On the island-dotted coast between Charleston and Savannah lies a Lowcountry gem. The South Carolina town of Beaufort (pronounced BYEW-furt), at the east end of Port Royal Island, combines Southern warmth and a history as piquant as Beaufort stew (a spicy seafood boil). Founded three centuries ago, downtown Beaufort is a National Landmark Historic District, with restored 18th- and 19th-century buildings that live today as family housing and retail space.
Walk down waterfront Bay Street and you're following in the footsteps of bold pirates, Colonial shipbuilders, rich planters, and (during the Civil War) Union soldiers. Nearby, huge live oaks draped in Spanish moss loom over streets lined with handsome antebellum houses, signs of wealth from the indigo, rice, and cotton trade.
From Waterfront Park's inviting promenade to the shops and sidewalks of Bay Street, Beaufort's community pride is celebrated nearly every month with events such as holiday parades (one for boats, one for street floats) and the 10-day Water Festival in July. Festival or not, the water exerts an irresistible, year-round pull, for everything from fishing and sailing to kayaking and paddleboarding.
The abundance of shoreline means many homes are close to the water. Houses with deepwater docks often fetch seven-figure prices. There's a diverse mix of housing, from renovated historic homes and new condos around town to fixer-uppers, remodeled properties, and just-built waterfront bungalows on nearby islands (among them Lady's, Dataw, Fripp, and Cat).
Much of the town is surrounded by tidal wetlands, but the Beaufort River (left) has a small stretch of beach edged by marsh grass near the long boardwalk and boat launch.
Hunting Island State Park
Only a 16-mile drive east, Hunting Island State Park is a 5,000-acre preserve with jungle-lush foliage, an 1859 lighthouse, a long fishing pier, and four miles of pristine Atlantic beach.
The urbane interior complements the kitchen’s deft takes on Southern fare, such as a fried green tomato Napoleon. 203 Carteret St., 843-379-0052.
Emily's Restaurant & Tapas Bar
(left) A longtime local favorite, known for its large tapas menu and award-winning shrimp and grits. 906 Port Republic St., 843-522-1866.
Take a leisurely ride along Woods Bridge's dedicated bike lane, or practice your kayaking skills on the water (with an eye out for dolphins!). There are annual festivals for shrimp and film, and the African-American Gullah culture lends a rich history to the town. Nearby Port Royal's The Sands beach is the perfect place to watch the sun set over the shrimp boats.
Shops and restaurants cluster on and just off Bay Street. Shop for home accents and decor items at Joli Home & Events (left). Art galleries abound—the Beaufort Art Association Gallery showcases work by more than 90 artists.
The Beaufort Inn
In the heart of the historic district, The Beaufort Inn offers suites, two-bedroom lofts, private cottages, shady porches, and a lavish Sunday brunch at Southern Graces Bistro. Bonus: The Beaufort Day Spa is steps away. Rates start at $149.
The Cuthbert House
Dating from 1805, The Cuthbert House Inn welcomes guests with spacious rooms, WiFi, complimentary evening appetizers and drinks, and an inviting veranda with commanding Intracoastal Waterway views. Rates start at $139.