This luxury beachfront resort and spa is an ultimate oasis for parents and kids.
The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort is located on Kiawah Island, a private, barrier island, just 21 miles from Charleston, South Carolina. Although there is a shopping area and county park outside of the gates, most of the island is owned by the resort. The Sanctuary is one of the nicest and most luxurious hotels that my family has ever visited. Unlike many other high-end resorts, the entire family is always treated like welcomed guests. The resort is consistently ranked among the nation’s top destinations for its legendary hotel, pristine 10-mile stretch of beach, award-winning tennis program, and five championship golf courses.
Where to stay?
The Sanctuary is the southern, seaside mansion of your dreams! As soon as you drive up, you know that you’ve arrived somewhere special. The staff demonstrates the true meaning of southern hospitality; you feel like their personal guests. The resort was designed to appear as though it’s been here for generations; the walnut floors creak with every step. As you walk into the lobby, you are instantly welcomed with a view of the ocean, twin grand staircases (which my kids loved!), and huge twinkling chandeliers. Everything is very fancy but in the best possible way. We never felt out of place with two young children. The four-story hotel makes the most out of its beachfront location. Nine out of ten rooms have ocean views and balconies. Our family stayed in a room with two queen beds with view of the pool and ocean. The rooms are large and come with custom-made furniture and glorious linens. The bathrooms are spacious with dual vanities, marble walk-in shower, and tub. One of my kids’ favorite treats was the nightly turndown service which includes dark chocolate sea salt caramels.
What to do?
There’s truly something for everyone at The Sanctuary. The hotel is part of the larger Kiawah Island Golf Resort, which has its own recreation department with an extensive list of activities, including oyster roasts, sand sculpting contests, ice cream socials, and holiday events, many of which are offered at no additional cost. Our family visited over Easter weekend and participated in so many fun events, including two Easter egg hunts and the Quidditch Cup.
If you’re a golfer, you can’t leave without hitting the links at one of the island’s five courses, including the famous and difficult Ocean Course. The resort offers private and group clinics for every golfer in the family. They even have a family tee program, where you can golf together from the family tees at four of the five courses; the Ocean Course is not included. Kids (17 and under) play free with a paying adult. There are also two world-class tennis clubs with 24 courts which also offer classes, clinics, and camps for the whole family. This facility, too, has been ranked as a top tennis resort in the country.
Outdoor adventures include canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and bike rentals. Biking is one of the best ways to see the island. There are 30 miles of paved paths and ten miles of hard-packed beach to explore. The resort has rentals for adults and kids, as well as bike seats, trailers, trail-a-bikes, and helmets. Kiawah Island has a free nature center with local snakes, turtles, and an alligator on display; you also can book nature tours. We took the Alligator Walk (Cost: $20/person). We saw several three-foot long alligators, learned about many birds, and got a glimpse of the island’s most famous resident, “Charlie the Alligator.” The tour guide gave each of the kids an alligator tooth as a souvenir.
The recreation staff offers Kamp Kiawah for kids (ages 3 to 11) with half day, full day, and parents’ night out options. My 7- and 9-year olds joined an evening session, while my husband and I headed across the island to the Ryder Cup Bar for the sunset raw bar. They had a blast doing crafts and playing games; even our picky 9-year old loved it!
The Sanctuary has two outdoor pools (one is adults-only) and an indoor pool with a hot tub. You’ll feel like royalty as you arrive at the pool and are greeted with fruit-infused water. The staff will escort you to the chairs of your choice and will then make up those chairs with three towels, including a rolled towel to use as a pillow. It was quite luxurious! Order a cocktail or some snacks from the Loggerhead Grill to enjoy as you lounge. The hotel has beach toys for kids and even sunscreen, if you forget. The nearby Night Heron Park pools include a junior Olympic-sized family pool and the children’s pool which sports a beach entry, toddler splash area, flume slides, and water cannons. The Sanctuary also has a fitness center and classes such as sunrise yoga, which we enjoyed as a family.
KidTripster Tip: While many of the family-friendly activities are complimentary, some are not. Be prepared to pay extra for arts and crafts like $15 survival bracelets, $5 paint-your-own magnets, and $17 tie-dye shirts.
For more on spending Easter on Kiawah Island, click here.
Where to eat?
The South Carolina Lowcountry is known for its food (especially seafood), and you’ll find a great variety at The Sanctuary’s three restaurants and snack shop. At the hotel’s signature restaurant, The Ocean Room, you’ll be blown away by the elegance, food, service, and possibly the prices. Steaks range from $50 to $170; sides are extra. Jasmine Porch is a more family-friendly restaurant. It specializes in southern cuisine and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had dinner and brunch here. I loved my pan-seared grouper, and I was impressed by the kids’ menu which included filet mignon. For fussy eaters, the kids buffet is the way to go: fruit, salad, chicken fingers, pizza, and lots of delicious desserts. Be sure to sample the region’s specialities: shrimp and grits and She-crab soup. Beaches & Cream is a snack and sweet shop. It also has less expensive breakfast sandwiches, pastries, fruit, and cereal.
KidTripster Tip: A stay at The Sanctuary doesn’t include any meals. Complimentary morning coffee is served daily outside of Jasmine Porch. Outside of the hotel, you’ll find more than ten restaurants and bars on Kiawah Island and more affordable options outside the gates at nearby Freshfields Village, an open-air shopping mall with a grocery store.
Rooms at The Sanctuary range from $270 to $825/night depending on the room type, weekday, and season. Summer is high season in the Lowcountry.
KidTripster Tip: Summer in South Carolina is hot, humid, and buggy. (We joke that the mosquito is the state bird!) My favorite times of year here: March to May and September to November. You’ll enjoy beautiful weather, cheaper rates, and fewer tourists.
Kiawah Island is located in the middle of the South Carolina Coast. It is easily drivable from many east coast cities. If you’re flying, the closest airport is Charleston International, which is about an hour away from Kiawah. You can rent a car or pay for a shuttle ($130 for the first two passengers, $50/person for three or more). Once you arrive on the island, there is complimentary door-to-door shuttle service. Call to arrange pickup, and the shuttle will drop you off anywhere on the property.
KidTripster Tip: Guests of The Sanctuary can borrow one of the resort’s Mercedes for four hours on a first-come/first-serve basis. This is a great option, if you’re not renting a car and want to visit nearby Freshfields Village.
Stephanie Hughes Pratt is a former television reporter and mom to two kids, living outside Charleston, South Carolina. She is married to a fellow journalist, and the family has lived all over the USA. She suffers from a severe case of wanderlust and is always looking for the next great adventure.
This writer received a complimentary stay for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.