If you’re visiting Beaufort for the very first time, the amount of things to do can be quite overwhelming and you may not even know where to start after you get to town. Don’t worry, we put together the perfect list of fun, historic, adventurous and quaint. These Beaufort must-dos will definitely give you the well-rounded experience you’re looking for.
Explore Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park
Nestled right along the Beaufort River and Atlantic Intra-Coastal Waterway, the multi-acre park is the perfect example of what Beaufort has to offer for a first-time visitor. With an expansive seawall the length of a few city blocks, it allows everyone a chance to get close to the water. With a setting shaded with a variety of trees swaying in the sea breeze, the park provides a breathtaking view of the bay, the opening & closing of the Woods Memorial Bridge, and even the McTeer Bridge off in the distance just past the legendary Beaufort Sandbar. Whether you’re looking for relaxation, fun with friends or with the kids, an outdoor adventure, a quiet work space or even on a quest to try and catch the big one, Beaufort’s downtown waterfront has everything to keep you coming back time and time again.
Take a walk through Beaufort’s Historic District
The best way to explore Beaufort is by foot. Walking through Beaufort’s expansive historic district can be like taking a walk back in time. 304 acres of the city of Beaufort, in it’s picturesque downtown district, have been designated a National Historic Landmark and is the largest such designation in all of South Carolina. Take a walk along Spanish moss draped oak-lined streets and enjoy the beautifully preserved architecture of the antebellum homes that Beaufort and the ‘old south’ are noted for. With over 307 years of history as a city, and two hundred more years of settlement before that, there’s lots to see in Beaufort. Don’t feel like going it alone? Check out some guided walking and horse & buggy tours here.
Dine along the water and eat like a local
Enjoy local cuisine along the Intra-coastal Waterway at any of five or six restaurants along the waterfront in downtown’s ‘restaurant row’. Eat like a local and try tasty renditions of Lowcountry favorites in locally owned spots in addition to plenty of specialties from each restaurant. From local seafood and shrimp dishes to southern favorites including, Frogmore stew, she crab soup and bbq.
Enjoy the atmosphere at any one of the 6 outside patios, or back porches, or opt for yours to-go and ramble over to a nice spot in the waterfront park.
Climb the Hunting Island Lighthouse
One of the most recognizable and most beloved landmarks in the Beaufort area is the historic Hunting Island Lighthouse. People come from far and wide to see it. Locals cherish it. It’s one of the few lighthouses in the U.S. that a visitor can climb to the top and take in the experience. You only have to pay a small fee and up you go, step by step, round and round 167 steps to the top, where you can be treated to a bird’s eye view of the beach. Deactivated in June of 1933 and later named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, the Hunting Island Lighthouse has a unique history for you to learn and enjoy. Learn more bout the Hunting Island Lighthouse
Visit Beaufort’s local art galleries
Home to a thriving Art Scene, the city has been put on the list of Top 25 Small City Arts Destinations by American Style Magazine, and named a ‘Top 100 Art Town’ in a recent book titled ‘The 100 Best Art Towns in America’. Boasting some 20 Art Galleries in the downtown area and hundreds of locals contributing to the art scene you can find everything from contemporary art to glass art, Gullah art and classic southern styles. Proudly, Beaufort has long been recognized as an arts community worthy of note and lots of folks come to town for an art vacation.
Explore Beaufort’s historic spots
Beaufort’s roots go way back to 1711, but its story goes back even further. A true hotbed for history, it all began 500 years ago with the discovery of the area by the Spanish. Being a seaport located at the head of one of the largest natural harbors on the Atlantic coast, that explains the interest of the Spanish and French explorers that laid claim to the area. In fact, America started right here in Beaufort. The Spanish settlement at Santa Elena on Parris Island is dated 11 years before St. Augustine, 38 years before Jamestown, and 51 years before the English pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. That makes it the first attempt of European colonization of the new world.
With over three centuries of incorporation, and visitors coming two hundred years before 1711, Beaufort sits today as a living history, a place where the past and present exist together every day.
Enjoy some local retail therapy
Beaufort has great wealth in it’s variety of shopping spots. If you’re looking for original Lowcountry-inspired art you’ll be sure to find the perfect piece at any one of Beaufort’s dozens of art galleries. Or, perhaps you’re looking for that one-of-a-kind gift or souvenir? It’ll surely turn up at one of Beaufort’s fine boutique and gift shops. From specialty clothing stores, rare antiques, and art galleries, to sporting & outdoor suppliers, craft-makers, and private-label packaged traditional foods, you’re certain to land a ‘find’ in Beaufort.
Attend a local festival.
There’s enough of them, so take your pick. Whether it’s celebrating the water, history, shrimp, culture, food, or even a holiday, the Beaufort area has rewritten the rules when it comes to putting on festivals and events. We have the Beaufort Water Festival in July, which is the longest running festival of its kind in the southeast. Our local food is an important part of our culture. We celebrate shrimp at the annual Shrimp Festival in October and our local blue crabs at April’s Soft Shell Crab Festival. BBQ and the film industry get their place in February with Bands Brews & BBQ and the Beaufort International Film Festival. And, our local restaurant scene gets its attention in May at the annual A Taste of Beaufort festival. Add about 20 others to the list and there’s just tons of year round fun in town.
In a community so rich in history and culture, there are a multitude of reasons to be so festive. Check out some of Beaufort’s bigger events here.
Ramble around St. Helena Island
Brimming with history and simmering with culture and a cool vibe, St. Helena Island boasts 64 square miles of personality. Home to so many historic locations and the setting for lots of local cool spots and awe-striking views, it’s an island of beauty, history, culture and mystery all rolled into one. With several historic sites, stunning marsh views, great local restaurants and a few coveted local beach spots, it’s definitely a place to go for a first-timer.
The seat of the Gullah culture, St. Helena Island is home to Penn Center. In 1862 Quakers founded it as one of the very first schools for freed slaves. In 1974 this incredibly significant African American historical institution became a National Historic Landmark District. The Penn Center is considered to have had one of the greatest positive impacts on African American education and the preservation of the history of the Gullah Geechee people.
Because of the work done by the founders and participants of The Penn Center, St. Helena Island still has a rich and deep rooted Gullah cultural influence. It’s a loved and preserved way of life that we are thankful to get to witness. See more about St Helena Island here.
Take in as much local cuisine as possible
When you think of Beaufort, you can’t help think of food. For centuries, our local dishes have combined the local seafood available in abundance in our waters with the bounty of our rich agricultural industry. The names of some of our native Lowcountry dishes are almost as colorful as all of the super-fresh local ingredients that go into them: fried green tomatoes, shrimp & grits, tomato pies and Frogmore stew, just to name a few.
The Lowcountry teems with life from the Atlantic, and for generations local cooks have turned to the water for culinary inspiration. Crabs, shrimp, fish, and oysters form the basis of any traditional menu; as well as rice, grits, and the produce of the coastal plain all play an instrumental role in Lowcountry cooking.