Beaufort is located on Port Royal Island, in the state of South Carolina. Founded in 1711 by the British, it is the second-largest city in the state and has the largest Gullah population in the US. Also referred to as the ”Best Small Southern Town”, Beaufort has an economy dependent on healthcare, agriculture/aquaculture, local government, and retail.
Nowadays, the city is considered one of the best American artistic cities and has approximately 20 art galleries. In addition, the city is known for its scenic location and its military establishments.
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Beaufort (SC)
1. Hunting Island State Park
Hunting Island State Park features sandy beaches, marshes, a maritime forest, a saltwater lagoon, a historic lighthouse, and camping. The beach itself is beautiful and pristine, you can see how South Carolina is doing a great job in restoring the dunes and turtle habitat.
Idyllic and undeveloped, the park is a great place to walk, fish, swim, and hang out. So, drive through maritime forest and walk through palm trees to get to beautiful sandy beaches. If you visit during the off-season, you can often get long stretches of the island to yourself! They also have amazing trails to hike and bike.
2. Hunting Island Lighthouse
Featuring a staircase winding up, the 19th-century Hunting Island Lighthouse offers views of sandy beaches and the Atlantic Ocean. With 167 steps to climb to the top, the walk up to the lighthouse is not too bad with a landing on each floor. You will be high above the treetops and many times you can look down on a bird flying by.
The lighthouse also holds great history, and you can read about it on the informational displays. This is actually the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina. And curiously, it was built with interchangeable cast-iron allowing it to be moved, if necessary. And in 1889, this feature came into action when the lighthouse had to be relocated due to beach erosion.
3. Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park
Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park provides a landscaped green space, a playground, and a great space to walk your dog. The park runs a long length of the waterfront and features perfect views of the water no matter where you are at the park. The walkway along the water is well paved and easy to walk. You can also just sit peacefully on the bench swings and look out at the water. Sometimes the swing bridge opens, to let the boats through.
Across the street, there are lots of stores ranging from candy to clothes. Around the outside parameter, there is a wonderful assortment of outdoor/indoor restaurants. This park also contains a huge pavilion where summer events and performances are held throughout the season.
4. Parris Island Museum
Dedicated to the history of the US Marine Corps and the Port Royal region, the Parris Island Museum features rich and informative exhibits and artifacts. In fact, this is an official Marine Corps Command Museum showing its origins and impacts in the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War.
Besides, the museum also shows a timeline of local and regional history. So, you can learn how the area developed from the first native occupants to the European explorers. Overall, the museum is well-maintained with a beautiful layout and helpful staff.
5. Old Sheldon Church Ruins
With Greek Revival columns, walls, and a graveyard from the 1750s, the Old Sheldon Church Ruins stand amid oaks covered in Spanish moss. A little off the beaten path you will find the church nestled in the trees and dripping with southern beauty. Stop and look at the different grave markers.
Check out the hidden cameras and floodlights in the trees as you walk around. Also, there are lots of rusting iron fences everywhere so maybe do not hang onto them. The history of the place is amazing, as is the architecture. The fact that the original well is still working there is simply phenomenal.
6. Bay Street
Considered one of the main meeting points in Beaufort, Bay Street is in the area of the historical homes and charming side streets. It is only 2-3 blocks long offering an easy walk on the waterfront. There is also a huge lawn and a playground for the kids as well as shaded porch swings.
It is kept spotlessly clean, and many of the restaurants have outdoor seating off the sidewalk, which is a great place for people-watching. Besides the many restaurants, Bay Street features art galleries, sweet shops, clothing stores, and tourist shops lined next to each other on both sides of the street.
7. Pigeon Point Park
Pigeon Point Park is a compact neighborhood park featuring a playground, oak trees, flowers, benches, restrooms, and more. This is a fun park with lots to do as well as many places to just sit and relax.
The park has 4 sections of playgrounds. From a shrubbery wall for little kids just learning to walk all the way up to teenagers! Around the playground, there are benches and an aesthetic walking/running path. And even though most of the equipment is old-style metal, the playground is protected from the sun by multiple trees as not to burn little legs.
8. Port Royal Boardwalk and Observation Tower
Port Royal Boardwalk and Observation Deck feature a very nice path over the water and marshlands with lovely scenery in the background. The walk to the observation tower is only about a quarter of a mile and the tower itself is 5 levels high. From the top, you can see quite far and lots of wildlife including seabirds and dolphins.
You can also drive all the way to the beach nearby where you can walk around the sand in search of shark teeth. Make sure to take umbrellas to cover from the sun and be aware that fishing from the boardwalk is not allowed. There are specific stations to practice it.
9. Cypress Wetlands
The protected Cypress Wetlands area features walking trails, a boardwalk, an amphitheater, and local wildlife. This is a neat little nature walk of around 1 mile, not too much for younger children to keep up. During the dryer seasons, the vegetation tends to overtake the waterways, but there is still plenty to see.
There are many different entrances with boardwalks and one of them has a free viewer station to watch the birds and alligators. Also, there are several pet waste stations if you are taking your pooch with you!
10. Penn Center
A former school for freed slaves, Penn Center is now a cultural site and museum of African-American history inserted in the heart of the Gullah culture. Known for preserving African linguistics, Gullah keeps its cultural heritage more than any other community of descendants of African slaves in the US.
The museum itself is informative, with lots of reading and friendly staff. The exhibits allow you to become familiar with names, dates, and which buildings were used for what back when the school was open. And interestingly, Martin Luther King wrote part of the “I had a dream” speech in one of the cabins at Penn Center.
11. Fort Fremont Historical Park & Beach
Fort Fremont Historical Park preserves the remains of an 1898 fort built in response to the Spanish-American War. This is also a historical site with guided tours available. The fort is perfect for families or couples to get away from the city tour and feel closer to mother nature and historical human innovation. Besides, many ghost stories are surrounding this area, just visit the local library to learn more.
From the fort, you have access to the beautiful beach behind it. Even though during high tide the sandy portion is covered by water, it is actually a fun place to take photos.
12. Donnelley Wildlife Management Area
Offering opportunities for hunting and wildlife observation, Donnelley Wildlife Management Area encompasses various terrains including forest and wetland. Featuring a diversity of habitats, you will see tidal marsh, agricultural lands, a natural stand of longleaf pine, and more.
There is a driving tour you can download off their website that takes you on a lovely winding drive through the area. And the highlight is the former rice fields behind the lodge which are home to dozens of alligators! This area is also great for photographers – not only are there gators, but also birds and other small wildlife.
13. Pat Conroy Literary Center
Offering a space for book clubs and writing groups, the Pat Conroy Literary Center honors Pat Conroy, one of America’s best-loved writers. The center aims at cultivating a passionate and inclusive reading and writing community. It also offers poetry classes and support for local writers.
The center also the story of Pat Conroy and you can see his memorabilia and even chat with the owner/friend of Conroy’s. Whether you are looking for a peek into the life of one of the South’s favorite storytellers, or if you just need to get out of the rain, this is a great attraction in Beaufort.
14. St Helena’s Anglican Church
St Helena’s Anglican Church in Beaufort is beautiful and historic. The church is as honest and architecturally pure a building as a congregant could hope for. You can feel all of the history of years and centuries around you as you enter the church and explore it. Everything is well maintained and taken care of here.
The official tour of the church is impressive with all of the history and the knowledge of the tour guide. During your tour, you will also learn about all the notable people buried there. Everybody at the church is extremely friendly and welcoming.
15. Every Second Counts ESC Escape Rooms
Promising a very intense and adventurous hour, Every Second Counts ESC Escape Rooms features 5 rooms where you need to solve puzzles in order to get out. You can choose from Locked Up Abroad, Lost Cabin, Criminally Insane Asylum, Sweet Scape, or Wizard’s Academy. Or maybe even explore more than one escape room!
This is a really cool concept and something different to do with friends and family. Besides the great clues along the way, the game masters are also really helpful.
16. Fripp Island
The developed barrier Fripp Island was Forrest Gump filmset and features golf courses, resorts, and restaurants. This is a popular vacation destination since it is so peaceful and tranquil. If you are looking for a safe place to let your kids roam, this is the place to be. Besides, there are so many great amenities and a fantastic place to see alligators.
Make sure you bring your own golf cart or rent one on the island. And even though there is a market with some great options of restaurants to try, remember to stock up before you go. Supplies on the island are limited and costly.
17. Port Royal Sound Foundation Maritime Center
At the fun and educational little museum of the Port Royal Sound Foundation Maritime Center, you will learn about marine life and local history. There, you will read about the ecology, history, culture, art, and recreation of Port Royal.
This is a really great place to go with the family since it offers dynamic exhibits for all ages. Besides, there are several live-tanks and a special exhibit on oysters. The museum also offers specific events such as Nature Hikes and Reptile Meet and Greet. Best of all, the volunteer docents are available to answer your questions and help you enjoy the Maritime Center.
18. ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge
ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge is a real gem of a protected natural area that encompasses well over a quarter-million acres of undeveloped wilderness. It is the largest parcel on the Atlantic coast of the US and is home to a thriving and diverse ecosystem that is unmatched in its range. There is enough unexplored terrain to last many lifetimes of exploration.
When you visit the main house and its grounds, you will feel like stepping back in time. There are also many paths and trails to follow around the old rice and indigo fields.
19. Safe Harbor Port Royal
The charming Safe Harbor Port Royal mixes lowcountry culture and boating lifestyle. The marina features complimentary access to a nearby pool, spa, sauna, and more. From there, you can join excursions around the scenic town of Port Royal, only 10 minutes away from Beaufort.
There is also a nice restaurant and bar which is a very nice place to seat, drink and eat with a great view of the boats in the marina. Besides, the kids will love exploring the area and search for shark teeth.
20. The Sands
Also referred to as Port Royal Boat Landing, The Sands is a quaint place to fish or hang out for the day. It is located at one of the ends of Port Royal Boardwalk and as such the highlight of the area is to climb the Observation Tower for great views. The boat landing itself gives access to Battery Creek at Harbor River. There is a three-lane boat ramp with a dock and the water is deep enough for larger boats to dock.
Part of the pier is covered and shaded perfect for those that have delicate skin. And due to the oyster beds, swimming is only recommended if you have proper shoes.
21. Santa Elena History Center
The exhibits at Santa Helena History Center celebrate the first European colonial capital in the New World. The museum shows interesting displays explaining the Spanish settlement that pre-dated the English settlements further north. This bit of American history is fascinating but usually left out. Founded in 1566, Santa Helena’s history mixes religion, geopolitics, cultural clashes, and war.
Overall, this is a wonderful museum with informative displays and friendly staff. Besides, it is located adjacent to the golf course on the Parris Island Recruit Depot which also features an interesting museum.
22. Burton Wells Dog Park
The off-leash Burton Wells Dog Park has a nice, fenced area and features a dog wash area. This park is a great location for dogs who want to explore. There is a great mixture of open space, trees, undulating mounds, and of course a pond.
However, this is more than just a dog park. It features a children’s playground with a metal dinosaur to climb, slides, and ladders. There are also picnic tables and a volleyball/badminton net adjacent to a softball field.
23. Beaufort History Museum
Located at the 1798 historical arsenal location in the downtown, Beaufort History Museum features exhibits on Beaufort’s history and culture. The museum focus on the fact that the Beaufort region was the first major settlement and colonial capital in the land that is now the US.
Its collections include photos, artifacts, and documents at the Main Exhibit Hall. The permanent exhibits focus on the arrival of Native Americans and European explorations, as well as all the main wars the US has been involved in. On the other hand, the Special Exhibit Gallery shows temporary displays of specific subjects such as the Melody Makers, Beaufort in Films, and Reconstruction Beaufort.
24. Beaufort Historic District
Beaufort Historic District comprises several neighborhoods featuring stately antebellum architecture. It has a beautiful waterfront with several restaurants and coffees overlooking the water. The historic district revolves around three huge cemeteries, and adjacent churches, making it a result of organized urban planning. The central point is Church Street, which links the military cemetery to the coastline.
So, take your time to stroll the streets observing the mansions with beautifully landscaped gardens and oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Some of the houses are made of stone and might look like little castles.
25. Lady’s Island Dockside
Lady’s Island Dockside is a buzzing, waterfront bar and restaurant with a nautical motif and Southern seafood meals, plus outdoor seating. Located a hop, skip, and a jump from the Lady’s Island Marina you will have great views while you eat. Dockside restaurant was initially at Port Royal, being moved to Beaufort’s waterfront in 2012.
Their main dishes are the She Crab Soup and the Cornbread. The Cajun fried rice is a great side to pair with their seafood dishes as well. The service is friendly, attentive, and makes you feel right at home.