Kiawah Island: The Perfect Balance of Leisure and Luxury

Just off the coast of the charming city of Charleston, SC, you’ll find Kiawah Island, an upscale yet relaxed oasis known as The Hamptons of The South. Golf is king, wildlife is abundant, and beaches are pristine. Sprinkle in a few celebrities, some Sunday afternoon bike rides, and an oyster roast with live music and you have a recipe for a laid-back yet indulgent getaway.

The Basics

Kiawah Island is a barrier island located about 30 miles south of Charleston. The island consists of 10,000 acres of land, is a little over 10 miles long, and is just 1.5 miles wide at its widest point. There are also 30 miles of paved trails and 123 acres of parks. Perhaps best of all, you’ll find 10 miles of unspoiled beaches.

The Kiawah Island climate is temperate and winter high temperatures average a comfy 60 degrees Fahrenheit, while summer highs average 85 degrees Fahrenheit. As a general rule, January is the chilliest month, July is the warmest, and August is the rainiest.

Golfer swinging golf club on Kiawah Island

Kiawah Island has some of the top golf courses in the world.

Kiawah Island Things to Do

  • Golf – Golf is a way of life here, and there are five public golf courses that are renowned for their stellar layouts and world-class conditions. Designed by some of the golfing world’s greats, each course artfully blends into the island’s magnificent landscapes of saltwater marshes, rolling sand dunes, and maritime forests. Courses include: The Ocean Course, Osprey Point, Cougar Point, Turtle Point, and Oak Point. And while green fees may set you back a bit, for the avid golfer the experience is hard to beat.
  • Beaches – Kiawah Island beach is made up of two areas: East Beach and West Beach. While there are several private access points, there is only one public beach access on the island: Kiawah Beachwalker Park, located on the west end. It’s made an appearance on a well-known Best Beaches list and has plenty of amenities to make for a fun day for families, solo travelers, and couples alike. Picnic areas with grills, boardwalk with stroller/wheelchair-accessible ramp, seasonal lifeguards, and beach chair/umbrella rentals make enjoying yourself easy and safe.
  • Bike Rentals – Exploring by bike is pretty much the perfect way to enjoy the island’s serenity while getting a little exercise. There’s a 10-mile long bike path that starts at one end of the island and travels alongside the main parkway. As an added bonus, the paths are set back from the road so you’ll have a scenic view and be safe.
  • Heron Park Nature Center – The rich natural environment makes for prime real estate not just for human residents, but for wildlife, too. Eighteen species of mammals (including rabbits, red foxes, dolphins, and bobcats), 30+ species of reptiles (including alligators, Loggerhead sea turtles, and skinks), and 300 species of birds (including ruby-throated hummingbirds, American oystercatchers, and egrets) make their home on the island. The best way to experience these animals is through the Heron Park Nature Center’s guided kayak and paddleboard tours and the many nature programs and special events.
Great egret in a Kiawah Island marsh

An egret in a Kiawah Island marsh

Where to Stay

The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort – Perhaps no other accommodation exemplifies true Southern hospitality like The Sanctuary Hotel. The atmosphere evokes another time – as if you were walking into a private seaside mansion of yore. The stately rooms are appointed with antique hand-carved furnishings and luxurious linens. But what really stands out is the gracious Lowcountry hospitality: your needs are anticipated and your preferences are remembered. All this has earned the hotel the prestigious Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond awards.

Andell Inn Boutique Village Hotel – This lovely Kiawah Island boutique hotel is designed for maximum comfort and relaxation, with the luxury synonymous with Kiawah Island. Whether you’re up for a romantic getaway for two, a girls getaway, or need a family-friendly hotel for the kids, the Andell Inn has a room for you. Plus, most rooms feature fully-equipped kitchens- perfect for an extended stay. Add the hot breakfast buffet, and guest laundry room, and you may never leave! The hotel also offers packages such as romantic escapes and spa getaways.

Kiawah Island Golf Resort Villas & Kiawah Island Golf Resort Home Rentals – Kiawah Island Villa Rentals offers a complete portfolio of villa rentals. Search by number of rooms, preferred level of appointments and amenities, and the type of view your prefer.

Need more space or a different island location? Chose the home type and location that best suits your fancy and wake up in the home of your dreams. (Or do a Kiawah Island ‘trial run’ before buying.)

Whether you choose a villa or a home rental, you’ll enjoy exclusive resort privileges. Some of these include: access to the pool complexes, golf savings and preferred tee times, tennis discounts and preferred reservations, nature and recreation specials, preferred dining options, complementary island transportation, and a host of other premier benefits.

We also love that Kiawah Island Golf Resort has partnered with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Charleston. This offers resort guests and their children the opportunity have a volunteer vacation and have a positive impact in lives of RMHCC guests.

Umbrellas on beach at Kiawah Island near Charleston, SC

Umbrellas on beach at Kiawah Island near Charleston, SC

Where to Eat

  • The Ocean Room – Located at The Sanctuary, this upscale steakhouse and sushi lounge has a collection of Forbes 4-Star and AAA 4-Diamond ratings that are much deserved. Dishes feature locally-sourced beef, poultry, and produce, so the menu varies with the seasons. The wine list is simply outstanding, with over 1,000 exceptional selections. The decor is divine, the views are splendid, and the atmosphere is classy yet low key.
  • Jasmine Porch Another fabulous Kiawah restaurant at The Sanctuary, Jasmine Porch showcases Lowcountry favorites such as she crab bisque and shrimp and grits, but with a high-end twist. As with The Ocean Room, the menu is seasonal so you always enjoy local flavors at their peak. If you’re there on a Sunday, head to the unbelievable Sunday brunch with seafood specialities, house-made charcuterie, French toast, eggs Benedict, a variety of salads, endless mimosas and much more.
  • Ryder Cup Bar – Located at The Ocean Course, Ryder Cup Bar offers breakfast (seasonally), lunch, and dinner with a casual modern atmosphere. Bar food is their specialty- think burgers, oyster po’boys, fish tacos – but the twist of elegance added here puts dishes over the top. And whether you’re a golfer or just a fan, the sweeping views of the 18th hole and the ocean only accent the top-notch dining.

Island Shopping

Freshfields Village

Right at the intersections of Kiawah, Seabrook, and Johns Islands lies Freshfields Village, a quaint town center that’s much more than a “shopping” experience. Home to dozens of lovely shops, restaurants, spas, and more, Freshfields makes for a perfect day out and about on Kiawah Island. This peaceful setting also hosts several free public events throughout the year, such as movies under the stars and live music, art shows, kid-friendly activities, and a host of other fun things to do.

With plenty of boutique clothing shops, your island style will be right on point. Of course, you’ll have plenty of options to dress up your home, as well. Browse and shop original artwork, stylish home goods, and specialty candle shops.

And if you’re hungry or just want to indulge in a glass of wine or some ice cream, Freshfields is the place to be. From Peruvian shrimp tacos to artisan pizza, to Asian fusion delights, Freshfield’s restaurants have it.

There are also a wide variety of services here such as banks, attorneys, medical services, hair and nail salons, and groceries. You’ll have everything you need to be comfortable, well-groomed, and even to invest in some treasured Kiawah Island real estate.

Sunset on the river on Kiawah Island

Sunset on the river on Kiawah Island

Final Thoughts

At first glance, Kiawah Island is a golf destination, but it’s much more than that. Of course, golf is a major draw here. As are the pristine beaches and wildlife. However, what we love most about Kiawah Island is the ability to relax and unplug; and to do so in style. Although it’s called The Hamptons of the South, what really sets Kiawah Island apart from Hamptons is the casual vibe here. You don’t come to Kiawah Island to ‘see and be seen’, but rather to take it easy, do what makes you happy, and let your guard down.

And isn’t that what a perfect getaway is really all about?