14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Beaufort, SC
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Named the "Most Romantic City" in South Carolina, Beaufort is overflowing with charm. You don't necessarily have to be part of a traveling couple, however, to enjoy the attractions of this magical city, found just outside of Hilton Head. This South Carolina treasure is filled with Southern comfort and makes a perfect getaway for a girlfriends' weekend, family trip, or as a solo traveler.
Take in the views of the picturesque homes and gardens with Antebellum architecture from the 1700s, when the town was founded. A protective historical association allows tourists to step back in time as they walk along the centuries-old streets lined with massive live oaks. The expansive green space invites leisurely strolls under the Spanish moss to escape the hot Southern sun.
A visit to Beaufort will greet you with Southern charm and hospitality. Whether it is romance, history, or adventure, visitors will find it here. Discover the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Parris Island
For over a hundred years, Parris Island has been the site of the military base where 20,000 recruits go through weeks of training to become a marine. Parris Island is also an interesting place to visit. You can play a round of golf at The Legends Golf Course (just watch out for the gators!) or visit the Parris Island Museum, where you can learn about the Marine Corps and the history of Parris Island.
When you are visiting Parris Island, be sure to stop by the nearby Chocolate tree to grab one of the famous "box of chocolates" made famous by Forrest Gump, which was filmed right here in Beaufort.
At the tip of Parris Island stands the impressive Parris Island Lighthouse and grounds, which consists of a 45-foot-tall front range light and a 131-foot tower that acted as the rear range light. Both of these were connected with an elevated walkway. This structure is the oldest structure on Parris Island and has an interesting history. The rear light is the first of its kind to be built. Although it no longer guides ships away from the harbor because of modern technology, it is still a sight to see and worth the hike to get here.
2. Beaufort National Cemetery
Although it's one of many in the United States, the Beaufort National Cemetery is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful. The area's 33 acres have been listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, and the cemetery is the burial ground for the Confederate and Union soldiers who were killed during the Civil War.
Over 18,500 service men and women, as well as some of their families, were laid to rest among the brick walls, towering live oaks, and Spanish Moss, marked with stark white crosses.
A visit to the national cemetery is appreciated by history and Civil War buffs, as well as those who want to honor men and women who served our country. As you enter the main gate, you are met by a 20-foot granite obelisk inscribed with famous names from history. Look for Colonel Donald Conroy, better known as The Great Santini, and Master Sergeant Joseph Simmons, a Légion d'honneur recipient, as well as a World War I and World War II veteran.
3. Beaufort Historic District
Beaufort is filled with history, and part of that subject centers around the well-preserved architecture of the area. Visiting Antebellum mansions or a plantation will give tourists insight into the complicated layers of the past that circle through the city. Many are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Cuthbert House is a perfect example. Now a bed and breakfast inn, this building was built in 1811 and has a storied past incorporated into local folklore.
The district is made up of a group of buildings that can be found within 12 blocks of the downtown area, making it a great walking tour. Front Street is the main location, and the wide array of styles include Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Queen Anne-influenced architecture. Don't miss both the Gibbs House and the Jacob Henry House.
Another great way to appreciate the character of Beaufort is to take a horse & carriage history tour. Certified guides take passengers aboard these eye-popping, red horse-drawn carriages on an hour-long tour through the heart of Beaufort. Along the way, you will pass Antebellum homes, churches, and notable movie locations.
4. Stand Up Paddleboarding & Kayaking
The view from the water always changes a visitor's perspective of a destination. Seeing the 300-year-old Beaufort, one of the largest natural harbors on the East Coast, by kayak is no exception. Several companies provide tours and the opportunity to explore by water.
Tourists will find some of the most interesting parts of the habitat in among the wetlands and tall grasses, where birds and other wildlife make their homes. Fiddler crabs, herons, mullet, terrapin, and osprey all can be found in amazingly close proximity to the city. Oystercatchers will be busy using their bills to open shellfish.
The natural beauty of the rookery and complexity of the delicate ecosystem can be observed by paddling, either in a kayak or SUP, through these scenic tidal channels.
5. Fort Fremont
Fort Fremont gives a look into the history of Beaufort dating back to the time of the Spanish American War. Completed in 1899, it was once an important link in our country's coastal defense by protecting the fueling station of Parris Island. The remains of this fort mostly lie in ruins.
Although Fort Fremont is currently under construction, the multi-million-dollar renovation that is underway is going to make this destination more relevant and informative to the area's history. The completed renovation will include an interpretive center, a picnic pavilion, walking paths, and public restrooms. Check the website for the completion date of this project before visiting this piece of Beaufort history.
Address: 1126 State Rd S-7-45, St. Helena Island, South Carolina
Official site: https://www.fortfremont.org/
6. Beaufort History Museum
The Beaufort History Museum was originally established in 1939. It has grown to focus specifically on the deep and rich history of the Beaufort District, which is geographically bordered by the Combahee River on the north and to Hilton Head on the south. The area reaches approximately 50 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean.
On display, visitors will find historical documents, artifacts, and ephemera detailing the rich history of Beaufort. A timeline highlights the arrival of Native Americans, the area's first settlers through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the antebellum era, and reconstruction up to the present day.
The museum offers community programs and a calendar of events - make sure to check for any special exhibitions before you visit. The large primary space houses the permanent collection of the museum. A changing display takes place in the Exhibit Hall.
Address: 713 Craven Street, Beaufort, South Carolina
Official site: https://beauforthistorymuseum.wildapricot.org/
7. Explore the Spanish Moss Trail
The Lowcountry of the Carolinas are known for many things, from their delicious seafood to their hospitality and Southern charm. One of the most iconic symbols is Spanish Moss, and one of the best places to see it in all its glory is the Spanish Moss Trail.
This light grey hanging plant is actually a bromeliad, not a moss, and is not parasitic. The moss takes its nutrients not from the tree, but from rain, fog, sunlight, and airborne dust and debris.
The paved Spanish Moss Trail is one you can walk or bike. It follows the path of the former Port Royal Railroad and gives you a view of the water, marsh, and, of course, the Spanish Moss. If you are lucky, you can catch a peek of a fighter jet from the nearby Marine Corp Air Station taking off.
8. River Tour and Dolphin Watch
Another means to seeing Beaufort from the water, without the heavy lifting of a kayak or paddleboard, is touring by motorboat. Things to do on the Beaufort River and into the Port Royal Sound include watching for playful bottlenose dolphins in Taylor's Creek.
If you're lucky, you can catch the unique experience of strand feeding, where the intelligent dolphin pod herds a prey (often mullet) onto a sandbar by synchronizing their body movements. The victims are then stranded for the dolphins to easily make a meal.
Certainly unexpected would be a trip to Morgan Island to visit the primate colony living in the wild. Though trespassing on the island is not allowed, more than 3,000 monkeys are in the habitat and can be viewed from your vessel.
Another option would be a sighting of the horses and natural beauty of Carrot Island. Perhaps a romantic sunset cruise is more your preferred itinerary. There are many options involving flora and fauna in this Lowcountry section of South Carolina.
9. Port Royal Sound Foundation Maritime Center
On the stretch of highway between Bluffton and Beaufort is The Port Royal Sound Foundation Maritime Center. Where else could you check out a prehistoric megalodon jaw? As you wander around the center, you get an understanding of the delicate ecosystem of the Port Royal sound and how it has influenced this area.
Make sure to check the calendar of events on tap during your visit. The center is open Tuesday through Saturday; admission is free, but donations are appreciated. The gift shop is a fun place to pick up a souvenir from the area.
Address: 310 Okatie Highway, Okatie, South Carolina
Official site: https://www.portroyalsoundfoundation.org/
10. Cypress Wetlands
An especially beautiful area of this region, just made for outdoor activities, is the Cypress Wetlands. Many types of birds make their home here, including herons, owls, falcons, hawks, and additional migratory birds.
Bird-watchers especially will enjoy the white egrets stalking their prey throughout the grasses. The environment is full of Spanish moss, cypress trees, ponds, and other elements visitors will get to know in the Lowcountry.
The thriving ecosystem features a half-mile trail with viewing spots along the way that circles the sanctuary. Alligators and snakes also make their homes here, so while dogs are allowed, make sure to keep them on leash and stay on the path yourself.
With a perfect climate for year-round golf, Beaufort offers a range of clubs for the public to enjoy. The Lowcountry provides the additional benefit of gorgeous scenery (some waterfront) and wildlife on view while trying to make par. The sport in this area is considered a way of life.
Parris Island is home to The Legends Golf Course, and holes move through wetlands and deep-water creeks. The challenging par 72 is enhanced by the rich history of the island.
Lady's Island is another spot offering challenging courses open to the public with a typical beach-style layout.
12. Hunting Island Lighthouse
Located south of Charleston and north of Tybee Island, the site of Hunting Island was chosen for a midway light to fill a void of darkness on this treacherous part of the Eastern Seaboard. This lighthouse, built in 1859, is the only one open to the public in South Carolina.
Adventurous souls can climb the 167-step spiral staircase and be rewarded with views of the Atlantic and surrounding Lowcountry landscape. At 132 feet high, visitors will gain an appreciation for the sandbars, shoals, and dangerous shipping lane that vessels would face offshore.
Visionaries had the foresight to build the structure using cast iron plates, which would allow the lighthouse to be moved. Erosion forced it 1.25 miles inland just 30 years after it was originally constructed.
If you love to camp, the Hunting Island State Park has beautiful campgrounds that are steps from the white-sand beaches that line the shore. Camp amid jungle-like foliage as the steady roll of the waves crash just over the dunes.
13. Old Sheldon Church
Originally built in the 1700s, the Old Sheldon Church stands in ruins with little left but the stone foundation, walls, and portico. Even in its current state, it's still wildly popular. Centuries-old gravestones and live oaks surround the site of the old church.
The church, built in Greek Revival style, is about 17 miles north of Beaufort and is a popular spot for history buffs, nature lovers, photographers, and bridal parties wanting to capture the tattered and serene beauty. The church has survived many attempts over the years to destroy it through area battles but still stands today as a skeleton for visitors to enjoy.
14. Helena Island Gullah Culture
Visitors to coastal South Carolina, and Beaufort in particular, have a unique opportunity to learn about one of the amazing cultures of the American south - the Gullah culture. The Gullah are of African descent and live in the Lowcountry of both South Carolina and Georgia, including the islands near Beaufort.
Helena Island, in particular, has one of the largest Gullah populations in the region. The ancestors of these descendants were brought to the southern coast as slaves. Today, their descendants are known for their preservation of African language and cultural heritage - more so than any other African American community in the country. For more than 150 years, Gullah have made their imprint on the South through their stories, music, art, food, and crafts - particularly basket weaving.
Where to Stay in Beaufort, SC for Sightseeing
- Popular with visiting celebrities, The Rhett House Inn is located in the historic district just a few blocks' walk from its restaurants and shops. The small historic hotel is in an elegant Southern-style home, with white columns and large verandahs. Amenities include a complimentary breakfast and free parking. A concierge is also on-site.
- The Beaufort Inn is a pet-friendly luxury choice in the heart of the historic district. The small hotel is in a historic old home with curved balconies, sweeping verandas, and a lovely garden area. The rooms and suites here are elegant, with pine floors, area rugs, and cast iron soaking tubs. Amenities include a free breakfast, bikes for guests to use, and a spa with a range of treatments that also offers yoga classes.
- Cuthbert House Inn is one of a number of charming bed and breakfasts in Beaufort. Located in a Federal-style antebellum mansion on the waterfront, it has 10 individually decorated rooms. Some have balconies with water views, others have fireplaces or Jacuzzi tubs. There are also a few suites. The B&B is pet-friendly, has an on-site swimming pool, and cooks up a delicious morning breakfast.
- City Loft Hotel is a good mid-range option. This small hotel has just 21 rooms. Each is individually decorated, but all come with comfy beds with memory foam toppers to ensure a good night's sleep. Amenities include a fitness center, steam room, bikes for guests to use, and free parking. The hotel is also pet friendly.
- Right on the river in the heart of the historic district, Best Western Sea Island Inn is another good-value option. This kid-friendly property has modern, beach-inspired rooms, with faux wood floors and framed art. There are also family rooms. A complimentary breakfast is served. There is a seasonal outdoor swimming pool and a fitness room also on-site.
- Located near the military base, the Home2Suites by Hilton Beaufort is a good budget choice. It offers one- or two-room suites. These come with separate living space, kitchens, and colorful decor. Amenities include a free breakfast, a swimming pool, and workout room. The hotel is also pet friendly.
- Another budget option is the Sleep Inn Beaufort. The 2-star hotel has colorful rooms with double or king beds. The property is just three miles from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. Amenities include a complimentary breakfast and parking, and a swimming pool.
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