Weekend Getaway Planner: Beaufort and Hunting Island, South Carolina
About Beaufort, South Carolina
Voted in 2017 as the South's "Best Small Town" by Southern Living, it is not hard to see why Beaufort, South Carolina is loved by so many. Its historic buildings, lovely antebellum homes, and fascinating Gullah heritage make Beaufort an intriguing stop on any southern coastal itinerary. Plan on staying a few days to enjoy the quaint town, museums, guided tours and lovely coastal vibe.
Campground at Hunting Island
Hunting Island State Park - This is the most visited park in the South Carolina Park System and with salt marsh, maritime forests, and lovely beaches, it is not hard to see why. they have about 100 sites in the campground and most are level and sandy. The park and campground are situated right on the Atlantic, so it falls victim to hurricanes and storm surge. At the same time, it is a lovely green retreat with walkable beach access. The staff is helpful and there is a gift shop in the registration building. The beach is nice with a sandy path providing access from the campsites. There are campsites located near the beach paths as well as around a lush maritime forest area. Typical water and electrical hookups are provided along with a picnic table. The bathhouse is clean but a haven for the mosquitoes in late summer. The week before we arrived, it had rained considerably, so the mosquito population had exploded. Might want to keep that in mind and prepare accordingly!
Things To Do Around Beaufort, SC
Guided Tours by buggy, or self-guided bike or walking tours all help you get to know Beaufort. Grab a map from the visitors center on Craven Street, a little guidance from the knowledgeable staff there, and start strolling. Beaufort has been host to over 16 movies and offers a movie tour for places where they filmed scenes from Forest Gump, the Big Chill, The Prince of Tides among others.
Museums and Historical Sites
The Spanish, English, French and Native Americans all battled over the Beaufort coastal area. Its bay, Port Royal sound, is the 2nd deepest natural harbor on the East Coast. Plan on taking in at least one museum to learn the historic importance of this lovely little town.
- Penn Center
Founded in 1862 as a school for freed slaves, the Penn Center is now a historical institution committed to safeguarding the heritage of the Gullah Geechee community, promoting historic preservation, and economic sustainability.
- Beaufort History Museum
Housed in the historic Arsenal built in 1798, docents will guide you through the 450-year-old story of Beaufort's history.
- Reconstruction Era National Monument
Established by President Obama, and part of the National Parks Service, this Monument was preserved to help tell the story of reconstruction after the Civil War.
- Saint Elena History Center
Founded in 1566, St. Elena was the first European settlement in North America. The Saint Elena History Center offers a window into the trials and tribulations of the community as France and Spain battled for control of the New World.
Beaufort has several festivals throughout the year that make visiting a bit more entertaining even if it is a bit more crowded! Look for information on the Visitors Center's calendar for specific dates for the Beaufort Shrimp Festival and the Water Festival in spring and summer or, the Boat Parade and the International Film Festival during the winter months.
On The Water
- The Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park: lined with shops, eateries, and art galleries as well as a line of porch swings nestled in vine-covered arbors facing the bay.
- Fishing: Field and Stream Magazine named Beaufort as one of the "top 20 Fishing Towns in America". Plenty of water access at public boat ramps or hire a local captain to arrange a fishing trip offshore in one of the many rivers or streams.
- Hunting Island State Park beach: Cross a string of sea islands to reach Hunting Island State Park and climb the 132-foot lighthouse or enjoy the beach and walking trails through maritime forests and salt marsh.
- Kayaking: The bays, rivers, and quiet coastline are great ways to see the area. The chain of sea islands offers multiple areas to explore by kayak.
Don't Forget To Bring
- Camera (or cell phone camera) the scenery is stunning. Calm bays, expansive beaches, and salt marsh.
- Inflatable Kayak. The bays are beautifully calm and perfect for kayaking along the coastal marsh.
- Beach Chairs. Sitting on the beach enjoying the waves and sun is a perfect way to spend an afternoon.
- Insect Repellent. If you are visiting in warm weather, the mosquitoes can be pretty annoying even on the beach!
Our exit for Beaufort was a short hop once we got onto I-95. The scenery transformed from I-16's blank canvas to a multitude of small towns, salt marsh, and island bridges. Finally, Hunting Island State Park was within sight and we pulled up to the ranger station to check in. It didn't take us long to finish setting up and get out to the beach.
It was low tide and the sand seems to stretch 100 yards to the water. The waves were gentle, the breeze was warm and the seagulls were grouped on the sand - they seemed to be having a meeting. There are dozens of them standing, sleeping, a few flying after crumbs tossed in the air by a man and his son. A squadron of pelicans glide over the surface of the water and then fly on into the distance. We walk for a while and then find a spot to sit and just stare at the water. That constant sound washes away the noise in your head. Politics - hushed; financial concerns - silent; work problems - forgotten. That is the magic of watching the water, listening to the sounds, feeling the breeze and tasting the salt air. In a few moments, all your preoccupations dissolve away leaving an overwhelming feeling of peace.
The next morning we rise early to catch the sunrise on the beach. It is overcast, but we head out the door anyway with a big mug of coffee in hand. The mosquitoes ambush us as we make a dash to the beach. Instead of the stiff, mosquito-chasing breeze of yesterday, the beach this morning is still. We swat at them as we snap a few photos of the horizon. The sun finally breaks through creating a stunning aura of light through the dark clouds. On our retreat back to the RV, we meet two "turtle patrol" volunteers. There are several nests scattered up and down the beach and we watch as they check a nearby roped-off patch of sand. We can see the screen they put there to protect the nest from predators. They tell us there are no signs of hatchlings yet and they don't really expect any for a few weeks. Nonetheless, they carry out their duties every morning watching and waiting, making notes.
Our schedule this morning includes exploring nearby Beaufort. It is a city on one of South Carolina’s coastal Sea Islands and known for its antebellum mansions. A friend of ours recently bought an old house here and is in the process of restoring it. She encouraged us to take a look at her new hometown while we were in the area. As we crossed over the bridge, the community spread out before us. The quaint sight helped us understand her choice to move to this little town. Historic and well preserved, the homes seem to welcome visitors with their fresh paint and well groomed front porches. The old churches invite exploration as does the downtown historic district. There are quite a few art galleries and shops and lovely views of the harbor through the Spanish moss-draped trees.
We find the visitors center located in a restored brick and tabby arsenal built in 1798 that had been used during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The docent is friendly and very helpful, pointing out places we could visit within a short walk. We take the map and head out to see the downtown, the Point park that overlooks the bay, and several historic buildings and churches. We find the marina park that runs along the margin of the bay and is flanked by porch swings hung in a row of arbors. It is a good place to take coffee and watch the cars on the bridge or the boats in the harbor.
After our sightseeing tour of Beaufort, we head to the State Park to see the lighthouse. When we arrive, the ranger tells us the road is closed due to flooding caused by recent rain storms. So, it's back to the beach again. The breeze has returned and the sun is out despite the forecast. We set our chairs close to the water's edge and relax watching the children play in the surf, the birds overhead, the waves... I can feel my eyelids getting heavy. By four we are ready to get back and start dinner. Tonight it will be a chicken casserole made in the table top glass oven. Add a glass of wine and a salad - divine! One more trip out to the beach to watch the sunset and see the changing light on the waves. The tide is coming in and a good portion of the wide beach is all but covered by water, yet we linger in the fading light enjoying the breeze and the peachy-pink sunset spreading across the sky.