One visit to Hilton Head Island and it’s clear why the area is so famous for its seafood — especially when it comes to oysters and crab.

Nearly every aspect of life on Hilton Head Island is influenced by a series of waterways. The island is shaped like a shoe: Broad Creek cuts through the middle; near the ankle, Skull Creek separates Hilton Head from Pinckney Island; closer to the heel, you’ll find the waves of the Atlantic Ocean lapping against the shore; and near the toes you’ll find the island’s iconic Lighthouse and the Calibogue Sound.

These grassy waters are dotted with oyster beds, and dolphins can be spotted bobbing down Broad Creek starting around March. Tour boats, fishing boats, kayaks, and the occasional ferry to Daufuskie Island cruise by the island’s many marinas and private docks. The whole place seems to draw its energy from the sea, and the best Hilton Head seafood restaurants celebrate all the delectable creatures that thrive there.

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Photo: Courtesy Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce

In the spring and summer, tables fill up at seafood restaurants – especially outdoors. Most offer outdoor patios that sometimes double as docks overlooking Broad Creek and offering unobstructed views of the Lowcountry coast line. Pelicans and herons skim by, searching for fish. For people, the seafood is easily accessible at restaurants that serve platters of fresh and briny oysters, whole crab fried and stuck between slices of bread, chilled shrimp, and cold beer. Hilton Head seafood restaurants offer all this plus an atmosphere that makes you feel right at home. You may even find yourself fantasizing about ditching your old life and setting up a fish camp of your own on the shores of Broad Creek.

In the summer and spring, families flock to Hilton Head from all over, but especially from the South. The island is just 20 miles from Savannah (about a 45 minute drive) and 95 miles from Charleston. Visitors stay at top-rated Hilton Head Airbnbs, rent condos, or stay in one of the many hotels and resorts housed within the island’s gated communities: Sea Pines, Palmetto Dunes, and Shipyard, among others. Pairs of alligators (often more) sunbathing on the banks of a pond or a reservoir are about as common as pigeons in New York City. Muted brown and green Spanish Moss hangs lazily from the trees.

The preferred method of transportation around the island is by bike, or you can spend all day on the beach or floating down Broad Creek. For people who prefer to spend all their time outdoors, there’s no better place to spend your time off. But I would advocate for visiting Hilton Head for the seafood alone. If you love to sip a cocktail and slurp an oyster in a relaxed and casual atmosphere, where the vibe of the day, whether it’s spoken or not, is just to have fun and enjoy yourself, then you’ll fit in perfectly here.

These are the best Hilton Head seafood restaurants, and what to try at each one.

Ocean Lounge at Sea Pines Beach Club

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Photo: Courtesy Sea Pines Resort Hilton Head

One big draw of this swanky restaurant and bar is the view of the Sea Pines private beach directly off the patio. Pale sands, towering palm trees, and wavy blue Atlantic Ocean create a captivating scene. It’s probably too cold to sit on the wood paneled patio at the Ocean Lounge in the spring (though there are heat lamps set up for the after dark crowd), but in the summer, a cocktail and half a dozen oysters accompanied by the warm salt breeze blowing breeze off the ocean sounds like the ideal way to spend an afternoon.

What to try: Daily oysters, chilled blue crab dip, blue crab and corn bisque

Where: 87 N Sea Pines Dr, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928

Hudson’s Seafood House

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Photo: Courtesy Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce

Wildly popular among both locals and out-of-towners, Hudson’s Seafood House is usually always busy. Once the weather gets warm, outdoor seating opens up that overlooks Broad Creek. The patio comes equipped with a bar of course, and also doubles as a dock for the boats the restaurant sources its seafood from – most notably its shrimp, which come from all local (or at least nearby) waters.

One of the best times to visit Hudson’s Seafood House is in March at the height of soft shell crab season. Hudson Seafood House sources all its soft shell crab directly from waters surrounding Hilton Head – there’s no middle man who freezes the crab for the journey between boat and restaurant so the crabs arrive at the restaurant live. A team of seasoned fishermen then monitor the crab day and night in a series of tubs, waiting for them to shed their hard shells and transform into the signature soft crab. Once that process is complete, the crabs are transferred to a cooler and served at the restaurant (just steps away), usually within a couple hours.

Notably, Benny Hudson Seafood market is just a short drive from Hudson’s Seafood House. This is the must-visit spot for fresh cuts of local trout, snapper, and mahi. If you want to try your hand at preparing a seafood feast, this is the place to pick up your ingredients.

What to try: Steamed local shrimp (warm), raw oysters on the half shell

Where: 1 Hudson Rd, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926

Farm Bluffton

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Photo: Courtesy FARM Bluffton

Though Farm Bluffton doesn’t strictly specialize in seafood, there are seafood dishes here that are not to be missed, like roasted oysters and crudo resting in a tangy beet aquachile (though be aware the menu changes often). The romantic atmosphere of this upscale, dimly lit restaurant makes it perfect for a quiet date night. The strong cocktails might encourage you to paint the town though – thankfully, right around the corner is Corks, a wine bar perfect for an after dinner drink.

What to try: Roasted Roddy Rock oysters, clam paella, flounder crudo

Where: 1301 May River Rd, Bluffton, SC 29910

Fishcamp on Broad Creek

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Photo: Courtesy Fishcamp on Broad Creek

Recommended by Captain Dave who operates boat tours through Outside Hilton Head, the Fish Camp on Broad Creek is situated directly on top of Broad Creek. The restaurant embodies the relaxed approach to Lowcountry life. Local musicians often stop by to play as diners enjoy fresh, seared, and boiled seafood. Come at sunset for an unparalleled view of the island’s most iconic waterway.

What to try: Peel n’ eat shrimp boil, Prince Edward Island mussels, Daufuskie blue crab cake, Blue Point oysters

Where: 11 Simmons Road, Hilton Head Island, SC, 29926

Skull Creek Boathouse

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Photo: Courtesy Skull Creek Boathouse

Voted Best Happy Hour in the The Island Packet Reader’s Choice Awards, Skull Creek Boathouse is another fun spot to sip a cocktail or a cold beer and watch the sun set over Skull Creek. Not only is there regular live music at the restaurant, but in the summer, the beer garden opens up along with an outdoor play area to keep the kids entertained while you relax.

What to order: Snow crab legs, tropical ceviche, grilled cold water lobster tail

Where: 397 Squire Pope Road Hilton Head Island, SC 29926