Umbrellas on beach at Kiawah Island near Charleston.

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

A barrier island on South Carolina’s Atlantic coast, Kiawah is a private beach and golf resort some 40 km southwest of Charleston, the largest city in the state. With a population of just under 1,800, according to 2019 estimates, Kiawah Island is well known for its eponymous Golf Resort. Its other attractions include various beaches, villas, and other boating activities. 

Geography And Climate Of Kiawah Island 

Coastal beach scenes on Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

Kiawah Island has a total land area of 35 square kilometers, of which 6.4 square kilometers or nearly 19% is water. A barrier island on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, summers are noted for being oppressively hot on the Island, while winters are short and windy.Between May and September, average daily highs are 28 C, with July as the hottest month of the summertime; highs in that month average 31 C, with lows of 24 C. The winter is considered to last from December to March, with highs of 19 C. January is the coldest month on average for Kiawah Island, with highs around 17 C and lows of 7 C.According to local meteorological guides, the best time recommended to visit Kiawah Island for moderate temperatures is from April to May or September to October.The wet season on Kiawah Island lasts from June to September. July is considered the wettest. Of the 31 days in the month, an average of 15 days has at least 1 millimeter of precipitation. November is the driest month, with only six days out of 30 presenting a minimum of 1 millimeter of precipitation, while the dry season typically lasts between late September and June.  

Brief History Of Kiawah Island

Named after the Kiawah indigenous people, English settler, and former pirate George Raynor, first obtained Kiawah Island through a land grant in 1699. In 1701, he sold half of the area to another sea captain, while the other half was passed on to his descendants after his 1743 death.Used primarily for cattle farming in its early history, during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the settlement was also used as a recovery and refuge place for soldiers and family members. It was the Civil War (1861-1865), however, that had a greater impact on Kiawah Island.South Carolina was the first state to join the Confederacy, and during the War, Kiawah Island was sieged by Northern troops and taken over. By this time, the Island was maintained by the wealthy Vanderhorst family, and after the War, they hired formerly enslaved people for labor, producing cotton on the land. The Family maintained their administration of the area until well into the mid-20th century when it was purchased by logging entrepreneur C.C. Royal in 1950.

The Island was further sold to the Kuwait Investment Corporation in 1974, and a boom in real estate sales began. In 1976, the first golf course, Cougar Point, was opened. The Kiawah Island Golf Resort soon followed. The 1980s saw continued growth and expansion for the Island, and a town also called Kiawah was formally established in 1988.The Kiawah Island Club opened in 1993, while more golf courses, including Ocean Course and Oak Point, were founded in 1991 and 1997, respectively. Today, Kiawah Island is filled with an abundance of golf courses, lodges, hotels, and public beaches, making it a calm and appealing place for many tourists. 

Attractions On Kiawah Island

Golf Course in South Carolina
Golf Course in South Carolina.

Lauded as one of the best golf destinations on the United States’ East Coast, Kiawah Island features seven award-winning golf courses. Several of these were even designed by pro golf legends like Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. The courses of Turtle Point, Ocean Course, Cougar Point, Oak Point, and Osprey Point are owned and operated by the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. The Ocean Course has hosted events like the 1997 World Cup of Golf and the 2012 and 2021 PGA Championship.For those not inclined to golf, Kiawah Island also offers a variety of other outdoor activities for tourists and their families to enjoy.

Beachwalker County Park is located on the west end of the Island and has been ranked by several publications as one of the best public beaches in the United States.Kiawah Island has 48 km of paved hiking trails and 16 km of beach, giving residents and visitors alike beautiful settings for biking, walking, and jogging. Any tourist to Kiawah Island will surely find kayaking, canoeing, and other boating opportunities on the water.

For the historically inclined visitor, Kiawah Island is home to two sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places; the Arnoldus Vander Horst House, a former plantation house built in 1802, is now a museum that highlights the history of the area, and of the Island’s record during the Civil War. The Bass Pond Site is an archaeological excavation locale that spotlights the geological history of the land and the development of the early human activity. 

Kiawah Island is mainly known today for its renowned golf courses and beachfront access on the coast of the Atlantic, but it also has, like so many small towns and habitations in America, a unique history. From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to the modern real estate boom, Kiawah Island is a lesser-known spot on the American map but a charming and pleasing destination for anyone who chooses to visit.


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