Best Hotels in Charleston
A contemporary twist on old-fashioned Southern luxury.
The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina is a modern take on a grand 1850's manor. This beachside lodging offers premier accommodations, innovative New Southern cuisine and a top spa at an island resort already featuring an alluring trio of beach, golf and tennis.
A live oak-lined avenue leads to the entrance of this stately property. Inside the yellow, four-story building, you'll first encounter an enormous lobby containing inviting seating, limestone fireplaces, crystal chandeliers and a bar serving classic mint juleps. Local artist Karen Lawson Turner painted four 30-foot-high murals — two by each of the staircases — inspired by Kiawah's natural environment. In the east, they depict sunrise. In the west, sunset. Pick a staircase, any staircase, and you'll find yourself in either the sophisticated Ocean Room restaurant or the spa.
Ninety percent of the hotel's 255 guestrooms have ocean views. The high-end Ocean Room steakhouse features New American cuisine and Savannah blacksmith John Boyd Smith's Kiawah-themed wrought iron gates. Standard rooms offer marble showers, large tubs and balconies; amenities include all the expected basics, plus wireless Internet access that is accessible throughout the entire hotel. The thirteen executive suites have the standard accommodations along with whirlpool tubs, flat-screen TVs and extra balconies. A concierge level with private elevator access has a sumptuous three-room lounge. Staying on this floor costs extra, but you get some nice perks, which include breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Those choosing to dine instead in the hotel's Ocean Room will be welcomed by Savannah blacksmith John Boyd Smith’s substantial wrought-iron gates, which incorporate distinctive Kiawah touches: an egret, sea grass and sea oats. Chef Andrew Venable combines New American style and local ingredients to an excellent effect at this upscale steakhouse. While chilled oysters on the half-shell are the highlight of the appetizer menu, a spicy tuna tartare and grilled local figs are some other standouts. The stars of the dinner menu are the prime cut steaks, like the petite strip loin or the chef's specialty dry-aged Niman Ranch "Tomahawk" rib-eye for two, and guests can choose from a list of sides, including aged white cheddar potato gratin or black truffle pommes frites. Desserts include the "citrus cylinder" with lemon buttermilk mousse and a flight of four different types of hot chocolate. The forty-two-page wine list features foreign and domestic wines from Argentinian malbecs and Australian sauvignon blancs to popular Californian vintages.
For a more casual alternative, Jasmine Porch is designed to look like a stable, with exposed brick walls, old-plank wood floors and wrought-iron lanterns. Chef de cuisine Ryley McGillis prepares modern takes on Lowcountry dishes. We especially liked the fried green tomato appetizer with creamy goat cheese, ham and red onion marmalade. The standout entrée is another coastal Carolina specialty: shrimp and cheddar grits with tasso gravy.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort has gained much of its acclaim for its five golf courses, designed by luminaries such as Jack Nicklaus, whose Turtle Point includes three ocean holes that abut hotel property, and Pete Dye, whose Ocean Course was awarded the 2012 PGA Championship. The island also has two tennis clubs, and if that's not enough to keep you busy, there are ten miles of pristine beach, thirty miles of bike paths and tours led by staff naturalists. Don't be surprised to spot a bobcat, bald eagle or even an alligator sunning itself by one of the island’s many ponds.
Along with a modern fitness facility, cardio studio and 65-foot indoor pool, the hotel houses a spa with twelve treatment rooms. Services with a regional twist include the Mint Julep Facial, Lowcountry Verbena Body Polish and a signature massage that uses warm grain- and herb-filled wraps. Such facilities add to Kiawah's appeal as a year-round resort, which attracts outdoorsy types in the spring and fall (cooler temperatures and lower humidity) and beach-seeking families in the summer. In addition, due to 18,000 square feet of meeting and event space, corporate meetings and retreats account for almost half of the hotel's annual business. Fair weather or foul, for business or pleasure, The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island accommodates with gracious Southern hospitality throughout the year.