Beginner’s Guide to the South Carolina Islands

South Carolina Islands

You don’t have to go to the Caribbean to live the “Island Life”— it’s all right here on the the South Carolina islands. Our string of 34 palmetto-studded sea islands range from untamed and secluded to five-star and bustling.

While we can’t possibly cover all 34 islands in one blog post, we’ve chosen a representative sample of the South Carolina islands we know and love—making our way from north to south along the chain. Read on to determine which of these South Carolina Islands is the best option for you and your fellow vacationers.

Side note: If you’re staying at one of our Kiawah Island Getaways properties, most of these islands are within day-trip driving distance—with the exception of Daufuskie Island, which is remote and requires a ferry ride to reach it.

Folly Island South Carolina islands

Folly Island

Located just 20 minutes (about 10 miles) from downtown Charleston and less than an hour from Kiawah, Folly Island and Folly Beach welcome a diverse crowd of College of Charleston students, families, and anyone who loves fresh seafood, quirky shopping, and taking in panoramic views from the end of a fishing pier (Folly has the second longest pier on the East Coast!).

This SC island is great for:

  • Surfers. (And kiteboarders and stand-up paddleboarders and…) Folly has a laid-back, colorful and carefree vibe—where the days are long and the ocean offers endless fun. The island’s motto could be “have a good time, and don’t take yourself too seriously.”
  • Nightlife. Live music, cold drinks and rooftop bars make Folly Beach a hit with those who like to stay out late and sleep in.

Wadmalaw Island, an island in South Carolina

Wadmalaw Island

Distilleries, vineyards and farms, oh my! Wadmalaw Island is also just a short drive from Charleston and Kiawah (about 35 minutes from each) and presents the opportunity to sample locally made libations in a rustic setting. On your way, stop by the famed Angel Oak on nearby Johns Island—this 400-500-year-old (estimated) Southern live oak is a gnarly, twisted, dramatic and beautiful sight to behold.

This SC Island is great for:

  • Sweet tea sipping. Seriously. If this cold southern treat pleases your palate, you’ll love Wadmalaw, home to both the Charleston Tea Plantation, which offers trolley tours of the process, and the Firefly Distillery, where you can taste (and purchase) a selection of their famous tea-infused vodkas, plus whiskey, moonshine, and other spirits.
  • Wine tasting. Once you finish your spirits-sampling at Firefly, make your way to Deep Water Vineyard, which is located on the same farm, to give their offerings a try.

Kiawah Island in South Carolina

Kiawah Island

And now we’ve arrived at our favorite of the South Carolina islands… Kiawah Island, of course! Kiawah had my heart from the moment I saw its idyllic, wide sandy beach and hasn’t let go of it since. Like many South Carolina islands, Kiawah isn’t as sleepy as it once was, but it’s still the sort of place where life slows down, clearing your head to focus on what matters.

Have a look around our Kiawah Island blog for more of our favorite tips for enjoying Kiawah’s bike paths, restaurants, beaches and more.

This SC island is great for:

  • Everyone! We truly feel that Kiawah is a one-size-fits-all-island—from toddlers just finding their sea legs to retirees seeking the good life…even teenagers are known to put down their phones and have fun on Kiawah.
  • Kiawah is often named as one of the best beaches on the East Coast. And no wonder—its wide, welcoming beaches are so flat and hard-packed you can even ride bicycles on them! And because a pass is required to come onto the island (shown at the guard house), the beaches are rarely crowded.
  • Golfers. We’d be remiss not to mention Kiawah’s PGA Tour pedigree (with a repeat PGA coming our way in 2021) and the world-renowned, Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. But, of course, you don’t have to love golf to love Kiawah.
  • Honeymooners. Kiawah sets an idyllic stage for romantic getaways. Think hand-in-hand strolls along an empty beach, a bottle of wine at sunset (and sunrise coffees on your oceanfront balcony!), a couple’s massage, a bicycle ride under the shade of live oaks… we could go on. Hint: Kiawah Island also makes a great spot to “pop the question” to that special someone.

Edisto Island in South Carolina

Edisto Island

Edisto will lure you with its lovely beaches and keep you there with its friendly, residential beach-town vibe (there are just 3,000 full-time residents and a refreshing lack of chain businesses). Edisto is wonderful for active outdoor pursuits like kayaking, hiking, biking and fishing.

This SC island is great for:

  • Families. With quiet beaches but plenty to do, Edisto maintains just the right amount of beach town charm. Great swimming on Edisto, too!
  • Nature enthusiasts. The island’s wild side will impress your group’s birders, botanists, and hobby marine biologists. Head to the Edisto Island Serpentarium to observe and learn about alligators, turtles, snakes and other reptiles.
  • Budget-concious vacationers. Edisto has its own lovely State Park campground, offering an affordable place to lay your head at night—be it in a tent or an RV. For sites with water and electricity hookups, you’ll pay $21 – $55 a night, depending on location and season. For walk-in, tent-only sites, the rate is $15-$20 per night.

Daufuskie Island in South Carolina

Daufuskie Island

Daufuskie is the southernmost of the South Carolina sea islands—one mile off the coast of Hilton Head—and is accessible only by boat or a passenger ferry departing from Hilton Head or Bluffton. With only a few paved roads and a rich Gullah culture, Daufuskie is a step back in time… at least for now. Some development has taken hold in Daufuksie, with a few exclusive residential communities and a private golf course (there’s a public golf course, as well, but true golf buffs will want to try Kiawah or Hilton Head instead).

This SC island is great for:

  • Bicyclists. Pedal your way down quiet streets shaded by live oaks, where cars are rare — but golf carts are common.
  • History and culture buffs. Visit the Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation to learn about the Gullah culture of the slave-descended residents of Daufuskie, as well as its oyster fishing era (which ended in the 1950s, just before electricity came to the island).
  • Day trips. Hop on the ferry for sleepy Daufuskie, rent a golf cart, grab lunch at Lucy Bell’s Cafe, explore on foot, then catch the ferry back to Hilton Head.

6 Tips for First-Timers Visiting Kiawah Island

visiting kiawah island

6 Tips for First-Timers Visiting Kiawah Island

If you’re visiting Kiawah Island for the first time, you’re in for a treat! The breathtaking barrier island — situated just off Charleston’s Atlantic coastline — brims with natural beauty. From its abundance of shore birds and wildlife to its 10 miles of pristine beach, it offers unspoiled wonders at every turn.

Before visiting Kiawah Island, some insider tips can help you plan the vacation of your dreams. With over 30 years of island living and nearly 20 years experience hosting vacationers, we are sharing our must-know tips for first-time visitors to Kiawah Island. Read on to learn more.

visiting kiawah island beaches

1. Leave bulky beach gear at home.

There’s no need to use valuable travel space for beach gear because beach chairs and umbrellas are available for daily rental, courtesy of the Island Beach Service.

More of an adventurer than a sunbather? You can rent other fun stuff from us directly like boogie boards and bikes, as well as portable beach chairs if you don’t mind carrying them to the beach yourself.

2. Visit West Beach for old school Kiawah charm.

When it comes to the beach, first-timers often wonder about the difference between West Beach and East Beach. Both are lovely, lush and serene, and they’re located about one mile apart on the same 10-mile stretch of pristine beach.

The West Beach area is the “original” Kiawah, developed in the mid 1970s with a bike-to-everything mentality. A lot of changes are happening here in advance of the 2021 PGA.

The Cougar Point Golf Course has been completely redesigned and is now open for play, as are the tennis courts. Still to come is a new state-of-the-art conference center along with a brand new West Beach Inn.

visiting kiawah island accommodations

3. East Beach is the place for families visiting Kiawah Island.

East Beach, developed in the 1980s, is anchored by large, central Night Heron Park. The site of family-friendly social events throughout the summer, it also features a basketball court, soccer field, a small grill/picnic area and a picturesque lagoon

Also in East Beach is Kiawah’s high-end, swanky hotel – The Sanctuary. The hotel boasts three notable restaurants, shopping, and a spa—all available to guests of Kiawah Island Getaways. The East Beach area also offers tennis, golf and the East Beach Conference Center, which sports a small grocery store and a food court.

4. Save your appetite for Kiawah’s diverse dining scene.

Be sure to check out casual local favorites like perfectly prepared burgers at King Street Grille, or treat yourself to a special evening of prime seafood and sweeping ocean views at The Atlantic Room at Kiawah’s Ocean Course Clubhouse.

There are so many memorable dining experiences waiting for you on and around Kiawah Island, it’s impossible to try them all in one trip. But with our dining guide, you can give it your best shot!

visiting kiawah island bike trails

5. Know which perks come with your stay.

When you stay with Kiawah Island Getaways, you have full access to restaurants, tennis, Kamp Kiawah, the spa services at the Sanctuary and, of course, the beach.

You’re able to play five of Kiawah’s golf courses, including the Ocean Course, Turtle Point, Osprey Point, Cougar Point, and Oak Point. Two of Kiawah’s courses are private: The River Course and Cassique. You must be accompanied by a member of the club to play these two courses.

6. Do your homework on accommodations.

When selecting your Kiawah vacation accommodations, it’s important to know that all villas are individually owned and managed. As a result, no two properties are identical. Be sure you check out the full property descriptions and interior photos—and, even more importantly, the reviews—to avoid “surprises” on arrival.

You should also make a point to consider the type of vacation you want to have, the accommodation type that best suits your needs, and what location is most suited to your group’s interests.

We take pride in speaking with vacationers and helping them decide which accommodation is best for them, whether they’re coming for a romantic getaway or a multifamily vacation. Don’t miss our Must See video tours for in-depth looks at our properties and to virtually “meet” us—your hosts! We’re always available via phone and email to discuss Kiawah and answer any questions you might have.

visiting kiawah island rentals

Visiting Kiawah Island offers a bounty of options — and a range of pitch-perfect accommodations no matter the area. That includes posh, beachfront pads with panoramic ocean views, cozy cottages tucked amid lagoons and woodlands, and spectacular oceanfront villas brimming with southern charm. Start planning by perusing our Kiawah Island accommodations today.

Snag a Table at These Must-Visit Restaurants on Kiawah Island

restaurants on kiawah island

Snag a Table at These Must-Visit Restaurants on Kiawah Island

Kiawah Island is a stunning barrier island that brims with maritime forests, a varied marine habitat, snap-worthy vistas, and, of course, mouthwatering dining. From fresh catches to authentic French cuisine, restaurants on Kiawah Island offer something for all tastes.

Whether you’re into barefoot luxury, romantic sunsets, or afternoons spent on the beach, you’ll find options like private chefs, top-tier grocers and restaurants galore to feed your appetite.

Read on to discover our foodie and family-friendly restaurant faves — and more — on Kiawah Island, or just a stone’s throw from it.

la tela kiawah island

Casual Spots

Sometimes dressing up is the last thing you want to do. Fortunately, you can chill over good meals at several well-loved restaurants on Kiawah Island or minutes from it.

In the mood for authentic Mexican fare — think tacos, burritos, enchiladas and flautas? Look no further than El Mercadito & Taqueria, 15 minutes from Kiawah Island on John’s Island. Just be sure to wash it all down with a frosty margarita or large, ice-cold mug of beer.

About 15 miles from Kiawah, you’ll find also find cafe and farmers’ market The Tomato Shed, a welcoming, Paula Dean-like haunt known for southern standbys like tomato pie, collard greens, and squash casserole. Not your cup of tea? They serve a mean hamburger, too.

Have a basketball or baseball enthusiast in your midst? Find common ground at flat-screen-filled King Street Grille in Freshfields Village. Gather with your clan over classic appetizers, fresh salads, perfectly prepared burgers, and classic wings. Visiting during the off-season (Oct-April)? You’ll be privy to half-price burgers on Wednesdays and half-price salads on Tuesdays.

If you’d rather indulge in Italian, La Tela Pizzeria in Freshfields Village offers some of the best Neapolitan-style pies and Italian cuisine around. There’s also a top-tier wine list, making it date-appropriate, too.

loggerhead kiawah island

Looking to take in the views? Overlooking the Sanctuary pool (hotel guests only) and Atlantic Ocean, Loggerhead Grill is a must for casual dining and tropical cocktails, as well as locally caught seafood, sandwiches and burgers.

Special Occasion Dining

When the mood strikes, dining out can — and should — be an affair. Fortunately, restaurants on Kiawah Island and in the surrounding communities are well suited for nights to remember.

For French-inspired southern fare, head to Fat Hen, 15 minutes away on Johns Island. Whether you settle on seared duck, braised chicken, the quiche of the day, or salmon Bearnaise, expect Instagram-worthy eats for the ages.

Just minutes away from Fat Hen, Wild Olive, also the creation of celebrated Chef Fred Neuville, turns out Italian fare like tagliatelle alla Bolognese in a cozy-yet-streamlined, cucina-like dining room and bar.

For another French fare alternative, try Hege’s Restaurant in Freshfields Village. Known for its simply prepared dishes made with fresh, seasonal ingredients, it’s a pitch-perfect option for celebratory dinners.

If you want to go all out, reserve a table at The Ocean Room at Kiawah in the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Then, tuck in to prime steaks and seafood amid leather chairs, a clubby bar area and posh dining room with sweeping views of the sea.

For another resort option, there’s the Ocean Course Grill. Affording panoramas of the shimmering Atlantic Ocean and Pete Dye’s sea breeze-swept, masterpiece golf course, it provides a jaw-dropping backdrop for a seaside breakfast, casual midday meal, or sunset cocktails.

Perhaps you’d prefer some authentic Lowcountry cuisine? FIG in Charleston is the spot for locally sourced, seasonal fare, like baked snowy grouper plated with spring shallots, asparagus, vin blanc and Champagne sabayon.

r kitchen kiawah island

In search of something even more unique? Consider R Kitchen (also in Charleston), an ultra-intimate, sans-sign-speakeasy, serving a nightly, five-course dinner to handful of guests.

And our final Charleston favorite, Hall’s Chophouse, serves up prime USDA steaks, vegetarian, and vegan options, as well as the most memorable Sunday brunch you’ll ever attend. Choose from entrees like prime rib eye steak benedict and southern sweet baked potato pancakes while enjoying live entertainment from gospel singers.

bobby trigg kiawah island

A Chef Just for You

Have you ever wished you had a chef all to yourself — one who will cater the whims of picky eaters, exotic tastes and vegetarians at once? Perhaps you’re an entertainer at heart — yet the idea of doing the planning, shopping, preparing and cleanup proves daunting. In that case, there’s no need to visit restaurants on Kiawah Island at all because our Kiawah Island private chef offers the fix.

When you make your reservation, you’ll have the opportunity to arrange for our chef to cook for your friends and family.  He is a cookbook author and former restaurant owner who has cooked for prestigious settings and presidential dinners.  An evening with our Chef guarantees delectable eats and at-home family fun.

Makings of Great DYI Meals

If you enjoy cooking, preparing meals doesn’t feel like a chore. However, grocery shopping just might.

seafood kiawah island

Our advice? Skip wandering the aisles and instead pre-arrange to have groceries delivered to your property post-arrival. GroceriesAhead.com simply requires that you be there to accept your delivery.

Have a hankering for fresh seafood? Consider local go-to The Village Market in Freshfields Village, or mainstay Huff’s Seafood for fresh, seasonal catches. Or swing by Cherry Point Seafood Company on Wadmalaw Island, where fresh-plucked catches are snagged right off the boat.

kiawah island rentals

Refined Accommodations near the Best Restaurants on Kiawah Island

Whatever you decide, return to a fab home near restaurants on Kiawah Island. From luxury penthouses overlooking the ocean to cottages amid marshland and beachfront villas, our Kiawah Island accommodations are yours to discover.

Find One of the Best Southern Beaches at Kiawah Island

Kiawahs Beach

Find One of the Best Southern Beaches at Kiawah Island

A barrier island with a maritime forest, flora and fauna-rich maritime habitat, and one of the best southern beaches hands-down, Kiawah Island has something to offer for every traveler.

Whether you’re looking for toes-in-the-sand tranquility, bicycling adventures, or afternoons on the court or green, find your happy place on our stretch of sand in South Carolina. See why generations of families have made Kiawah Island their go-to getaway.

best southern beaches biking

The Best Southern Beach for Biking

Ever wished to explore the best southern beaches by bike? In addition to the 30-plus miles of paved bike paths on Kiawah Island, there’s a 10-mile-long stretch of pristine, bike-able beach fringed with flat, hard-packed sand.

Not sure which trail to take off on first? Check out our guide to choosing from the best trails on Kiawah Island.

Here’s the best part: when you stay with Kiawah Island Getaways, you can opt to have bikes and gear waiting for the whole family upon your arrival. Learn more about our bike rental program here.

couples kiawah island

Tranquility at Every Turn

Fully, thoughtfully planned for relaxation from the get-go and brimming with peaceful nooks amid natural beauty, this island was named for the Kiawah Indians, who inhabited it prior to the 1670 arrival of the English in South Carolina.

But its storied past — think reformed pirates, affluent plantation owners, enterprising lumbermen and Kuwaiti investors — has given way to a place that lets you escape the outside world and leave the stresses of daily life far, far behind.

Here, the beach affords a respite, one where you can curl up with a good book under an umbrella, build sandcastles or enjoy a picnic as the water laps the shoreline. And the sunsets? Well, they’re legendary.

golfing kiawah island

World-Class Golf

After sunning and swimming on one of the best southern beaches, you may look for additional ways to pass downtime. Our advice? Hit the green: Kiawah Island offers its share of championship golf, including two private and five public courses.

When you’re looking for a challenge, look no further than The Ocean Course. Only the fourth course to have hosted each of the PGA of America’s major championships, it’s slotted to welcome the 2021 PGA Championship. It’s been suggested that no other golf course in the world outside of Ireland and United Kingdom and Ireland is as impacted by wind. Players can experience an 8-club difference on holes based on the direction and strength of the wind.

tennis kiawah island

Tennis, Tennis and More Tennis

Featuring one of the world’s top tennis resorts, Kiawah Island Golf Resort offers expert instruction and programming for both novices and pros. With a tennis complex in West Beach and another one in East Beach, guests of Kiawah Island Getaways will always be close to a court.

The former features nine Har-Tru clay courts (one lighted), a trio of hard courts (one lighted), and a zoned practice court outfitted with a ball machine and automated retrieval. Meanwhile, the latter sports 10 Har-Tru clay courts and two lighted hard courts.

best southern beach homes

Breezy Accommodations at One of the Best Southern Beaches

Whatever your preference, soaking up the sunshine is a guarantee, given the beautiful shoreline and myriad ways it can be enjoyed. That said, you’ll find ample ways to appreciate the scenery beyond simply kicking back.

After a day of excitement, settle in to a home all to yourself just a stone’s throw from Kiawah Island beaches. Choose from penthouses with sweeping ocean views, quaint cottages surrounded by marsh, and beachfront villas brimming with upscale southern charm when you explore our Kiawah Island accommodations.

Stroll Kiawah Island with Us

Kiawah Island Getaways
Shawn and Jeanette Lawson, Owners of Kiawah Island Getaways<br> <em>Photo credits to Michael Cyra of KiawahIslandPhoto.com<em>
Shawn and Jeanette Lawson, Owners of Kiawah Island Getaways
Photo credits to Michael Cyra of KiawahIslandPhoto.com

I always enjoy strolling Kiawah Island’s beach with Shawn as the day winds down and the sun is setting. Shawn and I generally walk from Shipwatch along the beach until we reach Mariners Watch. Then we turn around. It is fun to watch the families as they pack up their chairs, beach towels, coolers and bags, slowly draw the children away from the waves and start heading back to their villas to prepare for dinner.

We talk about the day’s accomplishments, (or as is the case at Kiawah, our lack of accomplishments), we talk about our family, the houses that we see along the way, interactions with our latest guests. And as we walk, Shawn splish-splashes through the waves, which always results in me wearing wet pants. Of course, I have learned (ever since that fateful July 4th, many years ago) to hand over my cell phone to Shawn (they don’t work too well after a dip in the salty water!).

Benjmin Lawson on the beach.
My oldest son, Benjamin, taking photos the beach.

We walk with the wind in our faces, the sun setting behind us. I am always reminded of our Kiawah photographer who has taken so many photos of our family on the beach – he calls the time between 7 PM and 8 PM in the summer, the “Golden Hour”, which is the ideal time to take photos on the beach. And as I walk with Shawn, I too take photos – not of people, at least not most of the time, but of the beach, of the shells on the beach, the birds, and of the incredibly colorful, wide-open and ever-amazing cloudscapes. And if I am lucky, I will spot a rainbow over the ocean, or a small herd of deer on the beach. Of course photography is simply a hobby for me – and capturing that perfect image is illusive, always taunting me to take more.

So please enjoy my collection of Kiawah photos. And maybe some evening, as the sun is going down, we’ll stroll past each other on the beach, cameras in hand.

Kiawah Island Vacation Video - Kiawah Island Getaways, 2016
Kiawah Island Vacation Video, 2016
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