How to Spend the Perfect 24 Hours on Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Photo: Courtesy of Kiawah Island Real Estate/Photography by Patrick O’Brien

While Charleston is a beloved South Carolina destination, nearby Kiawah Island tends to fly under the radar — and that’s exactly what makes it the perfect place to unwind for a day.

As soon as you arrive on the magnolia-lined avenues of Kiawah, serenity sets in... Perhaps that's why it's consistently voted by T+L readers as one of their favorite islands in the U.S. The only commercial development you'll find on the island is Freshfields Village, a small town center with an assortment of shops and restaurants, and the crowds of other coastal retreats are blissfully absent.

One of the main draws of Kiawah is the award-winning golf courses. With five public courses to choose from you certainly won’t run out of holes to work on your chip shot. The only danger? Letting the stunning ocean vistas distract you into scoring a double-bogey rather than a birdie.

Kiawah is a quick island getaway that offers pristine natural beauty — with wide golden beaches, maritime forests, and picturesque marshland — and a laid-back, Lowcountry vibe. Here's how to spend the perfect 24 hours on the charming island.

8 a.m.: Breakfast at Java Java

Start off the day with — what else — coffee, brewed with beans from award-winning King Bean Coffee Roasters in Charleston, or a fresh fruit smoothie if coffee isn’t your preferred morning drink. The cafe also serves a delicious selection of breakfast sandwiches and pastries. Take your brew to go as you window shop the more than 30 boutiques in Freshfields.

18th Hole at The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island
Courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort

9 a.m.: Tee time at the Ocean Course

Of all of the beautifully designed courses on the island, Ocean Course is the most famous — it has hosted several PGA Championship tournaments, and is considered one of the best golf courses in the world. Scoring a tee time at this course guarantees some incredible panoramas of the Atlantic surf while you play. Designed by legendary course designer Pete Dye, the Ocean Course hugs almost three miles of coast, boasting the most seaside holes in the Northern hemisphere.

1 p.m.: Lunch at Ryder Cup Bar

Head straight off the final hole to some post-round drinks at the Ocean Course’s Ryder Cup Bar, where they serve elevated pub fare with low country flair. Order the signature Crispy Shrimp, made with American white shrimp caught by the trawlers you'll see on the horizon. Ask to sit on the veranda so you can soak in the ocean breeze.

Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island
Courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort

2:30 p.m.: Relax on the sand at Beachwalker Park

One of the most unique characteristics of Kiawah is that it runs east-west as opposed to north-south, so while many other barrier islands battle beach erosion, Kiawah’s 10 miles of beaches are actually growing wider with each passing year. Building regulations on Kiawah keep houses well past the second row of dunes, leaving the beaches peaceful and pristine.

Head to Beachwalker Park, a yearly pick on Dr. Beach’s Top 10 Beaches in America list. Despite the accolades, the beach remains uncrowded even during high season. And with its calm surf and amenities (lifeguards, restrooms and changing rooms, snack stand), it’s a great beach for families with kids of all ages. Didn’t pack beach gear? Chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards are available to rent from Island Beach Services. They even offer surf lessons if you’re really feeling adventurous.

Bike path on Kiawah Island
Courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort

4:30 p.m.: Bike ride along the nature paths

After enjoying the island’s beautiful Atlantic coast, it’s time to take in another side of Kiawah: its interior, dense with sprawling live oak trees draped with Spanish moss, towering palmettos, stout yucca plants, and expansive marshlands with sea grasses and river tributaries. The best way to explore is via the island’s 30 miles of bike paths.

Don't be surprised to come across some of the island’s abundant wildlife: bobcats, alligators, herons, deer, bottlenose dolphins, and loggerhead sea turtles are just some of the fascinating animals that make up the island’s ecosystem. (Just remember to always keep your distance and to never feed wild animals.) If you’re hoping to participate in the Turtle Patrol volunteer program to help track turtle nesting and hatching, plan your trip for July through October. Bikes are available to rent from Kiawah Island Golf Resort and SeaCoast Sports and Outfitters in Freshfields Village.

6:30 p.m.: Oysters at Mingo Point Oyster Roast and BBQ

End your bike ride at Mingo Point on the island's western end, where Kiawah’s longest running tradition happens every Monday night all summer long: a community feast of oysters roasted over an open fire; barbecued ribs, pulled pork, chicken, and steak; along with an assortment of classic Southern side dishes like mac ‘n cheese, collard greens, and Lowcountry red rice and sausage. Live music and watching the sun set over Kiawah River make it the perfect way to close out the evening.

7:30 p.m.: Dinner at The Ocean Room

For a memorable meal to end your stay, make a reservation at the upscale Ocean Room at the Sanctuary resort, which offers gorgeous coastal views as you dine. The elegant, wood-paneled steakhouse is perennially awarded both Forbes 4-Star and AAA 4-Diamond ratings. Dining here promises superb food and impeccable service, so get dressed up (t-shirts, jeans, shorts, and sandals are not allowed) and indulge.

The menu reflects chef Kyle Bowling’s dedication to using locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients, with five cuts of steak from cows raised on a nearby family farm raised especially for the Ocean Room, as well as expertly-prepared local seafood. Those more inclined towards surf than turf will approve of the restaurant’s impressive sushi lounge. Be sure to also enjoy a selection from the 1,000-bottle wine list to complement your meal.

Guestroom at The Sanctuary, Kiawah Island
Courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort

10 p.m.: Book a room at The Sanctuary

After being thoroughly wined and dined, turn in right upstairs at this five-star oceanside resort, which feels more like a lavish Southern estate rather than a hotel. The lobby is set up like a richly appointed living room. Cozy seating areas around limestone fireplaces open to a foyer with double curved staircases reminiscent of a grand plantation home. Each guest room is outfitted with a soaking tub and walk-in marble shower, plus a private balcony with either ocean or dune views.

With three pools, 22 tennis courts, a luxury spa, nature programs that include marsh canoeing and ocean kayaking, and access to five golf courses, you won’t run out of activities to fill your time.

How to Get There

Kiawah is about a 40-minute drive southwest from Charleston. If you’re coming from farther away, you can fly into Charleston International Airport or access Kiawah by way of Charleston Executive Airport (JZI), approximately 20 minutes away on Johns Island, where many private jet companies fly.

Want to make your trip to Kiawah a regular event? Private jet company NetJets has an exclusive partnership with Kiawah Island Club that offers access to private events hosted on the island, as well as complimentary discovery visits to experience everything on Kiawah.

The Best Times to Go to Kiawah Island

Conveniently located mid-way up the Atlantic coast, Kiawah enjoys pleasant weather even when temps on New England islands are too cold and Florida islands are too hot. The best time to go for optimal weather is in late spring and early fall.

Summer temperatures (averaging between the high 70s and low 90s) are pleasant with ocean breezes, but keep in mind that this is also the island's most popular season.

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