With its Civil War legacy, colorful Southern homes, and landmarks like Hunting Island and Penn Center—the site of one of the first schools for freed slaves—Beaufort has always been a tourist destination for history lovers.
But in recent years, this South Carolina city, located an hour northeast of Savannah, has become a burgeoning cultural hotspot, too. From modern restaurants and design-driven hotels, to stores that suit every kind of shopper, here’s where to stay, splurge, dine, and play.
Cuthbert House Inn
Located in the heart of the downtown district, this charming bed and breakfast was built in 1805 by wealthy plantation owners. Today, the inn is the epitome of contemporary Lowcountry style, its 10 picture-perfect rooms and suites accented by black marble mantels, punchy floral drapes and couches, and clawfoot bathtubs. Some rooms, like the Eastlake Suite, have a highly saturated color palette (think: emerald-colored walls), while others, like the Coastal Suite, are more neutral. Room rates include breakfast each morning in the dining room, where coffee is served in a French press, and tables are close enough together for guests to chat easily with their neighboring diners/travelers. There’s also a social hour each afternoon, where wine, beer and sodas, as well as snacks like cheese and pickles, are served, and innkeepers dish about Beaufort history—and new happenings in town. 1203 Bay St., 843.521.1315.
Scout Southern Market
Browse colorful, Southern-inspired home goods in an airy, modern space at Scout Southern Market, named after author Harper Lee’s iconic To Kill a Mockingbird character. Located right on historic downtown’s main drag, Bay Street, the spacious shop features a range of decorative pieces from elegant, enamel oyster dishes and cooking tomes from regional chefs, to more festive kitsch, like campfire-scented candles and cheeky bar ware. If you’re not in need of new pieces for your home, Scout is still worth stopping by for its sweet treats, served up at a diner-style bar in the back: their signature tea float has two scoops of fruit sorbet topped with sweet or unsweet tea. 709 Bay St., 843.379.2282.
Take a 10-minute drive over the Woods Memorial Bridge from downtown Beaufort into St. Helena for a restaurant experience with no frills or fuss—just heaping portions of fresh, butter-drenched seafood served in a casual atmosphere that makes it ideal for large families and solo diners alike. There are classic staples (single oysters on the half shell) as well as Southern takes on those staples (chargrilled oysters that don’t immediately register as such because they’re covered with so much Parmesan). Head there on a weekend for a brunch menu of crab cakes, fried shrimp, crawfish, and a serve-yourself Bloody Mary bar with bacon, pickled veggies, olives, shrimp, and more accoutrements. 846 Sea Island Parkway, St. Helena, 843.838.9300.
Opened for business this spring, this clothing shop blends sustainability with style, offering several eco-friendly brands, such as Indigenous and Synergy. Owner and founder Melinda Henrickson was inspired to open this boutique after learning about the pollution-heavy practices often associated with the fashion industry. Now shoppers can peruse jersey dresses, linen shirts, and athletic wear in neutral solids, as well as more colorful and patterned tops and trousers from Savannah’s own Mamie Ruth. Good Aura, which Henrickson named after her grandmother, Ora—who used to frequent a hair salon located in the very same building—also carries makers that support noble causes: Nashville-based Able, for example, aims to end generational poverty by employing women who’ve overcome hardship to create its gold, geometric jewelry and leather handbags. 221 West. St., 843.263.8856.
Beaufort Biplane Tours
There’s plenty to see by traversing downtown Beaufort on foot, but arguably the best way to see the town is from above. Enter Beaufort Biplane Tours, which is owned and operated by Michael Rainey, a retired Marine aviator and Top Gun graduate. Rainey’s tours begin at $200 for 30 minutes, carrying guests up to 1,500 ft. into the sky in a bright yellow, historic de Havilland Tiger Moth plane, for unparalleled views of Beaufort’s marshes and waterways. (He’ll even let guests play pilot for a bit.) Just as impressive as the views, though, is Rainey’s collection of vintage leather bomber jackets, old flight logs, and goggles, some from his own days in service, and other pieces he scooped up online. Lady’s Island Airport, 29 Airport Circle, 904.910.6369.
Wren Bistro & Bar
This downtown eatery proves that, just like books, restaurants shouldn’t be judged by their covers. That’s not to say that the minimalist white exterior of Wren Bistro & Bar, located downtown in the historic district, leaves something to be desired—it just doesn’t hint at how spacious, modern, and elegant it is inside. With exposed brick walls, mid-century modern light fixtures, and wood finishes throughout, Wren’s Bistro is ideal for those in search of a restaurant that thinks as much about its menu as it does its design. Some highlights of said menu include lighter plates (a fried tomato stack served with whipped goat cheese and sweet pepper bacon sauce), as well as more substantial plates like steak frites and Carolina shrimp ‘n’ grits. 210 Carteret St., 843.524.9463.