Beaufort SC Named 2017 Best Small Town in the South

Beaufort SC Best Small Towns

Folks seeking the ultimate beach home should plan a visit to “THE BEST SMALL TOWN IN THE SOUTH” named by Southern Living in 2017. Located between Charleston and Savannah, the second oldest town in South Carolina established 303 years ago, the town of Beaufort radiates the ultimate in Lowcountry southern appeal with antebellum architecture showcasing mansions of yesteryear alongside fish shacks and cottages signature to the region. 

This rich historical town borders the serene Beaufort River and visitors find a multitude of activities to entertain the soul, the palate and the Zen for outdoor living in this picturesque community.  Established by British Colonists in 1711, this location offers art, history, antique shops, museums, awesome regional cuisine, pristine beaches nearby and year round festivals for the ultimate escape from reality.  Located in the Sea Islands of South Carolina, Beaufort was the only town listed on this prestigious listing of cities in the South and is truly worth the time to explore.

Downtown is built upon 304 acres that have been designated as a National Historic Landmark which borders the Beaufort River.  The Pigeon Point Community Park and the Basic Green Recreation Complex are centrally located and scattered throughout are historical points of interest, antique stores, rare boutiques and art galleries.  There is a wide array of restaurants that range from casual “shrimp shacks” to 5-star dining options.  Annually there is the Beaufort Water Festival, the infamous Shrimp Festival and this year the 30th Annual Gullah Festival.

Spanish moss drapes the numerous oak trees signature to the region and activities abound for both residents and tourists.  Whether its exploring estates and museums developed in the Civil War era or sport fishing on the many beaches or fishing piers located nearby, there is plenty to do in this charming and quaint southern retreat.  Restaurants offer exciting and eclectic menus that satisfy even the most discerning foodies.  Shrimp and grits, fresh catch-of-the-day, produce provided by local farmers or a sampling of Gullah culinary traditions provide additional appeal in visiting Beaufort.   Take a tour by a horse-drawn carriage to “turn back time” or journey to the infamous Spanish Moss trail to satisfy the adventurer within, there is always something happening here.  It’s no surprise that over a million people visit Beaufort annually.

 Named on the “Top 50 Adventure Towns” by National Geographic, Beaufort has expansive marshland, waterfront parks and a wide variety of wildlife that inhabit this peaceful, yet hip community.  With a median age of 34, people of all ages are drawn here for the upbeat southern hospitality and active urban lifestyle that this amazing town has to offer.  Undisturbed beaches are in close proximity and offer the perfect place to sit back and watch dolphins frolic off the coast or just take a stroll to enjoy a beautiful sunset.  For outdoor adventurers, there is plenty to do to enjoy the topography and bond with the natural elements that surround this awesome town.  With year round festivals, there is never a dull moment in Beaufort.  It’s no wonder that Beaufort was named the “BEST SMALL TOWN IN THE SOUTH”.  Visitors quickly discover that the Beaufort waterfront has some spectacular historic properties for sale and that it is indeed one of the most inexpensive places to live in the South.  Visitors never want to leave and end up shopping for new homes in Beaufort SC. 

There is so much to do here that it is difficult to mention the over 50 things recommended on Facebook.  With that said, here are some of the top activities that are found to do that make Beaufort “THE BEST SMALL TOWN IN THE SOUTH”.   A great place to start a tour is to stop by the Visitor’s Center located downtown in the armory built in 1798.  

Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park is one of the first places to visit upon arrival in Beaufort.  This spectacular green space overlooks the bay and is lined with a bevy of eateries, art galleries, shops and historical sites. This anchor location in downtown also is the home to many popular annual events, including the Beaufort Shrimp Festival, A Taste of Beaufort: Music, Arts & Seafood Festival, and the Beaufort Water Festival, just to name a few. Thousands of people flock to the festivals each year drawing visitors from all over the world.  Here are some fun things to do:

  • Historical Landmarks – Penn Center Founded in 1862 is the first academic school for freed slaves.  Here the museum is dedicated to the Gullah Geechee culture and features 19 buildings used by Penn School.  There are also burial grounds, a nature trail and Chowan Creek with natural flora and towering pines.  Old Sheldon Church; Fort Fremont; the National Cemetery; the Santa Elena History Center; Beaufort History Museum and the Tabernacle Baptist Church(the resting space of Robert Smalls) built in 1840 are also points of interest.
  • Parris Island is the ideal spot to visit if men in uniform don’t intimidate you.  This historic US Marine Corps training facility features the 10,000-sf Parris Island Museum with relics that explore the history of Port Royal and Parris Island which traces back to the early Native Americans and throughout the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War to today’s proud Marines.  
  • The Spanish Moss Trail is an impressive 9+ mile greenway that provides the perfect place to walk, jog, cycle or skate.  This paved 12-foot paved path winds along the waterways and marshland for the ideal spot to explore and get some great exercise.  Built along the former Port Royal Railroad, this trail expected to reach 14.9 miles upon completion is adorned with Spanish moss draped forestry, antebellum houses, and regional wildlife which provides the ideal day trip and a great way to burn some calories from overindulging in the many restaurants found here.
  • “Catch of the Day” Charter is the ideal way to enjoy the endless fishing options found in the marshes of Beaufort.  With 25% of the US east coast marshland located here, there is a wide variety of fish to catch.  Giant cobia, jacks, ladyfish, Spanish mackerel or trout can all be found in the hundreds of miles of tide waters and marshes.  Let an experienced captain guide you to the “best catch of the day” and dinner will be served!  Even Field and Stream Magazine named Beaufort one of the “Top Fishing Towns in America” as they definitely know the top angling spots in the country!  
  • Crabbing is yet another favorite past time and the perfect way to catch fresh seafood found along the shoreline.  Whether baiting a crab pot or sitting shoreline with a line and net, crabbing provides not only a great way to pass the time but also delivers a delectable meal while living or visiting Beaufort.  This is a fun way to enjoy the day with friends and family in the great outdoors!
  • Paddleboard and kayaking the intricate waterways are great activities that not only raise the heart rate but also provide another vantage point for viewing the scenery of Beaufort.  Paddling through downtown on the peaceful Beaufort River is a great day trip that is not only exhilarating but also allows adventurers the opportunity to see the sites from a different perspective.  Kayaking is also fun for all ages and rentals are easily found in the area if you don’t have your own.  Beaufort Kayak Tours are a great way to explore Beaufort by water while exploring the beautiful marshland, downtown sites and the wilderness of the ACE Basin with Hunting Island as the backdrop for this magical exploration.
  • Captain Dick’s River Tour & Dolphin Watch – Nature lovers will find this activity enriching with a tour along the shoreline exploring historical homes, bird species, and the natural habitat that grace the river front.  Tours depart daily from the Downtown Marina and last about an hour and a half.  Dolphins can be seen on this excursion keeping both visitors and residents returning to imbibe the peaceful bay breezes that flow during the trip.
  • The Shrimp Shack has been a local family owned institution in Beaufort for over 37 years and features shrimp burgers, crab cakes, flounder, clams, scallops and fried chicken.  Founders Bob and Hilda Upton started in the 70’s and now their daughters Julie and Hilda run this local favorite.  The Shack is open daily 11am to 2pm but call ahead to insure they haven’t run out of daily specials.  Always fresh and friendly and a favorite of Forrest Gump’s Tom Hanks this restaurant is located at 1925 Sea Island Parkway. 
  • People looking for culinary enrichment should visit the acclaimed Gullah Grub restaurant opened over 15 years ago by owner/chef Bill Green.  Based on seasonal produce and local fish, dishes are designed to preserve the rich Gullah culture and both Bill and his wife Sara teach classes to local youth on the preparation of food in the traditional Gullah ways.  The food is amazing and unique and this destination is a must while visiting Beaufort.
  • The Woods Memorial Bridge made famous from the movie Forrest Gump, is one of the highly visited landmarks in Beaufort and provides the perfect spot for a jog while enjoying the spectacular views of the waterfront park.  Named after Richard Woods who was a highway patrol officer killed in the line of duty in 1969, this is only one of 9 moveable bridges left in South Carolina.
  • Beaufort Kayak Tours are a great way to explore Beaufort by water while exploring the beautiful marshland, downtown sites and the wilderness of the ACE Basin with Hunting Island as the backdrop for this magical exploration.
  • For athletes, there is also the Beaufort Running Tour where runners can experience the rich history and culture of Beaufort.   The run starts at the downtown park and rambles through the prestigious Old Point neighborhood, the historical downtown, wrapping up at the scenic swing bridge signature to the movie “Forrest Gump”.  The 3 mile adventure hosts 8- 10 stops and is suitable for all levels.  Burn some calories while exploring some incredible historical sites on this scenic journey.
  • Camelot Farms Equestrian Center is a full service center that provides trail rides, lessons, boarding, leasing and sales on Helena Island located 5 minutes from Hunting Island State Park.

Beaufort is close in proximity to some of the most beautiful and naturally preserved beaches in the world.  This popular vacation destination provides the perfect retreat for fishing, swimming, sunbathing, boating or bird watching.  There are several islands nearby to visit and each is unique in its offering of breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.

THE SANDS BEACH is found in the quaint town of Port Royal on the Beaufort River and has easy access from all points in Beaufort.  Known for its long wooden pier and small sandy beach where “shark’s teeth” draw novice archaeologists, Sands Beach is more recognized for its amazing wildlife found at the Cypress Wetlands; blue heron, snowy egrets, wood ducks and a wide variety of shorebirds reside here.   A climbable tower provides a great vantage point for some amazing views of Port Royal and is popular with tourists.   The Lowcountry Estuarium features a spacious room filled with regional exhibits, aquariums and offers exciting tours of the area.  Fishing charters launch daily offering  both inshore and offshore excursions and sunset kayaking provides the perfect ending to a day enjoying this unique beach location.  Crabbing is also a favorite pastime for locals and provides a great chance to make an awesome meal while here.  Port Royal also offers a variety of restaurants with over 20 choices ranging from local seafood shacks to Thai cuisine.  Authentic regional dishes offer the best choice for fresh seafood paired with local produce. The water views provide the perfect balance for a photographic sunset while an after-dinner stroll on a moonlit night radiates romance upon the white sand beach. 

HUNTING ISLAND is a barrier island that houses the 5,000 acre Hunting Island State Park with a five mile stretch of beach featuring maritime forests, a historic lighthouse and 200 campsites near the ocean for outdoor enthusiasts.  There is also a nature center, hiking/biking trails, ocean fishing, a 1200-foot pier as well as the infamous circa-1875 lighthouse.  This 130 foot structure requires a 175-foot climb up a spiral staircase to get to the top but once conquered folks enjoy a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean and the neighboring Sea Islands.  This state park is by far the most popular in South Carolina and attracts more than a million visitors annually.  With exotic palm trees and thousands of acres of lush marshland and maritime forestry, this saltwater lagoon and ocean inlet provide the ultimate in observing the natural wildlife that reside in the region.  Dolphins are spotted off shore and pelicans scour the waters for their next meal while tourists and residents enjoy the natural environment that is created by this “not so typical” beach retreat.  This island can be found about 17.5 miles southeast of Beaufort.  Be advised that there is an entrance fee to the park.

FRIPP ISLAND is the ultimate wildlife sanctuary with controlled access to this 3.5 mile beach destination that features 2 championship golf courses, tennis courts, kayaking and oceanfront accommodations, including first class restaurants, a food court and even a seaside water park for the kids.  Golf carts are the chosen mode of transportation which can be rented on the island and add to the preservation of this island retreat found on US 21 only twenty-one miles from Beaufort.  The Fripp Island Golf & Beach resort has houses, villas and studios to rent for the perfect island retreat. It's also a very popular beach community to own vacation and second homes. 

The full-service marina offers boat and kayak rentals as well as fishing charters.  Bicycling is also popular as well as golf.  There are a wide variety of dining options and oceanfront hotels for visitors and residents available here.  This is a great place to escape stress, bond with nature and enjoy some incredible scenery sipping a world-class wine served with fresh seafood while watching the sunset.  Just another reason to visit Beaufort, side trips complement the stay and add to the overall experience of visiting Beaufort.  This would be the perfect place to search for a new home in Beaufort SC.  Home shoppers have come to realize that this is not only a fun escape from reality, but an inexpensive place to live. With less than 1,000 residents, this quiet, yet captivating sea island embraces the soul and makes visitors want to become permanent residents of Beaufort.

LAND’S END BEACH is a quiet obscure beach visited by locals.  Only one road leads to the beach found several miles down Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. on St. Helena Island next to the historic Fort Fremont.  Swimming, fishing and relaxing are the norm at this “out-of-the-way” beach and residents like to keep this destination a secret.  Peace and harmony reflect the mood of this spot.

EDISTO BEACH STATE PARK can be found north of Beaufort on Edisto Island which preserves the natural element with hiking and biking trails throughout.  There is an education center featuring the history of the island and the surrounding ACE basin full of Native American history.

While planning a visit, there are several annual festivals that have put Beaufort on the map.  One upcoming event is the 30th Annual Gullah Festival of South Carolina which will be held Memorial Day weekend, May 26-28th at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park located at 1010 Bay Street in Beaufort.  Opening on Friday at noon through 8pm, the festival runs through Sunday and will feature unique Lowcountry artistry and crafts as well as authentic Gullah cuisine at the Marketplace during the festival from 10am to 11pm.  This unique tradition began in 1986 and has grown over the years in the preservation of the rich African American Gullah heritage that marks the Lowcountry lifestyle.

A bit about Gullah history…this culture represents African Americans who live in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia who have preserved their African heritage.  Storytelling, music, folklore, crafts, farming and fishing traditions exhibit strong influences from West and Central African cultures.   The language spoken is English-based creole with a strong influence of the African language and the history evolves back centuries.  There are multiple festivals held throughout the region year round, but Beaufort is the home for this highly attended event.  Weekend packages and discounted group tours are available.  This is a great weekend to explore this amazing historical town and shop for new homes in Beaufort, SC.  Here a more events to enjoy during the year in Beaufort:

  • Beaufort Water Festival July 14th through the 23rd, first held in July 1956 this much anticipated event originally cost only a dollar per couple to attend the festival and $2 to attend the Regatta Ball.  Events scheduled include: Opening Ceremony with the Parris Island Marine Band & Fireworks at Dusk (free event); Shrimp Boat Tours (free from 12 to 4pm at Waterfront Park); Concert In the Park; Festival Arts & Crafts Market; River Rally; Children’s Day; Teen Dance; Motown Monday; Talent Show; Lowcountry Supper; Bed Race; River Dance; the Water Festival Grand Parade; Air Show and the Commodore’s Ball.  It is no wonder that attendees don’t miss this annual event!  Fishing and golfing events add even more activities to this active, fun-filled week of festivities.
  • The Beaufort Shrimp Festival will be held Friday Oct 6-7, 2017 at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park with 15 local restaurants offering their best shrimp delicacies as they compete for the prestigious Silver Cup award.  There will also be a 5k Run Forrest Run/Walk on October 1st at 8am on Bay at Newcastle where the movie Forrest Gump was filmed running through historic Beaufort and over the famous Woods Memorial Bridge.  A shrimp peeling competition will be held for the kids.  This is a great time to explore the region and taste some incredible shrimp dishes.
  • The Beaufort International Film Festival is also held annually celebrates the past and future of film production in Beaufort.  Celebrating its 11th year, this event features both international and local short films along with features, animation, guest speakers and educational forums focused on the history of filming in the region.  With notable films such as Forrest Gump, The Big Chill and The Prince of Tides shot here, the scenic backdrop of Beaufort draws industry leaders to seek out the southern charm and appeal of filming scenes with antebellum homes laced with the Spanish moss-draped trees, historical landmarks and natural elements that provide the perfect place to shoot a box office winner.

Dining in Beaufort is always an adventure whether it’s a sample of regional cuisine or a culmination of some incredible food creations that stimulate even the most discerning food critics from local shrimp shacks to five star dining spots, there are plenty of great eateries to choose from.  Here are a few to try:

  • Breakwater Restaurant & Bar-A seasonal menu of elegant Southern dishes & seafood is offered at this warm eatery with lively bar.  
  • Saltus River Grill -Sophisticated eatery with wood grill, sleek bar & extensive wine list serves steak, seafood & sushi.  
  • Bricks On Boundary- A straightforward pub menu served alongside big-screen TVs, trivia nights & live music. 
  • Athenian Gardens - Traditional Greek cuisine is the draw at this small, quaint restaurant with a homey vibe.
  • Fat Patties – Craving a burger?  Check out this place for a quick but delicious burger.
  • Emily's Restaurant & Tapas Bar - An extensive selection of tapas plus eclectic entrees ranging from shrimp & grits to duck.
  • Wren - Stylish, relaxed restaurant with seasonal American lunch & dinner menus plus craft beer & wines.
  • Griffin Market - This Northern Italian eatery with a seasonal menu & wine list serves a prix fixe Sunday dinner.
  • Old Bull Tavern - Intimate gastropub offering New American comfort fare & specialty cocktails in a warm atmosphere.
  • Blackstone's Café - Local fixture with a patio serves breakfast & lunch plus down-home classics like shrimp & grits.
  • Dukes BBQ of Beaufort –Hungry folks will enjoy the “all you can eat” buffet at this regional favorite.
  • Hemingway's Bistro - Subterranean hangout with light bites, sandwiches & cocktails, plus outdoor seating. Good place to enjoy happy hour!
  • Nautilus Seafood & Grill – for a casual takeout, locals visit this destination for a regional dish filled with southern appeal.

For the Ultimate dining experience a Lowcountry Oyster Roast is a must!  Everywhere along the Beaufort coast oyster season runs between October 1st and ends May 15th.  Friends and families gather around an open fire where steel  plates covered with burlap bags steam and open these tasty morsels from the sea that is a tradition that dates back to the 2nd Millennium BC.  As steam creates the experience, the smell of fresh seafood fills the air and oyster aficionados enjoy some of the best shellfish available in the country.  Experts are available to show “how to shuck an oyster” and the experience is like none other.  While in Beaufort, explore this incredibly delicious adventure.  

The arts and culture abound in Beaufort.  Musicians, authors, storytellers, painters, weavers, sculptors and jewelry artists abound here inspired by the rich scenery, history and the captivating environment that surrounds this colorful town.  There are performances offered at the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Performing Arts Center and the Beaufort Orchestra presents incredible works to entertain residents and guests.  Art galleries are scattered throughout the town and represent a wide variety of expressions that reflect the mood of the city and culture created here.  The Beaufort Arts Council oversees the art community insuring that studios, sales and outside art displays thrive in the Northwest Quadrant of downtown Beaufort.

There are far too many things to mention about all the fabulous things to do in Beaufort.  A trip to visit will demonstrate that just a weekend is not enough to see all the sites this town has to offer.  The Beaufort waterfront community is one of the most inexpensive places to live.  Shopping for new homes in Beaufort, SC should be a priority on your trip to visit this impeccable piece of paradise in the South.

Congratulations for the well-deserved honor, Beaufort is indeed the “BEST SMALL TOWN IN THE SOUTH”.

If you're exploring the area for the first time, ask for our complimentary Beaufort relocation information. It's our pleasure to help.

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