Most travellers know Charleston, the darling southern gem just a stone’s throw from South Carolina’s coast. But few know about Kiawah Island, the naturally preserved escape that’s just a 35-minute drive from the city.
Home to a nature sanctuary, championship golf courses, a sprawling open-air market, and lively Lowcountry gatherings, Kiawah feels like a world of its own. You’ll spot dolphins splashing in its river, families watching movies or dancing together on its village green, and cyclists pedaling through its miles and miles of bike trails.
Part sandy beach, part maritime forest, and part resort-style village, Kiawah Island has a lot to offer all different types of vacationers. So whether you’re looking for a low-key and relaxing getaway to the beach or a coastal adventure for the whole family, check out our top 10 things to do on Kiawah Island.
Watch The Sun Rise Over The Ocean
If you’ve visited (or live on) the East coast, seeing the sun rise over the ocean is probably something you knocked off your bucket list a long time ago. But because Kiawah Island is naturally preserved and more sparsely populated than other beach destinations, sunrise is a little more magical.
Wake at first light and bike down to the beach to spread a blanket, see the sun peek out over the ocean, and watch coastal birds swoop around searching for breakfast. Better yet, reserve an oceanfront vacation rental and bring coffee out to the balcony for a moment to yourself before the world wakes up—you may even spot Kiawah’s white-tailed deer grazing in the dune grass during these quiet morning hours.
Chow Down at a Lowcountry Cookout
Every Monday night in the summer (and on most major holidays), islanders and visitors alike head to the banks of the Kiawah River for a long-standing tradition: the Mingo Point Oyster Roast and BBQ. There’s plenty to pile onto your plate including Southern side dishes and desserts and mouth-watering mains cooked over an open fire—from fresh caught oysters to smoked chicken and pulled pork.
While some feast, you’ll spot others kicking up their feet on the dance floor to local bands. Craft workshops and island hair braiding offer a chance for the little ones to get in on the Lowcountry fun, and local artisans set up shop to sell everything from jewelry to wood crafts.
Ride Bikes On The Beach and Through The Marshlands
With over 30 miles of paved paths and 10 miles of hard-packed, bikeable beach, cycling is a preferred method for getting around Kiawah Island. Not only are the bike paths a low-stress way to get from point A to point B, they’re often a destination in themselves.
Spend an afternoon biking along tropical wetlands, then stop to tour the Marsh Island Park and climb the tower, which offer views out over Kiawah’s preserved marshes and coastal landscape. Continue pedaling along the Kiawah Island Parkway and out to Rhett’s Bluff to discover the old Shoolbred cemetery and the dock overlooking the Kiawah River. Or simply coast along the tide line to see the length of the island’s entire shore.
Book a Tee-Time at Championship Golf Courses
It’s no secret that Kiawah is home to some of the nation’s best golfing. Links Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, and Golf World have all recognized the island as a top golf destination, and its five world-class courses attract golfers from near and far.
Highlights of Kiawah’s golf offerings include Turtle Point, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course that blends seamlessly into the scenic landscape, and Osprey Point, featuring four natural lakes and dense forests.
But the most spectacular of Kiawah’s courses is the Ocean Course, which has been home to an array of championships including the 2012 PGA Championship, and is scheduled to host the PGA Championship again in 2021. Every one of its 18 holes offers jaw-dropping views of the Atlantic—in fact, it boasts the most oceanside holes of any course in the Northern Hemisphere. But it’s not just beautiful; it’s also tricky. Coastal winds make this course a formidable challenge for even seasoned golfers.
Watch a Movie in the Pool or Under The Stars
On Kiawah, watching movies isn’t just a rainy day affair. During summertime, you’ll have two options for alfresco flicks.
Dive-in movies are a Tuesday night tradition at Night Heron Park. Families gather with pool floats in tow to kick back while a selection of kid-friendly favorites play on a big screen. And every Wednesday, Freshfields Village hosts Starlight Cinema, where guests of all ages huddle up on beach chairs and blankets on the village green to catch family-friendly movies on the big screen.
Both events are free and open to the public. It’s the ideal way to wind down in the evening while still enjoying some outside time.
Cast a Line
Everyone from amateur anglers to seasoned pros can find the perfect spot to go fishing on Kiawah Island. Landlubbers can cast a line off the fishing dock at Bass Pond, a scenic and popular spot near Rhett’s Bluff, while those looking for a little more adventure can commission a charter out of Bohicket Marina.
Want to take to the waters? Cruise through Kiawah’s creeks and marshes on a four-hour inshore fishing tour. These catch-and-release charters hold a maximum of six people, and guests will have the chance to hook flounder, redfish, and spotted trout.
For those who’d like to venture a little further offshore, near coastal and reef fishing charters will whisk you up to artificial reefs and wrecks up to seven miles out, where large sharks and black sea bass are common catches.
River creek charters also offer a family-friendly option for young anglers to try and catch common saltwater fish. And every Wednesday morning, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Bohicket Marina features a fishing tournament just for kids ages 4-14!
Enjoy Live Music and a Summer Breeze
Cold drinks, toe-tapping tunes, and a warm breeze—you’ll find this perfect trifecta on summer Thursday nights at the Porch Bar, a local favorite in Kiawah’s Freshfields Village. Catch a sunset over Andell Lake, settle into a southern swing or rocking chair, and order your favorite cocktail while local jazz bands provide a totally relaxing summer soundtrack.
For a livelier experience that’s fit for the whole crew, Freshfields Village hosts weekly Friday night Music on the Green concerts in the summer. Bring your chairs and blankets and kick back, or stand up and bust a move to the tunes of southeastern musicians and groups. Each week brings a different act, ranging from groovy jam bands to rock-and-rollers.
Witness Wildlife Up Close
Whether you’re looking for it or not, you’ll likely spot Kiawah’s native wildlife during your travels on the island. You may glimpse dolphins strand feeding in the Kiawah River, or an alligator wandering across a golf course, or a white-tailed deer prancing in the dune grass. None of those sights are uncommon, and they’re what makes Kiawah feel just a little bit different from more typical beach destinations.
But if you’d like to be a little more intentional in your wildlife search, register for a naturalist-led bike tour through Kiawah’s wetlands, a birding tour to remote island destinations, a gator walk, or a dolphin cruise. Naturalists also set out on photography tours for those who want to take home memories of the creatures they meet during their time on Kiawah Island.
Wine & Dine
Homey Italian eateries, classic sports bars, high-class French establishments—there’s a little bit of everything when it comes to dining in Freshfields Village. Bring the kids for a laid back family dinner at King Street Grille, or treat yourself to a three-course meal prepared with local ingredients at Hege’s Restaurant.
If you’re looking to venture a little further out, John’s Island is home to authentic Mexican restaurants, farm-style southern gems, and French-Southern fusion. And for die-hard foodies, the diverse dining scene of peninsular Charleston is just a 45-minute drive away.
For a truly memorable dining experience, book a vacation rental with a full kitchen and hire a local chef for an at-home meal that rivals the island’s best restaurants. Better yet, make a trip to Forty-Eight Wine Bar beforehand to sample reds and whites and pick up a bottle to enjoy with your gourmet dinner.
Indulge in Retail Therapy
Sure, you can hit the mall back home. But shopping’s a little more fun at Freshfields Village. This open-air market is Kiawah Island’s version of Main Street, and it’s lined with high-end retailers, local craftspeople, and quaint boutiques. Spend the afternoon indulging in a little bit of retail therapy, then finish off the day with a glass of wine or a rejuvenating spa massage.
Plan Your Kiawah Island Getaway
Ready to make your escape to Kiawah Island? Start by browsing Kiawah Island Getaway’s collection of scenic-view and oceanfront vacation rentals on Kiawah Island. From penthouses high above the beach to cozy hideaways surrounded by maritime forest, take your pick of picture-perfect rentals to serve as your home base during your time on the island.