Fripp Island: the alternative to Hilton Head, a seaside resort you’ve probably never heard of

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FRIPP ISLAND, South Carolina – You can practically see Hilton Head from the tip of Fripp’s Island.

From the map, I’m pretty sure I could swim between them. But it’s an hour and a half by car. And that’s how Fripp likes it, cut off from the rest of the tourists in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

There are no grocery stores on Fripp, a 6.5-square-mile private resort off the coast of Beaufort, between Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. There are no malls, no hotels, no mini-golf and no crowds – at least when we rented a house with friends for spring break.

Fewer than 1,000 people live on the island year-round, although the population swells to around 5,000 during the summer months.

Many of them are families on vacation: diving in the Atlantic Ocean, jumping in the pool, playing tennis, golfing, biking, fishing, paddleboarding, golfing or just lounging in the shade of palm trees.

Fripp offers a few restaurants. But if you want to paint the town, you can drive 30 minutes west to recently voted Beaufort best small town in the south by the readers of Southern Living magazine (which I usually use as my travel and daydreaming guide). There, you can wander the historic district’s mansions draped in Spanish moss, a kaleidoscope of charming shops on Bay Street, and sunny restaurant terraces along the Beaufort River.

We spent a day in Beaufort, which I had visited eight years ago on a girls’ weekend. But the rest of our week passed in a golden haze on Fripp.

Why Fripp?

We chose the island simply because of an amazing house we found on Vrbo with a pool, hot tub, waterslide and fire pit. At a 12 hour drive, the destination was within reach of a day’s drive, but if you want to fly, you can fly into Savannah and Charleston airports. When people asked where we were going, and I said, Fripp, most looked confused. “What?”

The name isn’t for the perfect abundance of possible puns, many of which adorn mailboxes: Fripp Floppin’, Fripp-a-dee-doo-dah, and A Long Strange Fripp.

Paddleboard on the creeks around Fripp, just after sunrise.

The island is named after Johannes Fripp, a 17th-century privateer or British sailor who protected the area from Spanish attacks, depending on who you ask. Legend says that pirates hid treasures on the island. But for much of its history, the island was primarily used for hunting, as was the aptly named Hunting Island to the north. Hunting Island is now a 5,000-acre state park, with trails, a beach, and a lighthouse built in 1875 currently closed for repairs.

A bridge connecting Hunting Island to Fripp was built in 1961. Over the next decade, the Ocean Point Golf Links, racquet club, marina, homes and condos were built, all part of Fripp Island Golf & Beach Resort.

The island remains private and unincorporated, with many homes rented directly from the resort itself. You must pass through a security gate to enter the island and to use all amenities, including the two golf courses, four pools, children’s activities, or restaurants, you must purchase a $35 club card valid for one week, for each family member 13 and older.

But once on Fripp, you may not want to leave the paradise of palm trees, far from the everyday world.

It’s a place where your calendar is completely free, where your biggest question is the beach or the pool – and the answer is, both. Where you can set up the risk board and play all week. Where there’s no point in packing dressy dangling earrings because you’ll only be wearing bathing suits and t-shirts anyway.

The island is bigger than I expected, with space to spread out and deer everywhere. But it’s compact enough that you can park your car for the week and travel by bike or golf cart.

We mostly stayed put. We stocked up on groceries in Beaufort and cooked dinner every night, sharing cooking duties which made cleaning up easier. We also shared arguing homework with the kids, so while the kids were hanging out with their friends, the parents felt like they had taken a vacation.

Fripp Island, South Carolina

The Pool Cabana Club on the tip of Fripp Island included a bar and restaurant.

We spent our days watching dolphins and an alligator, golfing, collecting seashells, swimming and playing soccer on the sand. We spent our evenings cooking dinner, sitting in the hot tub, playing cards and telling stories around the fire.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t have a plan. We shopped and had lunch in Beaufort one morning and rented boats. I took a tennis lesson and was absolutely beaming with compliments and helpful tips. We were hitting balls on the driving range. We paddled. We did bodyboarding. We visited the Hunting Island Lighthouse. And my 9 year old daughter and I took a surf lesson through Nalu Paddleboarda store located at the Fripp Marina.

He was a natural person who appeared on his first try, even turning to salute. I certainly wasn’t, but thanks to the patience of our instructor, I managed to get up on the board several times. More importantly, I felt invigorated trying something completely new.

Completely new, completely cool. Frippee-ki-yay!

If you are going to:

Check Vrbo Where Fripp Island Resort to search for houses and condos.

Prices depend on amenities and location, although you can easily get anywhere on the island by bike or golf cart.

During the summer months, expect to pay $300 or more per night for a two-bedroom condo.

The houses vary from four to 16 beds. A 14-person house, for example, might cost around $600 per night.

Fripp Island, South Carolina

You can’t keep the kids out of the ocean.

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