You’ve likely heard of the southern darling city of Charleston, but did you know about the stunning island just a 45-minute drive away? Kiawah Island is a Lowcountry escape beloved by golfers, beach bums, and families alike. Its preserved, naturally rich landscape is home to flora and fauna that include endangered Loggerhead turtles and majestic live oaks. Its beach and marshlands have over 30 miles of bike paths. And its village and golf courses offer plenty of ways to unwind when you’re not sunning on the sand or splashing in the surf. It’s an island escape with a southern flair that’s not to be missed. Here are five quintessential Kiawah experiences to plan for during a trip to the island.
1. Going for a wind-in-your-hair bike ride on the beach
Unlike other beaches, the sand on Kiawah Island is hard-packed and suitable for bicycles. A bike ride along the tideline is many islanders’ preferred way to get from point A to point B—and for good reason. You can pedal down 10 miles of naturally-preserved beach from scenic Beachwalker Park all the way down to the Ocean Course Clubhouse, where lounge chairs and cold cocktails await.
Adventurous spirits might opt to follow the trails inland. Weave your bike past lovely southern-style mansions, lagoons full of wildlife and marsh overlooks, then finish up at Freshfields Village, where you can hop off your bike for a refreshing ice-cold tea, a mouthwatering meal or an afternoon shopping break.
2. Watching wildlife wander around the island
Watching dolphin splash in the surf is always a treat, and you’re likely to see a few during your time on the island. But have you ever seen deer playing in the tide? About 500 white-tailed deer call Kiawah Island home, and you’ll often spot them prancing around in the surf between dusk and dawn. You may also encounter some toothier wildlife on your travels—it’s not uncommon to catch sight of a gator while pedalling along marshy bike trails, and bobcats wander Kiawah’s forests. (Nothing to worry about so long as you keep a respectful distance!) For a truly spectacular wildlife experience, try to time your visit with loggerhead nesting season to witness tiny turtles making their first trek down to the ocean.
3. Perfecting your game at championship golf courses
Tee-off in the shade of live oaks on a course that runs along natural lagoons, or challenges yourself to a windy game on an oceanfront green. Kiawah is home to five award-winning golf courses, designed by big names and visited by the world’s best golfers. The Ocean Course, which hosted the PGA in 2012 and is scheduled to once again in 2021, has the most seaside holes in the Northern Hemisphere. For those who really want to test their skills, this exposed course along the Atlantic is a must-visit.
4. Wining and dining at a Lowcountry village
Set aside at least an evening for exploring Freshfields Village, an open-air shopping and dining center that’s chock full of Lowcountry charm. Better yet, make it a Thursday evening—that’s when the village’s Porch Bar hosts its weekly Jazz Night. Start by sharing charcuterie and sampling wines from around the world at FortyEight Wine Bar, then indulge in French dishes on an airy enclosed porch at Hege’s. Or opt for pub-style fare at the King Street Grille, named the best sports bar by Charleston City Paper.
5. Witnessing watercolor sunrises over the Atlantic
Catching the sunrise is a quintessential experience on any East Coast beach trip. But on Kiawah Island, the start of the day is really something special. On this naturally preserved island, sunrise is a time of total serenity. Besides the sound of lulling waves and calling gulls— and maybe the shuffling of white-tailed deer in the dune grass—you can expect total peace and quiet. All 10 miles of the beachfront offer front row seats for stunning sunrises over the ocean. Many locals start their mornings at Beachwalker Park, the island’s only public beach, named one of the country’s top 10 beaches in 2013 by Dr. Beach. But the best way to watch the sunrise is with a cup of coffee on your own private beachfront balcony.
Plan a dreamy Kiawah Island vacation
Sip lemonade on a palmetto-shaded deck while listening to marsh birds chirp and sing. Prepare fresh meals with farmer’s market finds in an ocean-view kitchen. Wake up to the sight of gulls swooping over a sandy shore just outside your window. Kiawah Island Getaways offers a hand-selected collection of homes, condos, and penthouses that make it easy to find your dreamy Kiawah Island vacation rental. Book yours and start planning your perfect island getaway.