Mar 31 2015

Dewees Island Is A Beach Vacation Without The Crowds

By Carol Antman for Island Eye News

Photos by Joe Marie Brown


If your vacation calls for a detox from the debilitating effects of modern life, if you’re craving a big dose of nature, you’ll be happy to hear that your remedy is only a 20 minute boat ride from the Isle of Palms. Step aboard the hourly ferry and exhale. You’ll feel like the King or Queen of the Nile as you cruise the Intracoastal Waterway to the parallel universe of Dewees Island. No traffic lights, just trees; no cars, just golf carts; no noise, just birdcalls and lots of peace and quiet. Over 95 percent of the 1,200 acre island is in its natural state with only 64 secluded houses flanked by one of the most pristine and private beaches in the country.


In 1989 Hurricane Hugo decimated the coast and left Dewees Island’s habitat in tatters. Two years later John Knott surveyed the damage and claimed that “the environment and development are natural allies.” He envisioned building a community with environmental considerations as the cornerstone.


Dewees’ website brags that “all the rules of traditional beachfront real estate development were broken,” in a “process driven by restoration, preservation, not destruction and removal.” Private boat docks, golf courses and manicured lawns are prohibited. Homeowners are required to use indigenous plants, natural surfaced driveways and energy and water-efficient designs. Dunes were re-nourished using boardwalks, sand fencing and the requirement that all houses be built away from the shore. The result is a self-selected group of environmentally attuned homeowners.


About 12 families live full time on the island. Two or three even send their children to school on the mainland, commuting by ferry. The kids’ unique perspectives are derived from a combination of learning with their peers and running barefoot in the freedom of their island home. Luckily, many of the homes are available for vacation rental.


Some of the allure of visiting Dewees is the proximity of Charleston, especially for those who live elsewhere. But many locals take advantage of the destination for romantic weekends or extended family gatherings. Often there’s a matriarch or patriarch who has the means to be the host and the desire to create priceless family memories.

Kids love it out there. They feel like Huck Finn,” says Emily Watson of Dewees Rentals. Readers who’ve envied the lifestyle of island children growing up in the 1950’s as described in Josephine Humphrey’s Sullivan’s Island will find it here. Kids can run around unattended, crabbing and fishing and exploring without danger. Family time might include hitting the beach at sunrise with the island’s turtle team to identify nests or help hatchings scamper to the water. Kayaks sit ready to grab and explore for alligators and birds in the marshes.

The resident naturalist and two summer interns lead programs like creek floats, fishing, crabbing and a colorful golf cart parade. Adults can enjoy concerts, art shows and happy hours in the beautiful Huyler House community room. A salt water swimming pool, tennis courts, game room with ping pong, a nature center, fishing and crabbing docks and picnic tables on most beach boardwalks add to the fun.

Every house is unique. Right beside the Huyler House community room are one-bedroom condos that adjoin the pool and can comfortably sleep two for under $2,000 a week. The top of the line Ocean Retreat provides three bedrooms (two are master suites), a gourmet kitchen, exquisite artwork, sprawling screened porches and an ocean view for $4,000 per week. Most houses have a few staples in the kitchen but vacationing on Dewees requires planning and simplifying. Few clothes are needed but packing the food is tricky. Ferry passengers are often hauling carefully packed bins knowing they can’t run down to the corner for milk or juice. There are wheeled carts at the boat docks to help load the luggage and two hospitality interns are on hand during the summer to greet new arrivals.

Once on the island, all transportation is by golf carts which are included as part of the house rental fee. Bicycles are also a great way to experience the island and can be transported on the ferry. One guest remarked, “The lack of automobiles alone brought me back several shades of sanity.” Summer rentals fill up fast, often six months in advance.

The inconveniences of the location have been minimized as much as possible. In the case of emergency, there are fire and medical responders on the island and a helipad. Trash and recycling is handled by barge. Some things just require patience. I’ve often seen painters and plumbers on the ferry headed to do repairs and barges of building materials, even bulldozers, en route. But Dewees visitors and residents happily accept these obstacles as the trade-off for the simplicity, luxury and seclusion of Dewees.

If You Go:

Roadtrips Charleston presents adventurous and interesting destinations within a few hours drive of Charleston, S.C. Carol Antman’s passion for outdoor and artistic experiences feeds her wanderlust for exotic and nearby adventures. For hot links, photographs and previous columns or to make comments please see

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