Novels and movies exalt the beauty of the south with oak-lined streets and historic houses lining streets along coastal waterfronts.
Cities in North Carolina are tourist favorites for their beauty and nautical lifestyle. The historic town of Beaufort tops many national travel lists. In 2022, Beaufort received a big kudos for its ranking as “The South’s Best Small Town,” by Southern Living magazine. Beaufort is the third oldest city in the state and is the county seat of the Crystal Coast.
Often compared to Charleston and Savannah, Beaufort is described by Southern Living as a more understated Southern Belle town that celebrates its history, nautical lifestyle, and architecture.
It’s no wonder Pat Conroy, the famous author of “The Prince of Tides” (and once a Beaufort native) wrote his books announcing the tides and romance of life on the Carolina coast.
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DISCOVER ON THE LAND
The nautical town is equally historic and very pedestrian-friendly.
Get to know the city with guided walking tours or the local favorite, the double-decker bus tour. On a beautiful, overcast summer day, I sat on the upper deck for a bird’s-eye view of the scenic city while enjoying stories of Beaufort’s colorful past. The tour touches on stories about the homes of sea captains, many of which date back to the 18th century.
Ghost stories are intertwined in the narration as the bus hits streets lined with historic homes, all with one dominant feature: the south porch.
Streets are named after Queen Anne (after Blackbeard’s famous boat), Broad Street (the widest in the city), Orange Street (allegedly the most haunted houses). Along the way, we passed the oldest AME church in North Carolina and the Old Burying Grounds Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in North Carolina. Surrounded by Live Oak trees, the grounds exude an air of mystery.
During the tour we passed by the North Carolina Maritime Museum, the official home for all the artifacts discovered on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship captained by the infamous pirate Blackbeard.
Across the road from the museum is the Watercraft Center where volunteers build and restore boats to preserve The Crystal Coast’s backyard boat building tradition. The Watercraft Center is also home to the “Boat in a Day” program, an opportunity for families to build and take home a six-foot boat, known locally as a Harkers’ Island skiff. History buffs will also want to visit the History Museum of Carteret County.
Colorful shops line the streets in Beaufort, promoting home decor, clothing, books and nautical life. The Beaufort Visitors Center offers fun gifts and treasures, and Scuttlebutt has gifts and books. The Beaufort Home Shoppe has nautical-themed gifts, from doorsteps and plates to beach shoes. It beckons everyone to enter with its bright red door.
Take the Hungry Town Bike Tour on a vintage bike to make your way through Beaufort.
DISCOVER ON WATER
The paddling excursions range from two- to four-hour guided tours of the waters around Beaufort, Morehead City, or Cape Lookout to full eight-day paddling expeditions that take explorers along the North Carolina coast.
Try Stand up Paddle from the Beaufort waterfront and Rachel Carson Marine Reserve with Beaufort Paddle Company (beaufortpaddle.com).
Take an eco-tour (crystalcoasttours.com) to see remote barrier islands, remote sounds, ocean waters, and the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
You can enjoy the beauty of Carrot Island and Taylor’s Creek, literally a boat ride away. Or hop on the Water Bug boat tour to spot wild horses, dolphins and other wildlife (waterbugtours.com).
Like any good seaside town worth its salt, Beaufort has plenty of dining options, from the humble burger to fine dining. The view and atmosphere are king so there are no bad options.
Maybe it’s the salty air, but everything I’ve tried in Beaufort has been delicious. Here are some choices rated for historic, cheap eats and food with a view. For a good old-fashioned cheeseburger, head to Royal James Café, where the burgers will set you back $3.
• AQUA: With a motto like “small plates, big plates, great wines.” Aqua serves dishes inspired by Spanish tapas dishes – small savory dishes best enjoyed at the bar. Twice a month the restaurant organizes a wine tasting. Must try: deep fried pimento cheese balls and duck wings.
• BEAUFORT GROCERY CO.: Located in the historic district of Beaufort, the Beaufort Grocery Company is reminiscent of a French country restaurant where wonderful salads and entrees are highlighted with local seafood. Sit outside when the weather is nice.
• MOONRAKERS: King in town with its popular rooftop dining that pairs perfectly with “coastal cuisine, seaworthy spirits, and picturesque sunsets.” Moonrakers overlooks the waterfront along Taylor’s Creek. Must Try: The Tropical Cocktail, “The Painkiller.”
• RUM BAR: The view at Rhum Bar is hard to beat, a favorite with boaters who dock and dock while eating dinner and a cocktail. Try the delicious Blackened Ahi Tuna Tacos at Happy Hour.
• BEAUFORT BAKERY: Check out these two memorable spots. Marmalade Bakery is located in a Victorian home that serves premium coffee and handcrafted, exquisite baked goods. Try the blueberry strudel, coconut mini pie to start. Les Ciseaux is a hidden gem, tucked away bakery on a side street with fresh bread daily by a French baker. Must try: the chocolate croissants.
What are you waiting for? Beaufort was made for daytime exploration on land or at sea. In the evening, stroll through quaint streets or sit on a porch watching the sun set in the sky.
Photos: Scenes from Beaufort, a waterfront gem