Exploring Beaufort’s Bounty
Two hours is a perfect drive time—long enough to feel like you’re getting out of town and to catch up on podcasts or the latest Audible tome, but not so long as to get drowsy or bored. But the biggest reason that it’s ideal: That’s all it takes to arrive at pinch-me dreamy historic Beaufort. And guess what? You won’t waste any of your precious daytrip time finding parking.
Easy parking is just one of the many enticements of this waterfront beauty. In many ways, Beaufort is the Cinderella of Sea Islands. While her stepsisters, Charleston and Savannah, command the spotlight as the perennial belles of the ball, Beaufort quietly minds her business. Industrious, well-mannered, with as much charm and utter gorgeousness as you can possibly pack into a mere 33 square miles, she exudes a wise and welcoming confidence. She’s perfectly content to play second fiddle to her showier, more heralded sisters if that means uncrowded streets and an endearingly sleepy quality that feels more authentic than touristy.
Founded in 1711 (just a tad younger than Charleston), Beaufort oozes history, so we decided to hear it from a pro. That would be Janet Matlock, the Energizer Bunny of tour guides, whose exuberance for her adopted hometown leads to a walking tour (Janet’s Walking History Tour) that delivers a fascinating overview of Beaufort’s antebellum buildings and storied past, along with fun insider tidbits and enough “Hey there, Janet, you giving them the real scoop?” quips from neighbors to underscore Beaufort’s small-town feel.
The other benefit of trekking through the city’s patinaed neighborhoods (pay special attention to the Robert Smalls historic site) is that you work up an appetite, and Beaufort knows how to fix that. Brunch at Magnolia Bakery Café was an indulgent delight, complete with delicious views of the Beaufort River. The decadent French toast (served with bacon) is made from their best-selling house-baked oatmeal molasses bread, and mimosas are $3 all day Saturday and Sunday (brunch from 8am to 3pm). Omelets, crab crepes and any number of their fresh pastries also looked plenty tempting, but it was time for more exploring—this time by bike.
The boutique City Loft Hotel offers bike rentals (for hotel guests and non-guests alike), which we discovered is the perfect way to cruise around Beaufort and explore some of the outer neighborhoods and areas not covered in the walking tour. The pace here is as low key as a gentle sea breeze, and except on main drags like Boundary Street, traffic is a non-issue. If you want to poke around beyond the historic district, the Spanish Moss Trail is a paved, protected 10-mile bike and multi-use trail (eventually to become a 16-mile loop) that winds past lovely marshes and neighborhoods from Beaufort to Port Royal, and up towards Parris Island.
Back downtown, the shops and galleries along Bay Street and the waterfront offer enticing browsing, and a refreshing post-ride iced coffee from City Java and News hits the spot. Be sure to make time, too, to simply sit and swing a spell at the Waterfront Park, take in the harbor views and just chill. Beaufort’s laid-back vibe invites this small pleasure, the lost art of relaxing.
For a late lunch or early dinner, you can’t beat the fresh, local fare at Lowcountry Produce. The market salad with house-made Bloody Mary olives and fried oysters with lemon anchovy mayo was a zingy balance of citrus and salt and sheer yum. If you’ve got time for a more indulgent dinner, Saltus River Grill on the waterfront offers local seafood options and excellent sushi. But for us it was just a day trip, so sadly it was time to head back up Highway 17, past the endless vistas of the ACE Basin, and home to Charleston.
But not without a treat for the road, thanks to the brilliant Sweet Tea Bar at Scout Southern Market. Something about the way the pink lemonade sorbet melted into the tea the farther up the road we got, the more sublime the drink became, and the more convinced we became that a return visit to the Sweet Tea Bar is just one of the many reasons to venture back to Beaufort. And soon.