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Beaufort is a great choice for history, beaches and more

Megan Sexton Megan Sexton
Discover writers share all of the places, activities and adventure that South Carolina has to offer. Read more from some of South Carolina’s locals and discover what’s happening in the Palmetto State.
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Beaufort, a waterfront gem on the coast south of Charleston and near Hilton Head, is the perfect family weekend getaway -- no matter what your children's interests.

A recent trip for our family included a climb to the top of a lighthouse, a walk on an undeveloped beach, a stroll through a waterfront park and a visit to a Civil Rights landmark.

Here are the highlights from two of our stops:

The Penn Center

The Penn Center on 50 acres on St. Helena Island, just over the bridge from downtown Beaufort, offers a chance to step back in time.

Started as Penn School, the first school in the nation to teach freed slaves, it is now a cultural center, preserved for the past 100 years as a living reminder of the Gullah and Geeche Lowcountry culture.

It was one of several schools established on St. Helena Island as part of the Port Royal Experiment. The leaders of this experiment were primarily philanthropists, abolitionists and missionaries from Pennsylvania who came to the Beaufort area after Union soldiers took control of the Port Royal Sound and forced the Confederates to flee. They wanted to help former slaves prepare for freedom by teaching them how to read and make a living.

The school closed in the late 1940s, and the center's work was redirected toward social injustices. During the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference would meet at the Penn Center, a rare spot where blacks and whites could meet peacefully without being threatened or harmed. Photographs in the museum show King meeting with others at Penn Center, and the home he stayed in (Gantt Cottage) sits quietly among the massive live oaks.

Make time to watch the short video in the museum; it offers an overview of the Penn Center's history. Also be sure to spend time in the museum, learning about the Penn School and other history that was made on these grounds.

 

Get ready to climb.

Hunting Island State Park has always been one of our favorite South Carolina beaches.

The path from the entrance to the beach through a lush maritime forest is one of the best rides in the state. Then there's the undeveloped beach, with palmettos growing just beyond the dunes.

Kids love the beach. And they can't resist the lighthouse.

The Hunting Island historic lighthouse is the only lighthouse open to the public to climb in the state. It's a 167-step climb to the top. But once you're up there, the views of the ocean, beach, marshes and tree tops can‘t be matched. 

The state park also includes a pier that juts more than 1,100 feet into Fripp Inlet. A perfect place to fish, or to sit and watch the sun go down over the marsh. Don't miss the Nature Center at the start of the pier, with its exhibits of wildlife and marine life.

Megan Sexton
Discover writers share all of the places, activities and adventure that South Carolina has to offer. Read more from some of South Carolina’s locals and discover what’s happening in the Palmetto State.