By Hunter Lifchez — July 1, 2015 —
Just recently, I lived and studied abroad for about four months. It was four months of visiting beautiful, exciting, historic places. For example, I visited Barcelona and its amazing modernist architecture, Venice during a heat wave, Paris on Valentine’s Day, and Cape Town during an especially memorable Spring Break.
But none of these destinations tops one that I have visited many times — Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Though the sea there might not possess the crystalline waters of the Mediterranean, or the white sandy beaches, or even a long cultural history, I assure you that it is a paradise quite unlike any other.
If you’ve never been to the U.S. South, and especially if you’re not from there, you probably have a few assumptions about the area. As a native southerner, let me tell you what I think of when I think about the South: I see grand oak trees with Spanish moss, vast stretches of open land, the birthplace of Coca-Cola and Chick-fil-a sandwiches, kiosks of boiled peanuts, and humidity so stifling that you’d swear the mercury in all local thermometers had a habit of staying at least 20 degrees untruthful.
Simply put, I love the south. But regardless of whether you share this fondness for the region, there is one place that will steal your heart forever: Kiawah Island.
Kiawah Island is a small island nestled just below Charleston and above Hilton Head. It is a well-maintained yet beautifully preserved community, operated today largely as a gated beach resort — the Kiawah Island Golf Resort — with spacious villas, lovely beaches, large and acclaimed golf courses, and many other attractions. The island is the perfect, quiet South Carolina beach destination. It is a popular vacation home for many celebrities, too, such as Oprah Winfrey, Ray Allen, and Dan Marino. But Kiawah is great for everyone — families, golfers, couples, young people looking for a relaxing escape.
Here is why am I so crazy about Kiawah:
First, location. Admittedly, it is a bit rural. From Charleston, you get there after a 30 to 45 minute drive —- absolutely gorgeous — down Maybank Highway. To picture this drive, imagine yourself traveling on a small and narrow two-lane road lined with oak trees and Spanish moss dangling from each limb. Then you get to the entrance of the island. As you pull up to the gate, you see the expansive beauty of the South Carolina marsh just across the bridge. It is one of the most striking natural landscapes you will ever see. With the trees and yellow tint of the marsh, sometimes I feel like I am in Africa or some other exotic foreign land. To me, these trees are the most beautiful in the world.
The other main reason that I love Kiawah is that there is so much to do there other than marvel at its natural beauty.
For starters, you should grab a bike and explore the island. You never know what you will find. Maybe a lookout tower nestled in the palm trees, overlooking the marsh. Maybe parks with soccer fields, tennis courts and disc golf. You can bike through tunnels and around golf courses (my favorite is the river course).
If you get tired of biking (or just plain tired), go enjoy the quiet beaches and warm weather. Activities such as crabbing, fishing, visiting a nature center and a lot more can be done in the warm breezes near Kiawah.
One of the coolest things about Kiawah is that even though the island is well developed with several multimillion-dollar homes, it still maintains a natural and unspoiled feel. I have walked outside my house and seen a 10 point deer staring me straight in the eyes. I have been biking at night on the beach and come across a 400 pound loggerhead sea turtle. I have walked along creeks in the middle of the day and seen 10 to 12 foot alligators. Believer me, this paradise is well preserved.
Furthermore, there are a number of places to eat and watch the sunset. The colors of the sky at dusk will leave you breathless.
Sunrise is even better. In fact, here is my suggestion for a perfect day: Wake up early, around 5 AM. Get a bike and grab an Eno hammock. Bike to a beautiful place on the island, set up your Eno, and watch the sun rise. There isn’t a prettier sight on Earth.
After experiencing the sunrise, you’re just getting started. Ride out to the water and head north toward the ocean course located at the end of the island, at the beginning of Folly Beach. During summer, if you’re lucky, you might see people digging up and protecting sea turtle eggs. And if it’s late August, you are more likely to see an actual loggerhead.
Anyway, I hope you all get to a chance to visit Kiawah Island. I’m sure you will love it as much as I do. Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions, either. I’d be happy to provide a new visitor with more tips and advice.