“America’s Happiest Seaside Town”
By Hope S. Philbrick
“Beautiful Beaufort by the Sea” is how locals subtly inform visitors the correct way to pronounce the name of their town—the first two words of that phrase sound alike, and thus distinctly different from the pronunciation of the North Carolina town of the same spelling.
It’s no empty boast.
Beaufort, South Carolina is beautiful, with a photogenic waterfront and historic downtown dotted with many fine examples of antebellum architecture and live oaks draped with Spanish moss that sways in the salty air. The waterfront is picturesque and also yields the seafood that dominates local cuisine. And everywhere there’s a vibe of laid-back Southern hospitality.
Located in the heart of the Lowcountry, midway between Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., Beaufort was founded by the British in 1711 because of its deep harbor. It’s the state’s second oldest city (after Charleston). Beaufort and sister city Port Royal occupy the lower half of Port Royal Island.
Beaufort is home to South Carolina’s largest National Historic Landmark District, which includes buildings representing a variety of architectural styles over the past 200 years. It’s one of only a few American towns where the entire downtown has been designated as an historic district. Today, Main Street is filled with art galleries, antique shops, boutique stores and restaurants.
Best of all, Beaufort is home to people so open and welcoming that you’ll feel like a friend more than a tourist.
It’s a community you’ll want to visit often.
What To Do…
English settlers approached Beaufort from the water, so it makes perfect sense to begin your exploration of the area aboard a harbor cruise with Captain Dick’s Tours. Journey 17 miles out to the Atlantic Ocean, passing dolphins, shore and sea birds, salt marsh and the waterfront side of many of Beaufort’s most interesting homes.
Beaufort is home to one of the largest Gullah populations, a culture known for preserving its African linguistic and cultural heritage more than any other African-American community within the United States. Learn more with Gullah-n-Geechie Mahn Tours, South Carolina’s oldest Gullah tour company, which is run by a personable mother-and-daughters team—perfect, since Gullah is a matriarchal society. “The Gullah culture is diverse,” says founder Kitty K. Green. “Over 400 years of slave trade, 18 different African nations influenced this coast—and each of those countries had hundreds of different cultures.” Tours are well-researched and educational, plus entertaining. Tours feature historic sites on St. Helena Island and the surrounding Sea Islands, including churches, schools, homes and more; many places have ties to historic figures such as Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King, Harriett Tubman and other leaders.
@21plusTravel Tip: Book a tour or package that includes ‘A Taste of Gullah,’ with a meal prepared by Chef Sherri Green. Delicious! Plus you’ll pick up some useful cooking tips and recipes.
Stroll historic downtown Beaufort with The Spirit of Old Beaufort. Walking tours emphasize architecture, local history and celebrity gossip—since Beaufort is a favorite with Hollywood, having served as a setting in several movies including The Big Chill, Prince of Tides, GI Jane, Forrest Gump, The Great Santini and many more. Two-hour tours offer an East side route of the Old Point area or a West side route of the Bluff area, which includes a stop at St. Helena Episcopal Church and graveyard. Whichever route you choose, the guide will be dressed in period costume, show-n-tell with photos from the 19th Century, and sing some historic tunes.
On the shores of Chowan Creek, Oaks Plantation is a Greek Revival-style home that is significant for its role during the Civil War and with the establishment of Penn School, the first school for freedmen in the U.S. Now owned by Barbara “Cookie” Goodwin, it’s available for private events (including weddings and family reunions), retreats, luncheons and tours; it’s often included as part of Gullah-n-Geechie Mahn Tours.
On St. Helena Island just 10 minutes from downtown Beaufort, the Red Piano Too Art Gallery showcases the works of over 150 artists. Find folk, fine and craft pieces from the past and present.
Hunting Island State Park, located 16 miles east of Beaufort, is South Carolina’s most-visited state park and has been named one of America’s Top 10 beaches. The three-mile beach along the Atlantic Ocean is a key attraction, but there’s more to this 5,000-acre park: Find eight miles of hiking trails, a lagoon, a historic lighthouse (circa 1873) to climb up, camping, fishing pier, and marsh walk. Swim, sun, kayak, explore, climb, learn about coastal ecology, or just relax.
Where To Eat…
The shrimp & grits is addictive, featuring creamy sauce and soft grits cakes.
Other perennial menu favorites include smooth she-crab soup and steamed shrimp.
This casual diner is where locals meet for breakfast and lunch. Go for a cup of coffee and stay for the cooked-to-order eggs.
The Chocolate Tree
Forrest Gump said “life is like a box of chocolates,” and locals swear he was talking about the tasty surprises served up at this Beaufort landmark, which has satisfied sweet teeth for over 30 years. The confectionary offers more than 60 fine chocolates and yummy treats.
Emily’s Restaurant and Tapas Bar
Don’t miss the barbecued shrimp cole slaw, which won the coveted Silver Cup at the Beaufort Shrimp Festival in 2012. If that appetizer doesn’t fill you up, order another small plate or entrée from the expansive menu that showcases seafood in a range of dishes, including the popular shrimp ‘n’ grits.
You’ll be glad breakfast is served all day (Tuesday through Saturday), since one bite will make you want to spend an entire day eating various things off the menu—the food is that good. Start with the crabby Benedict, a Lowcountry spin on the classic Eggs Benedict, move onto any of the pancakes and then get a breakfast burrito. Servings are generous, so if you can eat all that and keep going, our hats off to you!
The catering service defines casual elegance with its upscale preparations of Southern classics, attentive service and refined yet cozy environs.
The shrimp-n-grits is given the unusual twist of sweet potatoes stirred into the grits.
One bite and you’ll wish all chefs would follow this lead.
Where To Stay…
809 Port Republic St.
Beaufort SC 29902
Beaufort, South Carolina was named “America’s Happiest Seaside Town” in the June 2013 issue of Coastal Living magazine.
Odds of Encountering Children: High, especially when school is out. You can get lucky: I’ve visited Beaufort SC three times and haven’t seen a child yet. Each of the tour companies mentioned does offer private tours.
Beaufort Visitors Center
713 Craven St.
-Photo Credits: Top photo, Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce; inn courtesy Beaufort Inn; remainder © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.