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Ready for a family vacation post “quarantine?” There are many amazing South Carolina vacation spots to discover, namely, the BEST things to do in Beaufort SC [post quarantine] on a Coastal getaway! The level of caution that Beaufort, South Carolina businesses are taking to ensure the well-being of visitors was impressive to witness on our recent trip to this coastal city of charming mansions, Spanish moss-covered trees, breathtaking waterfronts, incredible southern food, and fascinating Gullah culture. I’m sharing the best family-friendly Beaufort things to do bucket list to help you create your itinerary. Don’t miss the links and video at the bottom!
Beaufort, South Carolina is known to be one of the most diverse communities of its size in the United States. Charleston may be the oldest, but Beaufort is like a slightly younger sister with all the charm but with a unique, laidback vibe all of her own. She’s known as one of the most livable small towns in America and her historic architecture is a preserved beauty to behold for those who want to get to know her better.
The Beaufort Historic District is proud to have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1969 and a National Historic Landmark since 1973. And for good reason. It’s evident that the homes, buildings, churches, and graveyards have been well cared for and give us a fascinating view into the past.
SOUTH CAROLINA SCENERY
Beaufort County SC is home to the city of Beaufort, Hilton Head, and Bluffton, and about 70 miles below Charleston. Pronounced “Bew-Fert” and located on Port Royal Island, the history of the area dates back to the 1500s when the Spanish discovered Port Royal Sound. Founded in 1711, Beaufort has been named “Happiest Seaside Town” by Coastal Living Magazine, “South’s Best Small Town” by Southern Living Magazine, and the word “underrated” has been in its title many times.
Don’t think that eating and shopping your way through Downtown Beaufort Historic District is all there is to do…
From Downtown Beaufort’s Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park (my favorite place to hang out) and across the short Woods Memorial Bridge, visit the laidback Sea Islands of Carolina (my 2nd favorite places to be!), where the sweet tea is flowing and fresh seafood is being reeled in.
St. Helena Island and Hunting Island State Park offer gorgeous sunsets, fabulous restaurants, fun Gullah culture spots (with haunted places) to visit off the beaten path, and the best coffee around!
This scenic route passes through saltwater marshes where wildlife, boaters, and kayakers can be viewed from the car window. Picture-perfect lagoons surrounded by a green landscape soothe the soul and welcomes you to beautiful Beaufort!
LOWCOUNTRY FAMILY VACATION FAQS
The largest international airport that is closest is Savannah Hilton Head International Airport.
It takes about 35 miles and 48 minutes to drive from Beaufort to Hilton Head.
It takes about 43 miles and close to an hour to travel between Savannah, Georgia, and Beaufort, SC.
Historic Downtown Beaufort has a waterfront park that borders the Beaufort River. The closest beach is Sands Beach – Port Royal – which is more of an ICW. Hunting Island Beach is about 17 miles away.
A small-town atmosphere with a charmingly historic downtown that is surrounded by water/marshes and stately Antebellum homes – all canopied by Spanish Moss-lined trees. Many movies have been filmed here as well.
B&Bs closest to downtown are the Beaufort Inn, Anchorage 1770 Inn, & The Rhett House Inn.
Among others, Forrest Gump, The Great Santini, The Big Chill, Prince of Tides, and Forces of Nature.
I’m so glad you asked! Beaufort is famous for its main street shopping and dining, but with virus concerns, fortunately there are many outdoor options to social distance from others AND have a blast exploring this lovely town. *See details below*
It is near the coastal southern tip of the state of South Carolina. It is also smack dab at the midway point between Charleston and Savannah, Georgia.
BEAUFORT SC THINGS TO DO
The laidback attitude and friendliness of the Lowcountry are only exceeded by its exquisite local seafood, antebellum architecture, and waterfront beauty. Any place that includes a recreational area called “Spanish Moss Trail” should receive big southern awards.
A list of our top picks to experience Beaufort even if just for 48 hours:
- SouthurnRose Horse-Drawn Carriage tour
- Chambers Waterfront Park
- Plums Restaurant
- Common Ground Marketplace Cafe
- Historic Downtown Beaufort
- Chocolate Tree Shop
- Hidden stairs & swing for a selfie
- Spanish Moss Trail
- Sands Beach/Observation Boardwalk & Tower
- The Cracked Egg Restaurant
- Cypress Wetlands
- Traveling Buoy
- Low Country Cider Co/Superior Coffee
- Chapel of Ease Church Ruins & Graveyard (spooky)
- Hunting Island State Park Lighthouse/Beach
- Adorable neighborhood Airbnb
Downtown Beaufort SC map
TAKE A HISTORIC BEAUFORT CARRIAGE RIDE
My #1 tip when visiting any new destination is to splurge for the best tour before you do anything else.
“Ride” back in time with the clippity-clop of a beautiful horse (ours was named Max) and a delightfully knowledgable guide. The Southern Rose staff went far and beyond with precautions to keep guests and employees safe *(see video footage below I captured).*
Here are other steps they are taking:
- Carriages have clear vinyl between each row of seats.
- Only passengers traveling together are on the same bench seat.
- Seat handles, vinyl & earpieces are sanitized after each tour.
- Handrails are sanitized after each loading & unloading.
- The ticket kiosk front counter is sanitized after each tour goes out.
- Passengers are not seated in the front seat of carriages.
- Employees will wear masks during interactions with guests.
- Hand sanitizer is available for guests to use.
- Horse resting areas are currently off-limits to the public
Enjoy a narrated buggy ride with Southern Rose Carriage Tours and we get a “big picture” overview – SAFELY.
We learned about Beaufort’s early European explorations, Indian massacres, pirates, Union capture, the huge Reconstruction-era effort, stories behind mansions and buildings, a great fire, catastrophic hurricanes, and notorious hometown figures, Robert Smalls.
SEE THE HISTORIC BEAUFORT SITES
The following is a list of historical places in town, many of which are on the National Register.
- Prince William’s Parish Church (Old Sheldon Church Ruins)
- The Beaufort Arsenal
- Beaufort National Cemetery
- John A. Cuthbert House
- Robert Smalls House
- Tabby Manse
VISIT THE HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS OF BEAUFORT
To return for more of an up-close look at the architecture and historic spots, it helps for reference to know the five areas of the city:
- Old Point
- The Bluff
- Northwest Quadrant
- Northeast Quadrant (The Old Commons)
Downtown Beaufort is located between Bay Street and the Beaufort River. And it inhibits the commercial district with shops, restaurants, art galleries, and the gorgeous green space of Henry Chambers Waterfront Park.
Old Point neighborhood used to be the center of timber mill operations, but now it currently houses some of the biggest, oldest, and most expensive mansions found between Carteret Street and the Beaufort River. Victorian and Queen Anne-style homes welcome visitors to the landscape of Craven Street. Put these homes in your GPS to admire: Edgar Fripp House, The Castle, and B.B. Sams House
The Bluff is located along Bay Street and North Street and is immediately west of downtown. These mansions are some of the most popular with the best views. Don’t miss the gorgeous art deco U.S. District Courthouse!
Old Commons is between east of Carteret Street and south of North Street. Here you’ll find simpler, southern-style homes with front and side porches. Don’t miss the beautiful chapels and graveyards! The homes here are 19th and 20th-century homes – many in the unique shotgun architectural style.
ENJOY THE VIEW OF THE WATERFRONT PARK
Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park overlooks the Beaufort River and the Woods Memorial Bridge.
A family and pet-friendly park right on the Beaufort River, Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park overlooks the Beaufort River and Woods Memorial Bridge with grounds manicured to near perfection.
There are many spots on the green space to stroll, walk along the sidewalks, or swing on a swing in the breeze and watch the ships come in.
I couldn’t get enough of this area and we returned several times.
ENJOY THE BEST BEAUFORT SC RESTAURANTS & SHOPS
Beaufort’s historic main street, Bay Street, runs parallel and just behind the Waterfront park. Find parking at each end of Henry Chambers Park at only $1 a day.
On Bay Street, you’ll find shops and restaurants that cater to Southern-made decor, gifts treats, and themed bookstores to enjoy. Below, I list our favorites:
Plums Restaurant – A locally owned business with a storefront on Bay Street and outdoor dining out back that faces the waterfront, it was our absolute favorite.
Plums Restaurant is known for its creative Lowcountry cuisine because it gathers ingredients from local farms and seafood vendors.
For example, we enjoyed lunch and dinner in one day because we couldn’t get enough of the tasty food, safe outdoor atmosphere, and the health-conscious staff.
RUN, BIKE, OR WALK THE SPANISH MOSS TRAIL
Any city that names one of its outdoor recreational spots after Spanish moss wins the “southern charm” award, right?
Once completed, this ten-mile rails-to-trails walking +biking + running trail will connect Port Royal, Beaufort, Burton, and Grays Hill to the Whale Branch Pier.
Once the historic Magnolia Line Railroad began in 1870, the landowners gave Beaufort County the right to create this recreation trail in 2011. The plan is to create a total of 14 miles.
The Spanish Moss trail is accessible from designated parking areas and Airbnb neighborhoods (like ours that came with bikes as described below).
STAY IN A BEAUTIFUL BEAUFORT AIRBNB
To protect ourselves from virus exposure, I opted for an Airbnb rental as our lodging option to distance from others and focused on outdoor activities as much as possible.
As a result, our rental was adorable, stocked with more than we needed, and in a lovely safe neighborhood.
Additionally, our house rental included extras such as:
- free on-site parking
- fenced-in backyard
- bicycles and tire pump
- backyard dining table, grill, and all supplies
- South Carolina State Park pass (Hunting Island State Park)
- All standard and gourmet kitchen supplies
- Starter toiletries and house supplies
- Big screen TV and SlingTV subscription
Our bungalow was central to Downtown Beaufort, Port Royal, and the Sea Islands, therefore we were able to hop to each of these areas easily during our stay.
GET OUTSIDE IN PORT ROYAL
We discovered the gem of Port Royal’s Old Village, a Lowcountry charmer with genuine southern hospitality at the handful of shops and restaurants.
As a result, it’s a spot for boating, bird watching, and walking paths, this overlooked scenic downtown has a slow pace and a maze of walking and water trail views in all directions because of the Beaufort River and Battery Creek.
Cracked Egg Restaurant – Comfort-style breakfast and brunch with a southern twist. This adorable establishment is located conveniently in the heart of town in a one-room schoolhouse.
Cypress Wetlands – Hidden in plain sight in the heart of the town, cypress wood knobs emerge from dark water and wildlife abounds in these protected wetlands with walking trails, a boardwalk, and an amphitheater.
Be advised that the trail is a combination of the boardwalk, paved trail, and roadside pedestrian and bike trail. You can find a restroom area at the Town Hall.
Egrets, snakes, wood ducks, great blue herons, shorebirds, turtles, bullfrogs, and alligators are just a few of the species encountered here. There are rumors of a massive gator that lurks and hides.
Very serene and peaceful place
Sands Beach Boardwalk & Observation Tower – not a typical beach, but rather a boat dock, oyster haven, and lovely boardwalk with observation tower – close to tiny Downtown Port Royal.
Well known in these parts as a shark’s teeth jackpot, I watched several locals doing just that!
My favorite was taking a stroll on the one-mile Henry Robinson Boardwalk along Battery Creek. We watched boats and kayaks passing by as we walked and chatted with locals and visitors alike.
DISCOVER ST HELENA ISLAND
St. Helena Island a Sea Island in Beaufort County, connected to the city of Beaufort by U.S. Highway 21, surrounded by expansive marsh, and packed with rural character. I adore that condos and gated communities are not allowed here.
The island is a mecca of African-American Gullah Geechee culture and language that continues today. Do you remember the 90s Nickelodeon TV show called Gullah Gullah Island? It was inspired by the Gullah Geechee culture and the people of this area.
Historic spooky ruins – Take the beautiful drive out to the Saint Helena Parish Chapel of Ease Ruins. This tabby-walled Anglican chapel was built in 1740 as a place of worship for those who couldn’t make the drive to the main parish in Beaufort.
A mausoleum on the grounds held Edgar Eliza Fripp but was plundered by Yankee soldiers looking for treasure. Workmen sealing the vault one day, only to return the following day to find the bricks removed and neatly stacked beside the mausoleum.
There are tales of prayers and singing heard on the grounds and a lady that walks among the tombs in a flowy white gown.
Carolina Cider Company – On the main road, just before the Chapel of Ease Ruins, you’ll see an adorable southern stand advertising superior coffee. It’s seriously some of my FAVORITE coffee on the planet!
We discovered Carolina Cider Company #1 on one of our many trips to Charleston. In all three stores, you find pastries, coffee, gifts, ciders, and more.
This particular store focused mainly on gourmet food and treats with a wonderful gift store and lovely outdoor dining area. Oh, and don’t forget the rocking chairs on the front porch! I highly recommend buying your souvenirs here.
EXPLORE HUNTING ISLAND
You might feel as if you are driving to the ends of the earth like Key West as you make your way to this 5,000-acre, all-natural barrier island located 15 miles east of Beaufort, South Carolina, in-between Harbor Island and Fripp Island.
Hike, bike, or climb to the top of the 1889 Hunting Island Lighthouse for a spectacular view of the surrounding maritime forest, beach, marshes, and saltwater lagoon. It sports 167 steps with signs of education about its history on the way up. Kids must be at least 44 inches tall.
Did you know that it’s the ONLY South Carolina Lighthouse accessible by the public?
There is a campground stashed within the forest and palmettos along the beach. Park near the lighthouse to walk the secluded, white sand beach.
I love this peaceful place so much!
FREE THINGS TO DO IN ALL SECTIONS OF BEAUFORT
- Downtown Stroll
- Beaufort National Cemetery
- Spanish Moss Trail
- Cypress Wetlands
- Fort Fremont
- Paris Island Museum
- Hidden steps & swing picnic
- St. Helena’s Anglican Church & graveyard
- Port Royal Boardwalk & Observation Tower
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
There are many more experiences that I didn’t even elaborate on, like the Chocolate Tree Shop that was visited by Tom Hanks and other movie stars. And the new evidence about the heroic feats of Harriet Tubman! There are more family-friendly things to do in Beaufort than you could ever enjoy!
SouthurnRose Carriage Tours: 1002 Bay St, Beaufort, SC
Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park: Bay St, Beaufort, SC
Plums Restaurant: 904 Bay St, Beaufort, SC
Common Ground Cafe: 102 W Street Ext, Beaufort, SC
Historic Downtown: Bay St, Beaufort, SC
Chocolate Tree Shop: 507 Carteret St, Beaufort, SC
Cypress Wetlands: 1700 Paris Ave, Port Royal, SC
The Cracked Egg: 1638 Paris Ave, Port Royal, SC
Traveling Buoy Park: 810 London Ave, Port Royal, SC
Port Royal Sands Beach: Sands Beach Road, Port Royal, SC
Boardwalk & Observation Tower: Sands Beach Road, Port Royal, SC
Low Country Cider Co.: 507 Sea Island Pkwy, Saint Helena Island, SC
Chapel of Ease Ruins: 17 Lands End Rd, St. Helena Island, SC
Hunting Island State Park: 2809 Sea Island Pkwy, Saint Helena Island, SC
Spanish Moss Trail: 2751 Depot Rd, Beaufort, SC
John A. Cuthbert House: 1203 Bay St, Beaufort, SC
YOU MAY NEED