Living On Charleston’s Largest But Least Well-Known Sea Island
Of all of Charleston’s sea islands, Johns Island is the largest by a fairly significant margin. But, it is also perhaps the least well-known. While the island has started to see more development in recent years, much of it remains rural—if not untouched—and in many ways driving through the live oak tree tunnel that is Bohicket Road feels like going back to a simpler time.
This is precisely why many Johns Islanders choose to live here. They like the peace and quiet. James Island and West Ashley are too busy for day-to-day life (although they are also close enough to visit when necessary), while neighboring Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island are both a bit too far from the mainland and a bit too crowded.
That isn’t to say that these aren’t also great places to live in Charleston—they absolutely are—just that they aren’t quite right for most who choose to call Johns Island home.
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Living on Johns Island
From the estates along Bohicket Road to the waterfront homes with deepwater docks on the Stono River, many homes on Johns Island have large lots with old-growth live oaks, magnolias, palmettos, and other natural vegetation. But, there are also modern family-friendly neighborhoods along River Road and Maybank Highway, and there are relatively new planned communities with luxury homes and golf courses closer to Freshfields Village and Kiawah Island. If the Johns Island lifestyle suits you, you can find a place where you will be more than happy to call home.
Keep in mind, however, that part of Johns Island’s appeal is its relative remoteness. You definitely aren’t “out there,” but the options for shopping and dining on the island are relatively few and far between (though this is changing as more development comes to the areas around River Road and Maybank Highway). As a result, for most residents, going to work means getting off of the island—whether across the John J. Limehouse Memorial Bridge (Main Road) to West Ashley or the Maybank Highway bridge to James Island (and then perhaps on to downtown Charleston).
Since Johns Island is the gateway to Kiawah Beachwalker County Park—one of the most popular beaches in the Charleston area—traffic can play a role in residents’ day-to-day planning as well, especially on weekends. In particular, Bohicket Road toward the beach can get crowded on weekend mornings during the summer, and getting back to the mainland on Main Road or Maybank Highway can prove challenging on weekend evenings as well. But, for many, this simply comes with the territory of living in a vacation destination; and, since they live on Johns Island, they aren’t too worried about getting anywhere too quickly anyway.
Eating Out on Johns Island
There are three main areas to eat out on Johns Island. Residents have a selection of local restaurants along Bohicket Road and Main Road (one turns into the another in the middle of the island), some of the island’s most-popular restaurants—with both Johns Islanders and other locals—are located on Maybank Highway, and then there is a growing number of restaurants in the vicinity of the intersection between Maybank Highway and River Road.
The Royal Tern is perhaps the island’s most well-known restaurant, serving up contemporary takes on Lowcountry favorites in an upscale atmosphere that blurs the lines between rustic and chic. The island also has well-known barbecue, Italian, and seafood options, and residents can eat out at Mexican restaurants, burger joints, and various other restaurants as well.
Johns Island has a few coffee shops on Bohicket Road and Maybank Highway; and, while they may not be an option for eating out, the local farmers’ markets and produce stands are also popular with island residents. Depending on where you live on Johns Island, the restaurants at Freshfields Village and Bohicket Marina, or those in West Ashley or on James Island, are just a short drive away.
Things To Do on Johns Island
By far, the most popular attraction on Johns Island—and the thing that brings most visitors to the island besides driving through to go to Kiawah Beachwalker Park—is the Angel Oak tree. According to Charleston City, approximately 400,000 visitors make the trek down the dirt road near the intersection of Bohicket Road and Maybank Highway to see the Angel Oak each year.
What makes the Angel Oak so special? The short answer is that you have to see for yourself. Considered to be the largest live oak east of the Mississippi River and estimated to be around 400 years old, the Angel Oak’s extraordinary presence is difficult to put into words. Many visitors find its presence overwhelming, and adults and children alike can find themselves in awe walking around under the Angel Oak’s 17,000 square-foot canopy.
Along with visiting the Angel Oak, there are various other options for things to do on Johns Island as well. These include visiting the Charleston Tea Garden (formerly Charleston Tea Plantation), Johns Island County Park (Mullet Haul) or Legare Farms, patronizing the local farmers’ markets and produce stands, and of course getting on the water. Fishing, boating, kayaking, and standup paddleboarding (SUP) are popular with residents of all of Charleston’s neighborhoods; and, on Johns Island, residents have access to the Stono River, Kiawah River, and Bohicket Creek.
Just off of the island, Freshfields Village, Bohicket Marina, and Kiawah Beachwalker Park offer shopping, dining, boat storage, and public beach access. Johns Island residents who have a Gold Pass from the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission (CCPRC) can park at the beach for free year-round.
Real Estate on Johns Island
Homes on Johns Island range from grand estates to fixer-uppers, and neighborhoods range from family-friendly developments with community pools and playgrounds to the luxury neighborhoods that border the Kiawah River. These neighborhoods offer several amenities, including golf courts, tennis courts, and boat landings. Some of Johns Island’s most-popular neighborhoods include:
- Briar’s Creek
- Hayes Park
- Headquarters Plantation
- Kiawah River
- Kiawah River Estates
- Rushland Plantation
- Sea Island Preserve
- Villages in St. Johns Woods
If you are thinking about moving to Johns Island, it is well worth spending some time in Charleston and taking a few days to explore the neighborhoods across the island. Many of the neighborhoods have their own distinct feel; and, if you are considering a home in Kiawah River or Kiawah River Estates, you will want to make sure you know just how far these neighborhoods are from the mainland.
Apartments on Johns Island
If you are looking for an apartment on Johns Island, your main options will be along Main Road and River Road. There aren’t many apartment developments on Johns Island, but you can find plenty nearby on James Island or on Savannah Highway in West Ashley just after you leave the island.
FAQs: What’s It Like to Live on Johns Island?
Is It John’s Island or Johns Island?
The island is officially named Johns Island (without a possessive apostrophe). The English colonial settlers who came to the island from Barbados named the island after the Saint John parish there. Of course, these settlers were not the first to inhabit the island—when they arrived it was home to Native Americans, including those of the Kiawah tribe.
Is Johns Island, SC Really an Island?
Yes, Johns Island, SC really is an island. It is surrounded by water on all sides—the Stono River to the north and east, the Kiawah River to the south, and Bohicket Creek to the west. Johns Island is one of the Charleston area’s sea islands, and it sits just inland from Kiawah and Seabrook Islands on the Atlantic Ocean. Due to its geography, many Johns Island residents have waterfront homes with deepwater access, and fishing charters, kayak rental companies, and nature tour companies operate from the island as well.
Is Johns Island a Nice Place to Live?
Johns Island is a very nice place to live. Among all of the areas to live in Charleston, Johns Island has perhaps the most unspoiled natural beauty. Live oaks draped in Spanish moss and natural palmetto trees can be found throughout the island, and those who live on the water have unrivaled sunrise and sunset views (depending upon the side of the island on which they live). Residents can go boating, kayaking, and fishing minutes from home (if not from their own private docks), and the Atlantic Ocean is just a short drive away.
How Many People Live on Johns Island?
According to official government data, Johns Island had an estimated population of 21,822 as of 2022. This makes Johns Island the least-populated of Charleston’s five main areas—downtown Charleston, Daniel Island, James Island, Johns Island, and West Ashley. Much of Johns Island’s population is concentrated around Main Road, River Road, and Maybank Highway, while many of the island’s interior areas remain sparsely populated.
What Is Johns Island Known For?
Johns Island is most well-known as the home of the Angel Oak tree—which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. It also has a few well-known restaurants such as The Royal Tern; and, for Charleston locals and visitors alike, Johns Island is the gateway to the public beach on Kiawah Island.
Does Johns Island, SC Have a Beach?
Johns Island, SC does not have a beach. While the island is surrounded by water, its shores are characteristic of the Lowcountry—with endless views of winding creeks and flowing spartina grasses growing out of pluff mud. However, Johns Island residents only have a short drive to the public beach at Kiawah Beachwalker Park, where parking is free for Charleston County residents who have a Gold Pass from the CCPRC.
Is Johns Island Worth Visiting?
Yes, Johns Island is absolutely worth visiting. Whether to take a scenic kayak tour, to pick a pumpkin at Legare Farms, to see the historic Angel Oak, or to simply marvel in the pristine Lowcountry views, there are several reasons to visit Johns Island during your time in Charleston. Once you are on the island, Freshfields Village, Kiawah Island, and Bohicket Marina are all just a short drive away as well.