We just returned from an epic week in Charleston and Kiawah Island. I have so many things to say about our trip and so many recs, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed tbh. Plus, I’m trying to catch up on life, work, 1,000 emails, unpack, get the kids back on schedule… you know the drill. But I wanted to get this out as soon as possible or I felt like I would sit on it and never get around to writing this post and sharing my favorite Kiawah Island activities and Charleston eating and shopping recs, so I apologize if it feels a bit train of thought. But here it goes.
I definitely recommend going to Kiawah Island and Charleston. With or without kids, they’re both amazing places. Kiawah was great for the kids (but would have been a blast without) and Charleston is such a romantic, special city (though it might be enjoyed more without toddlers in all honesty). I will say that Charleston and Kiawah Island are very hot and humid in the summertime. We timed our trip to Andrew’s birthday and Kiawah is known for its golf so birthday boy got to spend his special day on some of the world’s best courses, but if we return (which we very much want to), it’ll probably be in the springtime when it’s a bit less steamy. With that said, Kiawah Island is a great place to be in the summertime if you are planning a trip then — the beaches are beautiful and the water was so warm. Playing 18 holes of golf in the heat was a lot for me (especially since I don’t love golf), but spending time at the beach and the pool and riding bikes around is a great way to enjoy the island no matter the temperature. They also have tons of activities on the island for kids, from playgrounds to archery to biking trails and even a camp run through the resort. So it’s definitely a great place to go with kids for a family vacation. We didn’t get to do everything on my list, but here is my roundup of the best Kiawah Island activities, where to eat on the Island, and what we loved in Charleston, too.
KIAWAH ISLAND ACTIVITIES
The resort has some of the country’s best golf courses, so if you’re really into golf, this is a great place to go. They just held the PGA tour. I think I was duped into a golf vacation without realizing it. But it was the hub’s birthday and he had a great time. The Ocean Course is beautiful and as the name suggests, on the ocean. You can only walk the course with caddies, so play early if you’re going on a super humid and hot day. We didn’t get to play all the courses while we were there, but I did play a round with my husband at Osprey Point and I thought it was a great option for couples or families. It’s challenging for sure, but not so much so that it wasn’t enjoyable. We were able to rent carts so it made it more bearable to play in the heat, and helped me last through 18 holes.
Kiawah Island Beaches
The beaches on Kiawah Island are gorgeous. In fact, they’re among the closest to Caribbean beaches in the U.S. IMO. The beaches were gorgeous white sand, beautiful vistas, so clean and the water is so warm. It’s a nice break from the Hamptons ocean temps, which while refreshing, certainly aren’t warm. If you stay at the resort or one of the resort’s cottages or villas, you can rent chairs, towels, umbrellas and water toys like paddle boards all right on the sand, so it makes it very easy with kids. I also went to the grocery store on Kiawah and bought some beach toys for $7 that kept the kids occupied. I don’t typically love going in the ocean because I’m not a fan of seaweed or cold water, so I simply loved the beaches on Kiawah — not a piece of seaweed in sight and the water was so warm and clean. We came back after dinner one night, and had the best time running around in the ocean — it was that warm. In fact, it was one of my favorite Kiawah Island activities during our trip. If we stayed longer, I would have packed a dinner to have on the beach one night.
You will definitely feel like you have FOMO if you don’t rent bikes on the island. It is pretty much #1 on the list of Kiawah Island activities. The island/resort has tons of trails connecting all the different parts of the island and resort, so you can basically ride your bike everywhere. They also rent bikes with training wheels, with baby seats, with carriages to pull your kids behind, etc. so it’s easy to do with the whole family. I am really bummed that we didn’t have time to ride bikes while we were there. It would have also helped me feel better about all the indulgent meals we enjoyed, but next time we go back, we will definitely rent them when we arrive, and I would recommend doing the same.
Kiawah Island Resort Playground, Archery, Paddleboarding and Tons More
The resort is basically the entire island, and it is made for families. In addition to tennis, which we didn’t get to play, but our friends said the courts are great, they have tons of activities for kids and parents to enjoy together. They had a great playground that I visited with the kids before we hopped on our flight and was great for getting energy out. It’s near a soccer field and archery course, which you can book. I think James is a little young, but if we come back next year, I think he’d love to try his hand at archery. That is just the tip of the ice berg though. Seriously. Check out all the activities they offer for kids, adults, and families. I was blown away. I love that there are lessons for everything from swimming to bike riding to surfing as well as tons of other fun activities (Mermaid Camp! Archery Tag!) that I feel like our kids will love when they’re older and that will allow us to go play golf, tennis or enjoy a peaceful day at the beach without feeling bad for leaving the kids behind. Basically all the Kiawah Island activities you could ever want are centered at the hotel, so I would definitely recommend staying there or renting a cottage or villa through the hotel if you’re coming for the first time (they also offer resort rates for golf etc. if you’re part of the hotel).
Ok this is one of those tourist-y Kiawah Island activities that is kind of definitely overrated. It’s basically just a tree that you can’t climb on or touch, so you go for the photo opps. And they’re not even that amazing because the tree is protected by chains and signs. But it’s a fun excursion if you’re looking for a quick activity before you head to the beach or between beach and dinner. We went on the way to the airport and it was a fun stop to kill some time and get some energy out.
WHERE TO EAT ON KIAWAH ISLAND
Jasmine Porch at the Sanctuary: Best breakfast spread hands-down. We had breakfast here multiple times — the kids loved the choices, we loved the food and atmosphere, and it was convenient and easy with the kids. We didn’t get to have dinner there, but I heard the lunch and dinner there is great too.
Cherrywood BBQ and Alehouse: We sat outside overlooking the golf course and enjoyed an amazing meal. The setting was casual enough for our screaming kids, but the food was really good. Andrew had the shrimp and grits and is still raving about it. I also appreciated that they had some variety on their kids menu.
Ocean Room at the Sanctuary: This is where we planned to eat on Andrew’s birthday, but couldn’t make it happen with our golf tea time and sitter situation. From what I’ve been told by our friends who visit Kiawah all the time, it’s one of the best restaurants on the island. I don’t think it’s super kid-friendly, but it’s one of those special places to go when you want to dress up and have a date night that includes a really good meal. It’s definitely on our list for next time.
FortyEight Wine Bar & Kitchen: Located outside the resort in the Freshfields area, this is a really cool wine bar. If you’re into wine or want to have a fun night with girlfriends or friends, I’d recommend this spot. In total honesty, the food was just ok. We also sat outside and it was really buggy and hot, and they sat us at a high top, which is really hard with kids, so I would say, we didn’t have the best experience but the inside is worth checking out and the way you sample wines is very cool — definitely worth stopping by for a drink if you’re there but I’d leave the kids behind.
King Street Grille: If you’re looking for casual bar food, this is a great option. You can sit outside and it’s casual and easy. We ordered from here one night, and the food was pretty good. They have an option where you can make your own salad, which I loved. Andrew had a burger that was enormous and spicy, so he was happy as well.
Beaches and Cream: The cutest ice cream and snack/sandwich shop located at the Sanctuary Hotel. We got cones from here on multiple occasions, because well, vacation. We also grabbed sandwiches from here after the beach one afternoon and they were really tasty — the sourdough bread was super thick and yummy. They also have an assortment of treats and snacks, and do breakfast sandwiches, so it’s a good grab and go option on the hotel grounds.
Java Java Coffee House: We came here for coffee and muffins one morning. They have parfaits and breakfast sandwiches, yummy muffins, and oat milk if you enjoy oat milk lattes like me.
Loggerhead Grill: Situated at the Sanctuary Hotel pool, this is a great spot for lunch after swimming. We ate here with the kids and the food and drinks are great after a day at the beach and pool.
Salty Dog Cafe at Seabrook Island: The views here are great, it’s casual enough for families with rowdy kids (hi), and they do live music at night. We came for lunch so we didn’t get to enjoy the music, but the food was amazing — lots of yummy shrimp dishes and the key lime pie is well worth the splurge.
Wild Olive: I was initially annoyed when Andrew booked an Italian restaurant for dinner in South Carolina, but I’m glad he did. This is a cute little spot, about 15 minutes from Kiawah Island, and the food is gooood. The truffle potatoes are off the hook, and I’m not even a potato person. Andrew had a veal dish that he can’t stop talking about, and I had a delicious fish special. The kids were also happy with the pasta and the service was great.
Low Country Brewing: If you’re looking for a low-key spot to have some late afternoon beers or a super casual dinner, this is a great spot and it’s right next to Wild Olive. They have music and sometimes games. There’s a woodfire pizza grill outside or bar food inside, and it’s just a super casual atmosphere that’s great for drinks or a casual meal.
To be honest, We didn’t get as much time in Charleston as I would have liked. There’s so much to explore there, but a lot of it would be more fun without kids. A lot of what I wanted to do was shop and eat, and neither are that much fun with toddlers. However, we got to do some exploring and so I have some recs to share with you.
Walking Tour or Walk Around on Your Own
There is so much history and beautiful architecture. I highly recommend just walking around and exploring. You can also take a tour if that’s more your style. We did a mix of walking around and driving (it rained one of the days we visited) and I just love the history and romance of the city. It feels like you’re in another world.
Shopping in Charleston
There are so many great spots to shop. I wish we had more time there sans kids. But I guess my husband is glad we didn’t. My favorite part are all the antique shops, and I could spend hours exploring those and the galleries, so that’s definitely on my list for next time. Some of my favorite boutiques that we did get to check out include Lake Pajamas (they were having their sale while we were there so I decided to pick up some jammies and the store was so perfectly curated and set up — we all loved it, including the kids), Hampden Clothing (the best boutique), Julep, Roller Rabbit, . We also found some cute spots for kids stuff: Under the Almond Trees and Kids on King. And FYI: Croghan’s Jewel Box is the spot to make your wife happy.
Where to Eat in Charleston
Again, we didn’t get to spend that much time eating in Charleston, but here are the spots that came highly recommended from friends who live in Charleston and editors and publicists who work there and our short jaunts to the city.
Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits (breakfast)
The Rise at the Restoration Hotel (breakfast)
Leon’s Oyster Shop