October 12, 2020

Stay The Night In Quaint Beaufort, South Carolina

Bay Street, Beaufort. Photo courtesy of Greater Beaufort-Port Royal CVB

Drive out of Charleston for a night in Beaufort, a small city on Port Royal Island, one of South Carolina’s coastal Sea Islands. This drive takes an hour and 25 minutes; 25 minutes’ further brings you to Hunting Island, a 5,000-acre semi-tropical island that’s now a state park.

To help combat the spread of Covid-19, some venues below may be closed or by appointment or reservation only. Note that masks are required in all venues except when you’re eating.

Things are changing rapidly. We do our best to update openings, closures, and hours. All information published below was correct at the time of writing.
Caw Caw Interpretive Center. Film by Sea Island Media, courtesy of Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission

Day One: Church Ruins, A Historic School and Houses, and a Drive-In Movie

From Charleston, you’ll head slightly northwest on US-17 to your first stop, Caw Caw Interpretive Center, half an hour outside the city. What is today a pleasant wildlife preserve was once several rice plantations. Rice would not exist in the US were it not for the enslaved people who knew how to tend it. They coaxed rice to grow in these cypress swamps and farmed it, and exhibits and displays here chart this history. Walk the six miles of trails and boardwalks over the wetlands and you’re likely to see all manner of birds, including bald eagles, as well as otters, alligators, and deer.

Old Sheldon Church Ruins. Photo by Michael Hrizuk, courtesy of Discover South Carolina

From Caw Caw, continue another 45 minutes on US-17 to the Old Sheldon Church Ruins. This Greek Revival church built between 1745 and 1753 was burned down in 1779 during the revolutionary war, rebuilt in 1826, and burned down again in 1865 during the American civil war. Today the ruins are surrounded by tall, graceful live oaks and a smattering of graves.

Fried shrimp. Photo courtesy of Greater Beaufort-Port Royal CVB

After snapping a few photos, turn south onto US-21 and drive 25 minutes to Beaufort. For lunch (or breakfast ’til 11), sit down at riverfront restaurant Plums. Salads, sandwiches, burgers and po’ boys fill the menu (think curried chicken salad on whole wheat, classic or flounder po’ boy, shrimp salad BLT).

Frissell Community House, Penn Center. Photo courtesy of Penn Center

Sated, hop back in the car and drive 12 minutes to Penn Center on Saint Helena Island. Shaded by enormous live oaks and surrounded by marshes is the site of the former Penn School, established in 1862 as one of the country’s first schools for formerly enslaved people. It remains a hugely important historical and cultural site.

Note that the museum and visitor’s center are currently closed, but the grounds are open. See web and Facebook for updates.

Tabby Manse. Photo by Paul Keyserling, courtesy of Discover South Carolina

From here, drive back to Beaufort and park the car. Downtown is best explored on foot. There are tons of historic homes here, one of which, Verdier House, is a museum. The museum is currently closed due to covid-19, but you can admire it from the outside along with many other houses, including Thomas Hepworth House, Secession House, Tabby Manse, John Archibald Johnson House, and The Oaks.

Sweet tea float, Scout Southern Market. Photo courtesy of Greater Beaufort-Port Royal CVB

On your walk around downtown, pop into a few of Beaufort’s quaint shops. Scout Southern Market sells home goods (candles, glassware) and snacks from Southern producers like Atlanta’s Doux South pickles. They also have a sweet tea bar, quite a novelty for those not from the south, serving sweet tea (including a float with sorbet) and southern sweets like pecan bars. For more local goods, including craft beer, salsa, and honey, stop by Chapman's Grocery. Pick up some new reads at McIntosh Book Shoppe—whose shelves heave with secondhand books on South Carolina history and Gullah culture—and Nevermore Books, selling new and secondhand fiction and nonfiction, art books, children’s books, and vintage records. Beautiful clothing, bags, jewelry, and accessories like face masks are sold at Ngome Lifestyle Afropolitan Boutique, which specializes in vibrant West African ankara prints.

Lost Local. Photo courtesy of Lost Local

With cinemas in many places closed, take advantage of Highway 21 Drive-In, 15 minutes from downtown Beaufort. Films, like Harry Potter, Hocus Pocus, and Beetlejuice, screen Sunday-Thursday at 7:30, 9:10, and 10pm. Get takeaway from Lost Local, which serves southern-influenced tacos (think barbecued pork with collard greens and macaroni and cheese) and fusion-y options like ahi tuna with pineapple and a soy glaze.

Spanish Moss Trail. Photo by Sissy Perryman, courtesy of Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail

Day Two: Spanish Moss Trail and Hunting Island State Park

Get out for a stroll this morning on the picturesque Spanish Moss Trail, a 10-mile paved trail that crosses several marshes. If you need coffee to-go, stop by Herban Market & Cafe (great juices and baked goods, too) Common Ground (also serves sandwiches) or City Java & News, and then drive to one of six trailheads.

Lowcountry Produce Market. Photo courtesy of Greater Beaufort-Port Royal CVB

After getting in your steps on the trail, drive back into Beaufort to Lowcountry Produce Market to get supplies for a picnic at Hunting Island State Park. The sandwiches here are tops, especially the crab cake, but not to be missed is the tomato pie.

Beach and the lighthouse, Hunting Island State Park. Photo by Michael Hrizuk, courtesy of Discover South Carolina

Drive 30 minutes to Hunting Island State Park, where you can climb 167 steps to the top of the lighthouse, see alligators in the nature center, lope along the beach, and catch the ferry to St. Phillips Island, where you can enjoy a more remote beach and hiking trails shaded by beautiful live oaks. (Tues, Thurs, Fri, Sat only)

Trail on St. Phillips Island. Photo courtesy of Discover South Carolina

From Hunting Island, it’s a two-hour drive back to Charleston. For a break almost halfway through, pull off at Lowcountry Produce’s outpost just off US-17.

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Hero image: Saint Helena Island, Photo by Bill Barley, courtesy of Discover South Carolina