27 miles SW of Downtown Charleston
This eco-sensitive residential and resort island covers just over 11 square miles, with stunning beaches and world-famous golf courses the main attraction. Legendary quarterback Dan Marino and Miami Heat’s Ray Allen have holiday homes here. Named for the Kiawah people who inhabited the islands in the 17th century, today the island is primarily a gated beach and golf resort, the Kiawah Island Golf Resort (www.kiawahresort.com), though day-visitors are welcome. Kiawah Beachwalker Park is also open to the public. The resort fronts a lovely 10-mile stretch of Atlantic beach; magnolias, live oaks, pine forests, and acres of marsh characterize the interior of the island.
Kiawah Resort runs many challenging golf courses, including one designed by Jack Nicklaus at Turtle Point. Kiawah is also one of the nation’s top tennis resorts, with its 28 hard-surface and Har-Tru clay courts. Anglers are also attracted to the island, especially in spring and fall.
The Kiawah people ceded the island to the English colonists from Charlestown in 1675, and it remained privately owned for years; the influential Vanderhorst family bought it in 1775. Cotton production began here in 1802, but in 1864 Union troops demolished the Vanderhorst plantation house. Daily passenger and freight services by boat between Kiawah and Charleston didn’t get going until 1911, and it wasn’t until 1950 that the Vanderhorst finally sold the island (to a logging and timber company). Resort development began in the 1970s, and today the island maintains a full-time resident population of approximately 1,400.