Hilton Head Island or Hilton Head is a town (located on an island of the same name) in Beaufort County, South Carolina, United States. It is 20 miles (32 km) north of Savannah, Georgia, and 95 miles (153 km) south of Charleston. The island features 12 miles (19 km) of beachfront on the Atlantic Ocean and is a popular vacation destination. In 2004, an estimated 2.25 million visitors pumped more than $1.5 billion into the local economy. The year-round population was 33,862 at the 2000 census, although during the peak of summer vacation season the population can swell to 275,000. Over the past decade, the island's population growth rate was 32%.
The island has a rich history that started with seasonal occupation by native Americans thousands of years ago, and continued with European exploration and the Sea Island Cotton trade. It became an important base of operations for the Union blockade of the Southern ports during the Civil War. Once the island fell to Union troops, hundreds of ex-slaves flocked to Hilton Head, which is still home to many 'native islanders', many of whom are descendants of freed slaves known as the Gullah (or Geechee) who have managed to hold onto much of their ethnic and cultural identity.