FRIPP ISLAND, South Carolina – You can practically see Hilton Head from the top 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 how Fripp likes it, cut off from the rest of the tourists in South Carolina’s Lowcountry.
There are no grocery stores at Fripp, a 6.5 square mile private resort off the Beaufort coast between Charleston, SC and Savannah, Georgia. There are no outlet malls, no hotels, no miniature 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, although the population swells to around 5,000 during the summer months.
Many of these are families on vacation: dive into the Atlantic, jump in the pool, play tennis, golf, bike, fish, paddle, go golf karting or just laze 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 the best small town in the South by readers of Southern Living magazine (which generally serves as my travel and daydream guide). There you can stroll through the mansions of the Spanish moss-covered Historic District, a kaleidoscope of charming boutiques on Bay Street, and the sun-drenched terraces of restaurants along the Beaufort River.
We spent a day in Beaufort, which I had visited on a girls’ weekend eight years ago. But the rest of our week passed in a golden haze on Fripp.
We chose the island because we found an incredible house on Vrbo with a pool, jacuzzi, waterslide and fire pit. At 12 hours, the destination was just within the reach of a day’s drive, but you can fly into Savannah and Charleston Airports if you wish. When people asked where we were going and I said Fripp, most looked confused. “What?”
The name doesn’t represent the perfect plethora of possible puns, many of which grace mailboxes: Fripp Floppin’, Fripp-a-dee-doo-dah, and A Long Strange Fripp.
The island is named after Johannes Fripp, a swashbuckling 17th-century privateer or British navigator who protected the area from Spanish attacks, depending on who you ask. According to legend, pirates hid treasures on the island. But for much of its history, the island was primarily used for hunting, as was the aptly named Hunting Island to the north. Hunting Island is now a 5,000-acre state park with hiking trails, a beach, and an 1875 lighthouse that is currently closed for repairs.
A bridge from Hunting Island to Fripp was built in 1961. Over the next decade the Ocean Point Golf Links, Racquet Club, Marina, homes and condos were built, all part of the Fripp Island Golf & Beach Resort.
The island remains private and unincorporated, with many of the homes being rented out directly through the resort itself. You must pass through a security gate to enter the island, and to access all amenities, including the two golf courses, four pools, children’s activities, or restaurants, you must purchase a $35 club card valid for one week , for each family member 13 years and older.
But once you’re on Fripp, you won’t want to leave the palm paradise far away from everyday life.
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. Where it makes no sense to pack elegant earrings because you only wear swimsuits and t-shirts anyway.
The island is bigger than I expected with room to spread out and deer everywhere. But it’s compact enough that you can park your car for a week and take bikes or golf carts anywhere.
We mostly stayed where we were. We stocked up on groceries in Beaufort and cooked dinner every night, sharing kitchen chores so cleaning up was easy. We also shared the responsibilities of fighting with the kids, and while the kids hung out with their friends, the parents felt like they were actually on vacation.
We spent our days spotting dolphins and an alligator, driving golf carts, picking up shells, swimming and playing soccer on the sand. We spent our evenings cooking dinner, sitting in the hot tub, playing cards, and telling stories by the fire.
That’s not to say we didn’t have plans. We shopped and had lunch in Beaufort one morning and rented boats. I took a tennis lesson and at the end of the lesson I was absolutely amazed by the compliments and helpful tips. We hit balls on the driving range. We paddled. We went boogie boarding. We visited the Hunting Island lighthouse. And my 9 year old daughter and I took a surfing lesson at Nalu Paddleboarding, a shop at Fripp Marina.
She was a natural who showed up on the first try and even turned to wave. I definitely wasn’t, but thanks to our instructor’s patience, I managed to get up on the board a few times. More importantly, I felt revitalized to try something completely new.
Totally new, totally chilled. Frippee-ki-yay!
When you go:
Check Vrbo or Fripp Island Resort to search for homes and condos.
Prices depend on amenities and location, although you can easily get anywhere on the island by bike or golf cart.
Expect $300 or more per night for a two-bedroom condo in the summer months.
The houses vary from sleeping places for four to 16 people. For example, a house for 14 people might cost around $600 per night.