If you’re looking for the best places on Hilton Head for coffee, we have the list of coffee spots for you! Staying away from run of the mill chains, we investigated all the places you can get a good cup of coffee on Hilton Head and only a few made our final cut.
A coffee shop can be so many wonderful things: a quick pit stop in the morning, a break from the office or another job or activity at say 3:30 pm on a weekday, a godsend when you are hung over on a vacation, a place to collect yourself (whether with a book or your laptop), and somewhere that fuels you with good feelings just because it’s comfortable and friendly. In a world that seems to have a Starbucks or a Dunkin’ on every corner, it’s hard to imagine a time when mornings didn’t start with a cup of coffee or a forceful cold brew at a coffee shop. But coffee wasn’t always so ubiquitous in America.
Captain John Smith, the founder of the Virginia colony, introduced coffee to America in 1607 after sampling and enjoying it in his travels to Turkey. Yet it did not gain popularity with the Jamestown settlers as they favored tea, hard cider and ale. Coffeehouses were becoming popular in Europe, especially in England and France. By 1675, England had more than 3000 coffeehouses.
America’s first coffeehouse was established in 1676, in Boston, but tea was still the preferred non-spirit drink in the colonies. In the 1760’s, the British began to impose a tax on tea, first through the Stamp Act of 1765, and later with the Townshend Act of 1767.
Dissatisfied colonists took to smuggling tea or drinking herbal infusions. Outraged merchants, shippers and colonists staged a number of demonstrations culminating in the famous Boston Tea Party of December 1773. John Adams, later to be our second president, declared at the time that tea was a “traitor’s drink” and many Americans united and vowed to only serve coffee in their homes.
Drinking tea was now considered supporting the British and a betrayal of the colonies.
Early European and American coffeehouses encouraged conversation and often carried the latest newspapers. They were places of social leveling, open to all, regardless of class or profession, although not necessarily open to women.
In America, the New York Stock Exchange started in the Tontine Coffee House in the 1790’s on lower Manhattan’s Wall Street. Ironically, the location of that coffee house is the reason “Wall Street” is synonymous with world-wide finance. During the 19th century, coffee house growth declined as wealthier businessmen gravitated to private clubs and saloons offering “free lunches”.
However, in the early 20th century, coffee houses saw renewed interest as a result of two things: the Temperance movement and massive Italian immigration. It is hardly coincidental that cities that experienced large Italian immigration communities (such as New York’s Greenwich Village, Boston’s North End and San Francisco’s North Beach) also saw a proliferation of coffeehouses. Coffee shops, coffee bars and cafes were embedded in the Italian culture and they continued their traditions in America.
New York City became the standard for the new coffee house: a place for conversation, politics, art and music. The Bitter End, Cafe Wha, Cafe Reggio (all in NYC) became the standard bearer of the American Coffee house. All have become cultural icons and are still operating today.
- Cafe Reggio opened in 1927 and was the first cafe to serve cappuccino in the United States.
- Cafe Wha was the hangout of Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Jimmy Hendrix. Bruce Springsteen performed there as did Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby.
- Muhammed Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) recited his own poetry at the Bitter End. Bob Dylan played pool. Joni Mitchell sang. Neil Young bombed as did James Taylor. Woody Allen and Billy Crystal cut their teeth.
The American coffeehouse had evolved into a somewhat elitist, artsy, hipster type of place. But that was about to change. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, for better or worse, the American coffee house began to develop a nationwide culture that became more inclusive.
The rise of Starbucks saw an unprecedented number of patrons drinking specialty coffees in a public setting. Coffee houses became an integral part of our culture and opened the door for small, independent, creative entrepreneurs to enter the coffee world. That is the better. The worse?
Hip became the national brand of Starbucks and the customer became part of the furniture. Having a coffee in San Francisco became no different than having a coffee in Hoboken, New Jersey. That is not what I want out of a coffee shop.
So, you may ask: WHAT DO I WANT? You can be sure that I have my answer at the ready!
- Of course, good coffee. For me, the test of a good coffee shop’s coffee is how the drip tastes when black. Needs to be strong, dark, flavorful (and in a lid that doesn’t leak if I am taking it with me). If I am going to enjoy my drink on the premises, a good sturdy mug is always appreciated.
- Seating. I always love a place that has a comfortable chair that I can plop down in. If not that, then tables that err on the side of large and functional.
- Coffee shops with actual food. Personally, I appreciate well-prepared, highly curated menus that make you want to come back. While muffins and scones and delectable pieces of cake usually can hit the spot, we all know that there are also plenty of times when you need something more than that.
- Service that is friendly and relaxed but attentive. Baristas who aren’t too cool but know their stuff. If I am a regular, I’d like for you to know my name after a few visits. (I always liked the TV show Cheers.)
- Wifi. Free is a must, and a password that makes me smile is even better.
- Just in case, many available outlets if I forgot to charge
- Clean bathrooms. No need to explain.
Whether you are visiting Hilton Head the first time or you are a local, there is no reason to rely on international chains like Starbucks or Dunkin’ for morning coffee. Happily, there are many unique and welcoming coffee spots throughout the island that you can make your everyday spot.
Now it’s (finally) time to give you my picks for the best coffee spots on Hilton Head Island. No particular order or rank. A coffee spot is on the list because I enjoyed the quality of the coffee, food, amenities, atmosphere and service (see my list of seven qualifications above). Every spot making the list has been visited on numerous occasions.
71 Pope Avenue
An inviting and casual spot. A laid back oasis of relaxation. Beautiful outdoor patio. Free Wifi. Environmentally conscious. Cocktails featuring Hilton Head Distillery. Pet Friendly. Breakfast all day. Lunch 7:30am – 3:00pm. Open daily. Can’t say enough about this great place.
DRINK – quality Batdorf and Bronson coffee, certified organic and fair trade. The French Roast is bold, dark and smoky. Steamed milk and brewed coffee in the Caffe Misto brings memories of Paris. Offerings run the gamut from Americano, Cappuccino, Expresso, Latte and Macchiato. Try the “Is What It Is,” an espresso with white and dark chocolate.
EAT – start your day with a biscuit and gravy: open face, sausage gravy and an egg your way. The Ultimate Grilled Cheese is not hyperbole: melted cheddar, provolone, tomato, bacon, grilled jalapeno cheddar cornbread. If you want tradition, order the Reuben.
Java Burrito Company
1000 William Hilton Parkway, Suite J6
Coffee and burritos? Might seem an unlikely combination but this place defies labeling. Casual, relaxed, inviting spot. Nice comfy chairs inside (always a plus). 7:30am to 9:00pm Monday to Sunday. Craft cocktails, wine, beer. Happy hour 4:00pm – 8:00pm everyday. Free Wifi. Friendly, attentive service.
DRINK – locally roasted organic beans, local milk, organic cane sugar, syrup. Everything is top shelf: estate blends, house, single origin roasts. Quality espresso, lattes and cappuccinos. Try a cold brew with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Quality tea from the Charleston Tea Plantation. How about this? Beetroot Latte: organic beetroot blended in almond milk, honey and french vanilla.
EAT – Avocado toast with house made fresh guacamole, red onion and cilantro. Try a breakfast sandwich: locally made pineapple brioche, cage free eggs, thick cut bacon and freshly grated cheese. Of course burritos, too numerous to name.
Carolina Coffee & Crumbs
101 Pope Avenue
Perfect coffee shop atmosphere. A little slice of paradise on the outside patio. Great location on Coligny Circle across from the beach. So friendly I thought I might see Rachel or Ross. Breakfast, Lunch 7:00am – 5:00pm daily. Free Wifi. Pet friendly. Full line of CBD products (aka cannabidiol). Even try a cold brew with a CBD product: calming, yet productive mood. Cocktails, Wine, Beer.
DRINK – Nitro Brew coffee: cold brew coffee charged with nitrogen….wow! Rich, creamy, head like a Guinness. Pretty Little Latte: espresso, steamed milk, lavender, and vanilla. Coffee cocktails, try a Beach Blanket: Blue Chair Bay Coconut Rum, espresso, whipped cream….now that’s a nice way to dress up coffee! The extra step, sweet cream served with your coffee.
EAT – breakfast Sammi: bacon, sausage, provolone, poached egg, vidalia onion, jam on bagel. (Seriously, how did I miss this on Best Breakfast Sandwiches in SC?) BBQ brisket, coleslaw and fries. Coffee heaven plus BBQ? Oh My!
The French Bakery
28 Shelter Cove Lane #120
European style bistro. Very attentive, hands-on owner. Expat Americans in the 1920’s would never have gone to Paris if this wonderful spot was in existence. Easy to fall in love with this place. Owner might be the hardest working person in “show business.” Breakfast, Lunch 8:30am – 3:00pm daily. Beautiful and flavorful pastries. Wine. Free Wifi. Outdoor seating. Overlooking Broad Creek.
DRINK – nitrogen infused cold brew is always a plus. Quality coffee beans from King Bean in North Charleston. Perfect crema on all foamy coffees. Coffee ice cubes, your iced coffee is never watered down
EAT – Normandy crepes: fluffy scrambled eggs, applewood bacon, beachwood ham, crimini mushrooms with creamy cheddar cheese sauce. Is this why we stormed Normandy Beach in WWII. Try a Riviera Quiche: wonderful dish of tomato, spinach, swiss and feta with salad and baguette
French Kiss Bakery
1 North Forest Beach Drive Unit 1A
Small bakery and coffee shop that is big on quality. Nice setting, small ski chateau design. Everything fresh, fresh. Beautiful intimate spot, would love to linger but never could get Wifi. I guess maybe that’s not so bad, I had a book. But the staff had no explanation. Breakfast, lunch 7:30am – 1:30pm. Pastries sell out quickly.
DRINK – all the usual suspects in the coffee menu, all solid. The iced coffee is especially good.
FOOD – exemplary breakfast sandwich: egg, sausage, cheese, croissant. If you never had Monkey Bread, this is the place: soft, sweet, sticky dough sprinkled with cinnamon. Delicious cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing.
Signe’s Heaven Bound Bakery & Cafe
93 Arrow Road
Longstanding (1972) cafe and bakery tucked away in a quiet spot. Friendly service, eclectic offerings. I always enjoy myself; some might think decor is dated, and on occasion food can be erratic, overall I believe it’s a solid spot. But you decide. Breakfast all day, lunch 8:00am – 6:00pm. Free Wifi. Outdoor patio.
DRINK – quality beans, special blend and roasting. Nice renditions of espresso, cafe latte and iced coffee.
EAT – great selection of scones, try the blackberry and the key lime cream. Wonderful Stuffed Spuds: oven baked, sour cream, cheddar. Tomato tart: roma tomatoes baked on top of swiss cheese, basil, scallions, touch of Dijon mustard in a buttery crust. That’s Amore!
Hilton Head Social Bakery
17 Harbourside Lane, Building 11
Shelter Cove Harbor and Marina
A touch of France with a scenic view of Shelter Cove Harbor. A bakery above reproach with interesting light lunches. Obviously a talented, creative chef. You can taste the passion in all the baked goods. Breakfast, Lunch 8:00am – 9:00pm but always check, they sometimes close earlier (Mon, Tues). Attentive, caring service. Don’t forget the views. Outside patio.
DRINK – Organic, fair trade coffee. House blend is strong yet smooth. A pump of caramel syrup is the right touch with your iced coffee. Up to speed on all coffee house drinks.
EAT – classic croque monsieur: french bread, baked ham, bleu cheese. Bacon and potato stuffed baguette. Heavenly.
Palmetto Dunes General Store
1 Trent Jones Lane
A be-all general store: everything you need when on vacation. Get your supplies and have an honest coffee while you’re at it. This is your Everyperson store. 5:00am – 11:00pm. Located in a resort complex and can be a little pricey, but it is definitely convenient. Wine, Beer. Shop and sip. There is an outdoor area, benches if you do want to stay.
DRINK – not a lingering place, so sip while you shop or take it with you. Vibrant, simple coffee at its best.
EAT – everything from breakfast sandwiches to pulled pork – you will never go hungry. Fried chicken to write home about.
The Purple Cow
24 G Palmetto Bay Road
Interesting, quirky place, cozy inside, great mix of coffee, confections and cocktails. Late night till 11:00pm – check the opening hours as they can vary. Full bar. Free Wifi. Outside. At its best, a Greenwich Village vibe. Sometimes misses the mark, but not by much
DRINK – all the iced coffees hit the spot: coffee, cappuccino, latte, mocha. Rewarding regular cup.
EAT – I did say quirky….fried peanut butter and banana sandwich (Elvis’ favorite). Cheesecake to make Junior’s in Brooklyn get worried; definitely try the chocolate or the strawberry balsamic. Donuts galore.
Visit the Purple Cow
School Grounds Coffee
201 School Road
Daufuskie Island, SC
Gullah culture. Pat Conroy. Housed in the schoolhouse where Conroy taught. Featured in his novel, The Water is Wide, and the movie by the same name. This is a side trip, but something you do not want to miss. Satisfying coffee and history. Call, hours can vary. This is not going to be your regular coffee stop, but it can be worth the ferry ride and you definitely don’t want to miss it if you’re taking a day trip to Daufuskie.
DRINK – be patient, your coffee cravings will be satisfied. From daily brew to espresso and mocha, you will not be disappointed. If you’d like to deviate, try a frozen lemonade.
EATS – Muffins, yes! Double chocolate chip cookies. Fresh baked goods change everyday. Lemon zest cookies are the way to go.
Harbour Town Bakery & Cafe
140 Lighthouse Road
If you’re staying here, this could be your morning spot. Within Sea Pines complex. Comfortable, welcoming. Stuck inside of a corporate world, but a good coffee and simple dishes. If not a guest, be prepared to pay an $8.00 Sea Pines entry fee. But lots of scenic beauty. Wine, beer etc. Free Wifi. Rule of thumb, check the hours, they can do what they want to do sometimes with the schedule.
DRINK – lots of great blends: organic, Columbian and beyond. Pecan for sure.
EATS – Breakfast BLT: eggs over easy, american cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayo, wheat toast. Did I really have to tell you the ingredients? Corned Beef Hash, Yes, Yes! You will enjoy it.
Lowcountry Produce Market & Cafe
71 Lighthouse Road #510
An airy, high-ceilinged market and cafe. Soups, pickles, chutneys, dips, jellies, spices, condiments, coffee, tea, gifts, kitchen and home things. Scratch kitchen. I always appreciate the fresh ingredients and the friendly, yet not intrusive, service. Breakfast, Lunch, 8:00am – 2:30pm. Free Wifi. Outdoor seating. Great browsing spot. Located in Sea Pines Plantation ($8.00 entrance fee if not staying there, but a lot to do).
DRINK – Americano: perfectly balanced, not too strong but flavorful. Espresso is just what you want in a cafe. Cafe au lait: a simple drink yet so many places ruin it….not here!
EAT – Flounder & Grits (what a way to start the day) fried flounder and stewed tomatoes over creamy grits with a buttermilk cheese biscuit. When I travel for business, I think about a breakfast like this! Or Salmon & Eggs: smoked salmon, spring onions, asparagus, goat cheese and a buttermilk cheese biscuit. Don’t miss the fresh pressed OJ. If you are there for lunch, you will never go wrong with a Po Boy with your choice of fried shrimp, oyster or flounder.
890 William Hilton Parkway Suite 70
A donut shop serving stellar coffee and a large variety of freshly made donuts with a large selection of toppings. High quality, but more of a take out establishment. Few chairs outside. Can take a little long, but when you order, your donut is made right then (you will never eat an 8:00am donut at 2:00pm at Duck Donuts). Online ordering is a good option. Open 7:00am – 5:00pm daily, Sunday till 3pm.
DRINK – an excellent cup to start the day, 100% Arabica roasted coffee beans. The Rip Tide is a dark roast that stokes the fires! If you want to slide into your day, then I recommend the lightly roasted Lighthouse Blend. Try a refreshing iced coffee and be sure to add a pump of either carmel, vanilla or hazelnut.
EAT – How about a Peanut Butter Paradise: peanut butter icing with chocolate drizzle. Imagine that with a dark roast! If you need protein, have a maple iced donut with chopped bacon. Want a traditional breakfast sandwich? Then try the egg, cheese, bacon on a sliced donut. Oops – not so traditional – but delicious!
71 Lighthouse Road Ste 399
An elegant, yet relaxed, spot serving gourmet coffee, luscious pastries and gelato. Refined, yet friendly, service. The helpful, personal service sets C’est Bon apart. This is an oasis of calm with a beautiful patio setting. Breakfast, light lunch and well crafted coffee drinks. Open 8:00am – 8:00pm daily, except Sunday. Free Wifi. Again, you will need a day pass to enter Sea Pines ($8.00) but there is a lot to do and this coffee spot is a must.
DRINK – PERC roasters in Savannah, Georgia, using South American beans creates some specialty coffees for C’est Bon. Their everyday brew is a medium-bodied beverage that can be drunk all day. Wide variety of flavors for both hot and cold coffees. The brown butter toffee, salted caramel and agave knock it out of the ballpark. If you want a delectable taste, try the Almond Joy latte: a chocolate and coconut taste trip. Caramel macchiato stands up to any I have ever had
EAT – Croissants (yes!) try butter or the strawberry cream cheese with a cup of coffee and you could think you are on the Champs Elysees. Do you think chicken salad is boring? Not here! Couldn’t get the recipe, so I’ll just have to keep coming back. Also try a Kiwi popsicle on a hot, humid day.
Hilton Head Diner Restaurant
6 Marina Side Drive
A bustling diner with an old retro feel. Huge menu (well, it is a diner) with several coffee options. A diner, almost by definition, does too many things. And that can be the case at the Hilton Head Diner sometimes. It can be hit or miss. But the coffee is excellent and if you need a jolt of java they are open late to satisfy any coffee cravings. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Late Night 7:00am – 11:00pm. Full bar. Wifi. Outside dining. Nice comfy booths.
DRINK – cappuccino had nice added touches – dash of cinnamon and a biscotti. Regular cup of coffee was what you would expect in a diner, but served in a mug (a real plus). Nice amount of crema on the espresso. Some nice specialty coffees such as the Bailey’s Irish Cream (freshly brewed coffee with whipped cream) is a winner as is the Kahlua, coffee and whipped cream.
EAT – everything under the sun! But, that said, the Crab Cake Benedict (crab cake, poached eggs on an english muffin with hollandaise sauce) was satisfying. Fried chicken on a shortbread biscuit with mashed potatoes and country gravy was a rib sticking dish. Also, you can spike a milkshake with alcohol.