Known for its low-country charm, antebellum architecture, and quite a bit of Hollywood credit, this little-known but wildly charming low-country community is an absolute gem.
On the coastline between Charleston and Savannah, Beaufort, South Carolina, is worth visiting because it’s the quieter, lesser-known cousin of the two more famous cities, which is probably what brought Hollywood calling so many times. It has all the charm, Spanish moss and coastal character as those other great cities, but none of the bustle or traffic. I spent a day in Beaufort, where I took a guided tour around the city and learned about some of its history and architecture, which left me longing for more.
AMAZING ANTEBELLUM MANSIONS
The defining feature of the city is the number of charming historic homes. Lining the marshy coastal community, the community has a scenic location, character and winding streets. The coastal foliage makes for glorious gardens offset by moss-draped live oak trees. It wouldn’t do justice to say it’s as pretty as a picture.
The homes are a mix of styles, from Federal, Greek Revival, Neoclassical, and Victorian, but they all have some similarities. The light coastal colors, large wrap-around verandas facing into the breeze and many made of tabby construction. Tabby is a mix of oyster shells, lime and other ingredients to make the oceanside cement common to the region.
Many of the houses have architectural features and historical stories that make them unique, but three worth highlighting are:
- Milton Maxcy House, at 1113 Craven Street. Also known as the “Succession house” because it’s one of the places where southern men gathered to discuss plans for seceding from the union – thus initiating the Civil War.
- Thomas Hepworth House, 214 New Street. This colonial cottage is Beaufort’s oldest house. Hepworth, the colony’s Chief Justice, acquired the land in 1717.
- Robert Smalls House at 511 Prince Street has a great story. Smalls was an enslaved person in this house since childhood. As an adult, he worked on ships where, during the Civil War, he took a bold chance and sailed a ship into freedom in the Charleston harbor. He later returned to Beaufort and bought the house where he was once enslaved. He was later elected as the first African American Congressman.
These homes and several others, including Hunting Island State Park Lighthouse, Laurel Bay Plantation, and John Mark Verdier house, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
HISTORIC DOWNTOWN BEAUFORT
While the entire town has an impressive history, some sections are more so than others. There are five sections to the downtown area:
- Northwest Quadrant is the part of the city you’ll drive through on your way downtown or maybe to park. It has a mix of architecture, new and old, but still in keeping with the historic vibe of the city.
- The Bluff is at the far edge of Bay and North Street and has some often-photographed old homes and a picturesque courthouse.
- Downtown is where you’ll find historic Bay Street and all the historic commercial buildings with two to three-story shops. Behind the main strip, you’ll find parks and places to sit along the water
- The Point, or Old Point, between Carteret Street and the Beaufort River, is where many of the biggest, oldest houses sit. Many of the tours focus on this area.
- The Old Commons is the furthest north section of the historic district. It includes more modern businesses and smaller but still historic homes and cemeteries.
THINGS TO DO IN BEAUFORT, SOUTH CAROLINA
It’s an island, so there are lots of coastal activities and plenty to do on land. There are tour companies and rental businesses for various activities you can rent equipment for and do on your own or pay a guide and take a group or personal tour. Try these:
- Dolphin watching a few miles offshore
- Fishing off a pier or a charter boat
- Try kayaking, though the current is rough in some areas. For this reason, you won’t see many paddle boards.
- Bike around the marsh or downtown
- Go sailing
- Relax on a beach
- Take a golf cart or carriage tour of the historic districts
- See historic Beaufort National Cemetery
- Visit forts and arsenals like the Fort Lyttelton Site
- Join an ecology tour to explore salt marshes at low tide
- Visit another island. Hunting, Radio and St. Helena Islands are nearby
THE SPANISH MOSS TRAIL
The Spanish Moss Trail is a 10-mile, 12-foot wide, paved trail that winds through the town, low-country coastal areas, and even salt marsh vistas, wildlife viewing and points of historical interest. The extensive marshlands are a popular spot for biking.
HOLLYWOOD MOVIES FILMED IN BEAUFORT
Because of its good looks and great historic charm, Beaufort has been courted many times by the movie industry. Parts of many films have used its shores and homes as backdrops or the primary location for their story. Popular movies include:
- Forrest Gump
- The Big Chill
- G.I. Jane
- The Prince of Tides
- The Great Santini
- The Fugitive
- Forces of Nature
If you want to see beautiful low-country charm with features similar to Charleston and Savannah without all the people, Beaufort, South Carolina, is an excellent choice.