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Kiawah Island is an upscale destination in South Carolina’s Lowcountry known for its beautiful scenery and residences, and its wide variety of family-friendly activities. Here, we’re sharing our experience with a destination within the destination — the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Don’t let the name fool you. Yes, it’s famous for its golf courses, but there’s so much more to it than that! For some, the draw might be miles of expansive beachfront to explore or quiet marshlands to discover by kayak. Some might prefer to dedicate the weekend to indulging in local food and drink, while others may stick to the area’s renowned tennis or golf facilities, where it’s exciting to play on the same turf as the pros. Here’s a weekend itinerary that allows you to take advantage of it all.

DAY ONE

The resort is 33 miles from the Charleston airport and less than that from the historic area of town, so Kiawah’s location makes for a great way to experience relaxing beach time in conjunction with all the charms of Charleston. Kiawah accommodations include the luxurious Sanctuary Hotel, with its 255 rooms on the ocean, and a variety of villas spread out over the property under picturesque live oak trees. You can also rent one of the larger private homes and still enjoy resort privileges by going through Kiawah’s website. Check-in time is mid-afternoon, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get there earlier and start exploring.

SB Note: As with many resorts, making reservations well ahead of time for meals and activities is highly recommended.

Guest suite at The Sanctuary Hotel at Kiawah Island Golf Resort

All 255 rooms at Kiawah’s luxury hotel, The Sanctuary, come with balconies and upscale amenities: Italian linen sheets, a deep soaking tub, and plush robes in the closet. Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

The Sanctuary Hotel's lobby overlooking Atlantic Ocean

The Sanctuary opened in 2004, and the idea was for it to feel like a grand, historic seaside mansion. With that in mind, the furnishings are elegant but not over the top. The expansive lobby offers plenty of places to sit, and almost all rooms possess a view of the Atlantic Ocean. Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Head to one of the bicycle rentals (one at The Sanctuary and another at West Beach Pool Shop), where you can secure a bike — there are plenty of options, including an adult tricycle or bicycle for two — then grab a map and start exploring! Kiawah excels at its easy-to-follow bike paths, and you’ll find 30 miles of trails that wind through wooded areas, over bridges, through neighborhoods, and along golf courses. You’ll likely spot signs pointing to beach access and, by all means, head that way. Kiawah’s vast shoreline is perfect for long walks, but bike-riding on the beach is a big thing here, too!

Family of three biking on sandy beach at Kiawah Island Golf Resort

As beach-goers ponder the pros and cons of the Gulf Coast versus the East Coast, consider this: the firmly packed sand at Kiawah is ideal for bike-riding by the ocean, with plenty of space to avoid running into people. Bikes are easy to rent at Kiawah, and getting around the resort is a breeze with 30 miles of dedicated bike trails (plus the beach). Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Hole 6 at Cougar Point Golf Course

Golf courses and bike trails at Kiawah are surrounded by lush, almost other-worldly landscaping, such as this hole on the Cougar Point Course along the marshlands. Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort/O’Brien

Lowcountry cuisine is the theme at Jasmine Porch, a restaurant at The Sanctuary. It’s a great choice for breakfast, but it’s also a relaxed, delicious option for dinner. Consistent with the hotel’s decor, brick walls and oak floors bring in a bit of Charleston charm, and there are patio tables if the weather cooperates. The restaurant menu boasts fresh-caught choices, but when in doubt, go with the specialty here: shrimp and grits.

DAY TWO

On day two of your expedition, get up close and personal with Kiawah’s natural beauty in a kayak. The scenic Mingo Point offers guided and self-guided kayaks through the marshes, where you can observe abundant birdlife and maybe even a dolphin. Kiawah’s Night Heron Nature Center is a big hit with children, but all ages can learn from its displays and educational materials.

Two people bird-watching at Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Natural beauty is abundant at Kiawah, and the resort loves to help guests get up close and personal with its naturalist programs. Here, a bird-watching naturalist brings his scope and binoculars to view the dozens of bird species on the island. Image: Lisa Mowry

There are two ways to get around the resort other than a car: the aforementioned bicycles and a continuously running shuttle. One way or another, get yourself over to Tomasso at Turtle Point for lunch with an Italian flair. Hand-tossed pizzas and artisan salads are one way to go, but there’s heartier fare, too, such as meatball subs and short-rib grilled cheese.

Next, relax by the pool or splurge on a spa treatment — both excellent ways to spend an afternoon. The Spa at The Sanctuary is one of the reasons the resort received a five-star Forbes rating, so you’ll want to try it out! The spa’s spacious layout includes multiple relaxation rooms, a whirlpool/sauna/steam room, and thoughtful refreshments. In other words, arrive early for your massage or facial treatment to enjoy the whole luxurious experience.

Seating room at The Spa at The Sanctuary Hotel

Receiving a treatment at The Spa at The Sanctuary is a well-earned splurge. Make sure to get there early to enjoy a soak in the whirlpool or relax in one of the lounges. Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Grand lawn at The Sanctuary Hotel at Kiawah Island Golf Resort

The Sanctuary’s U-shaped building offers a large lawn with plenty of places to sit and be mesmerized by the ocean. Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Whether or not you’re a golf enthusiast, head over to the famed Ocean Course, the #4 public golf course in the U.S. Even non-golfers will swoon over the rugged, breezy landscape, which is often compared to locations in Scotland and Ireland. And even without a round on the coveted course, visitors can access the clubhouse, including a pro shop and dining area. Grab a drink at the Ryder Cup Bar, with its gorgeous views of the course and ocean. The Atlantic Room next door has a similar ocean setting with signature seafood selections for dinner. All the appetizers look terrific, but don’t miss the crispy shrimp starter with sweet chili sauce — They apparently removed it from the menu one day and received so many complaints that it was back 24 hours later! The Country Captain seafood stew is also well-known, and you can’t go wrong with a catch of the day prepared with seasonal vegetables.

Groups of people enjoy dinner at Ryder Cup Bar

The Ryder Cup Bar, also at the Ocean Course, is a pub-type spot for lunch or a drink. Image: Lisa Mowry

Tables overlooking the Ocean Course at the Atlantic Room restaurant

Restaurants are strategically located around the resort, but be sure to visit one of the spots at the Ocean Course (home to all of the significant PGA championships) to feast your eyes on the gorgeous view. The Atlantic Room at the Ocean Course is open nightly for dinner, and you can’t go wrong with the fresh-caught seafood. Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Bowl of Seafood Stew from the Atlantic Room restaurant at Kiawah Island Golf Resort

The Atlantic Room’s Seafood Stew is one of the most popular items on the menu, with its array of ocean delights: fresh-caught shrimp, clams, crabs, and Carolina Gold Rice in a special broth. Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

DAY THREE

If you can spare another day of activities before heading home, start the morning of day three with Yoga on the Beach. Then choose from any number of adventures such as fishing expeditions, tennis lessons, mosaics, or a photography cruise. Of course, there’s also nothing wrong with sitting on the beach, watching the shorebirds do their thing, and dreaming of your next trip to Kiawah. After all, it’s known for its repeat visitors!

For more information on Kiawah Island Golf Resort, head to kiawahresort.com

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