Essential Things to Do in Beaufort SC (on a relaxing short break)

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If you’re a fan of the movie Forrest Gump, then you’ve already traveled to Beaufort, South Carolina.

You just thought you were in Alabama with Bubba’s and Lieutenant Dan’s shrimp boats, running over the bridge into Mississippi and fighting in the rice fields and jungle of Vietnam.

Waterfront at Beaufort, SC
Waterfront at Beaufort, SC

But, you were right here in Beaufort, in this exquisite and serene small historical city immersed in a forest of ancient live oaks and surrounded by marshlands, islands, waterways, and the Atlantic Ocean.

That’s right, 70% of the movie was shot around Beaufort SC!

Why Visit Beaufort, South Carolina?

Beaufort, South Carolina?
Old Point Neighborhood, Beaufort

Beaufort is rich in history and Gullah heritage, Southern Charm, natural beauty, and delicious local seafood.

It was named the South’s best small town by Southern Living Magazine and is located about halfway between Charleston and Savannah along the protected Intracoastal Waterway and South Carolina’s Atlantic Coast.

We first visited with my parents in 2010 when Kalyra was only two and a half. We still talk about that road trip between here and the other Beaufort in North Carolina.

Up there in NC they pronounce it Bowfort (as in bow tie.), which is the English pronunciation. Down here, they pronounce it Beaufort as in beautiful.

Back in 1562, the French explorer Jean Ribault claimed the Port Royal Harbor and set up a settlement on Paris Island.

Beaufort, South Carolina?
Shrimp Boats

This makes this area older than Jamestown in Virginia by 45 years and St Augustine in Florida by three years.

During this time period, the Spanish also attempted to colonize this area bordering the second deepest natural harbor on the East Coast, and the British came later.

All failed because of the fierce defense of the Yamasee people, the Native Americans who lived in these lands.

Life was abundant for them here and they did not want to leave.

Unfortunately, as our sad history goes, the English formally chartered Beaufort in 1711, turning it into a ship building hub and pushing the Yamasee out into North Florida with the Seminoles.

We can’t change history, but we can learn about it and acknowledge those who lived as part of this land as its custodians and how they suffered.

How long do you need to visit Beaufort?

Beaufort, South Carolina?
Old Point Neighborhood,

There is no end to a fantastic Beaufort vacation. You could stay here for weeks and soak up its history and the serenity of its natural beauty and slow, sweet Low-Country living!

But that’s probably not how you travel!

We recommend at least two nights/three days to enjoy all of the best the things to do in Beaufort SC. That means if you left on a Friday afternoon and returned on Sunday afternoon, you could easily make Beaufort a weekend getaway.

Stay at The Beaufort Inn

Beaufort Inn, South Carolina
The Beaufort Inn

Because Beaufort is a charming historical Southern city, your accommodation can become part of the destination highlights.

We wanted our accommodation to be unique to the Beaufort experience, so we stayed at The Beaufort Inn, located a block away from the main street and river, and the old Point neighborhood. And it’s only a short drive to all other Beaufort attractions.

The Beaufort Inn is spread out over several blocks of guesthouses, manicured gardens, and communal sitting spaces.

Beaufort Inn, South Carolina
The beautiful Beaufort Inn

There are multiple options for where you can stay depending upon your traveling group!

There is the main pink inn, the historic Smith Wallace Mansion. It was built in 1897 by William Sidney Smith as a summer retreat for his family. Children under 12 cannot stay in this building!

Beaufort Inn, South Carolina family accommodation
 Smith Wallace Mansion and lobby

The other accommodation options include gorgeous restored cottages and homes and range from Standard hotel/inn style rooms to those with living areas and fully equipped kitchens.

We had a two-double bedroom in one of the Palmetto Courtyard Queen Rooms.

Our room was on the bottom left

It was beautiful on the outside and we had our own rocking chairs on the porch and sitting area out front with views of the quiet and charming Craven Street – voted most charming street in the South by Southern Living Magazine!

The rooms were a standard hotel room but beautifully decorated and wonderfully comfortable, with a great bathroom and shower.

family friendly accommodation South Carolina
accGreat accommodation for families in Beaufort

The Beaufort Inn is one of our favorite accommodation stays on the East Coast so far. We were impressed by the value of this Beaufort accommodation.

This included:

  • $7 -$10 breakfast coupons each for three different restaurants nearby
  • Complementary entrance passes to Hunting Island State Park – one of the best things to do in Beaufort SC
  • Pool passes to Cat Island Pools
  • Free bike rental

What to do in Beaufort SC

Hunting Island State Park

Hunting Island state park great family place to visit
So tropical

Welcome to an unspoiled forest of palmettos and pines leading you down to the ocean. The drive into the park towards the beach will transport you to another time another place.

This, (and Fripp Island) is the area where many of the Vietnam War scenes were filmed for Forrest Gump. You’ll notice as soon as you enter the jungle on one side and the marsh fields on the other, the sea-grass looking suspiciously like rice paddies.

This 5,000-acre protected park has 8 miles of well-maintained trails.

Hunting Island State Park
Easy boardwalk trail for kids

It was a little hot for hiking when we visited, but we did enjoy a quick stroll on the boardwalk that goes out over the marshlands to a small island and jetty popular for families crabbing.

We chose to relax on the North Beach section just under the famous Hunting Island Lighthouse. We had endless space to sit safely and comfortably and a pod of dolphins chose to swim about 100 meters away from us.

Hunting Island State Park Beach, SC
Hunting Island Beach – quiet and pretty

Hunting Island Beach quickly became one of our favorite beaches on the East Coast and perfect for your family getaway.

swimming at Hunting Island State Park with dolphins
Is that a shark or a dolphin?

Normally, you can climb the lighthouse, which is the only one in South Carolina open for climbing. Check for current conditions.

Hunting Island State Park Lighthouse, South Carolina
Hunting Island Lighthouse

There are also campsites and rental cabins in this area.

Fripp Island

Fripp Island, South Carolina
Fripp Island Beach a bit busier than Hunting Island

Fripp Island is the most westward of South Carolina’s barrier islands and is next door to Hunting Island.

We visited as my Mum currently loves the Fripp Island house hunting show. We were happy to send her photos.  

It has 3-miles of Atlantic beach coastline and many exclusive beach front homes and accommodations, as well as a Golf resort. It was busy here with vacationers and people zipping around on golf carts over the July 4th weekend.

Fripp Island, South Carolina
Loved the beach houses on Fripp Island
  • We much preferred the more isolated Hunting Island Beach.

Cypress Wetland Park

Cypress Wetland Park, Beaufort attraction not to miss
Perfect family attraction in Beaufort

Located on Port Royal island, Cypress Wetlands is a surprisingly stunning Beaufort attractions and the kind of hidden surprise you want on your Low-country vacation.

A short boardwalk will take you through the green swampland framed by cypress trees and Spanish moss where you can find camouflaged alligators and turtles and an abundant and diverse bird life.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many birds in one area. The prolific snowy white egrets stand out the most but you can also spot herons, hawks, eagles, owls, falcons, geese, ducks, and other migratory waterfowl.

  • It’s also one of the free things to do in Beaufort SC!

The Old Point Neighborhood

Old Point Neighborhood, Beaufort, South Carolina
LOVED this house – my favorite

One of the most beautiful Southern neighborhoods I’ve seen is The Point neighborhood, just to the east of downtown Beaufort.

It was the residential summer enclave of the wealthy plantation owners, as their island marshland homes became too hot and buggy.

Their summer homes caught the breezes off the river.

Live Oaks with their dripping Spanish moss drape together forming a canopy of the streets and a cooler place for you to walk and admire the stately antebellum mansion.

Old Point Neighborhood, Beaufort, South Carolina
Live Oak love

Grab a self-guided walking tour map from the visitor center so you can learn more of the history and stories behind them.

Don’t miss the spectacular views over the marshlands at the end of some of the lane-ways.

Fans of the Big Chill will love seeing the house from the movie.

Old Point Neighborhood, Beaufort, South Carolina
The Big Chill house

It was my favorite alongside the one above with the gigantic live oak draping itself over the front garden and resting almost on the roof of the house.

Horse and Buggy Tour of The Point

Horse and Buggy Tour of The Point, Beaufort, SC
Horse and buggy family activity in Beaufort

Even though you may have wandered the streets of The Point on your own, we recommend you also do the horse and buggy tour. It’s one of the most popular Beaufort SC things to do.

It’s probably best to do this first!

The commentary brings to life this area by sharing Beaufort’s unique history during the Civil War, as it was one of the only towns not burned by Sherman’s advancing army.

After the locals all fled their antebellum mansions in fear, Sherman decided to take them over for this troops and turn them into Union hospitals.

Horse and Buggy Tour of The Point, Beaufort, SC
So much historical insight on this tour

He freed the slaves – of which they far outnumbered the locals – and hired them to work in the hospitals.

Many were able to buy their masters homes as they owed large sums of taxes when they finally returned. They didn’t pay them as they felt they would not have homes to return to.

We learned this inspiring story and many more on this tour.

We also learned more about the people who once lived in the homes, those that do now, those used in movies and TV, and unique features like the stairs to nowhere, that are said by locals to be very haunted.

Port Royal Boardwalk and Observation Tower

Port Royal Boardwalk and Observation Tower
Another easy walk for kids in Beaufort

An easy Beaufort thing to do is the Point Royal Island boardwalk which leads to an observation tower. I enjoyed the view from up here.

You could easily combine this with a visit to Cypress Wetlands and Fish camp.

Port Royal Boardwalk and Observation Tower
Good views from the Observation Tower

There is a small historical area on Port Royal where you may wish to browse some of the old stores and historical homes. They are quite different to the Point’s mansions!

Look for Sharks Teeth at Sands Beach

Sands Beach shark tooth hunting - fun Beaufort thing to do with kids
Good luck on your mission – fun for kids though

Do you like trying to find a needle in a haystack? Well you will love looking for Shark Teeth on Sands Beach.

We visited as it was next door to the boardwalk. We grew tired of it after five minutes. Your kids may love it. There were several groups of people combing the beach on the riverbank.

My question, “If this is one of popular things to do in Beaufort, and people come here daily, and possibly find sharks teeth, just what does that say about how many sharks are in the area?”

No. Jaws was not filmed here, but in Martha’s Vineyard. Perhaps the next version of it.

I’ll stick to swimming at Hunting Island Beach with the dolphins instead.

Sunset Seafood at Fish Camp on 11th

Fish Camp on 11th, Port Royal, SC
Our favorite restaurant in Beaufort

Sunset dinner at Fish Camp on 11th on Port Royal Island was our best local’s tip.

We get so many of our tips on things to do from the locals. They often know where to find the best sunsets and how you can pair that with a delicious meal!

Fish Camp checked off all the boxes. After a ten-minute wait, we found ourselves at front row tables in the screened in porch overlooking the shrimp boats.

Our seafood was fresh local and delicious – try the stuffed flounder.

Fish Camp on 11th, Port Royal, SC
Delicious local seafood

Our sunset was cancelled after a quick glimpse of its vibrant orange hues and taken over by a dramatic rolling thunderstorm, which surpassed all epic-ness of a sunset.

storm shrimp boats Beaufort, South Carolina
The most amazing storm over shrimp boats views

It was one of my favorite memories and experiences of our time in Beaufort. To see the raw and fierce side of Mother Nature is very humbling.

Sunset Seafood at Dockside

Dockside Restaurant
Another great Beaufort seafood restaurant

Just over the bridge from downtown Beaufort is the Dockside Restaurant on Lady’s Island.

You can sit inside near large windows or in the screened in porch to catch the views over Lady Island Marina and the waterways.

There is also outside seating for drinks and corn-hole under the trees.

Chow down on crab, shrimp, mussels, and locally caught fish. As Aussies we know good seafood and I was so impressed by the quality of the seafood in Beaufort.

Downtown Beaufort

Downtown Beaufort
Downtown Beaufort Bay Street

It’s easy to amble the streets of Downtown Beaufort in between your daily explorations.

Historic Bay Street is filled with local stores and galleries, upscale and casual restaurants – many with Beaufort river views and al fresco dining.

Downtown Beaufort
Swing time – Waterfont Park

The Henry C Chambers Waterfront Park is a popular gathering spot and place to stroll with views of the marsh islands and intersecting waterways.

Bike the Spanish Moss Trail

the Spanish Moss Trail
Spanish Moss trail – great for cyclists

This 10-mile rail to trail paved path is a favorite for cyclist, joggers, and walkers.

I can see how it would be a fun experience to have in Beaufort if you cycled the trail and enjoyed the changing landscape.

We were a little underwhelmed, mostly because we were expecting a trail covered with Spanish Moss. Apparently, the trail takes you through neighborhoods where you can experience this.

the Spanish Moss Trail
Just a short walk

We also got caught in a rainstorm so didn’t get to see much. We started at the Depot trail head close to downtown and turned right to head north.

We came back later and turned left, which recommend (based on what we saw) would be the better option as it does take you to marshland views which are pretty.

So, talk to more locals and the visitor center peeps and see what you can discover as the best spot for you OR just ride your bikes along the entire way.  

For our next Beaufort getaway

Above are the main highlights of a Beaufort vacation that we discovered. There is so much more that we missed.

Below is what to do in Beaufort SC if we came back again:

  • Explore the Gullah culture and food, which is mostly found on St Helena Island.
  • Dolphin watching boat tours
  • Kayaking the area’s rivers and estuaries. We now have paddle boards so would love to take them out too!
  • Old Sheldon Church -history buffs and photographers would love the ruins of this church sitting a beautiful forest of draped trees and Revolutionary War graves. It was burnt by British troops during the Revolutionary war, and then plundered by Union troops at the end of the civil War after it was rebuilt in 1826.

Beaufort, SC VIDEO

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