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


FRIPP ISLAND, South Carolina – You can practically see Hilton Head from the tip of Fripp 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 the way Fripp likes it, cut off from the rest of the tourists in South Carolina’s Lowcountry.

There are no grocery stores on Fripp, a 6.5-square-mile private resort off the coast of Beaufort, between Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Georgia. There are no outlet 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, though the population swells to about 5,000 during the summer months.

Many of those are families on vacation: plunging in the Atlantic Ocean, jumping in the pool, playing tennis, playing golf, bicycling, fishing, paddleboarding, golf carting or just lounging under 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 Beaufort, recently voted best small town in the South by the readers of Southern Living magazine (which generally serves as my travel and daydreaming guide). There you can wander the mansions of the Spanish-moss-draped historic district, a kaleidoscope of charming boutiques on Bay Street and the sun-dappled patios of restaurants along the Beaufort River.

We spent one 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 incredible house we found on Vrbo with a pool, hot tub, waterslide and fire pit. At 12 hours away, the destination was just within the range of a one-day drive, though if you want to fly you can, to the Savannah and Charleston airports. When people asked where we were going, and I said, Fripp, most looked confused. “What?”

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

Fripp Island, South Carolina

Paddleboarding on the inlets around Fripp, just after sunrise.

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

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

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

But once you’re on Fripp, you may never want to leave the paradise of palm trees, far removed from the everyday world.

This is a place where your calendar is completely free, where your biggest question is beach or pool – and the answer is, both. Where you can set up the Risk board and play all week long. Where there’s no point in packing dressy dangly earrings because you’ll wear only swimsuits 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 on bikes or golf carts.

We mostly stayed put. We stocked up on groceries in Beaufort and cooked dinner every night, sharing kitchen duties so it made clean-up easy. We shared kid-wrangling duties, too, so while the kids hung out with their friends, the parents felt like they actually got a vacation.

Fripp Island, South Carolina

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

We whiled away our days spotting dolphins and an alligator, riding golf carts, picking up shells, swimming and playing football on the sand. We lazed away our evenings cooking dinner, sitting in the hot tub, playing cards and telling stories around the fire.

That’s not to say we had no plans. We shopped and lunched in Beaufort one morning and rented boats. I took a tennis lesson and was absolutely glowing with compliments and helpful tips. We hit balls on the driving range. We paddleboarded. We boogie-boarded. We visited the Hunting Island lighthouse. And my 9-year-old daughter and I took a surfing lesson through Nalu Paddleboarding, a shop located at the Fripp Marina.

She was a natural who popped up on her first try, even turned around to wave. I was definitely not, but thanks to the patience of our instructor, I did manage to stand up a few times on the board. More importantly, I felt invigorated trying something completely new.

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

If you go:

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

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

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

Houses vary from sleeping four to 16. A 14-person, house, for example, could cost about $600 a night.

Fripp Island, South Carolina

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


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