Ever since Kiawah Island's Beachwalker Park was named among Dr. Beach's Top 10 Beaches for 2016, eager beach travelers have been scrambling to know more about South Carolina's little-known coastal haven, located 21 minutes south of Charleston.
But you can't talk about Kiawah Island without mentioning the sprawling luxury golf resort that reigns over the barrier island. The Kiawah Island Golf Resort is home to five championship golf courses, two world-class tennis clubs and 10,000 acres of land bursting with lush subtropical vegetation — not to mention the AAA 5-Diamond Sanctuary Hotel and 500 villas and private luxury homes scattered throughout the property.
Since its opening in the summer of 2004, a stay at the opulent Sanctuary Hotel has been a summer tradition for those savvy enough to know about it — and fortunate to be able to afford it.
Now, with reduced winter rates and frequent promotions and specials, more people can experience this spare-no-expense destination, occupying an opulent, blissful world of its own.
All photos by Theresa Boehl.
Perched over a 10-mile stretch of oceanfront, the Sanctuary — Kiawah Island's grand hotel and spa — sits about three miles east of Beachwalker Park, the island's award-winning public beach. To reach the resort from the Charleston airport, you'll need to hire a cab or rent a car. The 40-minute ride twists and turns under dreamy oak canopies, making the extra transfer expense worth it.
Design and Decor
Done up in the style of a centuries-old seaside mansion, the Sanctuary boasts a breathtaking grand staircase, tasteful antiques and Southern decor.
Most of the hotel's 255 guest rooms offer ocean-view balconies, and all impress with marble walk-in showers, deep soaking tubs, custom-made furniture and complimentary WiFi.
Though the Kiawah Island Golf Resort is home to many dining options spread throughout its massive property, there are plenty of options within the Sanctuary Hotel itself. Chief among them is the Ocean Room, a AAA Four-Diamond steakhouse serving locally sourced beef, seafood, poultry and produce on its seasonal menus. Open for dinner only, the restaurant offers a private dining room, a wine room and an ocean terrace, but come dressed to the nines to comply with the restaurant's dress code.
More informal is Jasmine Porch, serving regional cuisine for breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. There's no strict dress code here, and a lively, family-friendly atmosphere prevails. Try the she crab bisque or the fried green tomatoes from the appetizer menu, or choose one of the restaurant's specialties, like shrimp and grits, grilled salmon or roasted vegetable quinoa.
For poolside dining, there's the Loggerhead Grill, a laid-back lunch and dinner cafe with a menu of sandwiches, burgers, wraps and salads, not to mention the obligatory tropical cocktail. For quick meals or snacks on the go, head to Beaches & Cream, serving coffee, smoothies and ready-made and made-to-order sandwiches.
For dinner away from the Sanctuary, we recommend the Ryder Cup Bar at the Ocean Course Clubhouse. Its ocean-view veranda overlooks the final hole of the Ocean Course, the resort's most challenging course. Starters include crispy shrimp and warm Carolina crab dip; entrees focus on burgers and wraps, but fish and chips or a New York strip steak are available too.
For late-night libations, head to the Sanctuary Hotel's overtly masculine lobby bar, serving classic cocktails, craft cocktails designed in-house, local beers and even mocktails and sake.
Two saltwater swimming pools are located not far from the oceanfront. One is family-friendly; the other is decidedly chic (only for adults) and features an infinity edge. Staff are on hand to get beach towels and set up the pool chair of your choosing.
The Sanctuary Spa is a soothing world of its own, designed to ease guests into a vacation state of mind. After a warm, aromatic signature massage or a tension-relieving island stone message (both highly recommended by us), relax in the steam room or immerse yourself in the whirlpool's warm turbulence.
Golf reigns supreme at this resort, and with good reason. The Ocean Course, designed by Pete Dye, has hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup and the 1997 and 2003 World Cups, not to mention the 2007 Senior PGA and the 2012 PGA Championships. Other courses include Osprey Point, Turtle Point, Cougar Point and Oak Point.
Of course, the resort's two tennis clubs have reason to brag too — they've hosted events like the '98 FED CUP and the '90 US Men's Clay Court Championship.
Aside from golf and tennis, the resort provides plenty more for kids and families to do — more than you could do on one trip. A nature center with on-staff naturalists allows an up-close-and-personal look at the area wildlife, including snakes, turtles and even a young alligator. Lovers of the outdoors can go on a walking tour or rent bicycles to explore the property's 26 miles of trails. There's also march-creek canoeing, ocean kayaking and back-river excursions.
Kiawah Island Resort also plays hosts to social programs, such as the ever-popular oyster roast held at Mingo Point near the Kiawah River. But there are also ice cream socials, festivals and holiday events to look forward to.
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