History, natural beauty and small-town charm combine in Beaufort, South Carolina.
by Vanessa Infanzon
The small town of Beaufort has a hold on me. Situated on Port Royal Island, the riverfront city feels like a miniature Charleston but without the hustle and bustle. The attractions are simple: Stroll down a side street to find a locally-owned shop making homemade soaps, or a grocer selling cheese and crackers for an impromptu picnic at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Go to the beach — Hunting Island is within a half-hour drive — or fly a kite. There’s more to Beaufort, but that’s all I need.
Spanish and French explorers discovered Port Royal, a nearby town, more than 500 years ago. The British founded Beaufort in 1711. Its long history is told in The Beaufort History Museum, housed in The Arsenal, its own architectural marvel on Craven Street. If you prefer a history lesson while you’re in motion, reserve a seat on a Sea Island Carriage Company tour or sign up for a walking tour with Grayline Beaufort.
Experience the tastes and smells of the city while you explore historic downtown Beaufort’s quaint local shops. Try Scout Southern Market’s trademarked Sweet Tea Float: Seasonal sorbets — mango, peach, strawberry, raspberry, blood orange or lemon — are topped with sweet tea for a refreshing treat before or after you peruse the shop’s array of gifts and home décor.
Natalie Wohlwend, owner of Bathe on Scott Street, makes and sells handcrafted bath bombs, lip balms and scrubs in delicious flavors such as lemongrass, tea tree, lavender and eucalyptus. Immerse yourself in lavender bath salts, lotions and essential oils at The Island Lavender Company on Bay Street. Peer into the glass case filled with macarons in flavors like Earl Grey, ganache, lavender, lemon, salted caramel and strawberry.
When it’s time to grab a bite to eat, several restaurants along Waterfront Park offer outdoor seating or views of the river. Q on Bay serves barbecue, burgers and sandwiches in a casual setting. Saltus River Grill’s menu includes a raw bar, sushi and various seafood dishes. For breakfast or a caffeine break, hit up Common Ground for baked goods, quiche and a full coffee menu with specialty drinks and seasonal lattes. Blackstone’s Café and Old Bull Tavern are off the beaten path and deserve a stop.
A romantic dinner calls for a reservation at Anchorage 1770’s Ribaut Social Club. Dinner is served in the dining room or on the inn’s wide front porch overlooking the Beaufort River. The menu changes seasonally and features local ingredients. Extend your stay by reserving a luxury room in this pre-revolutionary home that’s now a seaside inn. Overnight guests have access to the second- and third-floor porches with stunning views of the lowcountry.
The Beaufort Inn is within walking distance of restaurants, shops and the waterfront. The downtown property features options for both couples and families. Most of the 48 rooms and suites are in historic cottages, renovated with king- and queen-sized beds, and many have private porches with rocking chairs overlooking the gardens or Beaufort’s peaceful side streets.
Brick pathways lead guests through gardens with open seating areas, perfect for sipping wine from Chapman’s Grocer or spirits (bourbon, moonshine and vodka) from Rotten Little Bastard Distillery. Roast marshmallows by one of four fire pits with a complimentary s’mores kit — they’re handed out to guests upon check-in during the fall and winter months. Bicycles are free for guests to ride — the Spanish Moss Trail begins close to the property. In January, come for a garden party affiliated with the inaugural Beaufort Oyster Festival, Queen of the Carolina Sea Islands.
The beaches at Hunting Island State Park are an easy 30-minute drive through small towns and marshlands. Tall trees standing in a saltwater lagoon welcome visitors to the park. The feeling is otherworldly. Stroll along 5 miles of wide sandy beaches, or climb the 167 steps to the lighthouse, decommissioned in 1933. It’s the only public lighthouse in the state.
Tidal Tours and Beaufort Kayak Tours lead groups through the area’s rivers. Learn about the ecology of the marshlands and see wildlife up close. Bike, hike or stroll the Spanish Moss Trail, 10 miles of paved rails-to-trails greenway. SP
IF YOU’RE GOING: Beaufort, S.C., is a 3.5-hour drive from Charlotte. Annual festivals include the Beaufort Shrimp Festival in fall, Beaufort Water Festival in summer and the International Film Festival in winter. More at beaufortsc.org.
Pro tip: Be sure to pronounce Beaufort correctly: It’s BYOO-fert, not to be confused with its North Carolina namesake town.
photographs Courtesy of Anchorage 1770, Beaufort-Port Royal CVB