Most people who’ve never been to South Carolina, let alone its Lowcountry, will remain speechless at lush landscapes and the barely tamed wilderness of the Sea Islands. A first-timer’s guide to Beaufort SC will help you navigate the network of estuaries and wetlands to get the most out of your trip to this lovely historic town.
Beaufort has been around for a long time and the townsfolk proudly claim it to be one of the first European settlements in North America, as the Spanish colonists first mentioned it in 1514. However, it wasn’t until 1711 that the town of Beaufort was finally chartered, officially making it the second-oldest town in South Carolina after Charleston. Whichever event you pick as a starting point for this quaint little town on Port Royal Island, the outcome is the same – a place so deeply steeped in history and culture that you shouldn’t ever pass up on the opportunity to come and visit it.
Where to Stay in Beaufort?
Much like in any other place in this fair world of ours where there’s been a sharp increase in tourism, there’s a wide array of bedding options for travelers looking to spend a couple of days in Beaufort.
Whether you’re looking for a B&B, an inn or a fully fledged hotel, there’ll be something in store for you. Preferably, you’ll be wanting to stay in a place featuring design and surroundings representative of the overall style of the town of Beaufort. This architectural style is referred to as antebellum, or ‘pre-war’, addressing the period preceding Civil War, and the town is brimming with such buildings.
The Rhett House Inn
Located in the very heart of Beaufort’s Historic District, The Rhett House Inn is the perfect representative of the beauty of antebellum – it is a combination of Georgian and Greek Revival styles, featuring towering white columns and verandas that almost fully circumnavigate the building itself.
Just like the rest of Beaufort, the Rhett House Inn is surrounded by magnificent oak trees on all sides, a sight that you should get used to in the Lowcountry. While staying here, you’ll feel as though you’ve returned to the 19th century, but without all the social injustice. They boast hosting multiple contemporary celebrities, as well as serving complimentary champagne on arrival.
Website: The Rhett House Inn
The Beaufort Inn
Not too far from the previous hotel and only two streets away from Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park is the Beaufort Inn.
Many private porches and gardens will make you feel all the Southern comfort as they like to advertise themselves. Also at the center of Beaufort Historic District, you’ll be a whisper away from all the museums, shops and other landmarks of the town you might be interested in, with Tabernacle Baptist Church being just across the street. There’s also a huge parking lot to make good use of, so you can go ahead and rent a car to cover more ground and see more in less time.
Website: The Beaufort Inn
Cuthbert House Inn
Right next to South Carolina Intracoastal Waterway, Cuthbert House Inn is an antebellum mansion that blends in with the surrounding area seamlessly.
With all the amenities you could ever hope for, this bed and breakfast is right where you want it to be – you can go exploring, kayaking, golfing or sightseeing from here and be back in your 19th-century hideaway room in no time. You’ll be able to try some delicious southerner specialties. Enjoy a day filled with interesting activities thanks to the proximity of this B&B to the center of the town.
Website: Cuthbert House Inn
It might seem as if this ‘antebellum’ style is overused in the Beaufort area, but trust us, it’s so gorgeous seeing Greek Revival in South Carolina that it’ll be long before you grow tired of it.
Anchorage 1770 is a beautiful bed and breakfast masterfully designed and one of the oldest standing Tabby structures. When we say Tabby, we don’t mean cat species. No, we mean the type of concrete that was used in the 18th century, created by burning oyster shells to make lime which was then mixed with other ingredients. For a building dating back to 1770, it sure is comfortable and romantic, with amazing amenities and even better cuisine.
Website: Anchorage 1770
Top Things to Do in Beaufort
Depending on who you ask, you’ll probably hear that Beaufort must-dos usually involve fishing or golfing.
While these activities do bring exquisite pleasure to anyone looking for a relaxing weekend getaway, a first time visitor to Beaufort should focus on some of the more unique aspects of this picturesque town. There are plenty of museums to explore and islands to hop, things to buy and foods to taste – you’ll certainly find your fill.
Woods Memorial Bridge
If you’ve never seen a swing bridge before, you’re in for a real treat. Even if you have, you’ll still be astonished at how perfectly Woods Memorial Bridge accentuates the wilderness around it.
This mighty steel construct is one of the last movable bridges in South Carolina, but it’s the way it moves that makes it so captivating and interesting to look at. Swing bridges move 90 degrees horizontally in order to make way for passing ships, unlike lift bridges that move vertically.
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Woods Memorial Bridge owes its name to trooper Richard Woods that was gunned down in Beaufort in 1969. It attained a decent amount of fame following a brief appearance in Forrest Gump.
If you’re visiting Beaufort for the very first time, you’ll want to head out the Hunting Island way and enjoy its raw coastline.
The town of Beaufort sits on an island called Port Royal Island, one of the many in a region so perfectly described as Sea Islands. They’re all more or less well-connected, but this especially goes for Hunting Island. It’s quite close to Beaufort, so close in fact that it’s one of the favorite getaways for locals, especially considering there’s a State Park here. You’ll be able to hit the gorgeous beach that stretches for about 5 miles and is as wild and untamed as it gets. Besides all the fun activities that beaches usually promise, a great spot to visit is the Hunting Island Lighthouse. Get all the way to the top and simply absorb the beauty of the Lowcountry.
Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park
Right next door from almost everything in Beaufort is its charming Waterfront Park that is the very hub of all the happenings.
You’ve got so many options here that it’s certainly going to be an excellent backup plan and one of the top spots in town for those visiting with children. The local community is right here, walking around, having picnics, eating out and otherwise interacting. For those in love, there’s no spot more romantic than this one. Playgrounds attract families with kids and the busy marina is bustling with vessels going in and out. Take a stroll on the boardwalk or try to reel in a fish or two – options are endless.
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Considering how beautiful all the moss-covered oak trees are, there’s nothing more attractive than watching a movie outside.
You’ve got several Drive-in theaters at your disposal: two Sonic Drive-ins, and a Highway 21 Drive-in theater. Regardless of whether young or old, we recommend you to see at least one movie that way while you’re here.
Beaufort’s Historic Spots
Where to start? As one of the older historic towns in the USA, Beaufort is overflowing with historic spots for your perusal. Now more than ever, you’ll need a guide such as this one to help you find all the places submerged in history.
The site of major historical significance for Gullah and European Americans alike, Penn Center campus has finally become recognized as a National Historic Landmark District in 1974.
Established in 1862 by the abolitionist missionary Laura Towne, Penn School was the first such institution dedicated to the education of freed African-Americans in the southern states. To this day, school buildings stand among lush moss-covered oak trees on the nearby St. Helena Island.
Beaufort National Cemetery
Beaufort National Cemetery came to be in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared it so.
Its 19,000 interments are all soldiers of various wars that America’s fought. Originally a place of burial for Union and Confederacy soldiers, it now covers many souls from the Korean and Vietnamese wars, but also the more recent ones. Any soldier can be buried here, with the exception of those dishonorably discharged.
Chapel of Ease
You might have run into a chapel-of-ease or two on your journeys. After all, they weren’t all too rare, considering how many people needed a secondary church where they could attend service, having lived far from the primary parish church.
The one near Beaufort SC is actually located on St. Helena Island and was intended for the plantation owners and their families who couldn’t be bothered with traveling to Beaufort. It dates back to the mid-18th century and is yet another astonishing example of tabby construction. Naturally, a ghost story or two may reach your ears, so be prepared.
Visiting Beaufort and adjacent St. Helena Island cannot go without a trip to Fort Fremont, one of the two fortified remnants of the Spanish-American war.
The fort was constructed on condemned private property and it included everything you’d expect from a self-sustaining military outpost – its own food supply, barracks, stables, artillery batteries, and even a post office. Of these, only some artillery pieces remain to this day, alongside a brick hospital from 1906.
Considering how many sights there are to be seen on St. Helena Island, you must be able to get there somehow. Cross the Woods Memorial Bridge and follow the road for about 5 miles and you’re there.
Old Sheldon Church Ruins
About 17 miles north of Beaufort you’ll find the ruins of what was once known as Prince William’s parish church.
This religious structure of the Sheldon area was an unfortunate victim of conflagration two times – it was first burnt down by the British during the Revolutionary War, and then again during the Civil War. All that’s left are abandoned ruins and a couple of graves encircling them, visited only once a year for an annual service following Easter.
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Regardless of its horrible fate, Old Sheldon Church Ruins are still a beautiful site to see, a powerful reminder of battles that had taken place here prior to the arson.
John Mark Verdier House Museum
Also known as Lafayette building, John Mark Verdier House was built in 1804 by, well, John Mark Verdier!
This large, antebellum structure showcases how lucrative indigo and cotton trade was back in the day. Today, it is Beaufort’s only house museum and it’s open for visitors from 10 AM to 4 PM with a $10 entry fee. If you’re interested in colonial architecture, the museum is a must-see. You’ll find it where all the other gems of Beaufort lie – in Historic District!
Eating and Drinking in Beaufort
First timers in Beaufort SC will, quite naturally, be interested in what it is that people of Lowcountry like to wine and dine on, and where.
Saltus River Grill
If you’re looking for a more high-end cosmopolitan experience (and prices) while enjoying local cuisine, check out Saltus River Grill. Their seafood always tasted fresh and sushi is simply divine. Their wine menu is quite extensive, there are so many in fact that even the most hardened connoisseurs will find something.
Address: 802 Bay Street, Beaufort
Breakwater Restaurant & Bar
The goal of this restaurant, in their own words, is that all food served should be seasonal to ensure the best taste and experience for their guests.
Some of the delicacies you ought to try here is grilled cheese and southern fried shrimps. The wine selection is good, not that of Saltus, but still immensely satisfying for most customers.
Address: 203 Carteret St Ste 102, Beaufort
While it’s basically more or less the same thing as Saltus, the reason why we put it here is that it’s quite possibly the best place to try the king of all local delicacies: shrimp and grit. It’s one of those things that truly complement your visit to a certain place and that all restaurants should serve.
Address: 904 Bay Street, Beaufort
Shopping in Beaufort
After you explore Beaufort and every nook and cranny, you’ll most certainly be interested in getting some handicrafts and souvenirs to remind you of this amazing place. After all, Beaufort is going to be a vacation to remember.
Souvenirs, books, scarves, eyeglasses and every silly item imaginable are all available at Lulu Burgess. It’s one of the most commonly visited gift shops in all of Beaufort, meaning the odds are you’ll find what you’re looking for – or something similar to replace it.
Address: 917 Bay St E, Beaufort
Is there a better gift than chocolate? We think not. If you agree with us, check out the Chocolate Tree store where you’ll be able to taste some of the finest chocolate in South Carolina, and perhaps broader.
They make their chocolate with the best of ingredients and also ship them to all corners of the world. Surprise some far-away friend with Beaufort’s delicious treat.
Address: 507 Carteret St, Beaufort
Scout Southern Market
Another quaint little shop where you’ll be able to purchase loads of accessories and doodads for your home. Many different decorations in the finest southern-style will make you want to spend an eternity here. For a tourist, it might be impossible settling on just one item!
Address: 709 Bay St, Beaufort
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10 Tips Every First-Time Beaufort Visitor Should Know
Finally, we’ll wrap this guide up with 10 tips for anyone coming to Beaufort SC for the first time. Hopefully, these tips will help you make the most out of your vacation and see as much of this lovely historic town as possible.
- Stay in a hotel or an inn that resembles antebellum architecture both on the exterior and the interior. It will enhance your experience of Beaufort drastically.
- Whatever you do, don’t evade Chocolate Tree! You’ll be missing out on a lot otherwise and feel sorry later.
- Speaking of food, grab a plate of shrimps and grit. Delicious!
- Take a stroll down Beaufort’s Historic District. It is as stunning as it is relevant for understanding this place.
- Visit Woodsworth Memorial Bridge, watch it move and cross to the other side.
- Explore St. Helena Island. So many of the historic spots are located right there, hidden among the mossy oak trees.
- Continue your journey down the same path and you’ll reach Hunting Island. Spend a day at the beach and climb the lighthouse.
- See a movie at one of the drive-in theaters.
- Go fishing at least once if you care about blending in.
- Check out some of the museum recollecting the history of the Lowcountry.
Most of all, go exploring on your own. Beaufort is more gorgeous and historic than one article can fully expand on.