An island escape pairs luxury with outdoor adventure for the ultimate experience in natural elegance.
By Annalise DeVries
Photography by Stephanie Welbourne
It’s home to pristine beaches, an opulent hotel, five golf courses, and one of the top tennis resorts in the world. While any one of those features is enough to attract a stay at the Sanctuary Hotel at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, the real appeal of this coastal South Carolina destination is the innate beauty that provides the backdrop for relaxation and fun.
Although it’s just 20 miles from Charleston, Kiawah feels enchantingly remote. And the resort was developed to showcase the natural wonders of this barrier island, offering guests ample opportunities for activity and escape. “It’s a great opportunity to reconnect with family and friends, and slow down,” says Elisabeth King, the resort’s director of nature programming. “It’s a place where you can regain your self-awareness through a connection with nature.”
A rustic retreat, however, this is not. The Sanctuary offers uncompromising five-star luxury. With classic décor that complements the island setting, the interiors have an air of refined Southern charm. Well-appointed guestrooms feature fine linens, deep garden bathtubs, and private balconies for taking in the ocean views. The hotel is also home to nine palatial suites, the largest of which features a vaulted ceiling, fireplace, and grand oceanfront balcony. The Sanctuary additionally features a state-of-the-art spa, where light, airy spaces and wicker furniture speak to the Lowcountry surroundings.
Guests can enjoy a full menu of treatments, including massages designed specifically for golfers. Throughout the Sanctuary’s elegant rooms and gourmet restaurants, a connection to the natural setting pervades the space. Windows lining the main lobby and the balconies of the hotel offer a continuous connection to the outdoors, beckoning guests to venture out and breathe deeply of the salty sea air.
The 30 miles of bike trails that wind their way throughout Kiawah invite visitors to leave their cars in the parking lot upon arriving and pedal their way around the island instead. Because the beaches have hard-packed sand, seaside rides are especially popular, Elisabeth says. Also appealing are cycling ventures to Kiawah’s three lookout towers, where visitors can take in views of the ocean and scenic salt marshes.
Those planning to hit the island’s signature links have their pick of golf courses. The resort boasts 90 holes of championship golf spread over five courses. The ocean course has more seaside holes than any other course in the Northern Hemisphere, but those scheduling a tee time should be prepared for wind. The course’s locale pairs unmatched ocean views with unpredictable sea breezes.
If guests prefer tennis to golf, Kiawah currently ranks as the No. 2 tennis resort in the world. The island includes two complete complexes with a range of clay and hard courts, making a friendly match easily accessible. With clinics, camps, and private lessons among the offerings, the pro and novice alike have plenty to enjoy.
Wherever one ventures on Kiawah and whatever the activity, the island is rich in distinguishing features, both manmade and natural. From birders searching for an addition to their life lists to PGA champions vying for birdies and eagles—there is no shortage of ways to memorably enjoy this 10-mile island stretch of the Carolina coast.
With special wonders such as Bald Eagles and the colorful Painted Bunting, nesting on the island, Kiawah is favored by nature lovers. You can explore the landscape via excursions organized by the Nature Center, including creek fishing and a dolphin sighting boat trip. Getting out on the water is a top priority for most guests, says Elisabeth King, director of nature programming. Guests can explore via kayak or paddleboat—both popular rental options. The Nature Center also offers art classes and lectures that familiarize visitors with the lovely surroundings. With golf, tennis, and swimming throughout the property, there’s no shortage of opportunities for an active and refreshing retreat.