By Hope S. Philbrick
Beaufort, South Carolina is inherently romantic. Its historic downtown district is dotted with antebellum architecture as well as live oaks draped with Spanish moss that sway in the salty air. There’s a photogenic waterfront, a laid-back vibe, and genuine 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.
Whether it’s your first overnight getaway as a couple or a milestone anniversary year, Beaufort offers everything you and your love need to relax together in romance, whatever your interests. Here are just a few ideas with grownup appeal.
Romantic Things To Do in Beaufort SC…
Stroll hand in hand and explore historic downtown Beaufort on your own or, if you’re curious sorts who enjoy learning while you look, take a tour with The Spirit of Old Beaufort. Walking tours showcase 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. Several tour themes are offered; and, if you prefer to ride rather than walk, that’s an option, too.
Shop the unique boutiques and galleries in historic downtown Beaufort. From dried lavender to original paintings, jewelry to local foods, dog collars to olive oil, antiques to T-shirts, there’s something for everyone. Among the stops: Scout Southern Market stocks “the best of the South” and has a sweet tea float bar in the back. Rhett Gallery offers framed and unframed paintings plus a selection of antique maps. Nevermore Books is an independent bookseller where a few shelves are kept reserved for local authors. Common Ground makes coffee drinks to order, plus scoops gelato and other treats. The Chocolate Tree offers more than 60 different types of fine chocolates and yummy treats. Cook On Bay presents a range of kitchen essentials and gadgets, including some local-made seafood tools. The Beaufort Art Association exhibits works by more than 65 artists.
Head to Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, which does double duty as a picturesque hang-out and a working marina. Sit together in one of the swinging benches overlooking the water that’s speckled with recreational and working crafts from sail boats to shrimping vessels. Stroll along the walking paths. Set up a picnic. The park is free and generally open from dawn to dusk. The park borders downtown; restaurants on the water side of Bay street tend to offer outdoor dining on sprawling patios that overlook the park.
Kayak the Beaufort River with Lands End Paddling for an memorable, invigorating experience you can share together. Guides ensure each outing is fun and safe, offering paddling instruction or tips (as needed) while chatting about local history, ecology and wildlife.
Take a leisurely horse-drawn carriage tour in historic downtown Beaufort with Southurn Rose Buggy Tours. Learn about Beaufort’s history, architecture, movie connections, and more from a professional tour guide while horse hooves clip-clop along at a rhythmic pace.
Visit the Pat Conroy Literary Center, which honors the local writer who published 11 novels and memoirs in his lifetime, including four adapted for film: The Water Is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, and The Prince of Tides. Beaufort was Conroy’s adopted hometown, artistic muse, and setting for much of his writing life.
If history is a shared interest, stop by the Beaufort History Museum. Located in the historic Arsenal (circa 1852), this museum details Beaufort’s role from pre-Revolutionary days to Reconstruction and beyond. Across the street, step into the Visitor Center for the Reconstruction Era National Historic Park. The park is actually comprised of four sites in and around Beaufort, but the Visitor Center is a great place to start to get an overview and maps to other sites including Penn Center (where African-American education took root), Camp Saxton (where black soldiers and civilians heard the Emancipation Proclamation), and Brick Baptist Church (home to an active congregation since 1855). History buffs will also want to visit the home of Robert Smalls, a former slave who piloted a Confederate ship to freedom in Charleston and was later elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. At the John Mark Verdier House Museum (circa 1804) tour the Federal-style mansion that reflects a merchant’s rise to a wealthy member of Beaufort’s planter class.
Savor a couple’s massage at The Beaufort Day Spa. Be sure to book in advance or you might miss out on this romantic experience.
Rent a bike (or borrow one from your accommodations if available) and explore Beaufort’s neighborhoods while pedaling.
Stop by the observation tower on the Southern tip of Port Royal. Enjoy the view, leisurely strolls, crabbing and fishing, and a relaxing space to savor the coastal breeze.
Visit Stephen Elliott Park. Sitting in “the Point,” one of the nation’s most historic neighborhoods, and at the other side of the downtown Woods Memorial Bridge, find what the locals call Cannon Park. Home to historic cannons that were removed from a British warship in the Revolutionary War, stunning waterfront views and benches beckon.
Cruise the river on Captain Dick’s River Tour, boarding at the Marina. Seeing Beaufort’s architecture from the water offers a new perspective on the community.
Explore Hunting Island State Park, which is located 16 miles east of Beaufort. South Carolina’s most-visited state park 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.
Romantic Places To Eat in Beaufort SC…
Old Bull Tavern is a lively gastropub with an ever-changing menu of European and American comfort foods, creative cocktails, and select craft beer and wine. You’ll enter the bar, but slip through the London-style red phone booth at the back to enter a noticeably quieter dining room. If that’s full, a few tables are tucked into the far room that also houses the wood-fired brick oven where pizzas are cooked to order. Peruse the menu and order whatever piques your interest because you can’t go wrong here: Every bite and sip impresses.
Saltus River Grill transforms fresh, locally-sourced ingredients into sophisticated, contemporary fare. Whether you opt for Lowcountry classics like crab bisque, crab cakes, shrimp & grits, grilled fresh catch, or modern global favorites like spicy tuna roll, wood-grilled Scottish salmon, Maine lobster or Parisienne herb gnocci, your taste buds will be delighted. Don’t miss “The Jenny,” a nod to Forrest Gump’s true love billed as “the official lowcountry sweet tea martini,” it’s a sweet-yet-tart grownup treat.
Mezes Mediterranean Grill offers a range of delicious bites and dishes to satisfy any appetites. From Greek salad to baklava, gyros to spanakopita, you’ll find familiar favorites, all perfectly executed in the kitchen. A group of cousins opened the restaurant opened in 2019, using recipes inspired by their Grandmother.
Pick up some flavors of Beaufort for a picnic or to take home at Lowcountry Produce Market & Café. Everything on the menu is made fresh and features local, seasonal, all-natural ingredients made from family recipes. There’s also a wide selection of small-batch, hand-packed products like Lowcountry gumbo, sweet potato butter, pickled okra, peach chutney and more so you can savor authentic Lowcountry fare at home with ease.
Romantic Places To Stay in Beaufort SC…
Rhett House Inn
1009 Craven St.
This is Beaufort’s only AAA Four Diamond inn. The main Inn is a restored 1820s plantation house, located in the heart of Beaufort’s historic district just a block from the Intracoastal Waterway. It offers spacious verandahs, lush gardens, thoughtful décor, above-average culinary amenities, and thoughtful hospitality. Read more.
The Beaufort Inn
809 Port Republic St.
After renovations and expansions to add 20 more guestrooms, The Beaufort Inn currently occupies a whole block. It’s multiple buildings under one brand name: There’s the charming B&B housed in the historic Smith Wallace Mansion plus now a collection of renovated cottages and houses. Read more.
Cuthbert House Inn
1203 Bay St.
This bed and breakfast inn, listed on the Register of National Historic Places, was built sometime in the years of 1790-1810. It offers waterfront views—most spectacular at sunset—and individually-decorated guestrooms with private baths. Read more.
– Photos courtesy Visit Beaufort
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. Thanks to Visit Beaufort for hosting my recent visit.