island may be more accessible from the interstate and a nearby airport, the island also has a more secluded feel than Myrtle Beach. Since restrictions preserve the island’s natural beauty, you will find a bigger boardwalk with significantly more development in Myrtle Beach.

In this regard, Myrtle Beach offers more activities like boardwalk rides, miniature golf, and go-karts. Activities on Hilton Head Island are more likely to revolve around the great outdoors (like kayaking).

In comparing Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach offers more tourist-like attractions, like the SkyWheel.

The Beaches! Comparing Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach Oceanfront

In comparing Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach, there are two differences that stand out in regard to the beaches. For one, Myrtle Beach offers more activities near the beach, along the boardwalk, compared to Hilton Head Island, where the beach is the main event. Yet still, the beach often seems much more crowded in Myrtle Beach, which is likely because of much denser hotel and resort development.

An Overview of Hilton Head’s Beaches

Perhaps its that access to the island is naturally limited by the one bridge entering the island, but the island feels more natural and untainted by humans than many beaches. Some beaches on the island, especially near the Broad River, look like you might expect them to have looked when explorers first found the island.

Marshes run near the coast such that reeds are pilled up on some of the shores, and the beaches are filled with shells.

Still, most of the beaches have the whitest sand I’ve seen anywhere along the eastern coast of the United States. I grew up in Florida going to the beaches, and Hilton Head’s beaches are much better, especially along the Atlantic.

And even so, something feels more natural than other beaches, even those in South Carolina. The last time I was there with my kids, a beautiful sting ray swam by about 5 or 6 feet away from where we waded into the ocean. Later we saw a cannonball jellyfish float on by.

I love Hilton Head Island because it feels so natural, even though thousands of beachgoers enjoy the island’s 12 miles of beaches daily. Hilton Head might have my favorite beaches in either Carolina.

The beaches at Hilton Head Island are beautiful and serene.

An Overview of Myrtle Beach Beaches

Keep in mind that Myrtle Beach sits on a 60-mile stretch of beaches commonly referred to as the Grand Strand. So there are literally beautiful beaches as far as the eye can see. The most visited beaches are those within walking distance of the boardwalk activities, but there are several other spots worth checking out.

One of the most popular places for visitors to reach the beach is Myrtle Beach State Park. It’s a one-mile stretch of beach that offers a boardwalk, outdoor showers, bathrooms, and changing facilities. Here is a fun fact about Myrtle Beach State Park: Loggerhead Sea Turtles still use the state park for nesting.

We also recommend that you check out Surfside Beach, which is a town just south of Myrtle Beach and also part of the Grand Strand. Surfside Beach has been named “The Family Beach,” and it is a near-perfect location to make beach memories to think back on for years to come.

Here is my insider tip for visiting the local beaches: Go for a run along the boardwalk at sunrise. There are few around, and the cool morning beach breeze will propel you along the lights of the boardwalk. I love a good sunrise run, and the Myrtle Beach boardwalk is one of my favorite places for a morning run.

Is Hilton Head Like Myrtle Beach?

In short, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach are not very alike. Hilton Head is much more preserved than Myrtle Beach; the latter has a popular boardwalk and more populated beaches. The beaches may look similar, but Hilton Head Island offers a much slower pace of life.

In comparing Myrtle Beach vs. Hilton Head Island, the boardwalk activities are the biggest difference.

Activities: Does Hilton Head Island or Myrtle Beach Offer More To Do?

In comparing Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach, both beach communities offer more than enough to do, but the types of activities might be very different. For instance, you will find an amusement park and Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, while activities at Hilton Head or more likely to involve outdoor activities like kayaking, boating, and beachgoing.

What Activities Are Available on Hilton Head Island?

Hilton Head Island is a true paradise for those seeking outdoor activities. The iconic red-and-white Harbour Town Lighthouse is a must-visit attraction that has served the island for more than five decades. Visitors can climb to the top of the lighthouse for breathtaking views of the Yacht Basin and island.

For those who prefer to explore the island by land, there are over 60 miles of bike paths to explore, as well as numerous hiking trails and nature preserves.

Golf enthusiasts will find plenty to love on Hilton Head Island, which is home to over 20 championship golf courses. These courses offer a range of difficulty levels and styles, and Hilton Head was voted a Top 10 golf destination in the world. In fact, the island is home to a PGA Tour event known as the RBC Heritage.

For those who prefer to explore the island’s natural beauty from the water, kayaking is a popular activity on Hilton Head Island. Visitors can rent kayaks and explore the island’s many waterways, including Broad Creek and the Calibogue Sound. Kayaking tours are also available, offering guided trips through some of the island’s most scenic areas.

Of course, no trip to Hilton Head Island would be complete without a visit to the beach. With 12 miles of white-sand beaches, the island offers plenty of opportunities for swimming or just relaxing.

There are so many activities on Hilton Head Island that there is something for everyone. This includes the massive Adventure Playground, which is a playground for kids made to look like a pirate ship.

There is a large pirate ship playground for children at Coligny Beach on Hilton Head Island.

What Activities Are Available at Myrtle Beach?

The South Carolina coast is blessed with miles and miles of beautiful beaches, but Myrtle Beach is much different than most of the other beach communities. Why? Well, Myrtle Beach has positioned itself as a premier vacation destination and offers a plethora of activities beyond beachgoing.

The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade run for more than a mile along the oceanfront in downtown Myrtle Beach. It’s here that you will find popular attractions such as the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel and the Sling Shot Thrill Ride. The SkyWheel rotates 200 feet above sea level, offering endless views of the ocean and surrounding area.

The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade is a popular destination for festivals and a great place to do some souvenir shopping. I am always a sucker for saltwater taffy, and you will find plenty of it here. Still, the boardwalk is far from the only name in the game.

Myrtle Beach also boasts options such as miniature golf, go-karts, Ripley’s Aquarium, and Family Kingdom Amusement Park, to name a few additional options. Family Kingdom offers 35 exciting rides, including a steel roller coaster, as well as an adjoining water park.

Needless to say, Myrtle Beach is just different. You won’t find this selection of beachside attractions anywhere else along the beautiful Carolina beaches.

They SkyWheel at Myrtle Beach soars into the night sky.

Places To Stay: Where Will You Stay?

In comparing Myrtle Beach vs. Hilton Head, one thing that stands out is that Myrtle Beach offers more traditional hotels than Hilton Head. This might be partly because Hilton Head has more restrictive development standards, while Myrtle Beach has a string of mid-rise hotels along the beach.

Where Should You Stay Near Hilton Head?

There are plenty of places to stay on Hilton Head Island, including luxurious resorts and beachfront rentals, so you will surely find something that fits your needs. One of the best ways to choose where to stay on Hilton Head Island is to consider the distinct neighborhood vibes.

Sea Pines is one of the island’s most well-known and picturesque neighborhoods. It’s home to the Harbour Town lighthouse, as well as a number of high-end resorts and vacation rentals. The vibe here is upscale and family-friendly, with plenty of outdoor recreation and places to relax.

Palmetto Dunes is another popular neighborhood on the island that has some of the most direct exposure to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s known for its beautiful beaches, as well as its golf courses and tennis facilities. Palmetto Dunes is active and sporty but still offers plenty of access to the beautiful island beaches.

Some of the neighborhoods on the island, like Mitcheville near the airport, offer more residential neighborhood experiences. This makes it a great place to find VRBOs and AirBnBs. This is also a neighborhood with more secluded beaches that attract fewer tourists. Neighborhoods like Mitcheville are ideal for visitors looking for a more low-key experience.

We recommend considering Bluffton if you are looking for something a little different. While not on the island, the town of Bluffton is only a few miles away, and it is one of our favorite towns in all of South Carolina. Bluffton has a historic downtown area that is only a few blocks from a public dock on the nearby May River. It may be the perfect place to go boating or kayaking.

Bluffton is near Hilton Head Island, on the May River. It is an excellent place to stay if you can't find somewhere on the island.

Bluffton Public Dock

Which Part of Myrtle Beach Is The Best to Stay in?

While the Grand Stand is one long stretch of beautiful beaches, hotels, and vacation homes, there are some distinct areas where you might consider staying the next time you visit. Some of the most popular areas to stay in Myrtle Beach include:

  1. Downtown Myrtle Beach: This area is located near the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and is a great option for families looking for a central location with easy access to the beach, restaurants, and attractions. There are plenty of family-friendly activities in this area, including the Family Kingdom Amusement Park and the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel. Plus, you can go for that sunrise run along the boardwalk.
  2. North Myrtle Beach: Downtown Myrtle Beach has more going on, but that might actually be too much for some families. North Myrtle Beach (which is the name of a town and not just a direction) is much calmer and family-friendly. Even so, you can still easily reach all of the fun activities near the boardwalk without much trouble.
  3. Murrells Inlet: Lastly, Murrell’s Inlet is a popular vacation spot for families that visit over and over again. It is located just south of Myrtle Beach and offers more of a small-town beach vibe from out of a movie. If you are looking for local seafood, boating activities, and a more low-key experience, consider Murrells Inlet.

Families may prefer the quieter atmosphere of North Myrtle Beach, while those looking for nightlife may prefer staying near the Boardwalk. Nearby areas such as Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island should also be considered for those looking for a more secluded vacation experience.

I love to run on the boardwalk at sunrise because you see the boardwalk lit up against the colorful sky.

Dining and Nightlife: Where Are The Best Places to Eat and Drink

What’s a vacation without good food? In comparing Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach dining and nightlife, you will find that Hilton Head has more chain restaurant options along its strip. There are chain restaurants on Hilton Head Island too, but local seafood and BBQ places rule to roost.

Where Should You Eat and Hang Out on Hilton Head Island?

Hilton Head Island is a fun and relaxed place to hang out, with a wide variety of restaurants and places to eat. While some of these spots are high-end restaurants, I appreciate that there are also several local restaurants that are still affordable.

Coligny Plaza is one of the most popular areas to eat on the island. My family loves to stroll around Coligny Plaza in the evenings because there are plenty of low-key places to eat and shop (and eat ice cream!). And there is a massive play area for kids, including a huge pirate ship, across the street at Coligny Beach.

Another popular area for dining on Hilton Head Island is Shelter Cove Harbour and Marina. This waterfront destination is home to a number of restaurants and bars. Naturally, many of the restaurants offer outdoor seating with beautiful views of the marina.

Overall, Hilton Head Island has no shortage of dining options, from casual beachfront eateries to more high-end restaurants. Whether you’re in the mood for seafood, pizza, or something in between, you’re sure to find something to satisfy your appetite on this beautiful island.

Coligny Plaza on Hilton Head Island offers some of the best restaurants and shopping.

Where Should You Eat and Hang Out at Myrtle Beach?

When you think about things to do and places to eat on Myrtle Beach, the conversation really revolves around the Boardwalk. It is the most dense and walkable area in Myrtle Beach, which means you have options. Grab dinner, and then ice cream or drink afterward.

When you venture beyond the Boardwalk, there are still plenty of options, but you will likely have to hop in your car to get there and hop in your car to go anywhere else. The Pier House Restaurant at 2nd Ave. is one of the most iconic restaurants in the area, if for nothing else, because it overlooks the ocean.

Still, boardwalk options range from seafood to Italian and more traditional American fare. You will also find live music and other entertainment options to enjoy before, during, and after your meal.

Market Common and Broadway at the Beach are also popular places to grab some eats and drinks. Market Common is an entertainment center with food, shopping, movies, and bowling. You will find Ripley’s Aquarium and WonderWorks at Broadway at the Beach, in addition to excellent restaurants and bars.

Whether you are looking for a casual dinner with live music in the background or fine dining to celebrate a milestone, Myrtle Beach has plenty of options to choose from.

In comparing Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach has a more tourist-centric vibe.

Is Hilton Head Island or Myrtle Beach Better?

In deciding whether to visit Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach, your lifestyle and preferences may play a larger role than in deciding between any two other beaches in the Carolinas. Hilton Head is much more relaxed and feels surrounded by nature, while Myrtle Beach is much more lively and developed.

My family has enjoyed beach getaways in both locations. They are very different and enjoyable in different ways. I’ve never been one to spend much money along a boardwalk, but being around people and things going on is still invigorating. In contrast, Hilton Head is simply relaxing in the best of ways.

You might also compare the Outer Banks if you are traveling from north of Myrtle Beach. In comparing Hilton Head vs. Outer Banks, both are slightly more natural than Myrtle Beach, but the Outer Banks are known for its wild horses.

If you are traveling from the north, you might compare the Outer Banks vs. Myrtle Beach. The Outer Banks are similar to Hilton Head in that they are both more relaxed and offer outdoor adventures, but Myrtle Beach definitely offers more adrenaline-pumping attractions.

The Verdict: Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach

My family prefers Hilton Head because it has a more secluded and relaxing atmosphere. Areas like Coligny Plaza are also much more walkable and urban than Myrtle Beach, which feels more like a long strip. You can also visit a lighthouse or nature preserve while on Hilton Head Island.

Still, in comparing Myrtle Beach vs. Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach offers much more excitement. You will find boardwalk rides, miniature golf, and go-karts. You will also find common tourist attractions like the Family Kingdom Amusement Park and Ripley’s Aquarium Myrtle Beach (from the Ripley’s Believe It or Not team).

Either way, we are certain you will enjoy your next South Carolina getaway!

Jeremiah moved to the Charlotte area with his wife, Erin, back in 2013. The family has grown over the years, and they now call the Carolinas home. They enjoy hiking and adventures, road trips, backyard fire pits, and pizza night. Jeremiah loves to explore, and looks forward to sharing tips, tricks, and resources for your next trip.