Distance: 230 miles | Approx. driving time: 3.5 hours | Population: 13,445
Located midway between Lowcountry heavy hitters Charleston and Savannah, the small island town of Beaufort, SC might not be on your travel radar. And that’s part of its allure.
The second-oldest city in South Carolina is hardly a secret. Beaufort is home to an active United States Marine Corps air base and has served as the backdrop for a number of major films, including Forrest Gump, The Great Santini, The Big Chill and G.I. Jane. Beaufort is also rich in history of the Gullah people, an African-American population that has preserved its African linguistic and cultural heritage through the Transatlantic slave trade to present.
Its exquisitely preserved antebellum architecture in the downtown historic district and nearby stunning subtropic barrier islands are a major draw for a million in-the-know travelers annually. But with a population of 13,445, the small town remains quaint, quiet and undiscovered by many.
Beaufort takes the historic charm, gorgeous biodiversity and first-class hospitality of its bigger coastal cousins and distills it down into a concentrated shot of Southern comfort you can digest in a laid back weekend away from Charlotte.
Downtown. For historic charm, Beaufort’s award-winning downtown bed & breakfasts are unmatched. You’ll be in walking distance of all the shops, restaurants and bars and a quick 15-mile drive to the beach.
We stayed at The Rhett House Inn, a AAA Four Diamond property located a block off the water and steps from downtown shopping, dining and tours.
Beaufort Bed & Breakfasts
The Rhett House Inn – 1009 Craven Street – starting around $220/night
Anchorage 1770 – 1103 Bay Street – starting around $235/night
Cuthbert House Inn – 1203 Bay Street – starting around $215/night
The Beaufort Inn – 809 Port Republic Street – starting around $400/night
If hotels are more your speed, the 22-room City Loft Hotel is a sleek and modern downtown lodging alternative with the familiar amenities of bigger chains but the personality of a small, one-of-a-kind boutique property. TripAdvisor named it among the 25 Top Small Hotels in the country.
What about the beach? There are no hotels on the three beach islands closest to downtown Beaufort. Harbor Island and Fripp Island are private resort islands with available vacation home and condo rentals, and Hunting Island, a 5,000-acre state park, features tent and RV camp sites and one coveted rental cabin.
Agenda Pro Tip: Stay downtown and get your beach fix with a 30-minute trip to Hunting Island, a lush, subtropic state park with 5 miles of pristine, undeveloped beach and the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina.
Eat & Drink
Come hungry. Beaufort’s sophisticated food and drink scene features everything from a classic seafood grill celebrating 16 years on the waterfront to a trendy new gastropub with elaborate craft cocktails and buzzworthy wood-fired pizzas.
There are unique, must-try edible experiences all over town, like the made-to-order doughnuts at a market and cafe inside the old City Hall building, the signature sweet tea floats served at an unexpected bar in the back of a boutique and cocktails with a sunset view on the roof of a historic inn.
Beaufort Restaurants and Bars
Lowcountry Produce – 302 Carteret Street – Gorgeous market and cafe in the old City Hall building open daily for breakfast and lunch. The made-to-order glazed yeast doughnuts ($5.75 for 4) are a must.
City Java – 301 Carteret Street – Slick, urban-style coffee shop at the City Loft Hotel. Their iced coffee is served with coffee ice cubes, a small but critical detail for avoiding watered down drinks during the sweltering Southern summer.
Wren – 210 Carteret – Popular lunch and dinner spot that’s consistently packed. Famous for their toasted pecan and cranberry chicken salad but the Southern Tier fried green tomato sandwich is tough to pass up.
Old Bull Tavern – 205 West Street – Beaufort’s hottest restaurant is a hip, casual gastropub serving European and American comfort food and craft cocktails. Definitely start with a wood-fired pizza.
Saltus River Grill – 802 Bay Street – Elegant waterfront seafood grill celebrating 16+ years in operation. A longstanding local favorite.
Ribaut Social Club at The Anchorage – 1103 Bay Street – The historic Anchorage Inn opens to the public Wednesday – Saturday evenings for dinner and Sunday for brunch. To respect the overnight guests, last call is at 8 p.m. Stop by early for sunset cocktails on the roof.
Scout Southern Market – 709 Bay Street – Stylish boutique with an unexpected sweet tea bar in the back where they sling signature sweet tea floats. Stop by for an afternoon refresher with your choice of nondairy fruit sorbet served in a tall glass of the South’s favorite beverage.
The Chocolate Tree – 507 Carteret Street – Confection shop famous for creating the chocolates used in Forrest Gump’s iconic “box of chocolates” scene.
Outdoor Adventure. Beaufort is located on the Port Royal Sound surrounded by salt marshes and tidal rivers, and there are a number of opportunities to get out on the water — from relaxed sunset cruises to to immersive research-based eco-boat tours.
Hunting Island, located 15 miles from downtown Beaufort, is the #1 must-do excursion of your trip. The 5,000-acre undeveloped state park looks like a Caribbean island with its lush vegetation and 5 miles of pristine, palm-lined beach.
Things to do in Beaufort
Take a sunset cruise with Captain Dick – Captain Dick’s Beaufort River Tours depart daily from the Downtown Marina at 2 p.m. ($20 adults, $12 kids). Evening sunset cruises are offered Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays April through October ($28).
Go on a kayak tour – Beaufort Lands End Tours offers 2- to 3-hour guided kayak tours of Hunting Island or downtown Beaufort ($45 adults, $30 kids under 13).
Join biologists on a dolphin research cruise – The Port Royal Sound Foundation offers educational eco-boat excursions from the Maritime Center ($30 – $55).
Climb the lighthouse on Hunting Island – Hunting Island, a 5,000-acre state park located 15 miles from downtown Beaufort, is home to 5 miles of pristine undeveloped beaches and the state’s only publicly accessible lighthouse. It was built in 1859 and rebuilt in 1875 after it was destroyed in the Civil War. You can climb the 167 stairs to the top daily from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. (park is free; $2 lighthouse admission).
Ready to hit the road? Follow us on Instagram for your chance to win a two-night stay at the historic Rhett House Inn in downtown Beaufort.
Contest closes at 9 p.m. EST Tuesday, December 19. See official rules.
Can’t wait to hit the road? Check out the rest of our Driving Distance destinations.