Visit the Newport of the South
Beaufort is pretty coastal town on Port Royal Island that oozes Southern comfort. In fact the downtown area, in its picturesque entirety, is on the National Register of Historic Places, with more antebellum homes per block than any other American town.
Chartered in 1711, it is the second oldest town in South Carolina (only Charleston is older). Industry- indigo and rice crops, shipbuilding and later cotton plantations-brought prosperity, turning Beaufort, with its many elegant homes, into "the Newport of the South."
Beaufort plantation owners, eager to preserve their way of life, drafted South Carolina's Ordinance for Secession from the Union in 1860. Secession House, now a private home, still stands on Craven Street. But Beaufort's attempt to hold onto the status quo backfired, and in 1861, a Union armada invaded the shores in what one historian regarded as the largest American naval landing until Normandy in 1944. Landowners fled, and Union soldiers occupied the town by turning homes and churches into offices, barracks and hospitals. As a result the town was spared the burning and destruction other Southern communities endured, and many of the fine old homes survived. But plantation culture never returned.
Since Beaufort and the surrounding communities were occupied by Federal troops throughout the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation took effect immediately there, and on January 1, 1863, Beaufort area slaves became the first freed slaves in the United States, each promised (but not necessarily given) 40 acres and a mule. Most of them settled here and on the surrounding Sea Islands, where they maintained their Gullah culture and language, a hybrid of African and southern American dialect, which traces its ancestry back to the Africa's rice-coast culture. Gullah traditions live today in crafts, food, literature, music and in small communities on the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands. Every May Beaufort celebrates its Gullah heritage with a two-day festival held on Memorial Day weekend.
Things to See and Do
A slow stroll or a carriage ride is the best way to see this town. Striking Beaufort-style homes with wide porches, raised basements and classical porticos fill streets lined with 60-foot tall palmetto trees and live oaks draped in Spanish moss. You can sightsee on your own or join the Spirit of Old Beaufort (843-525-0459, www.thespiritofoldbeaufort.com) walking tours led by guides in period dress. Carolina Buggy Tours (843-525-1300) will let you give your feet a rest as you take a narrated tour in a horse-drawn carriage. Rental bikes are also available through Low Country Bicycles (843-524-9585) or Higher Ground (843-379-4327).
If you enjoy history be sure to visit the Beaufort Museum and Arsenal (843-379-3331) which has exhibits of fossils, early American artifacts, Civil War relics, plantation handicrafts, slide shows and lectures. The John Mark Verdier House (843-379-6335), an 1800s home of a merchant planter preserved in Federal style and used as Union headquarters during the Civil War, is also open for tours. You'll find several wonderful shops along Bay Street, which parallels the river. Our favorite was Fordham Market, a landmark hardware store with a 1946 tin ceiling that has been turned into an arts emporium where local artists, craftspeople and antiques dealers sell their wares.
The Beaufort area offers great kayaking through the marshes, and several companies offer guided tours and rentals. Among them are the Kayak Farm (843-838-2008) and Beaufort Kayak Tours (843-525-0810; www.beaufortkayaktours.com). Capt. Dick's River Tours (843-812-2804) at the Downtown Marina runs pontoon boat tours of the salt marshes.
Taxis and rental cars are available if you want to visit the surrounding Sea Islands, where you'll find wonderful beaches, wilderness areas and Gullah villages. Contact or visit the Greater Beaufort Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center (843-524-3163, www.beaufortsc.org) uptown at the corner of Carteret Streets and Boundary Streets for information.
Restaurants and Provisions
Dining choices are abundant in Beaufort. On Bay Street Luther's Rare & Well-Done (843-521-1888) is open all day, while the Saltus River Grille (843-379-3474), which has a back deck on the waterfront park, is a good dinner choice. You might also want to try John Cross Tavern (843-524-3993), a second floor restaurant that dates back to the pirate days of 1700s, and is said to be haunted by a ghost or two. Plums (843-525-1946), one of the most popular restaurants in town, features stir-fry, specialty soups, great steaks, big salads, great crab cakes, micro-brews and ice cream. Try the Southern Sweets Ice Cream Parlor (843-575-0798) for a frosty treat.
A block over on Port Republic Street, Emily's Restaurant & Tapas Bar (843-522-1866) is a favorite local hangout. The Beaufort Inn & Restaurant (843-521-9000) serves daily southern breakfast and Sunday brunch in an exquisite Victorian setting, and the nightly dinner menu is nothing to blink at either.
Magnolia Bakery Cafe (843-524-1961) near the visitor center is a lunch spot specializing in healthful sandwiches, salads, coffee drinks, and desserts. Common Ground Coffeehouse (843-524-6171) has fresh breads, pastries, cakes, and lunch, while Blackstone's Deli & Cafe (843-524-4330) on Scott Street offers breakfast and lunch, soups, wines, gourmet foods take-out, and a new Wi-fi connection. Firehouse Books and Espresso Bar (843-522-2665) is the place to go for a good read and a great cup of coffee.
Use ChartKit Region 6, page 31; or Maptech electronic and NOAA paper chart 11518 (1:40,000).
Navigation and Anchorages
Beaufort is located on the Beaufort River about 65 miles south of Charleston and 25 miles north of the southern tip of Hilton Head Island.
From the north and the Coosaw River, you'll enter Brickyard Creek at Brickyard Point (SM 529). You'll then wind down the well-marked river towards Beaufort. Mind the markers along the shoals extending downriver from Pleasants and Pigeon points. In the vicinity of the town of Beaufort, Brickyard Creek turns into Beaufort River.
At about SM 534.5 near Beaufort, you'll see markers heading to the northeast; they lead to the transient-friendly Marsh Harbor Boatyard. Just south of this channel is the northern entrance to Factory Creek. Do not enter the creek here-it's too shallow. Instead, enter Factory Creek just east of the Ladies Island Swing Bridge (vertical clearance: 30 feet). On the southern shore you'll find Lady's Island Marina, or you can opt to find a place to drop a hook in 10 to 14 feet of water. Follow the markers into Factory Creek, beginning at G "1."
West of the swing bridge and right on the Beaufort water-front, Downtown Marina (843-524-4422) offers transient space and easy access to this beautiful southern city. Check with the harbormaster or dockmaster about anchorage restrictions near the waterfront.
From the south and Port Royal Sound, turn north into Beaufort River. Keep Fl R 4s 16ft 3M "246," marking Parris Island Spit, to the north and west. The river is well-marked and lined on its western shore with beautiful homes.
Just south of the 65-foot-high fixed bridge, you'll see Beaufort Hospital on the western shore. There is room for temporary tie-up in case of an emergency. North of the bridge, also on the western shore, is Port Royal Landing Marina, which has transient space.
Once you round Spanish Point, marked by Fl R 4s 12ft 3M "242," the river looks wide-open, but take another look at your chart. The marsh area east of Fl G 4s "241" on your chart is real, so stay west of the markers. Around the bend to the north lies Beaufort's waterfront.
At SM 521.4, near the convergence of Bull River, Coosaw River and Parrot Creek, you can depart from the ICW and head south toward Dataw Island Marina, on the Morgan River. Beginning with G "1," follow the daymarkers down Parrot Creek. At R "6," you'll hit Morgan River. Head west and about two miles upriver and you'll come to Dataw Island Marina on the southern shore of Coosaw Island.
Shoreside and Emergency Services
Savannah International Airport 912-964-0514
Charleston 843-724-7600 or VHF 16
Police, Fire, Ambulance:
Yellow Cab of Beaufort 843-379-3737
Sea Tow 800-4SEATOW or VHF 16
TowBoatU.S 800-391-4869 or VHF 16