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Top-Rated Things to Do in Beaufort, SC

Top-Rated Things to Do in Beaufort, SC

Nestled along the southeastern coast of South Carolina, Beaufort is a historic city overflowing with charm, culture, and natural beauty. While many flock to the area during the warmer months to enjoy the beaches and water sports, winter has its own magic in Beaufort. From exploring antebellum mansions to feasting on Lowcountry cuisine, there are endless ways to fill your days in this delightful seaside town.

Here are 15 of the top-rated things to do in Beaufort, SC for an unforgettable winter escape:

Beaufort Downtown
Source: Beaufort

Explore the Historic Downtown

Beaufort’s downtown district is chock full of preserved 19th century buildings, providing a glimpse into the city’s past. The area became wealthy in the 1700s and 1800s thanks to cotton, indigo, and rice plantations, which funded the many stately homes and cultural institutions.

Stroll along Bay Street to admire the antebellum mansions, quaint cottages, charming cafes, and art galleries that line the main drag. Pop into boutiques housed inside converted stables and carriage houses. The Verdier House is a standout 1860s home to peruse for artisan goods.

Don’t miss the Old Beaufort Firehouse, an 1839 Gothic Revival structure and one of Beaufort’s iconic landmarks. The building now serves as a history museum filled with artifacts, photos, and memorabilia documenting the area.

Step Back in Time at the Santa Elena History Center  

Venture 15 minutes outside of downtown to this fascinating living history site. Santa Elena was founded in 1566 and served as the capital of Spanish Florida for 20 years. The History Center lies on the original town site and authentically recreates a 16th century coastal Spanish settlement.

Walk through the replica structures to see how early settlers lived and hear live interpretations from costumed guides. Get hands-on by joining activities like making candles and bricks. Excavated artifacts are also on display to showcase items used in daily life centuries ago.

Santa Elena History Center
Source: OpenGov

Feast on Fresh Seafood

Being a seaside town, Beaufort is brimming with top-notch seafood eateries. The abundance of shrimp, oysters, fish, and crabs will have your taste buds rejoicing all winter long.

For fine dining, check out The River Room on Bay Street. This cozy restaurant in a historic home wows with selections like seared tuna, bouillabaisse, and grits risotto with shrimp. Make reservations for weekend dinner to savor meals on their charming porch.

Looking for more casual fare? Plums Restaurant on Lady’s Island whips up stellar she-crab soup along with inventive dishes like blackened mahi sandwiches. Sit on the back deck overlooking the marshes as you dine.

Plums Restaurant on Lady’s Island
Source: Eat Sleep Play Beaufort

The Shrimp Shack on St. Helena is a no-frills joint serving shrimp any way you can imagine - tacos, baskets, burgers, - you name it! Expect long lines in the summer, but winter hours are more relaxed.

Tour the Area By Water

Seeing Beaufort from the water offers an entirely different perspective of the Lowcountry landscape. Climb aboard a boat tour to cruise past the coastline’s antebellum mansions, wild marshes, and dolphins frolicking in the harbor.

Several companies like Old Bull Tours and Sandbar Ferry operate daily trips with knowledgeable captains pointing out sights and history. For a more active excursion, rent a kayak or paddleboard from Coastal Expeditions to traverse the waterways yourself.

Sunset cruises offer unbeatable views of the area awash in golden hour light. Don’t forget your camera!

Marvel at the Hunting Island Lighthouse

Just 15 minutes from downtown Beaufort lies the breathtaking Hunting Island Lighthouse. Reaching 135 feet tall, it’s the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina. The iconic black and white striped structure has safely led ships to port since 1875.

Climb to the top for panoramic views of the surrounding beach and maritime forest. The observation deck has coin-operated viewers for a closer look at ships gliding by. If heights aren’t your thing, the Visitor Center has exhibits detailing the history and operations of the iconic landmark.

The surrounding state park offers plenty for nature lovers too with five miles of quiet beach for shell hunting, salt marshes teeming with birds, and maritime forests crisscrossed with trails.

Hunting Island Lighthouse
Source: Beaufort SC

With its abundance of high-caliber courses, Beaufort County is a golfer's paradise. Tee up at these top-rated tracks along the coastline:

- Oldfield Golf Club - This exclusive Tom Fazio course on Okatie Island only allows 300 members, so get a coveted tee time if you can. The scenic track winds through moss-draped oaks with views of the Chechessee River.

- Dataw Island Club - Sitting on a sea island just across a scenic bridge, this cotton plantation turned course mixes challenging play with natural beauty. The Pete Dye design incorporates marshes and lagoons from the surrounding nature preserve.

Dataw Island Club
Source: Dataw

- Lady's Island Country Club - Play this public Rees Jones course carved through Lowcountry pine barrens. The undulating terrain provides striking vistas between shots.

- Parris Island Golf Club - Marine Corps personnel first crafted this course in 1948 from tidal marshlands. Civilians can also experience the base's impeccably maintained fairways and greens for reasonable rates.

Tour Historic Plantations

For an immersion into Beaufort’s antebellum history, spend a day touring the area’s remarkably preserved plantations. Period furnishings and lush grounds transport you back centuries.

Don’t miss the Tabby House ruins on Dataw Island, one of the oldest buildings in the South dating to the 1750s. On St. Helena, stroll through the 17th century manor house on Coffin Point Plantation. Lemon Island Preserve encompasses an entire island where a planter family lived, worked and played for decades in the 1800s.

Many plantations like the Pompion Hill Chapel open gates seasonally for history and architecture buffs to explore. Time trips to coincide with living history days bringing these estates back to life.

Tabby House ruins on Dataw Island
Source: Tabby House Travel Guide

Paddle Through the Sea Islands

The inland sea islands surrounding Beaufort create a paddler’s playground. Wind your kayak through tidal creeks lined with Spartina grass, keep eyes peeled for wading egrets and herons, and stop ashore uninhabited islands for a picnic.

The ACE Basin region north of town weaving through the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers offers some of the most pristine and breathtaking paddling. See eerie alligators lurking along these routes that once served as escape paths for slaves on the Underground Railroad.

Outfitters like Swamp Fox Kayak and Paddle Boarding rent gear and provide guided tours perfect for beginners. Serious kayakers can book multi-day primitive island camping adventures.

Embark on a Lowcountry Food Tour

Taste your way through Beaufort’s thriving food scene on a walking culinary tour with Beaufort Food Tours. Their knowledgeable local guides hit the town’s best eateries to sample regional specialties and sip local libations.

Recent tours have stopped at waterfront seafood shacks for she-crab soup, upscale cafes for shrimp and grits, beloved bakeries for key lime pie, craft distilleries for ginger bourbon cocktails, and more tasty locations that give you a mouthwatering overview of Lowcountry cuisine.

They also cater private tours if you have a special interest like sweets or spirits. It's the tastiest way to explore the city.

Stroll Through the Woods at Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve

The easiest way to immerse yourself in the peaceful nature of the Lowcountry is by taking a walk through Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve just minutes from downtown Beaufort.

This 5,000 acre landscape is home to both cultural and natural history. Follow signs through pine and oak forests to the remnants of shell ring settlements from the Kiawah people dating back 3,500 years. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife like painted buntings in the tree canopy and deer grazing along the marshy riverbanks.

Well-maintained trails of varying difficulty make this coastal forest accessible. Pack a picnic to enjoy at the scenic bluff overlooks.

Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve
Source: Alltrails

Relax at Hunting Island Beach

Just 15 minutes from the city, Hunting Island State Park holds one of South Carolina’s most beloved beaches. The prime spot for swimming, sunbathing, shelling and just taking in the sea air is conveniently located but feels a world away.

Stake out a spot on the wide expanse of beach and settle in for a day of relaxation. Wade into the temperate waters or comb the shoreline for sand dollars and whelk shells left behind by the tides. Rent a beach cruiser at the park store to ride along the paved path past dunes and maritime forests for different perspectives.

Lifeguards are on duty during peak season, but winter months are best for avoiding crowds. There’s no fee to access the beach itself - just the park entry.

Hunting Island
Source: Anchorage 1770

Shop Local Boutiques

Downtown Beaufort has a fantastic collection of locally owned shops selling everything from handmade crafts to women's clothing to gourmet foods. The best part? No crowds during the winter months.

Some favorites include The Beaufort Clothing Company which curates stylish pieces from regional designers. The Saltus Shop sells nautically inspired gifts and jewelry made locally. Candy Maker and Company whips up artisan old-fashioned candies in inventive flavors like salted caramel pecan and champagne mango.

Between browsing, stop for coffee and baked treats at Common Ground or Orchid Cafe. Chat with the shop owners and makers in this lively local community.

Marvel at the Penn Center Historic District

Just a quick ferry ride from Beaufort, St. Helena Island holds an important landmark - the Penn Center Historic District. This was the site of the Penn School, the first school for freed slaves in the South founded in 1862.

Tour the York W. Bailey Museum to see artifacts and photos documenting African American history and culture. Walking paths wind through the live oak alleys first cultivated by Penn School students. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the center hosts a moving and inspirational celebration.

Nearby, don’t miss the Darrah Hall Plantation Store, an intact example of a rural commissary once at the heart of Gullah communities. Grab lunch at Gullah Grub, a popular restaurant run by Bill Green and his wife preserving Gullah-Geechee cuisine.

Penn Center
Source: Penn Center

Attend a Concert or Show

Beaufort comes alive on winter weekends with abundant live music and events at intimate local venues. Cinemas, theaters, churches, and bars all host lively happenings certain to entertain.

On select nights, head to USCB Center for the Arts on Carteret Street to watch independent films from around the world and animated shorts. The Chocolate Tree on Boundary Street offers both comedy improv and dinner theater several times a month.

For live tunes, nothing beats evenings at Luther’s Rare & Well Done on Bay Street listening to blues, bluegrass and more in a cozy former gas station. Keep tabs on their calendar for shows or open mic nights.

USCB Center for the Arts
Source: Pinckney Retreat

See the Stars at the Astronomy Festival

Each February, the skies over Beaufort light up with more than just stars at the annual Beaufort Astronomy Festival. Held at the USCB campus, this free two-day event attracts astronomy buffs from across the country.

Listen to guest lecturers discuss space science, tour stargazing observatories, and view the skies through professional telescopes. See incredible images taken from space and enjoy hands-on activities explaining lunar orbits, solar systems, and more mysteries of the cosmos.

Few places offer stargazing like Beaufort, making this event an unforgettable chance for cosmic discovery and expanding your horizons.

Beaufort Astronomy Festival
Source: National Park Services

Where to Stay

With its blend of historic homes and modern hotels, Beaufort offers many wonderful places to rest your head while exploring the attractions above.

Historic Inns

- The Beaufort Inn - This antebellum lodging on Bay Street provides classic southern hospitality. Relax on the charming porch or by the fireplace before strolling the block to restaurants and shops.

- Rhett House Inn - One of the city’s most romantic escapes, this 1851 Greek Revival mansion turned boutique inn charms with gas lanterns and antique decor. Enjoy evening wine and cheese or borrow bikes to tour town.

- Cuthbert House Inn - Set in a 1790 home, this pet-friendly inn impresses with a full breakfast spread, afternoon tea and evening wine. Guest rooms feature four-poster beds, fireplaces and jetted tubs.

Waterfront/Marshfront Hotels

- City Loft Hotel - Watch the yachts and fishing boats glide by on the waterfront from your spacious loft. This hip boutique property has free bike loans and evening receptions.

- Hilton Garden Inn - Marvel at unbeatable views of the working harbor from this well-appointed hotel with free shuttle service to downtown. Unwind by the outdoor saltwater pool.

- Hampton Inn & Suites - Newly constructed in 2019, this hotel on Lady’s Island provides quick access to nature preserves with a free hot breakfast to fuel your adventures.

Budget-Friendly Motels

Those looking for affordable, no-frills accommodations can find perfectly comfortable stays allowing you to spend more on experiences:

- Sea Island Inn - Located downtown, this motor lodge offers wallet-friendly rates with microwaves, fridges, and free wifi.

- Best Western Sea Island - Expect reliable service and rooms with new beds and furnishings at this convenient route 21 motel. Outdoor pool and free breakfast.

- Days Inn by Wyndham - Just off Highway 21 north of town, get micro-fridges and free parking along with the iconic Days Inn rates. Outdoor pool area for warm winter days.

No matter your preferences, Beaufort has lodging options aplenty to call home during your Lowcountry getaway. Advance reservations are strongly recommended for weekends and holidays when hotels fill fast.

When to Visit

While Beaufort entices year-round, the winter months from November through February see cooler temperatures and lesser crowds, making it ideal for siteseeing.

During December, the city dazzles with holiday lights and festive events like caroling in the park, Santa pub crawls, and a charming Christmas parade.

January and February bring pleasant 60 degree Fahrenheit average highs perfect for outdoor exploration. Pack layers for chillier morning and evening temps dipping to around 40.

Rain is lowest from November to April, ensuring plenty of sunshine to soak in the sights. Expect temperatures to start rising again above 70 degrees in March and April as the season shifts to spring.

How to Get Here

By road, Beaufort is located about 70 miles from Charleston and 40 miles from Savannah. The nearest major airport is in Savannah (SAV) with Charleston (CHS) just a bit further.

Rent a car at either airport for the roughly hour-long scenic drive to Beaufort on Highway 17 with bridges over coastal marshes and rivers. Free parking is readily available downtown.

Beaufort is also accessible by Amtrak’s Silver Service line running between New York and Miami. The train stops at the restored Beaufort station allowing easy car-free access.

Amtrak’s Silver Service line
Source: Wikipedia

Once in town, walking, biking and boat shuttles provide easy transportation between the historic district, sea islands and marshes. Many companies also provide pick-ups from hotels for tours.

Conclusion

From uncovering history and culture to basking in natural scenery to enjoying mouthwatering cuisine, Beaufort provides endless opportunities for discovery during the winter off-season. Avoid the crowds of summer and experience the magic of this southern gem at a relaxed pace. Take a week or more if you can to fully soak in all that charming Beaufort has to offer.