Is Hilton Head Island Safe? Crime Rates & Safety Report

Updated On March 12, 2024
Hilton Head Island, United States
Safety Index:
79
* Based on Research & Crime Data

Welcome to Hilton Head Island, a gem nestled along the South Carolina coast, known affectionately as the “Golf Island” for its lush greens and pristine fairways.

For what it’s worth, Hilton Head Island is the name of the island and the town.

Most people simply refer to it as Hilton Head.

That name comes from an English explorer who first spotted the “headlands” while on a trip from the Caribbean in 1663.

Captain William Hilton decided to call it Hilton Head.

There is no connection between Captain Hilton and the Hilton family or hotel chain.

The history of the islands dates back 4,000 years, with sacred shell rings used by Indigenous people still located in several parks.

After the Civil War, freed slaves lived on the island only to be forced off by invasive boll weevils in the cotton.

The few that stayed behind helped the Gullah culture thrive as it does today.

It was 1940 before anyone gave a second thought to Hilton Head and 1956 before the first resort was built.

Sea Pines Plantation broke the mold and redefined upscale resorts in America.

Over the years, celebrities like Michael Jorden and John Cougar Mellencamp have fallen in love with this area.

Mellencamp still owns a home on nearby Daufuskie Island.

Hilton Head regularly makes the top beach towns and islands in publications like Condé Nast.

It’s as known for its pristine beaches and golfing as it is for being a family-friendly community.

Many people who visit here have done so for years and plan to do so for years to come.

Warnings & Dangers in Hilton Head Island

Overall Risk

OVERALL RISK: LOW

There's a low risk in Hilton Head and so many things to do that you'll wish you stayed a few days longer!

Transport & Taxis Risk

TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW

Surprisingly, most resorts in Hilton Head don't offer a pickup service from the airport. Taxis, limos, and rideshares are available. Once you're there, the Hilton Head Trolley might be your best option to explore without having to deal with traffic. Of course, rental cars are also available at whatever airport you choose.

Pickpockets Risk

PICKPOCKETS RISK: MEDIUM

Regardless of the statistics, I would treat this as a medium risk. Millions of people visit here each year, and it's too risky to throw caution to the wind. Limit what you carry, leave valuables in the hotel, and don't do careless things like go in the ocean with all your gear sitting on the beach unattended.

Natural Disasters Risk

NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM

This is another medium risk. This is one of the strongest tide spots on the East Coast, and even sunny days can bring rip current risks. Hurricanes are possible from June through November. Severe weather can happen at any time of year in this mild, humid climate. Any risk will come with advance notice, but you need to pay attention to the weather.

Mugging Risk

MUGGING RISK: LOW

This is a low risk, but plenty of people feel a little uncomfortable with how dark it is at night, even on sidewalks. (You'll find out why that is a little later on in this article) Use situational awareness and common sense.

Terrorism Risk

TERRORISM RISK: LOW

This is a low risk, but it's also important to pay attention to your surroundings and report any suspicious activity to keep it that way.

Scams Risk

SCAMS RISK: MEDIUM

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office has a list of common scams that is regularly updated on its website. Rental scams are a big enough concern that I'm giving this a medium risk. Over the past five years, legitimate properties have been posted for rent by scammers, leaving the tourists out all the money they paid for the "great deal" and the property management company having to search for more fraudulent listings. Always use a reputable LOCAL property management company to book a rental and never wire money to secure a rental.

Women Travelers Risk

WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW

This is a family-friendly spot and a retirement community, so there's a safe place for women of all ages. If you're here to enjoy the nightlife, please never walk alone or take a drink from a stranger.

Tap Water Risk

TAP WATER RISK: LOW

Hilton Head couldn't afford the tourism hit it would cause if the water wasn't safe to drink. The 2022 Water Quality Report backs up that statement with no violations and full compliance with all Safe Water Drinking Act standards.

Safest Places to Visit in Hilton Head Island

HiltonHeadIsland.org is the region’s official tourism website.

You can download a vacation planner and/or a golf guide online.

They also have videos of different activities posted on YouTube @HiltonHeadIslandofficial.

Let’s make you more familiar with the island by detailing the main sections.

  1. Coligny Beach Area: Famous for its vibrant beach scene, shopping, dining, and entertainment options.
  2. Harbour Town: Home to the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse and Marina, offering picturesque views and upscale amenities.
  3. Sea Pines Plantation: Known for its luxurious resorts, golf courses, and extensive nature preserves.
  4. South Forest Beach: Offers a laid-back atmosphere with easy access to the beach, bike paths, and casual dining spots.
  5. Shelter Cove: Features a marina, shopping, dining, and entertainment venues, including the Shelter Cove Community Park.

Five public beaches across 12 miles of sand are yours to explore.

It’s also important to note that in Hilton Head Island, even areas that look like they might be private beaches are open to the public from the water line to the high watermark.

If you walk on the beach at low tide, you won’t get wet by staying in that safe zone.

As with any beach community, you have abundant options for water activities, tours, and expeditions on the water.

There are far too many to mention here, but I do recommend the dolphin cruise!

The Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island is dedicated to preserving and promoting Gullah Geechee culture, featuring exhibits, artifacts, and educational programs highlighting the unique heritage of the Gullah people.

The Gullah people are descendants of enslaved Africans who have preserved their African cultural heritage and language in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia.

Tours of the Gullah Geechee Heritage Trail are available, too, with sites up and down the coastline.

The Penn Center on St. Helena Island is worth the trip.

The Sandbox is a museum for kids and those young at heart.

The interactive museum offers different exhibits in history, science, and outdoor recreation.

Better yet, the first Friday of every month is free for the whole family!

Of course, there are more than 50 golf courses on the island and in nearby communities.

Places to Avoid in Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head is safe to explore from a crime perspective.

The main places to avoid are private resorts and residential areas.

There are enough places open to the public that you shouldn’t risk trying to sneak into a pool, beach, or community.

The island has 26 championship golf courses, but not all are open to the public.

If golfing is your top priority, always ask if you need a membership or to be a resort guest to play.

Then, don’t assume that you’ll get a tee time even if you can play there.

They don’t call it “Gold Island” for nothing.

Plan as much as possible.

File this under “things I never thought I’d have to write,” but you really need to avoid alligators in Hilton Head.

That sounds easy enough, but many newcomers don’t realize that any body of water, even a small pond, can have gators in it.

I lived in Florida, where we lived by the rule, “All freshwater has alligators.”

I wouldn’t even walk my dogs on pathways near the edge of my community lake.

In addition, two people have died in Hilton Head since 2018 from alligator attacks.

While gator attacks were unheard of before 2016, at least five have happened statewide since.

And for goodness’ sake, if you see an alligator, stay at least 60 feet away.

They are faster than you think and are stealthy until ready to attack.

If you feed one, it will approach more people in the future.

Safety Tips for Traveling to Hilton Head Island

  1. Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office is the contracted law enforcement for the island. You can follow them on Facebook @BeaufortCountySheriffsOfficeSC, but they are on Instagram (@beaufortcountysc_sheriff) and X (@bcsopio). Hilton Head Island does have a sheriff’s office station located at 70 Shelter Cove Lane.
  2. While most South Carolina cities use CodeRED for alerts, Beaufort County uses Everbridge. It might be a wise idea to sign up for both systems so that you get alerts from other parts of the state you’ll be visiting. This will cover severe weather and other public safety hazards.
  3. During one of the town council meetings I watched, they presented the traffic and parking statistics. Most beach parking lots fill up by 11am or noon. At 10am, most are 85% full. Go to the beach early, or be prepared to walk a long way once you find parking.
  4. Parking in Hilton Head Island is free at Mitchelville Freedom Park, Fish Haul Beach Park, and Coligny Beach Park. The only cautions I would give you are to never park in a spot where beach permits are required (unless you have one), don’t park in handicapped spots unless you have the placard, and don’t make up a parking spot so that you don’t have to walk farther.
  5. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources issues fishing permits. You are required to have a license with you at all times while fishing, and be sure to get a saltwater license if you want to fish at Hilton Head.
  6. Sea Turtle Season runs from May through October, and during this time, it’s important that you don’t go on the beach with flashlights or even mobile device lights, never leave holes dug in the beach, and leave sea turtle nests alone. If you come across a nest that isn’t surrounded by a protective barrier, let a lifeguard or park official know so that they can take care of it. You can use a red-filtered flashlight to stroll on the beach after dark.
  7. If you’ll be walking around after dark, even on main streets and sidewalks, you’ll want to bring some kind of flashlight (as long as you aren’t near the beach). The town doesn’t have well-lit streets, and I can’t emphasize enough how dark it gets. Wear reflective gear if you’re riding a bike or just walking around.
  8. The island offers a Sharing Shack, which is a place where you can look for beach toys or drop off yours after a trip. Perhaps you don’t want to keep that sand bucket you purchased, or maybe you need a shovel someone else left behind. This is part of the sustainable practices on the island.
  9. Do not try to swim or kayak to nearby islands, even if you are fit and bold. Between the risk of being swept away by the current, the strong tide, and the marine life (alligators and sharks), it’s not even a matter of being dangerous – it’s a death wish.
  10. As you enter the water at the beach, you need to do the “Stingray Shuffle.” It’s just a matter of shuffling your feet and moving forward without picking up either foot. This will help spook nesting stingrays out from under the sand. I used to think this was a silly thing until I watched a stingray swim to the shore and sort of “plop” into the sand and disappear from sight – it was just two feet away from me, and I would never know it was there if I hadn’t seen it.

So... How Safe Is Hilton Head Island Really?

Hilton Head’s law enforcement comes from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, and that makes it more challenging to nail down crime data unless you know how to dig.

Even then, you get just a snapshot of the quarters as presented to the town council.

From what I could glean from quick presentations at several meetings posted online, crime rates are low for the island and even lower when you figure in the 2.5 million people who visit each year.

Looking back at 2022, the theft rate was twice as high due to people leaving their cars unlocked.

That led to a rash of car break-ins.

The community, local leaders, and law enforcement work together to keep the island safe, and when that doesn’t specifically mean a bulk of criminal activity, they focus on short-term rentals, noise ordinances, and traffic violations.

To that end, most of the Lowcountry and islands will have the same general overtone.

Just to give you a snapshot of the count, the violent crime rate is 20% lower than the national average and more than 36% lower than the state average.

As of 2022, just 11% of violent crimes happened against strangers.

The risks of the beaches, ocean, and wildlife are really your responsibility to pay attention to, be informed about, and follow all the rules and restrictions when they are in place.

There’s a reason that millions of people come here every year, and I’m excited about your trip to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, so you can enjoy its beauty in a safe setting.

How Does Hilton Head Island Compare?

CitySafety Index
Hilton Head Island79
San Diego67
Miami55
Honolulu65
Chicago65
Dallas64
Memphis54
Melbourne (Australia)80
Montreal (Canada)81
Sydney (Australia)80
Santiago de Chile (Chile)71
Vienna (Austria)88
Hong Kong (China)70

Useful Information

Visas

Visas

All international travelers should obtain a visa or visa waiver. Tourists should start that process as early as possible, as the tourist visa can take the longest to process. Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months from the last day of your trip. Otherwise, you might not be able to get through Customs and Border Patrol.

Currency

Currency

The U.S. Dollar is the only currency you'll be able to use here. Given how many people visit this region, use credit cards as much as possible. There's just a lot more security against fraud prevention and identity theft.

Weather

Weather

The coldest month of the year is January in Hilton Head, but you'll still get temperatures above freezing, even at night. The highs can even be in the 60s. Summers will be warm, but it's the humidity that makes it feel so much hotter - even with a sea breeze. Bring sunscreen and bug spray.

Airports

Airports

Hilton Head Island Airport (HHH) is served by American, Delta, and United, with flights from hub cities like Charlotte, Atlanta, and Chicago. That should not be confused with Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV). The two airports are 45 miles apart.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a wise investment, but even at a bare minimum, get insurance for hurricane cancelation or delays. If your health insurance doesn't extend to the U.S., I'd highly recommend getting a supplemental policy. Paying for medical expenses as a cash patient can be costly, even for minor injuries.

Click here to get an offer for travel insurance

Hilton Head Island Weather Averages (Temperatures)

Jan 10° C
Feb 11° C
Mar 15° C
Apr 18° C
May 23° C
Jun 25° C
Jul 28° C
Aug 27° C
Sep 25° C
Oct 20° C
Nov 15° C
Dec 11° C
Choose Temperature Unit

Average High/Low Temperature

Temperature / MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High
°C
151721242830323129252117
Low
°C
4591217202322201595
High
°F
596370758286908884777063
Low
°F
394148546368737268594841

South Carolina - Safety by City

CitySafety Index
Aiken57
Beaufort67
Charleston70
Clemson76
Columbia68
Folly Beach68
Fort Mill78
Gaffney68
Greenville81
Hilton Head Island79
Isle of Palms81
Manning47
Mauldin77
Mount Pleasant78
Myrtle Beach65
North Augusta70
Orangeburg62
Pawleys Island82
Rock Hill63
Spartanburg48
St. Helena Island78
Sullivan’s Island80
Summerville78
Travelers Rest77
Walterboro68
West Columbia65

Where to Next?

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