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!

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!

Samurai crab dances on Hunting Island marshes (Beaufort attractions and free things to do)

The Hunting Island gorgeous marshes are crawling with these little warrior Samurai look alike crabs. They do seem to “dance” all day the long foraging for food in the black rich mud. The well developed weapon arm is used for digging and to fend off predators and the right small arm is used for eating.

You can admire these marsh performers for free on the half mile nature trail boardwalk. The trail is on the right side of the road soon after you pass the entrance sign to the Hunting Island State Park.

Stay fearless on the South Carolina Coast!