Get a little exercise as you hike, bike and paddle in an area as rich in history as it is in natural amenities. Located along the Beaufort River, this charming small Southern town — founded by the British in 1711 — is surrounded by pristine salt marshes and sea islands. It’s also one of just a few US towns to have its entire downtown designated a historic district.
Just a short drive from Beaufort is Hunting Island State Park, a secluded Lowcountry barrier island offering miles of sandy shoreline and maritime forest trails, along with the state’s only publicly accessible lighthouse. The city also serves as a convenient launching point to explore the ACE Basin, one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the Atlantic coast.
With so much to do outdoors, you can get in a workout and not feel guilty chowing down on shrimp and grits.
Here’s an itinerary that covers some of the highlights of the historic city.
Ease into your morning with breakfast at Magnolia Bakery Cafe, a neighborhood eatery in a relaxed garden-like setting overlooking the Beaufort River. Then head to the Visitor Center in the old Arsenal and pick up a self-guided tour map of Beaufort’s Landmark Historic District. The map offers two courses — a 1.3-mile loop through the residential neighborhood of Old Point on the tip of the peninsula and a 1.5-mile route that includes the mansions of The Bluff and some of Beaufort’s oldest churches.
Both tours start at the Beaufort Arsenal Museum on Craven Street, making it easy to combine the two legs. Walking the city’s oak-shaded streets, you’ll have a chance to soak in every detail of the many historic buildings and beautiful antebellum homes with their wrought iron gates and welcoming front porches.
Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, walk on over to Plums Restaurant on Bay Street for lunch. Their Biarritz — a grilled wrap filled with smoked turkey, bacon, brie and strawberry spread — is sinfully delicious.
After lunch, explore the area waters with Beaufort Kayak Tours. Certified master naturalist and city of Beaufort history tour guide David Gorzynski will take you into the pristine ACE Basin, known for its wealth of wildlife, including such endangered and threatened species as bald eagles, woodstorks and shortnose sturgeon. You’ll paddle along the Combahee River past the once-prosperous rice plantations that helped build America’s first aristocracy. Trips are $50 for adults and $30 for children.
For dinner, try The Old Bull Tavern at 205 West St. This friendly neighborhood gastropub features an ever-changing menu of European comfort foods, innovative cocktails and select craft beers and wine.
Devote this day to exploring Hunting Island State Park. Once a hunting preserve for 19th-and early 20th-century planters, the park features thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forests, five miles of beaches, a fishing pier and a 19th-century lighthouse that’s open to the public.
Before you make the 25-minute drive from downtown Beaufort to the beach, stop at Panini’s Cafe at 926 Bay St. and pick up a boxed lunch or sandwich. You won’t find any dining options at the park.
On your way out to Hunting Island, stop for breakfast at Beaufort Bread Company on Lady’s Island and fuel up for a full day of activities. The small, homey bakery offers artisan breads, pastries, locally roasted coffees and espresso and frittatas made with eggs from the neighborhood.
When you arrive at the state park, head straight to the beach to scan the sand for shells that washed up on the shoreline during the night. After a morning exploring the beach, walk over to the park’s lagoon. It offers lots of shady spots to enjoy your lunch and view shorebirds scavenging for their own midday morsels.
In the afternoon, bike or hike some of the park’s eight miles of trails. Don’t miss the quarter-mile Marsh Boardwalk. It takes you out across the marsh, through a hammock to a deck overlooking a tidal creek — another prime bird-watching perch.
Back in town and ready to relax, wind down at Wined It Up, a laid-back wine bar and specialty deli featuring a tapas menu with meats and cheeses from around the world. It’s at 705 Bay St., near Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. After dinner, walk to the park and take a stroll along the river.
It’s your last day in Beaufort. Indulge in a decadent Sunday brunch at Southern Graces Bistro. You can work it off with a morning ride on the Spanish Moss Trail, a 3.3-mile paved pedestrian pathway offering walkers and cyclists stunning views of Battery Creek and its expansive salt marshes. If you didn’t bring your own wheels, you can rent a bike from Lowcountry Bicycles.
The trail will take you to the historic old village of Port Royal. Pedal over to MoonDoggies Cafe and Grill a hip neighborhood eatery with an inviting entrance shaded by century-old oaks. The menu includes a fabulous selection of fresh local seafood — the perfect ending to your Beaufort getaway.