Day Trip to Beaufort South Carolina
Nestled on the banks of Port Royal Island stands Beaufort South Carolina, a coastal city with a small-town feel. While Beaufort is the second oldest city in South Carolina, it came close to being the oldest. The Spanish settled Beaufort in the 1500s but were forced to move all resources south to Saint Augustine shortly after. Beaufort was abandoned, not to be settled permanently until 1711.
Nowadays, Beaufort is a well-manicured spot along the coast known for its grand Colonial and Antebellum homes. Unlike many other Southern towns, Beaufort missed out on the destruction brought by the Civil War and remains a preserved gem of South Carolina today.
Visit: Twenty miles outside of town stands the Old Sheldon Church ruins, easily one of the most picturesque spots in the Beaufort area. Sheldon Church dates back to the mid 1700s. The church was burned twice, first by British troops in the late 18th century, then by General Sherman during the Civil War. Nowadays, it is the burial site for several important historical figures including William Bull, who aided James Oglethorpe in laying out the city of Savannah in 1733. Sheldon Church remains an imposing brick shell with empty archways and tall columns climbing to the sky.
For history buffs, take a tour with The Spirit of Old Beaufort. Beaufort’s history is rich and manifold, but perhaps its most interesting period is its Civil War era. In 1860, the Rhett brothers signed the first secessionist documents inside their law office in Beaufort. After seceding from the Union, South Carolina remained its own country for several weeks, until other states joined in the secessionist movement. In 1861, Beaufortonians caught wind of Union troops making their way toward the city, and the community retreated.
After the nearby Battle of Port Royal, Union troops led by General Sherman moved into Beaufort and set up camp. While Robert E. Lee would attempt several times to take back the city, he would never succeed. In time, Beaufort became a Union experiment to see how well their new policies would fit into the South. Beaufort South Carolina was home to over twenty hospitals during the Civil War, and Harriet Tubman spent time working as a nurse in Beaufort in between scouting duties for the Union.
The Spirit of Old Beaufort offers both walking and driving tours. Some notable stops along the Old Point tour route include the Robert Smalls house, the Castle, and the Marshlands house, where a treatment for yellow fever was discovered. Other not-to-miss sites include St. Helena Episcopal Church and the Maxcy-Rhett House, the home of the indomitable Rhett brothers.
A stroll down Bay Street, near Waterfront Park, affords visitors a view of many galleries and shops. Local painters, antique dealers, book sellers, and more make their home along Bay. While most of the shop buildings on Bay Street were destroyed in a fire over a hundred years ago, the John Mark Verdier house still stands. The house is the only home open to the public for tours, as most historic homes in Beaufort are privately owned.
The military is an important part of Beaufort’s past and present. For veterans and their families, a visit to the Beaufort National Cemetery is recommended, where soldiers from the Civil War to the Iraq War are buried. Over 18,000 bodies are interred at the Cemetery including Colonel Donald Conroy, also known as the Great Santini.
Nature lovers can make a short fifteen mile drive to Hunting Island State Park, the most-visited park in South Carolina. Hunting Island is pet-friendly, has camping facilities, and offers the only lighthouse in the state open to the public.
Eat: Sgt. White’s Diner has been dishing barbecue to Beaufort for nearly thirty years. Open Monday to Friday from 11 to 3, the lunch-only stop serves classic Southern staples. A line forms at the counter where hickory smoke can be smelled from the kitchen, and 7.99 gets you a meat and two sides with tea or lemonade. With a varying menu, expect a different selection of sides and meat daily.
There’s nothing canned or frozen at Sgt. White’s, and the restaurant prides itself in serving fare from local farms in the area. The ribs are tender, the pulled pork is saucy, the cornbread is sweet, and the fried okra is a must. At 1908 Boundary Street (not far from the Beaufort National Cemetery), skip the chain restaurants and try a true taste of Beaufort at Sgt. White’s.
For dinner, head to Old Bull Tavern at 205 West Street. The cozy interior, housed in a narrow space with tall ceilings, is reminiscent of an old-fashioned pub with a modern edge. A large oak bar dominates the room with small tables lining the other side, and a bull’s head is a fitting centerpiece above the bar.
The chef at Old Bull knows his pasta. The ricotta gnocchi, while traditionally made with potatoes and flour, is instead crafted from a mix of mascarpone and ricotta cheese. The result is a pillowy dough that pairs well with robustly-flavored wild caught shrimp and a slightly-sweet tomato sauce.
If you don’t have time for a meal, visiting Old Bull Tavern for drinks is recommended. Old Bull offers an extensive menu with classics including the Sazerac and new favorites like the Snoop Juice – gin, grapefruit juice, and Cocchi, finished with rhubarb bitters. Plus, bar offerings like mixed olives, bruschetta, and rosemary cashews make easy snacks. Grab a seat at the bar, chat up some locals, and you might find yourself staying longer than you expected.
Stay: The Rhett House Inn is a plantation home built in 1820, now a grand bed and breakfast, in the heart of downtown. With nearly twenty guest rooms, visitors enjoy a complimentary Southern breakfast in the morning with hors d’oeuvres and desserts in the evening, and bikes are offered to guests. For a more modern stay, check out nearby City Loft Hotel.