This Small Coastal Town in South Carolina Has Charleston-like Charm Without the Crowds
Here’s what to know about visiting Beaufort, one of South Carolina’s most beautiful towns.
Charleston may get most of the attention when it comes to South Carolina’s many cities, but the history, culture, and (of course) Southern charm that make it so special can also be found in smaller and less expensive places in the region. If you’ve ever watched “Forrest Gump” or read anything by the late author Pat Conroy, you may be familiar with Beaufort, a harbor town on Port Royal Island. Its narrow streets, oak trees, and historic district that pre-dates the Civil War are similar to those in Charleston, but Beaufort is remarkable and magical in its own right. Plus, it doesn’t draw the same crowds that tend to flock to notable Holy City hangouts like King Street, Folly Beach, and the Battery.
Before you read any further, though, you need to know how to properly pronounce the name. Not to be confused with Beaufort, North Carolina (said like “bow-fert”), the coastal town has a pronunciation more akin to “bew-fert.” Mistaking the two will immediately identify you as a tourist — and it won’t sit too well with the locals. Once you have that squared away, you can start planning your trip to Beaufort, the second-oldest city in South Carolina.
Related:8 Charming Small Towns in South Carolina — From the Mountains to the Beach
Best Things to Do in Beaufort, South Carolina
In 1969, Beaufort became one of the few U.S. cities with an entire downtown designated as a historic district by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, so exploring the neighborhoods filled with Victorian, Greek Revival, Neoclassical, and Federal-style homes is at the top of most travelers’ lists. At Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, you’ll spot Woods Memorial Bridge, recognizable from the aforementioned Tom Hanks blockbuster. Stretching your legs is also encouraged along the Spanish Moss Trail, a 10-mile greenway that weaves by Beaufort’s marshes and through trees draped in Spanish moss. Given its waterfront location, Beaufort should also be experienced by boat; book a Dolphin & History Boat Cruise with Coastal Expeditions or an ecology tour with Beaufort Kayak Tours. Paddleboarding is another option, with rental equipment available at Higher Ground Outfitters.
Beaufort’s ties to the literary world are strong; visiting the Pat Conroy Literary Center (Beaufort was Conroy’s adopted hometown) or one of the three independent bookstores in town — NeverMore Books, McIntosh Book Shoppe, and Beaufort Books — is a must for book lovers. For those interested in local art, there’s the Gullah Art Gallery and Museum, Legacy Art Gallery, Rhett Gallery, Thibault Gallery, or Atelier Off Bay.
Many of the best things to do in Beaufort are found further outside of downtown. About 17 miles east is Hunting Island State Park, with its pristine beaches, marshes, maritime forest, saltwater lagoon, and the Hunting Island Lighthouse, which was destroyed during the Civil War and rebuilt in 1875. St. Helena Island (a 13-minute drive away) is home to Penn Center — one of the United States’ first schools for formerly enslaved individuals — as well as the family-owned Dempsey Farms, where you can pick in-season fruits and vegetables. Local produce can also be acquired on Saturdays at the nearby Port Royal Farmers Market.
Related:The Best Things to Do in South Carolina, According to a Local
An overnight trip to Beaufort is best accompanied by a stay in one of the town’s upscale inns. Slow Southern mornings paired with a home-cooked breakfast can be enjoyed on the expansive wooden porch at The Rhett House Inn. Guests can also book the more modern Rhett House Inn Cottages, which sit across the street from the main building. Once a Union Army hospital, Anchorage 1770 overlooks the Beaufort River and offers a fine dining experience at the Ribaut Social Club. The Beaufort Inn first opened its doors in 1897, and the property’s modern-day chapter features several fully renovated buildings within the town’s historic district.
Where to Eat and Drink in Beaufort, South Carolina
As with most Southern cities and towns, food is a major part of the local culture. If you’re a traveler who plans their vacations around meals, you’ll want to start your day at Blackstone’s Cafe or Herban Market and Cafe. If you’re exploring Beaufort during the day and want something quick, order a fried chicken sandwich or po’boy from Lowcountry Produce Market & Cafe. Chapman’s Grocer also has grab-and-go treats, wine, and craft beer. Old Bull Tavern is a lively gastropub open only for dinner, Saltus River Grill is great for indulging in seafood, and those craving Italian should dine at Griffin Market. Gullah Grub Restaurant on St. Helena Island is one of the area’s most famous restaurants (it appeared on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations); get the shrimp gumbo.
Best Time to Visit
A South Carolina summer is hot and humid — there’s no getting around that. To explore Beaufort in the most comfortable climate, your best bet is to go in either early spring or late fall. April and October are ideal for having plenty to do (winter is far from bustling) while simultaneously avoiding the sweltering weather synonymous with the South.
If you’re flying into Hilton Head Airport (HHH) or Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) — both are under an hour away — you’ll need to rent a car to fully experience Beaufort and its surrounding area. Charleston International Airport (CHS) is also an option, although it’ll take about 90 minutes to get to Beaufort.
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