After a day of guided tours, shopping, and dining in downtown Beaufort I was ready for a break. I meandered over the waterfront park and found a swinging bench beneath a massive tree. I sat for the next hour watching the most amazing sunset develop across the sky over the marina. Could this day have been any better?
I find myself visiting Beaufort and the Sea Islands about once or twice each year. I’ll admit sometimes I zip straight on through the quaint downtown to explore Hunting Island State Park. But every once in a while, I stop on Bay Street, go for a walk along the wide sidewalks beneath the waving palm trees, and discover all the wonderful things to do in downtown Beaufort.
Bay Street in Downtown Beaufort
The “main street” of downtown Beaufort is Bay Street, a two-lane street with parallel parking and lined with palm trees. Stretching between Carteret Street (US Highway 21) and Ribault Road, Bay Street is a central avenue for traffic, tourists, and everything you would want to do downtown.
Although the Beaufort Historic District spans dozens of blocks, the core downtown Beaufort covers the area between Bay Street and Craven Street, Carteret Street and Monsoon Street. Within these 12+ blocks visitors can find shopping, dining, art galleries, entertainment, and some of the most beautiful views in the region.
Coffee in Downtown Beaufort
Every day should begin with a coffee (or, if you’re like me, several). Although I haven’t sampled all the coffee in downtown Beaufort just yet, it’s on my to-do list. Here’s what I’ve found so far.
From the covered front porch entrance to Common Ground you can see the Beaufort River. That already gives it a big plus in my book. This little coffee shop serves fresh coffee, breakfast, sandwiches, and desserts throughout the day with plenty of seating at tables and leather chairs.
City Java & News is located at City Loft Hotel on Carteret Street. The small, modern coffee shop is a great place to grab a quick coffee to go, but they also serve breakfast and lunch every day.
Beloved Coffee Roasters had such a comfortable place to sit back and enjoy a coffee. They have a full espresso bar as well as bagged coffee beans to take back to your room at the hotel or B&B. They are only open on weekdays from 7am – 2pm so stop by early to try the coffee.
Although it’s not entirely in downtown Beaufort (it’s really not) I couldn’t leave Magnolia Bakery Café off this list. Located in the bend of Carteret Street blocks from downtown this locally-owned café is in an old home converted into a very nice retail space. I’ve only ever grabbed their coffee to go but they also serve breakfast and lunch with plenty of room to sit down.
Shopping in Downtown Beaufort
You want to do some shopping, eh? There are some great places for clothing, items for home, or gifts for others in this cute little coastal town.
One of my favorite places to browse is the I. Pinckney Simons Gallery. This artist co-op features several artists so they rotate the inventory every once in a while. It’s far from the only gallery in downtown Beaufort, though, so you’re sure to find another nearby.
Monkey’s Uncle is a pretty cool place to find gifts for kids (or maybe even some adults) like books, board games, toys, and puzzles.
Bay Street Outfitters is a great place to find high-quality clothing for outdoor recreation and a large selection of fishing gear and accessories.
The moment I stepped inside the McIntosh Book Shoppe I found that familiar used book smell that makes me feel right at home. They have a pretty good collection of used books along with rare books and first editions. NeverMore Books, located on Craven St. across from the Visitor Center, was another interesting bookshop to explore.
Museums in Downtown Beaufort
Founded in 1711, Beaufort is the second-oldest city in South Carolina after Charleston. As indigo and sea island cotton flowed through the ports Beaufort became prosperous and important. Today much of that history can be explored at the museums scattered throughout downtown Beaufort.
The John Mark Verdier House Museum is owned and operated by the Historic Beaufort Foundation. Built in 1804 the grand mansion is open for guided tours every hour on the half hour Monday through Saturday.
At the Santa Elena History Center visitors can “discover America’s first century”. I always thought that was an interesting line. The museum is dedicated to the story of Santa Elena, a Spanish colony established on Parris Island forty years before the English founded Jamestown (and over a hundred years before Charleston was founded).
I think my favorite museum in Beaufort to explore is the Beaufort History Museum. It’s located at the historic Arsenal on Craven Street. The 200+ year old yellow building is instantly recognizable as something different and cool with the fort walls surrounding a courtyard and heavy wooden gates.
Tours in Downtown Beaufort
One of the best ways to learn the history, culture, and hidden gems of a destination is to take a guided tour. There are a few really great tours to take right from downtown Beaufort. Here are a few of my favorites with different characteristics.
All three of these tours begin at the parking lot on Bay Street in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.
SouthurnRose Carriage Tours is, well, a horse drawn carriage tour through Beaufort. The 50-minute tour is narrated by lively, excited hosts as they navigate the streets in the carriages. With comfortable seats and a covering to keep the sun off your face it was a really nice time rolling through town.
Janet Matlock knows two things: the complete history of Beaufort and how to make it exciting to learn. Janet’s Walking History Tour strolls along two miles of historic streets in downtown Beaufort. She only does the walking tour only once each day so this is something you need to plan in advance!
My favorite tour involves getting on the water. Every minute of the 1.5-hour tour on the Beaufort River with Captain Dick’s River Tour was peaceful, beautiful, and exciting. The Prince of Tides pontoon boat can comfortably hold 24 passengers beneath a hard top with wide, uninterrupted views in all directions. The tour leaves from the marina and heads upriver past several historic homes before turning to the marina.
Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park
Just about every evening I’m in Beaufort I find myself drawn to Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. The linear park stretches along the marina and Beaufort River behind the long row of businesses along Bay Street. It has a perfect view of sunset from late August until early May.
A concrete path high above the water’s edge is a comfortable and easy way to walk through the park. Swinging benches hang beneath the shade of giant oak trees. Large grassy fields make the perfect place to enjoy a picnic with the family or take a mid-day nap.
One of my favorite places in town for breakfast is Rain -N- Bagels. The little hole-in-the-wall local eatery is right in the middle of town so it’s always easy to get to. After breakfast I walk to Chambers Waterfront Park just two blocks away. Early in the morning I rarely find anyone other than the morning jogger or maybe a photographer hoping for a gorgeous sunrise. Although I’m not a morning person, mornings are my favorite time to visit this park for the peacefulness before the day begins.
Dining in Downtown Beaufort
If you go to sleep hungry while visiting Beaufort it’s because you didn’t try. While some of my favorite restaurants are on the sea islands there are still plenty of great places to eat in downtown Beaufort.
My favorite is Old Bull Tavern. The local gastropub changes their menu frequently based on what they can find at the local markets. Everything is fresh, interesting, and delicious. Their menu includes bar snacks, entrees, woodfired pizza, and a drink menu of cocktails and craft beer.
The locally-owned Plums Restaurant gets a lot of their vegetables and seafood directly from local fishermen and farmers. Their menu includes Lowcountry staples like shrimp and grits but they move beyond that with sandwiches, burgers, and salads.
Q on Bay was my kind of place. Pulled pork, burgers, tacos, and wings. The old hardwood flooring beneath a tin metal ceiling made the place as gorgeous as the food was delicious. The last time I visited they had live music on a patio behind the restaurant facing Chambers Waterfront Park.
One of the most interesting places to eat in Beaufort is Lowcountry Produce Market and Café. This gorgeous space is like putting a café in the middle of a country store and it works beautifully. From breakfast until dinner they serve fantastic meals with local ingredients. The grilled jalapeno pimento cheese sandwich was one of the best lunches I’d ever enjoyed.
I can’t talk about all this wonderful food without including a place for dessert. Southern Sweets Ice Cream & Sandwich Shop has a small menu of sandwiches, soups, and salads, but I go there for their ice cream, sundaes, and milkshakes! They can whip together one of their specialties or you can customize anything how you like. They even have a dog-friendly Doggie Sundae!
Where to Stay in Downtown Beaufort
Beaufort is a military town with nearby Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Paris Island. There are a lot of hotels along Trask Parkway (US Highway 21) coming into Beaufort that are comfortable, clean, and affordable. But if you want the full downtown Beaufort experience a night at an historic inn is in order.
I will never forget my night at the Beaufort Inn. It falls somewhere between a bed and breakfast (breakfast is included the next morning) and a boutique hotel (there were several buildings around the property). However you categorize it the rooms were amazing, comfortable, and a night on the inner courtyard was the kind of peaceful relaxation I needed.
The Cuthbert House Inn has one of the most fantastic sunset views of any lodging in Beaufort. Located on Bay Street it’s just a few minutes walking distance from downtown. The 200+ year old antebellum home has been beautiful restored as a comfortable bed and breakfast.
Did you know Anchorage 1770 has over 1,500 square feet of porches overlooking the Beaufort River? That is how someone described it to me on a visit to the Lowcountry and that detail has stuck in my head ever since. It’s the closest inn to downtown Beaufort, located on Bay Street across from the marina. They offer several types of rooms with different views and they are dog friendly!
Built in 1820, the Rhett House Inn is another of Beaufort’s charming bed and breakfasts located in a beautifully restored antebellum home. The inn includes three separate buildings spread across two adjoining properties with a gorgeous garden in the middle. The rooms feature a comfortable bed and seating to make your evenings as pleasant as possible.
Just in case you’re not keen on the B&B lifestyle (it isn’t for everyone) there are two hotels in downtown Beaufort that will make your weekend getaway a bit easier. The Best Western Sea Island Inn isn’t bad at all with a large outdoor swimming pool, complimentary breakfast, and comfortable rooms on Bay Street. City Loft Hotel is interesting; they call themselves an “urban luxury boutique hotel” and that’s a good description. The small hotel features gorgeously renovated rooms featuring modern furniture and fixtures.