Beaufort, South Carolina is calling with its Lowcountry charm, laidback vibe, and Southern hospitality. From shopping to restaurants, activities and local festivals, there truly is fun to be had year-round. Not to mention the region is steeped in history. Our contributor Sherry is breaking down the best things to do in Beaufort, SC with her favorite places to eat, stay and play in Beaufort as well as the surrounding Sea Islands and Port Royal.
*Sherry and her family partnered with Visit Beaufort for the purposes of this review. As always, opinions are 100% her own.
Getting away to the coast is a great idea no matter the season. But finding a new locale instead of the same old, same old spot can be a challenge. My husband and I took a three-day jaunt to this Southern gem while the kids were at summer camp so we could soak in all the coastal charm, history, and romance of Beaufort. Considering it was founded by the British in 1711 and it is the second oldest city in South Carolina (behind Charleston), I’d say Beaufort has held up very well for her age.
Where to Eat, Stay, and Play in Beaufort, South Carolina
First things first: how to say Beaufort properly. It’s phonetically pronounced BEW-fert. Second, this area encompasses more than just downtown Beaufort: Port Royal and the Sea Islands are also key components of this region. Now that we’ve got that all cleared up, let’s spill the tea on all the fabulous finds in Beaufort, Port Royal, and the Sea Islands.
Beaufort SC Restaurants: Where to Eat
Trying to come up with a short list of breakfast, lunch, and dinner destinations is pretty darn tricky. So many exceptional choices! But here we go:
- Blackstone’s Cafe-breakfast of champions can be found here in dishes like omelettes, french toast, shrimp and grits, and eggs benedict.
- Common Ground Coffee House-a full coffee bar featuring coffee, fresh baked pastries, and desserts and overlooking Waterfront Park.
- Rain-N-Bagels-true to its name, it is raining bagels here with multiple varieties and delicious cream cheese concoctions like cranberry orange. The lox bagel is a treat!
- Plums-a casual waterfront bistro and raw bar with charming outdoor seating area overlooking Waterfront Park. Top menu choices include po-boys, oysters by the dozen, chicken salad, and peel and eat shrimp.
- Shrimp Shack (St. Helena Island)-Road trip out to the Shrimp Shack on St. Helena Island for their awesome Shrimpburger. Other favorites include fried shrimp, crab cakes, flounder, clams, scallops, and fried chicken.
- Lowcountry Produce– Country kitchen food like burgers, salads, sandwiches are featured in this foodie market that also sells vegetables, jams, jellies, syrups, sauces, and other Southern sundries. My top choice: the Crispy Chicken plate with buttermilk fried chicken sandwich and homemade potato chips. We licked the plate CLEAN!
- Saltus River Grill–Naturally in a coastal town, it’s primarily about the seafood! This urban seafood grill produces an exceptional She Crab Soup, and their take on Sea Island Shrimp and Grits has a twist with with mushrooms, scallions, and bacon lardons. My dish of pan roasted NY Striploin with pomme purée, bernaise sauce and wilted spinach was decadent.
- Breakwater–New Southern cuisine with an inventive menu. Starters like pimento cheese plate ( a Southern staple) and spicy calamari tantalize. I chose the Breakwater Chopped Salad which was a fabulous blend of romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, bacon lardons, butter beans, and fresh corn with Clemson blue cheese buttermilk dressing. My small plate of diver scallops, creamed corn and charred asparagus was incredibly fresh and light! Meanwhile, my husband gives 2 big thumbs up to the Nashville Hot fried chicken.
- Old Bull Tavern-ask the locals and they will steer you (pun intended) to this neighborhood gastropub.Think elevated pub fare with a comfy cozy, cheeky atmosphere. Hey, there’s an old bull mounted above the bar and a British telephone booth that separates the two dining rooms, so they are entitled to be called cheeky! Escargots, ricotta gnocchi, and lamb shank braised in red wine lead an eclectic menu alongside pizzas and handcrafted cocktails. The Pasta Spoleto was the star dish with pancetta, Italian sausage, and lemon cream sauce.
Hotels in Beaufort, SC: Where to Stay
Beaufort is the kind of place where we wanted to immerse ourselves in Southern hospitality and stately elegance. So it was a no brainer to stay at the Anchorage 1770, a boutique waterfront inn. It is the oldest and largest structure in Beaufort made of tabby (lime, sand, and oyster shells). Early on, the house earned the moniker “Queen of the Bay” and the building itself dates back to the year (you guessed it) 1770.
I could possibly come up with 1770 reasons to stay at the Anchorage 1770, but that might scare readers off. So let me give the abridged version by simply saying: fantastic stay, wonderful hosts, and charming atmosphere.
Highlights of the Anchorage 1770
Location, location, location! The Anchorage 1770 is Beaufort’s only waterfront inn. And with a prime location on the corner of Bay and Carteret Streets, it is in the heart of downtown. The benefit to this cannot be overstated. Being able to park our car and walk around was quite liberating.
One of a kind rooms. Every room at Anchorage 1770 is unique; no cookie cutter rooms allowed. Some have 4 poster beds, waterfront views, and high ceilings while others boast bay windows, original Adams Mantels, detailed plasterwork from the late 1800s and a prohibition-era hiding place for alcohol (yes, that was our room!) There’s even a cottage. What they all share is one-of-a-kind charm. Beyond the accommodations, here’s more of what made our stay at Anchorage 1770 so memorable.
Coastal breezes. Taking time to sit and chill on the covered piazza may have been the best self-care moment of my entire trip. This was my favorite spot, a comfortable daybed swing.
And the other best seat in the house may be on the 4th floor open air deck where cocktails and scenic views are served up. It was THE place to watch fireworks from the opening night of the Beaufort Water Festival.
Family Feel. Owners Amy and Frank Lesesne call the boutique inn a “luxurious Lowcountry basecamp” which pretty much nails it as we bounced back and forth between activities before springing back to the Inn for some down time.
Anchorage 1770 Amenities
Bike Bike Baby. Some of the best amenities a resort or inn can offer is something a guest didn’t really know they needed. In our case, it would be the complimentary bikes. Who knew that biking the Spanish moss lined streets past antebellum homes beside marvelous marshlands would be so freeing and relaxing? There’s also complimentary use of badminton, croquet, bocce ball, and beach chairs as well as rental of kayaks and paddle boards.
Get in My Belly. The Anchorage 1770 offers a daily full a la carte breakfast which started our days off with a bang! We are totally breakfast people, so any place that includes breakfast is a winner in my book. Especially when it’s delicious plates like omelette of the day, French toast, stone ground grits, bacon, assorted fruits, and fresh squeezed orange juice.
Sitting on the verandah overlooking the waterfront for the first meal of the day was a decadent treat. The Inn also has the Ribaut Social Club restaurant which is open Wednesday-Saturday and Sundays for brunch.
Things to Do in Beaufort, SC: Where to Play
Get ready for a LONG list of suggestions because there is so much to do. First up, shopping!
Shopping in Beaufort
- Scout Southern Market-Try this cute shop for all its Southern home wares, and stay for the sweet tea float (sweet tea combined with sorbet of choice). Carrying furniture, home décor, lighting, jewelry, and gifts. Any shop named after Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird is all right in my book!
- The Chocolate Tree-Run like Forrest Gump to this chocolate shop, source of inspiration for the iconic “box of chocolates” in the Tom Hanks classic, Forrest Gump. Over 60 varieties of these sweet treats are made in house daily.
- The Tabby Shore-New shop on the waterfront: check out The Tabby Shore (across from Common Ground coffee shop). They are the NICEST people and have great gift ideas. Shopping on Bay Street: SCOUT Southern Market. Don’t miss the sweet tea bar inside!
- Kazoobie Kazoo Factory–Where the wonderful kazoos are made; factory tours show how the kazoos are made, the history behind the kazoo, and the chance to make your own kazoo! (Adults $7, kids 4-11 $5, kids 3 and under are Free.)
- Carolina Cider Company (St. Helena Island): Part Superior Coffee shop with beverages and baked goods and part general store featuring all kinds of cider, jams, relishes, dips, and grits. This makes an excellent pit stop for caffeine, snacks, and gift purchases.
When in Beaufort, tops on the list of things to do is a history tour of the area. Whether by carriage, bikes, walking, or van, there’s a specialized tour waiting.
I must say that carriage tours are some of the best modes of transportation, especially in a city chock full of history. Then again, I’m a sucker for a great on-off tour bus in big cities too. But being able to couple learning and comfort is key for me when sightseeing. Sure, there are also awesome walking tours available in Beaufort, but the Sea Island Carriage Company. mixes covered wagon, equine transportation, and history lesson in an hour long package. Companies include Southurn Rose Buggy Tours (yes, it’s spelled that way!) or Sea Island Carriage Company.
Other options include a walking tour with Janet’s Walking Tours or Spirit of Old Beaufort; and a Pat Conroy or Movie Van Tour from Beaufort Tours.
The Point neighborhood
Exploring the Point is a MUST while in Beaufort. Comprised of over a dozen blocks of historic residences, this area has taken center stage in such movies as The Big Chill and The Prince of Tides. Between the Spanish moss drenched oak trees, gorgeous Antebellum homes, and historic churches, the scenery is both riveting and breathtaking.
Noteworthy stops include Tidalholm. For movie buffs, this is the site where both The Great Santini and The Big Chill were filmed. Incidentally, this was the town home built for Edgar and Eliza Fripp who were enshrined at the Chapel of Ease (see below).
Also in The Point is Stephen Elliott Park-It’s easy to stumble onto this stretch of landscaped area in Beaufort just off Bay Street. The locals call it Cannon Park because both cannons date back to the Revolutionary war and were removed from the British ship Vigilant.
Officially opened in 1979, the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park boasts breathtaking views of the Beaufort River and the Woods Memorial Bridge and many shops and restaurants flanking it.
Speaking of Waterfront Park, it’s home of many Beaufort festivals, including the Beaufort Water Festival (July) or the Shrimp Festival (October). Spanning 10 days, the Water Festival includes multiple events daily, from an arts and crafts market, children’s toad fishing tournament, shrimp boat tours, a concert in the park, river dance, and a parade of boats.
We were fortunate to be able to experience the Water Festival. The opening night entertainment blew us away with a free concert courtesy of the Parris Island Marine Band followed by fireworks.
Biking the Spanish Moss Trail
Another amazing amenity in this area is the Spanish Moss Trail, a 10 mile rails-to-trails greenway. We biked this trail from downtown Beaufort to Port Royal. Phew! It was hot, but Port Royal is so quaint (see below for Port Royal suggestions). Frankly after biking 12 MILES roundtrip in the summer swelter, this mama was slap worn out!
Beyond Beaufort Tips: Port Royal and the Sea Islands
Chapel of Ease
I felt called to visit the Chapel of Ease on Saint Helena Island. This Anglican chapel, constructed in 1740 was built as a chapel of ease for parishioners who had difficulty traveling to worship at the main parish church in Beaufort. The Chapel of Ease ruins were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
To learn about the Gullah culture, take a field trip to the Penn Center. Founded in 1862, the Penn Center is the site of the first academic school for freed slaves. It is a 50 acre landmark having 2 national monuments. And one of its claims to fame is that Martin Luther King Jr. stayed in Gantt cottage.
In addition to housing the York W. Bailey Museum, the site is available for tours year-round. With 19 buildings, including Brick Church and Darrah Hall, old burial grounds, a nature Trail, Chowan Creek, there’s a lot to see on this hallowed ground.
The Hunting Island State Park attracts more than a million visitors a year, and includes 5 miles of pristine beaches, thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, and a saltwater lagoon. $5 per adult; $3.25 seniors; $3 for children age 6-15; Free for children 5 and younger. This state park is located about 30 minutes from downtown Beaufort. Beach access was the main attraction for most, but for us, it was the Hunting Island Lighthouse.
Fun facts: The Hunting Island Lighthouse is South Carolina’s only publicly accessible lighthouse. It has been at this site since 1889, measures in at 136 feet tall and is a 167-step climb to the top. As you climb the lighthouse steps, these educational signs share info about the lighthouse.
The Hunting Island Lighthouse costs $2 per person admission fee. Only 6 at a time can be at the top, and climbers must be at least 44 inches tall. But check out the rewarding views that await at the top!
While at the Hunting Island State Park, take time to explore the beach with its striking landscape strewn with trees and watch out for wildlife like loggerhead turtles.
Port Royal connects history and nature with its network of walking trails, community beach, boardwalk, and observation tower. We biked to to the Sands Boardwalk and climbed 4 floors to the top of the Port Royal Observation Tower for amazing views of Battery Creek.
Grab a bite at the Fishcamp on 11th Street. After a 5 mile bike ride here, I was famished. The marsh breezes, cool cocktails, and great bar dishes like the Pil Pil Shrinp with garlic and chiles and blackened mahi sandwich brought me back to life. From a dog-friendly porch to a chill atmosphere, I absolutely loved Fishcamp on 11th Street! Fortunately, it’s merely a 10-15 minute drive by car from downtown Beaufort.
For other great food and beverage options in Port Royal, try the Cracked Egg for home cooked, diner-style meals or the Pluff Mud Coffee Company for a caffeinated jolt.
Looking for an unparalleled beach vacation that’s relaxed, unpretentious, and chill in every way? Then Fripp Island is your best bet.
Located 19 miles east of Beaufort, SC, Fripp Island Resort has over 3 miles of uncrowded beach, two championship golf courses, multiple pools, tennis courts, kayaking, and oceanfront, marsh and golf view accommodations. The preferred mode of transportation on Fripp Island is a golf cart, which can be rented daily or weekly.
Don’t miss: Taking a dip in the Cabana Club Pool with a drink from Willie’s Wet Bar; golf cart driving at sunset to play “I Spy” the countless deer roaming the island; beach combing and keeping a lookout for sea turtle nests; and stopping by The Little Dipper for ice cream at the Fripp Island Food Court.
Overall, we had an active, all-around amazing time in Beaufort, Port Royal and the Sea Islands. We biked, walked, and drove all over and yet there still feels like there’s more to be done. My mom always said we should leave something for the next visit, which means that we’ll be back, Beaufort!
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