A photo tour of Beaufort: history, art and incredible outdoors

Chartered in 1711, Beaufort is South Carolina’s second oldest town after Charleston and its best kept travel secret…not for long!

Here are some things worth shouting about this historic yet vibrant little town recently dubbed “the Newport of the South”:

  • Top 50 Waterfront Adventure Towns in the nation
  • The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America
  • The Kaleidoscope Film Festival (you remember The Patriots, Forrest Gump and Prince of Tides to name a few of the many films shot here)
  • The picturesque downtown area is on the National Register of Historic Places, with more antebellum homes per block than any other American town.
  • Check this post for fun and free things to do with kids while in the area.

    I’ll let the photos do the talking. Have a wonderful vacation in Beaufort South Carolina!


    Unforgetable fun at Hunting Island State Park beach: climb the Lighthouse, spot loggerhead turtles, catch a crab or hike along the lagoon (photo essay)

    Planning for a family vacation or just a weekend getaway at the beach? Then look no further than Hunting Island State Park. There are affordable camping sites and cabins on the premises (although these go very quickly better to call 3-4 months ahead of time to secure a spot) and you’re about 20 minutes from beautiful Beaufort and historic Port Royal and little over an hour from Charleston. There is plenty of lodging, restaurants and entertaining activities in the area.

    On the Hunting Island you can enjoy smooth white sands and fairly calm waters surrounded by lush vegetation and palm trees providing natural shade. The park offers one of the best spots to run kites, which you can rent right at the beach. Or you can just set back and watch the festival of colors dancing in the sky, as I did with my 4 years old.

    Hunting Island Beach serenity

    The Lighthouse is just few yards away. $2 and 167 steps later you get to enjoy breath-taking panoramic views of the island, the ocean and the marshes. You can hike the nature trail around the tidal lagoon or the incredible one mile boardwalk over the peaceful marshes. This is your best shot for wildlife encounters, especially with migratory birds. The trail starts hundreds yards away from the park entrance.

    Of course the main island attraction is the chance to spot Loggerhead Turtles. South Carolina boasts the second largest population of sea turtles. Hunting Island State Park along with Edisto State Park delight visitors each year with the rare opportunity to see them nesting and hatching at their shores. From May till November there is none-stop action. Never disturb a mother’s nest or carry flashlights during hatching. Best thing is to do is to go on a guided tour – call the Nature Center at (843) 838-7437 for more info.

    The beach has plenty of parking, picnic tables and shelters. There are two restroom facilities both equipped with showers. Admission fee to the park is $4 for adults and $2 for seniors. Children under 16 get in for free.

    Enjoy your time at the Hunting Island beach!

    Free and fun things to do and great places to see with kids in Beaufort

    There is plenty of fun and free things do with your kids while visiting historic and picturesque Beaufort.

    For starter there are 2 playgrounds The new playground in Beaufortone on the Waterfront Park and one off of Pigeon Landing (located left off Boundary Street and opposite waterfront area). This playground opened just 2 years ago, has brand new facilities (restrooms, picnic tables, water fountains, and stations) and excellent age appropriate equipment. There is something for everyone from babies to older kids and even large swings for adults (parents need to have some fun too). 🙂 It’s twice as large as the playground at Waterfront Park, a lot less crowded and dogs are allowed in the park as longs as they are on leash. A great thing with this playground is the large oak trees that provide shade throughout the day.
    One extra perk is the chance to see fighter jets flying by every now and then which seems quite popular with boys. While in the area you can drive to the end of Pigeon Landing to reach the boat docking and boardwalk. It’s very peaceful and the view of the marshes and Beaufort river is incredible.

    The playground at the Waterfront Park is better known and quite popular with tourists. Location, location, location! Just caught a shark Main attraction for kids is watching fishermen showing their skills on the dock in front of the playground. When I visited with my daughter 2 weeks ago we saw a guy catching 3 baby-sharks in less than an hour! All the children were mesmerized. Another kid-popular activity is balancing over the raised boardwalks weaving through the park. In case you get hungry there are several restaurants and cafes only few yards away.

    Ice Cream Parlor and Tin Men
    After all the jumping and hopping at the playground you should take the kids to the Southern Sweets Ice Cream Parlor. It’s located downtown in Old Bay Marketplace (across the clock). Besides delicious and reasonably priced ice-cream you can get very good and hearty lunch: made-to-order yummy hot-dogs (8 styles to choose from at $3 each), and a variety of gourmet sandwiches, salads and soups. Southern Sweets Ice Cream Parlor Most lunch items are around $6. They also carry a kids menu with the usual suspects for around $2. I had the Old Bay Dog (with sauerkraut), a cheese toast sandwich and one ice-cream all for about $8.

    Who knew that window shopping can be fun for little ones? Where it is…at least in Beaufort…it wasn’t voted one of America’s Best Small Arts Town for nothing! On our way to the Vernier House museum (2 blocks down from the ice-cream parlor) my 4 years old daughter stopped many times to admire the art on display and point out whatever raised her interests. She loved the wine bottle holders made of tin representing all sorts of funny characters. She definitely liked this better than all the museums we’ve visited that day.

    Beaufort Must See Museums: Vernier House and the Arsenal
    The Vernier House museum – headquarters for the Union troupes during the Civil War – is the only historic house in Beaufort open to public on a regular basis: Monday to Saturday from 9 AM to 4 PM. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for students. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Marquis de Lafayette visited the house in 1825.

    Beaufort Arsenal Museum The Arsenal, located at 713 Craven St., is one of the most significant historical sites in Beaufort. It was completed in 1798 to create a militia and to build a laboratory for making explosives. Currently is home to the Beaufort museum. Made out of brick and tabby and featuring a Gothic design with crenellated parapets the Arsenal has a very distinctive architecture. Hours of operations are 10 AM to 5 PM. The museum is officially closed on Wednesday and Sunday. However, I went there on a Tuesday and it was closed, so better to call ahead just to make sure: (843)-525-7077. Admission for adults and children over 6 is $3.

    Scenic boat tour over Beaufort River
    This is a great outdoor attraction the whole family can enjoy.
    It’s very relaxing and you get up-close and personal to the beautiful Lowcountry marshes and Sea Islands wildlife. There are two boat tour opportunities: one from Beaufort Marina (located at the end of the waterfront park) and one from Port Royal Landing marina, operated by River Safari. If you go to Port Royal read this post to learn about all the fun things you can do there.

    More family attractions around Beaufort:

    The Lighthouse at the Hunting Island State Park, the Old Sheldon Church Ruins and Graveyard. On St. Helena Island: visit Penn Center and Bailey Museum and the Chapel of Ease (beware of Land’s End light and ghost sighting!)

    • Go to fun-packed super family friendly Hilton Head island where kids rule!

    • Drive down to Savannah and visit the amazing Fort Pulaski a Civil War landmark that changed military warfare for ever. You get to see live cannon and musket firing, learn about the Immortal 600 prisoners and the Waving Girl legend. Kids can become Junior Rangers.

    Happy family vacation in Beaufort South Carolina!

    Things to see on St. Helena island near Beaufort: Penn Center and Chapel of Ease (possible the Land’s End ghost!)

    Penn Center, an African-American cultural center and a National Historic Landmark, was built in 1862 as the first school in the South for the education of freed slaves. Along with the Bailey museum it is a testimony of the Gullah People’s rich culture and history. The permanent exhibit showcases some of the oldest photographs of African-Americans, the original 1863 school bell and many artifacts related to the life on Sea Island. Martin Luther King Jr. use to retreat here during the 1960s.

    Free historic sites to visit on St Helena Island Beaufort SC

    Penn Center School main building

    The Penn Center is located on St. Helena island, only 15 minutes drive from Beaufort, historic Port Royal and beautiful Hunting Island State Park. The Bailey museum is open Monday to Saturday from 11 AM to 4 PM and the admission fee is $4 for adults and $2 for children and seniors. For more information on current educational programs and a calendar of events visit the Penn Center website.

    Site of the annual Gullah festival

    Penn Center historic site in the heart of Gullah country

    If you want to experience first hand the mystical Gullah art and food come to the Gullah Festival that will be held at the Waterfront Park in Beaufort May 23-25. Admission for the entire weekend is $20. For more info visit www.gullahfestival.org.

    Nearby Penn Center on Land’s End road is the Chapel of Ease. This tiny church, a perfect examply of tabby construction, was built in 1748 for the convenience of plantation owners too far away to attend service in Beaufort.

    Fine example of prerevolutionary church made of primarily of tabby.

    Take a close look at the graveyard and the mysterious mausoleum creeping in the back. This is the sight of the inexplicable Land’s End Light. “…The light rises up in the air like a bouncing ball of fire. It lingers long enough to squelch any idea it was just your imagination or a hallucination.”

    Chapel of Ease Mausoleum on St. Helena Island

    Some say a mysterious light appears here

    Over the years many local residents and prominent business people claim to have seen the light. Even researchers from Duke University came to study the phenomenon in the 70s.

    Most people believe the light has to do with the spirit of a soldier stationed at Fort Fremont, which was built to defend Port Royal from Spanish attacks.

    Funny thing is not one shot was ever fired from the fort! Now the fort ruins are on a private property and inaccessible to the public.

    Read more about the Land’s End mystery from Terrence Zepke’s book “Best Ghost Tales of South Carolina. Check out some famous Lowcountry Ghosts on my previous post.

    If you like seeing old South Carolina churches then you must visit the Old Sheldon Church Ruins, a truly inspirational historical site around Beaufort.

    New life springs from ashes at Old Sheldon Church near Beaufort (historical and free things to do)

    The Old Sheldon Church Ruins and Graveyard are about half an hour drive from both Beaufort and Interstate I-95. The centuries old church is a South Carolina truly inspirational historic site attraction the whole family should enjoy.

    Here lay the remains of Prince William’s Parish, better known as Sheldon Church (named after Bull’s family ancestral home back in England). William Bull, the Commissioner for the Sheldon church construction was South Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor and he also assisted in laying out Savannah. His tombstone is currently displayed in the graveyard.

    Beaufort Old Sheldon Church ruins

    Interesting Facts
    1. The Sheldon church was built between 1745 and 1755 and it was burned twice. First by the British Army during the Revolutionary War, then by Sherman’s troupes at the end of the Civil War. Although never rebuilt the church’s pillars and outside walls remained erect withstanding the test of time.

    2. The church recently became a very popular location for wedding ceremonies. The spiritual ruins are testimony of endurance in the face of hardship. Surrounded by green lush grass and serene oak trees the Old Sheldon Church is an inspirational and unforgettable wedding setting. With each matrimonial ceremony new life springs from the fire ashes.

    3. A public service free for anyone to attend is held annually on the Second Sunday after Easter

    4. An old hand-operated water pump close to the gate is still functioning and is quite popular with kids as shown in this video with my 4 years old.

    5. There is space for only 2 two cars to park safely on the side of the road; however there is an event parking overflow across the gate. 2009 Update More pictures with the grounds I took on my return trip.

    Majestic pillars, blue skies and sweet green grass...that's a wedding site to remember!

    Majestic pillars, blue skies and sweet green grass...that's a wedding site to remember!

    The church is located on Old Sheldon Road off of highway 21 between Beaufort and Yemassee.
    Directions: After the intersection between Hwy 21 and 17, continue on Hwy 21. Turn right on Old Sheldon Road. About ¼ mile after you reach a stop sign the historical marker and gate entrance will be on your right. Here is a link to Google Map for the location.

    • While in the area visit artistic Beaufort “The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America” and historic Port Royal the first settlement in the New World!

    • For one let your spirit soar at St. Helena Church, established in 1712 is the second oldest and yet one of the most vibrant churches in South Carolina.

    • Be inspired at the Parris Island Museum showcasing hundreds of U.S. Marines memorabilia, artifacts, pictures and heroic stories from the past 4 centuries.

    • If time permits continue your historic drive up to Hunting Island State Park and see the Lighthouse, the only one open to public along the South Carolina Coast.

    • Not too far away,and just minutes from I-95, is the exotic and colorful Oyotunji African Village, an authentic and oldest Yoruba-like settlement in North America. Go in the weekends; there’s almost always a traditional celebration or a festival going on (admission is $10 for adults and $5 for kids)

    Come experience the rich history and beautiful surroundings of South Carolina Lowcountry!

    Historic Port Royal, a free must see Beaufort attraction on your way to Hilton Head

    When in Beaufort, or on your way to golf-paradise Hilton Head, make sure to stop by historic Port Royal. Port Royal was the first settlement in the New World predating Jamestown by 45 years and St. Augustine by 3 years. It is adjacent to the deepest natural harbor on the Atlantic Coast, the Port Royal Sound and it boasts the only public shrimp dock in South Carolina. Not only that, but here the memorable hurricane scene from beloved Forrest Gump movie was shot!

    Best time to visit is late afternoon to catch breath-taking sunset views of the serene Carolina marshes. Better yet you can have dinner at the Dockside Restaurant located, you guessed it, at the edge of the dock :-).

    Shrimp Boats in sunset

    Fun thing to do with kids is visiting the Lowcountry Estuary to see and play with the interactive exhibits about the coastal environment.

    Another Port Royal attraction is the Union Church museum located on 11th Street. Built in 1878 it was active until the mid-1970s and shared by Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists, who rotated Sundays.

    You can also drive up to Parris Island built as a fort by the Spaniards in 1566. They called their settlements Santa Elena and made it capital of La Florida Province but abandoned it 10 years later after Native Americans attacked it. Parris Island became a Naval Station in 1876 then a prison in 1906. In 1915 the island became a recruit training station for the U.S. Marines. On the base there is a military museum open to the public.

    If time permits take the scenic drive to Hunting Island State Park for some fun at the beach. Check out the historic Lighthouse, the only one open to public along the South Carolina coast.

    Here is a map on how to get to Port Royal. Below are some sunset pictures I took last week from the shrimp dock at Port Royal.

    Didn’t you wish you were there?

    Happy vacation on the amazing South Carolina coast!

    The Inspiring Hunting Island Lighthouse (Beaufort fun things to do and see with kids)

    The Hunting Island Lighthouse is South Carolina’s only publicly accessible historic lighthouse. At 132 feet high it rewards those brave enough to climb its 167 steps breathtaking views of the Hunting Island State Park, the sweeping Lowcountry marshland and the Atlantic Ocean.

    Hunting Island Lighthouse

    If you love lighthouse sightseeing then go visit the rest of the Sea Islands (Skeleton Tower, Harbour Town, Tybee Island and Cockspur Island) fascinating lighthouses, symbols of endurance and hope that have inspired legendary stories, romantic tales and even ghost hauntings!

    Interesting Facts about Hunting Island Lighthouse

    1. The first lighthouse was constructed of brick and was completed in 1859 but demolished few years later by the Confederate troupes. Current lighthouse, completed in 1875, is entirely made of wrought and cast iron plates so it can be “easily” disassembled and moved;

    2. Speaking of moving the original location was one mile to the north. Severe beach erosion and the fact that high tides were coming just 35 feet from the lightkeeper’s house forced the lighthouse relocation in 1889.

    3. The lighthouse endured the test of Mother Nature. In 1886 it was shoked by a 7.5 Richter earthquake and in 1893 became a sanctuary for women and children of the City of Savannah steamship, severely wrecked by a hurricane.
    Toting Oil for Lighthouse

    4. The lighthouse needed constant oil supply. The keeper hauled a 50 pound oil tote several times a day to the top! Oil and other goods were transported by sea up to the Jackson River wharf and there by tramcar over a 3,000 foot-long tramway up to the Oil House on the lighthouse grounds.

    5. The Hunting island lighthouse was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1933 and replaced by sea buoys. You can see two buoys on the lighthouse grounds. The ruins on the ground are remnants of the light keeper House that burned in 1938.

    Tips to Know Before You Go

    1. The lighthouse is open daily from 11 AM and the last climb is at 4:45 PM and believe me the staff will close exactly then.

    2. Admission fee is $2. This is extra from the State Park entrance fee and there are no discounts. Infants and toddlers are not allowed. Kids need to be at least 44 inches tall.

    3. Wear something comfortable and that’s not very slippery on smooth surfaces. Everything inside the lighthouse is made out of iron. The climb is pretty fast; once up be mindful of heavy winds and secure your hats, sunglasses and everything else that’s loose.
    View from the lighthouse

    4. There are educational signs on most of the “floors” that provide interesting trivia and a good excuse to stop and catch your breath. This should also keep kids entertained and give them motivation to continue on.

    5. The guardrails seem much shorter (up to your waist) than at other lighthouses. So hold your little ones hand just to be safe.

    6. It’s much easier to go up than down; the staircase looks more daunting and feels more nauseating as you go down in circles…maybe another opportunity to read the signs and take photos 🙂

    7. There’s lot more to see on the grounds. Kids will have fun checking out the old tramcar and the dwellings (especially the outhouse!), balancing on the ruins of the keeper’s house, and learning maritime navigation facts from the two giant buoys next to the restroom building.
    These came from the Charleston harbor.
    Tramcar for lighthouse

    The lighthouse is located inside the Hunting Island State Park. Once you pass the fee booth follow the road and when you come to an intersection turn left. Follow the Lighthouse gift shop sign. Here is a map on how to get to Hunting Island and also a map of the park itself.

    Come experience the rich history of Beaufort area along the South Carolina coast!