Beaufort is one of the most gorgeous and exciting coastal towns to visit in North Carolina. It’s the fourth oldest town in the state after nearby Bath, Edenton, and New Bern. With attractions for land lovers as well as salty sea goers there is a little bit of everything to do in the small town. I reckon that’s why I have been visiting for almost ten years now.
Come to Beaufort in the spring or fall to enjoy warm days, cool nights, and peacefulness as you mostly just hang out with the locals. Summers can get a bit chaotic with large crowds visiting from nearby Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach, but don’t let that scare you off. Beaufort is a charming town that most definitely needs to be explored.
Here are ten exciting things to do in Beaufort, North Carolina during your next visit.
1. Start at the Beaufort Historic Site Visitor Center and Museum
The visitor center is always a great place to begin exploring a new destination and that is especially true at the Beaufort Historic Site Visitor Center and Museum. A friendly staff is on hand with information and brochures about local attractions, eateries, and lodging. A small, but rather nice, museum has a few artifacts from throughout Beaufort’s history.
The Beaufort Historic Site includes about a dozen homes built around the late 1700s and early 1800s. While at the visitor center people can book a guided tour to many of these homes. But my absolute favorite way to explore Beaufort is the restored 1967 English double decker bus during a guided tour around the town!
2. Go For a Scenic Stroll Along the Waterfront Boardwalk
Beaufort has one of the most beautiful waterfront views of any coastal town in North Carolina. Boat ranging from small sailboats to gargantuan yachts dock along the waterfront all the time. Just beyond is Taylor Creek and the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve, a large undeveloped island and dedicated nature preserve.
The waterfront boardwalk stretches two blocks between Turner and Queen Streets. The sweet smells from the Fudge Factory will mix with the aroma of seafood platters at Dock House Restaurant. Seagulls will fly overhead as a nice breeze cools the humid summer temps.
3. Visit the North Carolina Maritime Museum
If you heard the news a few years ago about the discovery of Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, I have something wonderful to tell you: the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort was chosen as the repository for all the artifacts. An entire section of the museum has been dedicated to displaying the items recovered from the shipwreck.
The museum details the maritime history of Beaufort and coastal North Carolina with hundreds of artifacts, exhibits, and even a small sailboat in the cavernous museum. Plan to spend about two hours exploring the museum and be sure to browse through the gift shop at the end.
4. Go Parasailing Over the Inlet
Beaufort Inlet Watersports offers parasailing over the Beaufort Inlet. The forty-five minute trip includes about ten minutes of flight time. During the flight visitors can see Fort Macon State Park, Shackleford Banks, and the Cape Lookout Lighthouse in the distance.
5. Go Kayaking
Beaufort is one of my favorite places to go kayaking in North Carolina. There are several great places for kayaking around the town, but my two favorite areas are Taylor’s Creek and Back Sound. Taylor’s Creek is the waterway between downtown Beaufort and the Rachel Carson Reserve while Back Sound is the body of water between Shackleford Banks, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and Harkers Island.
Beaufort Paddle is a great place to rent kayaking equipment or take guided tours. From their location on Old Causeway Road near the new Highway 70 bridge it’s easy to paddle to the Rachel Carson Reserve along Taylor’s Creek. Equipment can be rented by the hour and, for an additional fee, you can have it delivered to a put in of your choice.
6. Take a Day Trip to the Cape Lookout National Seashore
The Cape Lookout National Seashore is one of the most exciting day trip destinations in coastal North Carolina. The national seashore features the iconic Cape Lookout Lighthouse, an historic village to explore, and miles of beaches.
Getting to Cape Lookout National Seashore is half the fun. Island Express Ferry offers daily trips from Harkers Island and Beaufort to the national seashore.
The ferry ride from Harkers Island is the shortest and most direct. The twenty-minute boat ride is pretty much a straight shot and is the most affordable option for visiting the seashore. Once there visitors can stay on the seashore as long as they wish, leaving themselves enough time to catch a return ferry later in the day.
The ferry ride from Beaufort is a completely different experience. The forty-five minute boat ride passes the Rachel Carson Reserve, cuts across Back Sound, and includes sights along Shackleford Banks. After arriving at the seashore visitors have two hours to explore the Light Station Visitor Center, climb the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, or explore the beach.
7. Do Some Local Shopping
Beaufort offers some pretty amazing places for some local shopping along Front Street. There is plenty of parking, though spaces are often taken early on summer days, and the wide sidewalks make exploring the town easy and comfortable.
The General Store is generally a great place to start shopping in Beaufort. The family-owned business has been running for nearly four decades now. They have a pretty good collection of typical beach town items like Columbia sportswear and Tervis tumblers. The real treat is their home made fudge and fresh ice cream!
Island Proper is a locally owned women’s boutique with a fantastic line of beachy apparel. If you’re looking for comfortable clothing or maybe a souvenir gift for someone else, this is the place to shop. I bought my very first pair of Reef flip flops at Island Traders in 2005. Along with footwear this large shop also carries apparel and accessories.
Speaking of first-time buying experiences, I bought my first stunt kite from Kitty Hawk Kites in Beaufort. In addition to single-line and dual-line kites they also sell kayaks, standup paddleboards, apparel, and accessories.
One of my favorite shops to browse was Scuttlebutt. Inside I found a large selection of books on local travel and history, nautical themes gifts, local photography, and souvenirs. It was exactly the kind of place where I could find something for myself and a few Christmas gifts.
8. Enjoy Fantastic Food at Local Restaurants
Beaufort has a small but rather delicious food scene with local restaurants throughout downtown. From breakfast until last call, this town has you covered.
Black Sheep had me at three words: brick oven pizza. Along with a charcuterie board and sandwiches all the food at Black Sheep is delicious. Sit back for awhile with their cocktail and craft beer menu and enjoy the view of Taylor’s Creek from their waterfront location.
The Dock House Restaurant has long been a favorite because of the commanding view of Taylor’s Creek. Located between Front Street and the waterfront boardwalk there are two levels of outdoor seating available, along with indoor seating on chilly nights. The menu includes appetizers, burgers, and sandwiches, nothing fancy but it certainly hits the spot.
Moonrakers offers the only rooftop dining in Beaufort. They have a pretty good array of food served during lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch including seafood, flatbreads, and entrees like grouper, New York strip loin, and duck.
I think the Front Street Grill offers the best view from any restaurant in Beaufort with their outdoor seating over the water. Their menu has one of the best selections of seafood in town at prices that won’t force you to wash your own dishes when you’re done.
Clawson’s Restaurant is named after Clawson’s Groceries that once occupied the historic building on Front Street. Their menu includes items like house made pimento cheese and crab cakes, angus burgers, and fried seafood platters. The same owners also operate The Backstreet Pub behind the restaurant, a fantastic place to sit back and relax after a satisfying meal.
Speaking of historic grocery stores, Beaufort Grocery Company was an amazing place to grab a meal. I visited for lunch and ordered the Hot Carolina Crab Dip and Charles’s Cranky Crab Sandwich, two sautéed crab cakes topped with spicy remoulade sauce on a croissant. Their dinner menu is even more fantastic and makes this one of the best places in town for an amazing meal.
9. Go SCUBA Diving in the Graveyard of the Atlantic
I remember one family vacation along the Outerbanks I bought a map of the Graveyard of the Atlantic. I was fascinated by just now many ships had sunk along coastal North Carolina. There are about two dozen wrecks from old sailing vessels to u-boats to explore in the waters near Beaufort.
Discovery Diving is one of two diving charter companies in Beaufort. They operate two boats, a 6-passenger and 16-passenger, and offer half day, full day, and custom designed diving trips. Discovery Diving offers full training for all levels of certification and have a full dive shop for all your needs.
Olympus is the other diving charter company in Beaufort. They offer half day, full day, shallow water, and extended day SCUBA trips. They also offer full certification courses and carry any and all equipment you would need for a dive.
10. Explore Shackleford Banks
Shackleford Banks is an 8.5-mile long barrier island between downtown Beaufort and the Atlantic Ocean. The island is infamously known as home to over 200 feral horses, believed to be descendants of a shipwreck carrying Spanish horses, that roam the island freely. Visitors are allowed to roam the island themselves, but first you have to get there. Kayaking is certainly an option, but I suggest either a ferry or boat tour.
Island Ferry Express offers two options to visit Shackleford Banks. From Harkers Island the ferry drops visitors off at the east end of the island within sight of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse (on another island). From Beaufort the ferry drops visitors off at the west end of the island near the inlet.
Water Bug Tours offers The Wild Horse, Nature, and History Cruise. The one-hour tour begins in Beaufort with a tour around the Rachel Carson Reserve and then on to Shackleford Banks. The tour is narrated by the boat’s captain as visitors enjoy the views from the shaded boat deck.
Where to Stay in Beaufort, NC
There aren’t a lot of hotels in Beaufort. In fact, there are only two. But there are a slew of bed and breakfasts. Visitors to Beaufort typically come from week-long rentals in Atlantic Beach, Salter Path, Indian Beach, or Emerald Isle.
If you only have a couple of nights, I recommend staying at one of these two properties in Beaufort.
The Pecan Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast is located on Queen Street just one block from the waterfront. The old house has beautifully decorated rooms with all the modern amenities including a private patio for just hanging out.
Beaufort Hotel NC is an absolutely gorgeous boutique hotel resort recently built in Beaufort. The waterfront hotel is located about ten minutes from downtown along Taylor’s Creek. The hotel has waterfront rooms and suites, event facilities, an outdoor swimming pool, and an on-site restaurant.