On my first night in Beaufort, the owner of a kazoo factory bought me a glass of bourbon at a place called the Old Bull Tavern and told me all about the most important issues in local politics: parking meters, noise ordinances, just how beautiful they can make the waterfront. He was qualified to speak about these matters, you see, because the owner of the kazoo factory is also a city councilman.
Lowcountry is as much a philosophy as it is a place, and Beaufort is a place you visit as much for serendipity as for scenery. Take Stephen Murray, the kazoo factory owner and city councilman. I wouldn’t have met him if I hadn’t, just a few hours earlier, met Louise and Dan Hodges. Louise is from Charlotte. “Seven generations,” she says. They moved to Beaufort in the late 2000s, and in 2009 they started a business that makes all-natural pest control products. Turns out, Dan the Pest Man also plays drums in a band a couple of nights a week. It was just after the last set when Louise introduced me to Murray.
All this within four hours of arriving in Beaufort. I learned a few other things in that time. Sitting in a carriage being towed by a draft horse named Bob, I learned that Beaufort has been the setting for 17 movies, including Forrest Gump. And I learned that once you learn something like that, you start picturing Tom Hanks everywhere.
Spanish moss and live oaks dangle over most of the streets, creating a canopy that says in an instant, This is the South. The town is proud of that. A few years ago, when a group of folks from Beaufort went to New York to meet with national travel writers, the local vice president of tourism wore a seersucker suit for effect. Whether it worked or not is anybody’s guess, but in January, The New York Times put Beaufort 52nd on its list of “52 Places to Go in 2016.”
The Times story tells you to come for the setting, but the people—13,000 residents in all—make this town. Somewhere among them is author Pat Conroy, whose books The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini became Oscar-nominated films. Also here is Hank Herring, the owner of SALT art gallery along Bay Street. Herring is a retired United States Marine with 20 years of service who now spends his days in SALT, managing a gallery that includes the work of 42 artists from across all mediums.
And a few buildings down from SALT is NeverMore Books, a new bookstore from locals Lorrie and David Anderson. It’s in the basement of an old house that was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1907, in which three boys and a few cigarettes in a barn started a fire that hopped from building to building. The Andersons opened the bookstore last year, with rare finds lining the shelves of three rooms. One of those rooms is decorated like a cozy den, with soft lighting, a chair in the corner, and shelves full of hundreds of old, vinyl records, also for sale.
It’s the only place to buy records in the Lowcountry, the owners say, and it’s hidden in the back of a store that’s hidden in the bottom of a building that once burned down because of three boys hiding in a barn that was hidden among the Spanish moss and oaks in this tiny waterfront gem of a town where, if you look closely enough, everything’s connected. —Michael Graff
WHERE TO STAY: City Loft Hotel. From the outside, it looks like a 1970s-era motel, with two stories forming an L shape around a parking lot. But each room is updated and modern, and around 6 p.m. on most evenings, a turn-down service includes chocolate chip cookies. 301 Carteret St.,
WHERE TO EAT: For an upscale experience, go to Saltus River Grill and ask for Table 13. It’s the table in the corner closest to the Beaufort River and sunset. Chef Brian Waters is a Beaufort native and is well-regarded throughout the region. Order his daily special, often a locally caught fish, or order a few small plates and share. For a sense of discovery, walk to the Old Bull Tavern, which sits on a narrow street off the main strip. From the outside, it can look like a dive bar. Inside, though, the bartenders wear bow ties and mix the best cocktails in town, and the menu changes every day. Old Bull Tavern: 205 West St., 843-379-2855; Saltus River Grill: 802 Bay St., 843-379-3474.
WHAT TO DO: Kazoobie Kazoos. There are only two kazoo factories in the United States. One is in New York and makes metal kazoos. The other is here, and it makes plastic kazoos. Come, take a tour, make your own kazoo, and always remember that the only way a kazoo makes a sound is if you hum into it, not blow into it. It’s harder than you think. 12 John Galt Rd., 843-982-6387.
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