Hilton Head: A Marina-by-Marina Guide
For starters, it’s the first place I ever heard the term “market price.” Daddy encouraged me to eat whatever I wanted at restaurants--no kid’s menu here--so I tried my hand at swordfish. I figured anything so fresh they couldn’t put a price on it until the day it was served had to be good. And for years, I ordered based on that idea. From the right side of the menu. If it was fresh (and expensive), it had to be the best.
On my most recent visit to Hilton Head, my brothers and their wives joined me, while my parents stayed home with the gaggle of grandkids. The tables had turned. But I discovered a few constants remain: From fresh cobia (available only in May and June) to wild shrimp caught in local waters, ordering “market price” from the menu isn’t a bad way to go. Water is everywhere. And each marina celebrates the spirit of the island with its own special style. Explore them, one by one. (View marina map on slide 11.)
photo: Sunset cruises allow encounters with the local landscape, from million-dollar mansions to untouched islets.
Hard-bottomed Zodiac boats crouch closer to the water than a traditional boat does. We booked a one-hour tour with H2O Sports (www.h2osportsonline.com or  671-4386) and spent the afternoon watching dolphins play.
photo: Visitors flock to Harbour Town, with its candy-striped lighthouse, for water activities.
Join Capt. John Maires, a huge Buffett fan with a sly smile, a weathered face, and a twinkling laugh, for a sunset sail on his 45-foot sloop Cheers. www.cheerscharters.com or (843) 671-1800
photo: A ride aboard Cheers sailboat.
Rain or shine, locals and tourists mingle in the late afternoon over heavy-handed cocktails; ice-cold brews; and steaming, hot-boiled shrimp at the open-air Salty Dog Café (www.saltydog.com or  363-2198). Arrive early and snag a table; they tend to fill up quickly.
photo: Marshland surrounds the South Beach Marina.
photo: Palmetto Bay
photo: Capt. Trent Malphrus runs fishing charters at Palmetto Dunes Resort.
Reserve a spot on the PAU HANA or FLYING CIRCUS catamarans for a bring-your-own-picnic twilight cruise through the sound--a trip highlight. www.hiltonheadisland.com/sailing or (843) 686-2582
The Benny Hudson Seafood market is the go-to for fresh oysters from the nearby May River and wild American shrimp just off the boat. If you’re renting a house or condo, stock up to create your own locally inspired feast. (843) 682-3474