by Candyce H. Stapen
The closer we get to Kiawah Island from Charleston, just 21 miles away, the more the lowcountry landscape envelops us. En route we pass roadsides lined with pine and palmetto trees and live oaks draped with Spanish moss. The 10,000-acre barrier island off the South Carolina coast, situated between the Kiawah and Stono rivers on one side and Atlantic Ocean on the other, is home to Kiawah Island Resort. Marshlands, lagoons and five golf courses lace the eco-sensitive mix of resort and residential lodging. We find the Southern scenery soothing.
The Kiawah Island Golf Resort takes its name from the Kiawah (Kee-a-Wah) natives who lived on the island during the 17th century. The first major, modern development began in 1974 primarily on the island’s west side. In 1993, the current owners purchased the land, adding villas (a.k.a condominiums, townhouses or cottages) and homes. In 2004 the Sanctuary, a 255-room hotel, debuted and now rates Five Diamonds by Mobil and Five Stars by AAA.
Kiawah offers a great blend of children, teen and family activities, as well as facilities. The sandy beach stretches for 10-miles, five golf courses provide a range of challenges and the tennis instruction is noteworthy. In addition, families like the convenience of staying in condominiums or homes with kitchens and for those looking for luxury, book hotel rooms at the Sanctuary Hotel, which has its own check-in. The Sanctuary gets kids into the beach mode with a gift of a bucket, shovel, stuffed turtle, sunglasses and bubbles.
If renting one of Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s 500 villas or one of the 90 homes, check-in at Town Center in East Beach, two miles from the main gate. None of those properties provides any special welcome gift; but don’t worry. Just show your sand loving kids the wide, long dune bordered beach with its gentle waves and they’ll be happy.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s accolades include being rated a top 10 U.S. beach by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman (“Dr. Beach”) and the Travel Channel; a top golf resort by Travel and Leisure; and a top tennis resort by Tennis magazine. We like Kiawah Island for all of those reasons as well as for its nature activities. On Kiawah snowy egrets, great blue herons, and sandhill cranes swoop low over the marshes in search of shrimp, fiddler crabs and grasshoppers. Families can enjoy canoe trips, find dolphins when sea kayaking, and learn about watery critters on an ocean seining expedition at Kiawah Island Resort.
Our Editor Loves
- Beach, with 10 miles of hard-packed sand
- Top-rated tennis program for kids and adults
- Family tee programs in the afternoon
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Family Room 5+
- Kids' Pool
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
From the waterfront Sanctuary hotel, you can walk directly out to the beach. Rated Five Diamonds and Five Stars, the hotel looks corporate from the outside, but is casually elegant inside. The Sanctuary blends southern belle style -- grand curving staircases, antiques and Oriental rugs in tasteful shades of yellow and cream -- with a bit of beach house decor. Thirty-foot high murals of the island's ponds complete with blue herons and grasses adorn the lobby's walls. (Maybe Queen Elizabeth II has a beach castle like this). Nevertheless, well-behaved children won't be intimidated - just watch those sandy feet and wet bathing suits.
The oversized guestrooms have balconies and from some of them, you can listen to the breaking waves as you fall asleep. The Sanctuary provides cribs with baby blankets, rollaways, baby shampoo, rubber duckies, nightlights and outlet protectors free on a request basis. With a villa or a home stay, cribs and bedrails are available for a fee and in lieu of cots, guests get air mattresses for a fee. Outlet protectors and nightlights are not available.
If not residing at the Sanctuary, pick your accommodation first by location. East Beach, with easy accessibility to the Town Center Market as well as Night Heron Park, location of Kamp Kiawah as well as a popular gathering spot with a pool, tends to be more convenient for families than West Beach. Then, choose: ocean, partial ocean or "scenic" view (woods, trees, lagoons). Kiawah does not guarantee a specific location, only an accommodation's view and category.
Kiawah's freestanding homes come with more space both inside and out. That may be a consideration for families who don't want to rent a place that's extremely close to another rental. Quiet neighbors are a blessing. That said, you and your neighbors will spend most of your time outdoors.
Kiawah divides its villas (condo, townhouse, or home) into three categories based on furnishings. Remember, some accommodations date to 1976 and since the villas are privately owned the decor varies; some owners have updated while others have not, or at least not recently. Premium villas, the highest-rated lodgings, feature newer furniture and kitchens than the other categories, plus all the bedrooms have televisions. Generally, these units have wide-screen televisions, hardwood floors and stainless steel kitchen appliances. Deluxe villas, the mid-range category, offer what Kiawah labels "tasteful" decor, with televisions in the living room and the master bedroom. Resort villas, the least pricey category, have comfortable and possibly dated furnishings and kitchens, but everything works. All villas come with their own washers and dryers.
The best soul food my heart could ask for. For starters the bread basket with the honey butter and the pimento cheese Is amazing . The shrimp and grits are the perfect blend of savory and spicy. The chicken salad on croissant was the perfect for light eaters. Whatever you do make sure to come hungry, because you will be leaving full. Ambiance was sweet and staff were very attentive and knowledgeable.
I’ve been to this hotel several times and loved it each time I’ve been. This time the property has undergone a renovation and the beautiful rooms have been refreshed. One of the nicest room products of any property I’ve stayed at. Ocean front room with stunning views of the ocean from the balcony. Service has been amazing. From our arrival greeting from Emory to our bellman, Chris, everything has been perfect. A very engaging staff who truly deliver southern hospitality.
The 8,500-square-foot children's pool (added in 2012), located at Night Heron Park, features water slides and zero entry. The adult pool at Night Heron also received a face lift and, although a quiet place for adults, will be used for swim lessons and some Kamp Kiawah activities. A 4,760-foot West Beach Pool offers an adult area and a play area for kids featuring water toys and shallow water features for little ones.
Kamp Kiawah combines nature oriented activities with crafts, Karaoke and other fun activities. The program operates for ages 3 to 11 from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m, Monday through Friday from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Saturday and Sunday programs run during Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Year's, Presidents' Weekend and other holidays. Check the schedule and reserve ahead, at least by 5 p.m. the night before.
Depending on the day's theme, kids at Kamp Kiawah go on bug hunts, hold crab races, play beach games, tie dye T-shirts, sculpt sand and even try tennis or golf. In summer and whenever enough youngsters register, Kamp Kiawah divides into groups for ages three and four (a ratio of five kids to one counselor); ages 5 to 7 (eight kids to one counselor); and ages 8 to 11 (12 kids to one counselor).
You and your kids can choose from four sessions, costing $37 to $82: morning, 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.; afternoon, 1 p.m. until 4 p.m.; full day, 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. During Kidx' Night Out, (5 p.m. until 8 p.m or 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.) available only for ages five to 11 at select times, campers might make s'mores at a cookout or search for pirate treasure.
Teens aren't forgotten either. Kiawah hosts a program for 12- to 18-year-olds, June through late August as well as the week before, during and after Easter. Kiawah Quest meets in the evening at Night Heron Park. After a snack and an ice breaker game, teens choose what options such as basketball, volleyball, dancing or a late night movie. In season through the nature program, this hard-to-please group can also sign-up for teen kayaking outings, surf kayaking rodeos and other activities.
At the top-rated tennis facility, juniors ages 7 to 11 and 12 to 16 can improve their skills with the Stoke-A-Day Clinics, Monday through Friday. For those who want to learn how to serve that ball like Serena, Kiawah offers a junior camp. Kids receive two-hours of intensive instruction daily for three days. Reserve in advance. Even ages 4 to 6 can learn to lob a ball at the Tiny Tots program, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. until 9 a.m. Reserve ahead.
The alligator walk is one of Kiawah's 45 nature tours. Families can canoe the marsh waterways in search of ibis and other birds, ocean kayak alongside schools of dolphins, and also paddle out to a sandbar in the salt marsh to view oysters, snails, crabs whelks and other critters. If you're rental is near a lagoon, always check the backyard for critters even though most gators prefer the lagoons' banks.
You and your kids can learn fly casting at a clinic, go crabbing off a bridge near Osprey Point, and during July and August, find out about the loggerhead turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs. From June through August it's also easy to meet other families at the live music concerts and ice cream socials, generally held in Night Heron Park. Another good place to mix and mingle is over a pulled pork sandwich or plate of oysters at the lowcountry beach barbecue, Monday nights, Mingo Point.
In the early morning or on a cool late afternoon, bike some of the 30-miles of trails on the island.
Kiawah's dining options range from fancy -- the Sanctuary's Ocean Room and the Ocean Course's Atlantic Room -- to casual, pool-side eateries such as the Loggerhead Grill. Children's menus, available at all resort outlets, feature hamburgers, chicken tenders, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, as well as mini-steaks and fruit salads. Depending on the outlet, the children's entrees range in cost.
The Ocean Room and The Atlantic Room
Foodies, including teens accustomed to fine dining and their families, reserve tables at the Sanctuary's Ocean Room for great steaks and at the Ocean Course Clubhouse's Atlantic Room for noted seafood.
Jasmine Porch is known both for its bountiful breakfast buffets, including a Sunday jazz brunch, as well as its four course menu of lowcountry cuisine featuring such local delights as she crab bisque, fried green tomatoes, and McClellanville shrimp cooked with sweet peppers, onions, gravy and a side of grits. Leave room for the vanilla bread pudding dessert.
This poolside cafe offers burgers, salads and sandwiches in an oceanfront but casual setting.
Beaches and Cream
Light fare like coffees, specialty lemonades, quick meals, ice cream and sweets can be found here.
Tomasso at Turtle Point
In addition to the poolside grills, for moderately priced fare, consider Tomasso at Turtle Point Clubhouse. The restaurant serves pizzas and pasta and does a brisk take-out business.
Town Center Market
Along with groceries, the Town Center Market sells sandwiches, pizza, salads and pasta to eat-in or take out. For a fee and the cost of the groceries, the Market will stock your villa prior to your arrival, a service that can be priceless after a long drive or a tiring flight.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
With advanced notice, the Sanctuary will provide private babysitters who are CPR certified resort employees for a per hour fee with a four-hour minimum. Depending on the wishes of the parent, babysitters can stay in the room with a child or take him to the pool, beach or nature center. Villa guests obtain their own sitters from a resort-approved list of employees.
As mentioned above, the Town Center Market will pre-stock your villa with groceries. Reserve in advance.
The Art of Smart Timing
Kiawah's high season is summer from June through August. Low season is winter, November through February. Shoulder season is spring and fall.
Kiawah Island Resort is located 33 miles from Charleston's International airport; 110-miles from Hilton Head Island; 115 miles from Savannah's International airport; 118 miles from Myrtle Beach's International airport; 132 miles from Columbia, SC's, Metropolitan airport; and 230-miles from Charlotte's Charlotte Douglas International airport.
Guests can easily walk or bike around the resort but a vehicle is recommended for leaving the resort. Guests of The Sanctuary may enjoy the use of a Mercedes-Benz vehicle, in four hour increments per day and on a first come, first serve basis.
For Mom and Dad
Stroll hand-in-hand on the beach in the moonlight. After all, National Geographic Traveler named Kiawah one of the most romantic beaches on the east coast. Get into the swing of things on the golf course or the tennis courts then relax with the pampering strokes of a massage at the Sanctuary's spa. Try a Mint Julip facial or a lowcountry verbena body polish. Do book an adult dinner at either the Ocean Room or the Atlantic Room.