Twenty-five miles south or a 45-minute drive from the charming, historic city of Charleston, South Carolina, is a barrier island known as a treasured nature sanctuary. Kiawah Island offers 10 miles of pristine beach, maritime forests, protected sand dunes, and marshes home to dozens of wildlife species and 300 species of birds.
These creatures and all this beauty reside within a world-class vacation destination known as the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Kiawah’s location makes it a perfect place to relax and unwind because you rarely need to leave once you arrive. The amenities differ depending on your accommodations. But, they always include the pristine beach, Atlantic Ocean views, and (due to the east-west orientation) breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.
The season begins in March, where temperatures are in the mid-60s and rise steadily into the high 80s during the summer months. Temperatures start to cool in early November. The entire off-season runs from December to February. During this time, you can enjoy a luxury experience at reduced prices. The crowds are gone, the bugs are gone, the beach is empty, and you have zero wait time for activities. You don’t have the warmest weather, but with temperatures in the high 50s (sometimes 60s), you can enjoy all the best of Kiawah Island with some spectacular benefits. The packages offered at this time are really worthwhile. In January, we stayed at the Sanctuary Hotel after finding a package that was an incredible value. We found the hotel had less occupancy during our stay, but with all the quality you could expect from a 5-star oceanfront accommodation. Here are 10 different ways to experience Kiawah Island during the off-season, depending on your interests.
1. Book An Off-Season Package
We were driving south in January and wanted to stop in at our favorite resort. We had never visited during winter, but we knew the Sanctuary was a lovely place to stay. We checked the Kiawah Island Golf Resort website for package options. My husband is a golfer and picked a Golf and Gourmet Package available during our travel dates. It was an incredible value for our interests. Check the website for off-season deals that appeal to you in the various accommodations the resort offers for the Sanctuary Hotel, Villas, or Private Homes. There are spa packages, gourmet packages, and packages that include stays in Charleston if you are not a golfer.
Pro Tip: We liked the extras at the Sanctuary. Hotel amenities included with any stay are the exercise room, the indoor pool, the beach chair valet, the restaurant, bar, coffee shop, and boutiques, right in our lobby for convenient meals and leisurely browsing.
2. Golf Without The Wait
Kiawah’s Golf Courses are exceptional and sought after in season. With demand high during the spring, summer, and fall, you may miss the opportunity to play the course of your choosing at the time you prefer. Golf packages in the off-season offer fantastic value to play on courses that are all challenging with no wait time, with price reductions. Once you book your stay, you can reserve a tee-time at any five public golf courses. Since the courses are public, this includes the Ocean Course designed by Pete Dye. The Ocean Course is legendary, and greens fees reflect the status. It has the most seaside holes in the Northern Hemisphere and is home to the 2021 PGA Championship. Playing any or all of the other equally challenging courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Gary Player, and Clyde Johnston makes for a memorable golf vacation.
Pro Tip: Some packages include The Ocean Course for an added value. Just check which packages include this course when booking.
3. Walk An Empty Beach
The beaches are beautiful on Kiawah and are consistently ranked among the best in the world. Off-season, it's too cold to sunbathe, but the sounds and sights are meditative as you walk along in peace and quiet. The sunrises and sunsets are still as impressive; you just need to bundle up to experience them. You, the sounds of the seabirds and waves, are all you need to start your year off in quiet contemplation.
Pro Tip: Dress in layers for a beach walk during the winter. Make sure to have gloves, a hat, and warm joggers or leggings. If you walk on the hard-packed sand, you can wear sneakers and go for as many miles as you choose.
4. Dine Around The Resort
Even though the number of guests is reduced, the restaurants are open because many residents stay year-round. All the dining choices are delicious; it just depends on the cuisine you enjoy and your style. There are formal, upscale casual, and ultra-casual options like the Town Center Market on the island. For example, the Jasmine Porch at the Sanctuary is one of my favorite restaurants with low-country cuisine and fresh fish. The service and the food are fantastic. It’s considered an upscale casual restaurant. Two high-end options include the Ocean Room, a steakhouse and sushi lounge with ocean views, and The Atlantic Room at the Ocean Course, Kiawah’s signature seafood restaurant. If you prefer Italian cuisine, BBQ, American pub fare at the Osprey Point Clubhouse, or a casual lunch at the Ryder Cup Bar with stunning views, you won’t be disappointed. Rides are offered to guests with the free shuttle service to any on-island restaurant. Other dining choices are available off-island at Freshfields Village.
Pro Tip: Off-season hours and days may change to accommodate less visitor traffic, so it’s best to make dinner arrangements with your reservation agent. Check with restaurants at Freshfields for days and times as well.
5. Check The Calendar
There are daily events when you stay on Kiawah, even in the off-season. The Events Calendar on the website has many offerings for visitors who love to participate in fishing or paddling excursions. Activities such as Creek Fishing, Kayak Tours, Dolphin Encounters, Near Coastal and Reef Fishing, Marsh Kayaking, or private Sunset Cruises were all offered in January. Check the calendar daily for excursions.
Pro Tip: I have enjoyed many of these excursions over the years, and they are well worth the additional price. The colder temperatures warrant proper layers, outerwear, and gloves.
6. Up Your Tennis Game
The Tennis Program always wins top accolades for their instruction and their facilities year after year. The completely renovated Roy Barth Tennis Center also runs year-round on Kiawah. If you have always wanted to improve your game, you may want to invest in private lessons. Private lessons allow an instructor to really look at your game, from your serve to your forehand, backhand, and groundstrokes. You can also book with a specific level of professional ranging from the director to teaching professional. When you get home, you will amaze your tennis friends with your improvement.
Pro Tip: For tennis lovers, there is a package geared explicitly for you. The Ultimate 3-Night Tennis Package offers stays, court time, clinics, breakfast, and more.
7. Rent A Bike For A Nature Tour
The 30 miles of paved bike trails make it easy to explore the island by bicycle. To discover something new, you can sign up with a naturalist and take a 7-mile bike tour to learn about the wildlife and ecosystems on Kiawah. The bike ride is leisurely, and it provides an excellent opportunity to see the island. The tour is about 2 hours. It doesn't include the cost of the bike rental.
Pro Tip: Water, proper shoes, and layers are recommended for this tour. The off-season is the perfect time to explore as it’s cool, less buggy, and less crowded overall for biking on the paths.
8. Spy Birds On The Island
Birding is popular in the Lowcountry. With over 300 species of birds, including warblers, hawks, ospreys, and herons, just to name a few, you will enjoy this experience touring by van to remote parts of the island. You will learn about the birds who make their home on Kiawah and explore their habitats over several stops. Reservations and a fee for the three-hour tour are required.
Pro Tip: If you are new to birding and want to learn the basics, there is a walking tour with a naturalist around Night Heron Park. After the tour, you will understand what to look for when identifying each type of bird. This tour is an hour and a half and is a great way to start.
9. Pamper Yourself At The Spa
Sometimes you just want to relax and rejuvenate. That’s when booking a treatment or two at the Spa at the Sanctuary will help you enjoy some much-needed me-time. If you only want to have a manicure or pedicure, that is also available at the Spa. I have repeatedly experienced treatments and found that the facilities are well-run, immaculate, and the services are excellent. I really enjoy the locker room extras like the fluffy robes, slippers, and the solarium space, which is available before or after any treatment.
Pro Tip: The Spa menu is modified, and there are protocols in place for safety and social distancing. The solarium is a lovely place to relax privately with the gentle sounds of music and water from the sculpture fountains. The extras offered upon request, like tea and healthy snacks, are a lovely treat. It’s still an incredible experience and worth the price.
An off-season getaway can be the best time to enjoy a place that is typically a spring or summer destination. The perks are worth it. The staff is attentive, and the ability to have the restaurants and amenities to yourself at some of the best prices of the year makes you feel like you won a vacation lottery.