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13 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Beaufort, SC

Written by Alison Abbott
Sep 24, 2019

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.

1. Parris Island

South Carolina's Lowcountry, near Beaufort and 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 infamous "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

The National Cemetery, commissioned by Abraham Lincoln

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. Stand Up Paddleboarding & Kayaking

Kayaker in Beaufort's marshlands

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.

4. Fort Fremont

Concrete ruins of the gun battery at 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/

5. 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/

6. Spanish Moss Trail

A massive live oak tree draped in Spanish Moss

The Lowcountry of the Carolina's 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.

7. River Tour and Dolphin Watch

Sunrise over the Beaufort River

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.

8. Port Royal Sound Foundation Maritime Center

Tidal marshes in Port Royal Sound, South Carolina

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/

9. Cypress Wetlands

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.

10. Golfing

Golfer in the late afternoon

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.

11. Hunting Island Lighthouse

Hunting Island Lighthouse in South Carolina

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.

12. Old Sheldon Church

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.

13. Beaufort Historic District

Historic Cuthbert House in Beaufort South Carolina

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.

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More on South Carolina: Wondering where to begin when it comes to planning your trip? Two of the top destinations in the state are beautiful Charleston and family-friendly Myrtle Beach, also a popular golfing destination. If you are heading to this part of the country in summer, consider planning a trip around some of the top beaches in South Carolina. Anglers may want to have a read through our list of the best places for deep sea fishing.

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