Where Proud Southern Heritage Meets a Modern Coastline

Spending a long weekend in beautiful Beaufort, South Carolina is like going to a favorite auntie’s home where you feel the warm embrace of familiar history,  the open arms of an authentic welcome and the promise of new adventures at the table that will surprise yet reassure even the most dedicated Lowcountry foodie. You will itch that scratch you didn’t know you had for being outdoors, committing to a serious stroll through the town’s 300 historically designated acres, rambling coastal trails of the many neighboring protected sea islands and finding new ways to explore the waterways that surrounds the city founded in 1711. With postcard views of the Beaufort River dotted with working shrimp boats heading out around the barrier islands, soft marshes where inter-coastal kayakers and paddle boarders play and of cobbled streets lined with pre-Civil War homesteads, Beaufort will keep you engaged from the moment you arrive after your short four hour drive from Atlanta. (I arrived in a gorgeous Lexus RX350 that cradled me in V6 comfort, thank you very much!)

Beaufort has more antebellum homes than its more tourist crazed South Carolina sister city, Charleston, 70 miles up the coast. The Beaufort Visitor Center offers up a map for a self-guided walking (or biking) tour of some 27 homes built as early as 1717 (this one also served as a private school for boys in the 1800s and is beautifully maintained today).  Or, climb aboard a horse-drawn buggy with The Sea Island Carriage Co. and if you’re lucky, your guide and driver will be Debbie who will point out where movies were filmed, where history was made and how special the Angle Oak trees are that bend to the ground and grow high again from the sandy soil. Local outdoorsman Tim Lovett at Higher Ground Outfitters will get you kayaking through the tidal marshes, land paddling (long skate board plus a stubby paddle = tons of fun) along the newly paved rail-to-trail 3.3 mile Spanish Moss Trail or stand up paddle boarding where you feel like a ship captain exploring a new world. We were joined by dolphins, working shrimp boats and small leisure boats as we paddled out from Waterfront Park downtown and into the Beaufort River early one misty morning.

Hunting Island State Park across the bridge is another quiet giant, with 5,000 acres of marsh, maritime forest, saltwater lagoons and four miles of sandy beaches where the Friends of Hunting Island (850 volunteers) guard up to 100 loggerhead sea turtles’ nests then hatchlings each spring, logging some 7,000 hours of beach babysitting time. The bubbly Bonnie Wright is a retired board member and lovingly guided me through the lively visitors center, nearby educational nature center where you can borrow fishing tackle on the pier and astatuesque lighthouse built in 1873- the only one open to the public in the state – where I climbed  what seemed like a hundred spiral steps to the top and was rewarded with a view of the coastline and a canopy of Cabbage Palmetto, Slash Pines, Longleaf Pines, Live Oaks and more that make up the island’s four climate zones.  Hunting Island is beautifully maintained, dog-friendly, and mostly handicap accessible from the campground to the 12 miles of designated trails. Bonnie says, “Mother Nature likes to move, so we rearrange,”  outlining the Friends’ year-around conservation work fighting erosion and protecting wildlife.

Before and after all this exploring, Beaufort serves up coffee at the cool City Java & News, waterfront Common Grounds or Beaufort Break Company on the adjoining Lady’s Island and breakfast at Palm & Moon Bagel Company and the charming Lowcountry Produce. Q on Bay is open for lunch, dinner and late snacks like the chef’s daily egg rolls (imagine brisket and blue cheese), smoked meats galore and desserts from the chef’s mom. Gary and Donna Lang moved from Atlanta in 2001 and opened Breakwater Restaurant, where Executive Chefs Gary and Beth Shaw source local beers, fresh caught seafood, red rice grown nearby and serve creative cuisine in an urban-elegant yet approachable restaurant in the historic district. Try an espresso martini, the southern fried oysters from the tapas menu and the local catch served up with local seasonal vegetables. The Old Bull Tavern feels like a refined pub, with a menu that changes with the tide and season (but not overly trendy), progressive offerings from behind the bar and warm but polished service. The amiable owner John Marshall (think rock star meets forager) brings his savvy style from  his Charleston hot spot, Al Di La Tratorria. Stay at City Loft Hotel, a hip but luxurious renovated modern motel where the 4-zone shower, soaking tub and high thread-count bedding will lull you a safe harbor. But get up! Get out into your engaging Beaufort day where the energy of a community that truly adores its history and is crafting its future will enfold you and put you in a happy place.

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