Kiawah vs. Wild Dunes – Where to Stay on the Beach near Charleston

Kiawah and Wild Dunes are two of the Charleston area’s best beach resort options if you’re looking to stay on the beach within a drive of the city of Charleston. If you don’t know the layout of Charleston, the historic downtown is an amazing place to stay, eat, drink, shop, and play, and even though it’s on the waterfront, it actually does not have any beaches! If you’re looking to base nearby downtown, but want to be on the beach, then this post is for you.

When it comes to beach resorts near Charleston, I have two favorites. Wild Dunes, located in Isle of Palms, and the Sanctuary at Kiawah, located on Kiawah Island. Both have wide, beautiful, beaches and cater to everyone from couples to families to groups. So let’s break down their differences and what each one has to offer so you can decide which beach destination in Charleston is best for you and your group!


The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Resort

Located about 45 minutes outside of the city of Charleston is the gorgeous Kiawah Island Resort located on a secluded little beach town called Kiawah Island.  This Santuary lives up to its name, feeling like a relaxed, quiet oasis outside of the city. Golfers will love the award-winning PGA Championship golf course, and beach-lovers will flock to their picture-perfect Carolina coastline.  Rent bikes from their rental center just off of the lobby, and ride them all along the beach and around the island.  The sand is even hard and flat enough that you can ride one of the resort’s complimentary bikes right on the edge of the waves. 

Why Choose The Sanctuary at Kiawah vs Wild Dunes: 

If you’re looking for a quieter, more tucked-away, more luxurious-feeling sanctuary, Kiawah is a great choice. If you want to feel secluded and value more privacy and luxury, this is the spot for you. Also if you don’t mind being a little further from the city, and plan on spending more time at the resort on the beach or on the golf course than out and about or going downtown. 

And, if you’re traveling with a little baby, Kiawah is a very baby-friendly travel destination and will make your family feel like royalty! They also have “Kamp Kiawah” for kids which is so cute. But if you’re traveling with a toddler or bigger kid that wants more action, I’d recommend Wild Dunes as the pools, playground, and kid ‘scene’ is hard to beat! 

Pros & Cons of Sanctuary at Kiawah vs Wild Dunes: 

PROS: More relaxing, more luxurious, top of the line golf course, beautiful stretches of beaches, spectacular service

CONS: Farther from Charleston, more secluded and out on its own, harder to get places


Wild Dunes Resort

Located about 30 minutes outside of Charleston, on Isle of Palms, Wild Dunes is one of our favorite spots near Charleston and a great place to stay for the beach! The property is exceptionally family-friendly, and features 2 championship golf courses, five pools to choose from, and a gorgeous signature spa. There’s even a playground located within Isle of Palms Wild Dunes Resort, where you can enjoy several slides and swings to play for hours on end! Nestled right behind Woody’s Eatery, be sure to stop in for a refreshing drink or snack in between playtime.

Wild Dunes is a gated area that includes multiple hotels, condos and waterfront homes offering short stays or longer-term seasonal rentals (you can search some of those here), and tends to be where many families come year after year for their summer beach vacation. I’d recommend Sweetgrass Inn – it’s been the most recently renovated. 

Who should choose Wild Dunes Resort over Sanctuary at Kiawah:

Families!! (Wild Dunes is very family-oriented, although they do have some great adult pools as well!) and those looking for a better deal on a beach hotel in Charleston (Wild Dunes is less expensive than the Sanctuary) and those looking to be a little closer to the action. Not only is Isle of Palms closer to downtown Charleston, but Isle of Palms itself has a thriving restaurant and bar scene (the Windjammer beach bar is a must stop!) 

Pros & Cons of Wild Dunes vs Sanctuary at Kiawah: 

PROS: Better for big kids (amazing family pools, though they get crowded!),  better and newer spa, & easier to get a golf reservation, better value, newly renovated.

CONS: More crowds, less luxurious rooms compared to the Sanctuary.


Check out my full Charleston travel guide here:


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Christina is a leading luxury lifestyle and travel blogger with over 2 million readers. Follow her on instagram @jetsetchristina.