Nearest big city: Savannah, Georgia
Despite the pandemic, an estimated 2.61 million people visited Hilton Head Island in 2020. This resort town along South Carolina’s coastline is more than just a popular vacation destination.
About 35,800 people live here year round. The island takes its moniker from William Hilton, an English sea captain who surveyed it while exploring the Port Royal Sound in 1663 and named the island after himself. Fast-forward to 2021, and the town’s economy is thriving — between 2015 and 2020, jobs in Hilton Head grew by nearly 18%, and by 2025 they’re expected to jump another 19%.
While out-of-towners frequent the island’s tourist beaches, locals unwind at off-the-beaten places like Fish Haul Creek Park, a dog-friendly beach where visitors can spot blue herons, egrets and other native birds. On a humid day — a typical forecast in Hilton Head during the summer — residents and visitors alike can retreat indoors and sample spiced rum at Hilton Head Distillery or catch a performance at the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, which will celebrate its 40th season this year with acts including violinist Will Hagen and pianist Michelle Cann. — Daniel Bortz
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina