I was—most reluctantly—departing from my first visit to Kiawah Island when I received an email that Condé Nast Traveler had just named it the No. 1 island in North America and No. 2 in the world, according to its latest “Readers’ Choice” poll. Well, of course, I thought. The island is the ultimate family getaway, oozing with Southern charm with so much to see and do. My only regret is not having discovered it sooner—so learn from my mistake.
Located on a 10,000-acre barrier island off the coast of South Carolina, the resort lies along 10 miles of unspoiled Atlantic beaches. Centerpiece is the Sanctuary, a 255-room hotel, posh but not pretentious, that calls to mind a grand seaside mansion. Though erected in 2004, the building feels like a long-standing family home that’s been there for generations. More than 150 transplanted 50-foot-tall oak trees set a tone of grandeur, and it continues within: Grand public spaces with soaring ceilings surround classic Southern décor, enhanced by antique furnishings and traditional details like hand-planted walnut flooring.
Explore: I know several people who visit The Sanctuary annually solely for its spa, and we were suitably impressed by our visit there to see the wisdom in this routine. But there’s also an intriguing island to explore. One morning we bicycled with a charming young naturalist with impressive knowledge about local fauna, flora, and history; another day we embarked on a kayak tour and learned about indigenous island wildlife. A full nature center offers excellent programming, and there are five championship golf courses and two top-ranked tennis clubs from which to choose.
Dine: The Charleston area is known for its gourmet dining, and the island’s dozen eateries—ranging from white tablecloth to takeout markets—don’t disappoint. (This is not the place to watch your calories, by the way, so do indulge.) You won’t want for variety—sushi, seafood, barbeque, and yummy Lowcountry (think shrimp and grits) are available. We particularly enjoyed the Ocean Room steakhouse and the classic Italian restaurant Tomasso.
Insider’s tip: Historic Charleston, only 21 miles away, is a must-see.
Distance from White Plains: 2-hour non-stop flight from major New York City-area airports, followed by a 40-minute drive from Charleston International Airport. Rates: in-season rates from $525/night
1 Sanctuary Beach Dr, Kiawah Island, SC
(843) 768-2121 or (800) 654-2924