Chartered in 1711, historic Beaufort is South Carolina’s second-oldest city after Charleston.
But it’s really more accurate to call Beaufort a small waterfront town of about 15,000 residents where history is alive and well-preserved.
In fact, the entire 300-acre downtown area has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and the immediate area is home to nearly 70 additional National Historic Sites.
So it’s not surprising that Beaufort has been rediscovered in the 21st century as a popular vacation and retirement destination. The restaurants, shops, art galleries, and museums on downtown Bay Street are a stroller’s delight, and the adjacent Henry Chambers Waterfront Park hosts a year-round calendar of community events where locals and visitors alike celebrate the sights, sounds, and tastes of the seasons.
Among the retirees who have long known about Beaufort‘s appeal are military veterans, many introduced to the area while stationed at the nearby U.S. Marine Corp’s Parris Island training depot or the MC Air Station Beaufort. The U.S. Naval Hospital Beaufort tops an impressive list of local medical facilities that serve veterans and civilian retirees.
With a semi-tropical low-country climate and community retirement amenities like the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Osher Lifelong Learning Center, Southern Living magazine named Beaufort as the nation’s “Best Small Southern Town,” and Coastal Living Magazine found it to be the “Happiest Seaside Town in America.”
DATE NIGHT (with or without the grandkids)
Highway 21 Drive In
The Highway 21 Drive In presents double-feature movies on each of the two giant screens every Thursday-Sunday nights. One offers popular films for kids, while the other has current releases for adults. All are shown in state-of-the-art digital format and can be previewed at the theater website, along with coming attractions and special events. The concession stand has burgers, corn dogs, and all of your favorite movie treats. Located just five miles north of downtown Beaufort on Highway 21.
Beaufort’s strategic location in the heart of the Lowcountry makes for easy day trips to Charleston, Savannah, and Hilton Head Island, or you can check out these local destinations:
Hunting Island State Park
Hunting Island is “Beaufort’s Beach,” a 5,000-acre state park with five miles of oceanfront, 11 hiking/biking trails of various lengths, educational programs and events, a fishing pier, 102 campsites with water/electrical hookups and WiFi, and the historic Hunting Island Lighthouse, where visitors can climb 167 steps to the top for panoramic seaside views.
Tanger Outlet Center
Located in nearby Bluffton, just off of Highway 278 on the way to Hilton Head Island, the Tanger Outlet is the region’s largest outlet mall with more than 85 name-brand stores that feature discount deals on adult and children’s clothing, footwear, housewares, jewelry, specialty items, and more. On-site restaurants include Olive Garden, Panera Bread, and Robert Irvine’s Nosh. Open seven days a week.
BEST CULTURAL SITES
Pat Conroy Literary Center
Established in 2016 by family and friends of the late author, the Pat Conroy Literary Center is home to a museum with unique exhibits and a tribute film honoring the life and works of the acclaimed writer who made Beaufort his home. It’s also a learning center that preserves his legacy with writers’ workshops, reading groups, and the annual Pat Conroy Literary Festival, plus community-outreach literacy efforts. Open to the public on Friday-Sunday afternoons.
Santa Elena History Center
Located on Bay Street in downtown Beaufort, the Santa Elena History Center presents exhibits that showcase the region’s 16th-century European exploration and settlement. The focus is archeological evidence from nearby Parris Island, the French site of Charlesfort (1562) and the Spanish town of Santa Elena (1566), established prior to the founding of St. Augustine in Florida. Video presentations, 3-D scale models, and live interpretations in period costumes, plus a children’s interactive area, for history lovers of all ages.
USCB Center for the Arts
The University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Center for the Arts has been the area’s cultural hub for more than 30 years. Home to the Beaufort Theatre Company, Beaufort Children’s Theater and USCB Chamber Music Series, the center offers a year-round calendar of art exhibits, stage performances, musical concerts, independent films, and special presentations like the Met Opera Live in HD. The website has ticket information for upcoming events.
February 19-24, 2019
Beaufort International Film Festival
Now in its 13th year, the Beaufort Film Society and USCB Center for the Arts host this week-long tribute to the art of filmmaking in the town where classics like “The Big Chill” and “The Great Santini” were made. Juried awards are given for the best American and foreign independent films, plus animations, long and short features, documentaries, and screenplays. Proceeds benefit local arts programs and charities.
April 27-28, 2019
MCAS Beaufort Air Show
The Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort hosts one of the nation’s largest air shows every spring. On the ground are historic aircraft exhibitions and educational presentations, but the real action is in the air: the famous U.S. Navy Blue Angels head the list of performers that range from aerobatic stunt planes to breathtaking overflights by the military’s latest combat jets.
May 3-4, 2019
Taste of Beaufort Music, Arts & Seafood Festival
A perfect sampler of the Beaufort lowcountry lifestyle, this free-admission weekend event at Chambers Waterfront Park includes a 5K bridge run/walk and kids’ fun run, handmade treasures at the arts & crafts fair, evening music concerts, and dozens of participating local restaurants offering their seafood specialties.
July 12-21, 2019
Beaufort Water Festival
A Lowcountry tradition since 1956, the 64th Annual Beaufort Water Festival will be a 10-day celebration of local food, fun and cultural heritage. Most of the free events are held at the downtown Chambers Waterfront Park, including a huge Arts & Crafts Market on the promenade. Family-friendly activities include fishing, badminton and bocce tournaments, boat tours, raft races and water-skiing exhibitions, live music concerts and dances, and fresh local cuisine, all climaxing with the Commodore’s Ball, Blessing of the Fleet, and Parade of Boats.
Celadon is a masterplanned community on Lady’s Island with a focus on the wellness lifestyle for its residents. Located just a short drive from downtown Beaufort, the manicured neighborhood walking trails/bike paths meander around three freshwater ponds, and there’s a Jr. Olympic-size swimming pool for aquatic exercise and relaxation. Celadon Club amenities include a state-of-the-art fitness facility and spa with tailored workout programs, steam rooms, massage therapy, and nutrition planning. Move-in ready homes, homesites with pre-approved plans, and customizable designs from preferred builders are available.
Designed for just 49 single-family homes in a natural and intimate Battery Creek setting, City Walk’s name rings true: The stylish new community is literally located within walking distance of the restaurants, shops, offices, and attractions of historic downtown Beaufort. Equally appreciated by resident hikers and bikers is the convenient access to the awesome 10-mile-long (and growing) Spanish Moss Trail. Neighborhood gatherings are regular events to share sunsets and refreshments at the private waterfront park. Customizable floor plans feature large lowcountry porches and first-floor master suites, with new homes by preferred builders that start in the low $400,000s.
Set along the pristine Coosaw River on Lady’s Island, the Coosaw Point residential community features gracious lowcountry-style homes in three distinctive neighborhoods with parks that are connected by walking trails. The River Club offers a pool and fitness facilities, as well as a large recreation room for community meetings and private parties. The lighted tennis and pickleball courts are located in the main interior park, while CP’s Crab Shack hosts family gatherings and oyster roasts. Residents also enjoy use of a private floating dock for kayak launching, plus a nearby public ramp for larger craft.
DATAW ISLAND CLUB
With an established residential community in one of the lowcountry’s most picturesque locations, Dataw Island Club offers amenities that are second to none. Both of the club’s championship golf courses—Tom Fazio’s Cotton Dike and Arthur Hills’ Morgan River—are award-winning designs that have been recently renovated, while the Dataw Tennis Center was honored in 2017 by the U.S. Tennis Association as one of the top four private facilities in the entire nation. With complete fitness facilities and scores of active social clubs, Dataw was named by Real Estate Scorecard the winner of its 2017 Bliss Award as “South Carolina Community of the Year.”
Located just 10 minutes from downtown Beaufort, Pinckney Retreat is a gated waterfront community planned for 77 choice homesites on the scenic grounds of an antebellum plantation. The Retreat House, originally built in 1763 and beautifully restored with contemporary conveniences, is a hub of community social life. Additional amenities include a pool, covered outdoor dining area with fireplace and grill, covered pier for fishing and crabbing, day dock for kayaks and canoes, and marshside walking trails. Waterfront homes are available from the low $600,000s, with a limited number of home sites on Battery Creek remaining.
Callawassie Island is located midway between Beaufort and Bluffton in a certified Community Wildlife Habitat that combines the serenity of a nature preserve with the finest lowcountry lifestyle amenities. Kayaks and fishing boats can be launched on the surrounding tidal creeks from four convenient community docks, while Callawassie Island Club members also enjoy year-round golf on the 27-hole course by Tom Fazio, a brand-new fitness center and two clubhouses with pools, tennis courts, and dining rooms. Spacious single-family homes in neighborhoods shaded by moss-draped oaks and choice waterfront home sites are available.