South Carolina’s coast is bookended by the bustling beach communities of Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island. However, the heart of the Palmetto State’s Lowcountry lies within the marshlands, meandering waterways, and wide-open outdoors spaces between the two, in Beaufort, Port Royal and the Sea Islands.
Sitting just 20 miles from the Atlantic Ocean between the Beaufort and Broad Rivers, Beaufort and the surrounding areas are filled with lush landscapes that typify the Lowcountry—spartina grasses blowing in the wind, creeks and marshes filled with crabs and oysters, ornate antebellum architecture and mansions, plus moss-draped oaks and magnolias seemingly everywhere you look. And, of course, there is also the Southern hospitality that this area is known for.
Beaufort has been welcoming visitors for decades. And now, her small-town charms and combination of history, hospitality, kid’s activities, and the great outdoors are that much more welcoming for the perfect weekend getaway or family vacation. Here are five family-approved things to do that will please everyone.
One of Beaufort’s calling cards is its charming downtown waterfront park. Along the Beaufort River, the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park is the heartbeat of the community. Overlooking the Beaufort marina, the park is loaded with lushly landscaped green space for the kids to run around or to host the perfect riverfront picnic. It also features stunning views, cool breezes, oversized communal swings, playgrounds for the kids (and kids at heart) and a pavilion stage for events and live performances. The three-block long downtown shopping and dining corridor backs up to the park and is filled with charming boutiques, outdoor outfitters, art galleries, souvenir shops, jewelry stores, children’s stores, antique shops and a tasty variety of restaurants, cafes, bakeries, ice cream shops and more.
For the readers in the family, a visit to the Pat Conroy Literary Center is part library, part museum. And, for everyone, it’s a glimpse into the life and writings of the beloved Southern writer. Created shortly after Pat Conroy’s untimely death in 2016 to pay homage to his writing legacy and to carry on his message for future generations, the Center brings his background and love for the Lowcountry to life. Filled with memorabilia from his life in Beaufort and the Lowcountry, the museum sheds light on his high school years, his time at The Citadel, his first teaching job on nearby Daufuskie Island, his writings—including some handwritten manuscripts, and keepsakes from the local filming of some of his best-sellers including The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides. For Pat Conroy fans, it’s a cache of the author’s genius. For others, it’s a great introduction to a literary legend.
The Pat Conroy Literary Center is located at 905 Port Republic Street and is open Thursday through Sunday, noon to 4:00 p.m., or by appointment. (843) 379-7025; patconroyliterarycenter.org.
Just hearing the word kazoo brings a smile to most people. And, a visit to world’s largest manufacturer of the quirky plastic musical instrument is a treat for the while family. The 6,500-square foot warehouse is filled with silliness and fun including a Kazoo Museum, daily factory tours to see just how these instruments that utilize a person’s voice to create musical sounds are made, demonstrations of other kinds of kazoos (there are lots of variations, from wazoos to kazooles and kazobos to wazoogles), and videos filled with humor and history. Then, to top it all off, visitors get to make their very own kazoo, picking their personal color scheme and accessories. But, be forewarned, once the kazoo is made, guests are required to serenade other participants. And, of course, there is the gift shop, which is stocked with kazoos of all shapes and sizes, other unique musical instruments, hats, t-shirts, and plenty of Kazoobie Kazoo memorabilia.
The Kazoobie Kazoo Factory is located at 12 John Galt Rd. and is open Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m, with guided tours at 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. (843) 982-6387; thekazoofactory.com.
For history buffs, a drive out to Penn Center on St. Helena Island is a glimpse into the history of the Lowcountry’s Gullah community and the Reconstruction era. Home to the nation’s first school for formerly enslaved Africans, Penn Center carries that pivotal period of American history forward through displays and exhibits of historical documents and oral histories of the Gullah people on the same land where classes were first held 1862. The past, present and future come together through guided and self-guided walking tours of the National Historic Landmark’s 19 buildings, along with the Brick Church—site of the original school, burial grounds, nature trails and Gantt Cottage, where Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Penn Center is also part of the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park established by President Barack Obama in 2017.
Penn Center is located at 38 Penn Center Circle West on St. Helena Island and is open 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (843) 838-7105; penncenter.com.
South Carolina’s most popular state park is located 15 miles east of downtown Beaufort, yet it feels a world away. With five miles of unspoiled beach along the Atlantic Ocean, there is plenty of wide-open space to enjoy swimming, sunbathing and sandcastle building. The oceanfront park also features the Hunting Island Lighthouse, which, at 130 feet, is the only accessible lighthouse in the state. And the drop-dead stunning views from the top are well worth the climb. The park also boasts miles of hiking and biking trails through acres of marshland and maritime forest, a nature center, a marsh boardwalk, fishing, and a boat ramp to commune with all the natural wonders of the park. The newest addition is a trip out to remote St. Phillips Island, the former private retreat and vacation home for media mogul, Ted Turner, including interpretive tours and unspoiled beaches. For outdoor adventures a bit closer to town, head to the trails and boardwalks at Cypress Wetlands or Sands Beach in charming Port Royal.
Hunting Island State Park is located at 2555 Sea Island Parkway on Hunting Island and is open daily dawn to dusk. (843) 838-4868; southcarolinaparks.com/hunting-island.