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Written by Ashley Ryan

Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort concierge Mary Samuels shares her best tips for exploring South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island.

For Concierge Mary Samuels, time spent at South Carolina’s Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort is a welcome escape from big-city living. “Growing up in New York City, I really appreciate the relaxing environment of Hilton Head,” she says. “Part of the charm of the island [is] the strict building codes—no neon, subtle signage, et cetera. It truly makes it a very special place. You feel as if you are living with nature.”

Hilton Head pool

While the laid-back, picturesque setting plays a role in why she enjoys her career as the resort’s concierge, it’s not the only reason. Samuels says seeing the same guests year after year also gives her a thrill. “I have been with this property for 28 years and now they have become like my own family.”

Omni Hilton Head Resort

Here, she shares some of her best recommendations for those venturing to the island from near and far.

What are some must-see spots for first-time travelers to Hilton Head?

Let’s start with the Harbour Town Lighthouse, which is our island’s landmark as the RBC Heritage PGA Tour is played here each year and most of our guests have seen [the lighthouse] on TV during the broadcast.

Harbour Town Lighthouse

Then, of course, there is the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina for wonderful Broadway entertainment [and] concerts. Shelter Cove Marina is a beautiful oasis for high-end shopping, … dining and sunsets. We have outstanding water-based activities as well—shark fishing, motorized catamarans, dolphin cruises and fireworks in season.

What are some of the best activities for late summer & early fall?

That is a great time of year to visit. You can enjoy so many things, including kayak nature tours, tennis and world-class golf with championship courses. Of course, being on an island, let’s not forget boating excursions. You can be your own captain at Sea Monkeys Watersports as they offer GPS-guided rentals, or enjoy the Ultimate Lowcountry Day with Outside Hilton Head which offers fishing, tubing, crabbing and dolphin watching.

There is also the Backwater Cat Adventure, a motorized catamaran tour through the Broad Creek with amazing wildlife and scenery. Lastly, the Concours d’Elegance, the island’s yearly motoring festival.

Where is the best shopping on the island?

I love the Shelter Cove Marina or [Shelter Cove] Towne Centre for elegant, small-business shopping.

Shelter Cove Marina

Then, of course, Coligny Plaza [Shopping Center], the oldest shopping plaza on the island at [more than] 60 years old, for fun shopping. And for the cultural side of things, we have our art galleries. Try Ben Ham [Images] for the best in nature photography and Endangered Arts [Ltd.] for limited editions, bronze sculptures and glass pieces. My personal favorite is Nash Gallery. It features all North American artists showcasing glass, ceramics, jewelry and metal.

What are some of the best and most innovative restaurants nearby?

To name just a few, The Lucky Rooster Kitchen & Bar is farm-to-table, owned by the chef and features a menu that changes seasonally.

The Lucky Rooster Kitchen & Bar

The chef-owned Sage Room, which is a hard to find little spot, is a great option as well. Ask to be seated at the chef’s table. Also, Ombra Cucina Rustica, where the owner is also the chef — are you sensing a pattern here? I also just love Bistro 17, for two reasons. Of course the owner/chef aspect—country French traditional—but he is also pet-friendly with a pet menu, so really, not traditional at all.

This article originally appeared in its entirety in the Fall 2017 issue of ESCAPES magazine.