NC Explorer: Fun Things to do in Beaufort NC

Fun things to do…in Beaufort NC

Set your clocks to Coastal Time as we travel to the North Carolina coastal town of Beaufort where history, beauty and beach vibes collide for a fabulously great time.

I grew up going to Beaufort with my family. My grandparents had a condo in nearby Atlantic Beach and we’d enjoy the laidback vibes of Colonial era Beaufort.

  • Pronounced ‘bow-fort’ in NC unlike the other coastal community of Beaufort – ‘beyew-fort’ in SC

Founded in 1713, Beaufort is one of oldest towns in North Carolina (along with Bath, Edenton and New Bern) with Colonial history that includes piracy.

The historic downtown features many old homes that date upwards of two centuries allowing you feel as though you stepped back in time. It reminds me of a mini Charleston with that deep history and mysteries of pirates and treasure.

Piracy in the bones of Beaufort’s foundation: Beaufort actually accepted the notorious Blackbeard as one of their own and welcomed him into society. He brought his pirated wealth into town and was considered a fine match for any of the young eligible noble ladies of Beaufort.

Today one of the fun and a bit kitschy things you can do in Beaufort is take a Pirate Walking and Boat Tour. This part theatre, but a lot of history too.

Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach’s famed boat, The Queen Anne’s Revenge crashed near Beaufort in 1718. In the 1990s it was found and you can see many of the treasures and learn about the shipwreck at the NC Maritime Museum in Downtown Beaufort

Beaufort is in a prime inlet leading to The Atlantic Ocean. The downtown waterfront features scenic views of the harbor and nearby Carrot Island.

Carrot Island is one of several islands (shoals and banks) off near Beaufort.

Beaufort is also a gateway harbor to catch a ride to the Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout Lighthouse and National Seashore.

  • We visited Cape Lookout last year on American Nomad – my biggest tip is with any beach and sound activities bring lots of sunscreen, water and make sure to put sunscreen on your feet. The sand is hot and will burn your feet on Cape Lookout if you are not careful! (I learned the hard way one year).

Here is a quick list of my favorite haunts in Beaufort…

Start with a cup of java at CRU-The Beaufort Coffee Shop (they have wine and chococate too for an evening treat)

Get on the water:

Take a day trip to one of the nearby Outer Banks (Beaufort is in the ‘inner banks’ and near the Outer Banks of Cape Lookout and others)

  • If you want to visit Cape Lookout from Beaufort you have several options. You can spend an entire day at Cape Lookout or consider a half day option:
    • Island Ferry: I did this last year and it was super easy. It takes forty-five minutes and on the way we passed Shackleford Banks were we saw The Wild Horses. We then spent the day at Cape Lookout playing on the beach in the surf and sand by the historic lighthouse. You can bring your gear (within reason) on the ferry – blankets, coolers and sun protection.
      • There is a shop by the lighthouse that sells drinks and souvenirs FYI
    • Two years ago I took a FULL-DAY Sailboat Tour to Cape Lookout with a longer stop at a ‘secret’ shelling island. Lunch was provided (although not the best gluten free, I’d bring my own food next time). I enjoyed this cruise, but my own complaint was we only had about forty minutes at Cape Lookout. Click here to book with Lookout Cruises.
  • Take a scenic harbor cruise on a ‘pirate ship’ or ‘sunset vibes.’

Learn about Nature…

The Rachel Carson Reserve:

  • Located between the mouths of the Newport and North Rivers, across from Taylor’s Creek from historic Beaufort. You will see a portion of the reserve across the water as you stare at the marina on Front Street.
  • This reserve protects 3 miles of islands and marshland, including Carrot Island, Town Marsh, Bird Shoal and Horse Island.
  • The reserve includes over 200 species of birds (it is on the AtlanticMigratory flyway). Other residents include river otter, gray fox, marsh rabbit and raccoons…
  • The most popular native are the wild horses, which you sometimes can spot on Carrot Island (across from Beaufort) while strolling the Beaufort Waterfront.

Shackleford Banks: I mentioned this coastal treasure as part of a tour to Cape Lookout, but you can also spend the day specifically on The Shackleford Banks – bring a picnic and go shelling. Spot the gorgeous wild horses that roam the sandy shoals. Learn more about The Shackleford Banks here.

Tour a Museum:

The NC Maritime Museum

  • I love history, but never gravitated towards Maritime and Sea History until I visited the NC Maritime Museum – the interactive exhibits and knowledgable staff revealed the treasures of NC’s Coastal Culture and history.
    • Learn about The Graveyard of the Atlantic and why it is so hard to navigate the NC Coast
    • Discover the real story of Blackbeard
    • Learn about the boating industry in Beaufort
    • Discover Maritime exhibits on wildlife and habitat

Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center:

  • Across the street from the NC Maritime Museum, The Watercraft Center educates visitors on NC’s long history of craftsmanship in custom boatbuilding.
  • They offer courses to learn about boat building right on the Beaufort Waterfront.

Learn more here.

Beaufort Historic Site

  • This collection of historic homes within Beaufort is a must for history and architecture lovers. Meander through preserved homes and learn about Beauforts over 300 year history as a port.
  • Highlights include:
    • Leffers Cottage and Garden, circa 1778. This charming rustic cottage was owned by Samuel Leffers, a schoolmaster, merchant and clerkof the court. The house features artifacts related to the daily chores of cooking, spinning, sewing, candle making and weavingi n the Colonial period.
    • Carteret Country Courthouse, circa 1796. Touring the oldest wood-framed courthouse in North Carolina.
    • John C. Manson House, 1825, the ‘jewel of Beaufort HIstoric Site’s authentic resoration efforts.’ It is an elegant Federal-style house and is an excellent example of the Bahamian architecture, which was popular in Beaufort.
    • Josiah Bell House, 1825; early Victorian house style with Civil War history
    • The Old Jail, c. 1829: It’s a bit ironic that we love to visit old jails, but wiht so much history and mystery this is a fun place to investigate
    • Apothecary & Doctor’s Office, circa 1859: Learn about 19th-century medicine here.

Plan your Beaufort Historic Site tour here.

Nearby Day Trips:

Hit nearby Atlantic Beach for pristine Crystal Coast sun and surf (about a 10 minute drive).

While in Atlantic Beach, explore Civil War era Fort Macon State Park- which offers dramatic views of the coast and has a public beach.

Beaufort’s big-city neighbor, Morehead City is known as a fishing capital and hosts the world famous Big Rock Fishing Tournament each year.

Harker’s Island – fairly undeveloped compared to the rest of the area (for now), drive this scenic road to the Cape Lookout National Seashore Museum.

  • You can also catch the Cape Lookout Ferry from Harker’s Island as well.

Where to Stay:

Beaufort is known for its cozy bed and breakfasts and locally owned inns. I personally have stayed at

The Inlet Inn.

I’ve heard rave reviews about The Inn on Turner and The Beaufort Inn as well.

  • If you are looking for a chain hotel you’ll need to go to Morehead or Atlantic Beach. The advantage of staying right in Beaufort is you get the southern coastal charm – able to meander the historic streets in the quiet of sunset.

Where to Eat:

Beaufort offers a great variety of local restaurants with fresh seafood. My only call out for Beaufort is the lack of broiled fish. Most restaurants only have fried fish…which is odd because growing up we always used to get seasoned broiled flounder or Mahi. This isn’t a huge deal, but being Celiac it makes it a bit annoying.

Moonrakers has the best rooftop views, but honestly it is not my favorite menu. I enjoy starting there with a sunset rooftop cocktail before moving onto my main course at one of the other great local eateries.

  • Clawson’s is very popular, but also is a bit dark – a good night spot, but if you prefer a meal with a view…try…
  • The Dock House – won’t find a better view…this restaurant and bar has a laid back feel with affordable menu from seafood to burgers…
  • Front Street Grill – great views and good food

At Night…

My favorite time of day is the cool of the night (cool meaning not 99 degrees), whith the peaceful sea and sound breezes. At night you can meander Beaufort’s streets…and enjoy relaxing under the large oaks and listening to the quiet sound of sea life.

I usually enjoy stopping by The General Store for a cup of ice cream (they have the best)

You can also swing by the CRU Wine Bar/Beaufort Coffee Shop for a bit of live music and night cap.

I hope this gets you excited for a Beaufort Excursion.

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