With picturesque views and a welcoming way, South Carolina’s second oldest city wins over visitors and locals alike with its coastal charm.
Beaufort, South Carolina, also known as the Queen of the Carolina Sea Islands, is the perfect escape to disconnect from the chaos. Pronounced BEW-fort, the laid-back city of more than 13,000 people is just short of a four-hour drive from the Queen City, offering a coastal calm that visitors lust for and locals love. So grab a sunhat, kick back, and get ready to relax in this little slice of Southern paradise.
Located on Port Royal Island, one of South Carolina’s coastal Sea Islands, this alluring waterside city is a living landmark. Its written history dates back more than 500 years. Beaufort County was the site of the second North American continent landing by European settlers. A vast array of historic establishments showcase this earlier time, including iconic landmarks like the Beaufort National Cemetery, the Beaufort Arsenal and the Santa Elena History Center, just to name a few.
Beaufort’s beautiful backdrop may look familiar. The picturesque port city made its mark on movie history, with starring roles in legendary films like The Big Chill, The Great Santini, and of course, Forrest Gump. There’s no question why the spotlight remains, with blankets of Spanish moss crisscrossing over the town’s main pathways, while dreamy, antebellum architecture hugs every corner.
Visitors and locals alike can take a front row seat to the Intracoastal Waterway at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, before grabbing a belly full of creative, Lowcountry cuisine at Plums.
Where to stay
Upon entering the waterside town, a quintessential relaxation experience awaits at the award-winning Beaufort Historic Inn (beaufortinn.com) offering a part boutique hotel, part bed and breakfast atmosphere. Located within Beaufort’s Historic District, the pink sorbet-colored, Victorian mansion sits quietly among lush gardens and enviable double-front porches. It’s just blocks from Bay Street—the heartbeat of the town. For more than 100 years, guests have been welcomed inside the inn, since attorney and congressman William Sidney Smith first built it as a summer retreat in 1897.
The Beaufort Historic Inn consists of a total of 48 guest rooms. Twelve are inside the intimate Craven Cottage, which is nestled on the inn’s private city block. Nine are within the main house, and the rest are distributed throughout the inn’s three apartments (808 Bay, 221 West, and the Beauloft). Take advantage of the inn’s unhurried lifestyle by relaxing in the soaking tubs, lounging on the king-sized beds, and sipping—slowly—at the wet bars.
The Scheper Suite, though, is a perfect option for families looking to create lasting memories or couples looking to relax, relate, and recharge. The suite can host up to four guests, offering one king bedroom, one queen bedroom and one bathroom. Inside the coastal chic hideaway are traditional Southern furnishings (think: toile print curtains, oriental rugs, and heart-pine floors), which complement modern-day accessories (think: outdoor courtyards, flat screen TVs, and decorative fireplaces). Reservations are $220-$260 per night. The inn’s peak season typically starts in late spring and ends in late August.
The inn has Southern hospitality written all over it. When checking in, a personal, guided-tour of the property and room makes the inn’s first impression quite memorable. Free breakfast vouchers are given to guests to Beaufort’s locally owned eateries, including Common Ground, Rain -N- Bagels and Blackstone’s Cafe. Each day at 3 p.m., the inn gets a special delivery from coffee shop Common Ground of select pastries, which can be found in the downstairs guest lobby of the inn. It’s a delectable assortment that can satisfy any guest’s afternoon munchies. For the adventure-seeker, hop on one of the inn’s complimentary, light blue and black bikes (available on a first-come, first-served basis) for a firsthand experience of “where history is made.”
Where to eat
There’s nothing quite like Lowcountry cuisine, and Beaufort County knows how to serve it up. Seafood can be found just about everywhere, but visitors may want to also consider tasting English, French, African, and West Indian dishes that date back hundreds of years. Grab a table at Gullah Grub (located at St. Helena Island, one of the Beaufort Sea Islands) to try authentic Gullah fare like mouth-watering shrimp gumbo and fried shark strips.
But first, breakfast…
Start the morning by walking just a few blocks from the Beaufort Historic Inn to Common Ground to exchange the breakfast voucher for a chocolate cappuccino coffee muffin, the coffeehouse’s most popular menu item. Or head to Lowcountry Produce, housed in Beaufort’s former City Hall, to devour Southern staples like the Biscuit, Gravy & Egg ($8.75) and Shrimp & Grits ($13.95). Don’t forget to order the Glazed Yeast Doughnuts ($5.75) as an appetizer or a dessert. Boundary Street Cafe, Blackstone’s Café and Red Rooster Cafe should also be at the top of a visitor’s breakfast list.
Before lunch, sip on a Southern delicacy at Scout Southern Market. Order the sweet tea float with two scoops of lemon sorbet, while perusing through the store showcasing fine home decor, local gifts and specialty foods. Stroll on to Plums, a favorite of the locals, and request to sit on the back patio, overlooking the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Then dive head first into the Fried Flounder Po-Boy ($9.95) and the Chicken Salad Classic Sandwich ($8.95). Wren Bistro & Bar and Panini’s on the Waterfront are also solid lunch spots.
Let the taste buds settle on a cool cocktail on the rooftop of Ribaut Social Club at Anchorage 1770. Be basic and order the Rosehaven Rose to match the hues of the sun going down. Last, and certainly not least, a trip to Beaufort isn’t complete without dining at Old Bull Tavern, the town’s “friendly neighborhood gastropub.” Memorable moments included feasting on the wood-fired Margherita Pizza ($10), to viewing pictures on the wall paying homage to the cook’s grandmothers, to scarfing down the House-Made Ricotta Gnocchi ($12.75). For a more sophisticated dinner experience, scoot on over to Saltus River Grill for the Blackened Dorado ($35) paired with the Creamy Stone Ground Grits & Stewed Tomatoes ($5). End the ultimate foodie tour with the best kind of dessert: a good night’s rest back at the inn.
Your Beaufort Bucket List:
- Take it all in at the Beaufort History Museum.There’s no better place to start reliving this area’s rich history than inside the historic, yellow-tinted Arsenal. Its roots go all the way back to 1939. Today, the museum’s new exhibit highlights the ecology, discovery, early settlement, and modernization of the small town. General admission tickets are $7 and tickets for seniors are $6. 713 Craven St.
- Spend time shopping along Bay Street.Peruse through dozens of locally owned boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, and jewelry shops that reside in renovated 19th century storefronts. From there, alleyways promise exquisite cuisine and even more shopping adventures. Bay Street
- Hop on a SouthurnRose Buggy Tour.Learn about Beaufort’s antebellum and Victorian-style architecture, plus visit the exact places where Hollywood movies have been filmed on a 55-minute horse-drawn carriage ride. Adult tickets are $23, $10 for children ages 4-12, and free for children under three. 1002 Bay St.
- Take a moment of silence at the Beaufort National Cemetery. Established just two years after the Civil War began, the 33-acre site has laid to rest more than 7,500 Civil War soldiers and 6,500 other servicemen. Prepare for an emotional experience. 1601 Boundary St.
- Travel out to Hunting Island State Park.Hop in the car and drive less than 20 miles to this natural wonderland, occupying an entire barrier island and boasting four miles of oceanfront beaches. Take your shoes off and soak up all the beach has to offer. Adult tickets are $5, $3.25 for South Carolina seniors, $3 for kids ages 6-15, and free for kids age 5 and younger. Plan to eat all things fried at Shrimp Shack (cash-only) on the way out. 2555 Sea Island Parkway, Hunting Island, SC
- Climb up the Hunting Island Lighthouse. Take a deep breath and climb up the 175 stairs of South Carolina’s only publicly accessible lighthouse. The historic display has an average of 200 climbers per day. And even if you’re afraid of heights, it’s one of the most breathtaking views you’ll ever see. Trust us. Don’t forget to grab $2 for admission into the lighthouse. 2555 Sea Island Parkway, Hunting Island, SC
- Paddle board on Factory Creek with Higher Ground Outfitters. A weekend isn’t complete without taking part in one of Beaufort’s many water activities. Join owner, Tim, and his delightful dachshund, Hobie, on a two-mile guided paddleboard tour. We know it will be a highlight of your trip. 95 Factory Creek Court
- Catch the sunset on Captain Dick’s River Tours. Board the 24-passenger Prince of Tides and expect to see lots of beautiful scenery and wildlife, including dolphins. Daily tours occur Monday-Saturday starting at 2 p.m., and noon Sundays. Evening tours are available April-October. Adult tickets are $20 and tickets for children 12 and under are $12. Downtown Beaufort Marina, 1006 Bay St.
- Step back in time at the Santa Elena History Center. Discover “America’s Untold Story” where the history center showcases 16th century exploration and settlements with a focus on the Spanish town of Santa Elena. Located on Parris Island, you’ll learn about the earliest tale with an introductory film before your self-paced tour begins in the main exhibit. Adult tickets are $10, $5 for students, $5 for teens ages 7-17, and free for children under 7. 1501 Bay St.
- Venture out on a historical church self-guided tour. Some of the most prominent churches that are a must-see include the First African Baptist Church, St. Helena’s Episcopal Church, and St. Peter’s Catholic Church. Get a detailed map of church tours at the Beaufort Visitors Center. 713 Craven St.