Waypoint: Beaufort, South Carolina

A focal point for film lovers, cultural diversity and eco travel adventures.

Photos by Dori Arrington

Saltwater marshes as far as the eye can see, lush with bulrush, sweetgrass and palmetto. This is the Lowcountry of South Carolina, an area literally dripping in natural beauty. The Lowcountry draws its name from being underwater as much as it is ever dry land. Here, where the Beaufort River meanders inland from Port Royal Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, is Beaufort, South Carolina, a town most consider to be the heart of the Lowcountry. Strategically located on a patch of high ground, where live oaks draped in Spanish moss shade the nearby grasses, Beaufort has been a valuable deep-water port for over 300 years. Over 4,000 years ago, Native Americans created shell mounds on area islands.

While most certainly a physical place, the Lowcountry is defined as much by its character as its location. People from around the globe have influenced its history, making it culturally rich from the diversity of the people who’ve inhabited it. Founded in 1711, Beaufort is the second oldest city in South Carolina behind Charleston. One must note that the Beaufort in South Carolina is pronounced “Bew-furt,” and the Beaufort in North Carolina is pronounced “Bō-furt.” You will be politely corrected in either place if you confuse them. Beaufort had the mixed blessing of being one of the first cities in the south to be occupied by Union troops only a few months into the Civil War. The fortunate part of that occupation is that many of the town’s houses were taken over by the North to use as offices and barracks for senior military staff and troops during the war. While we can be sure that many local residents didn’t view that as a positive event at the time, today’s residents have made the best of that occupation by preserving and restoring many of those historic houses into lovely homes.

Due to this careful preservation, 300 acres of the city have been designated a -National Historic Landmark. This rare collection of antebellum architecture has drawn the attention of more than one Hollywood director, with such award-winning movies as Forest Gump, The Great Santini, The Big Chill and Prince of Tides having been shot on location in town. A great way to go behind the scenes of movies filmed in the area, is to take the Beaufort Movie Tour, where local guides will show you the locations where your favorite movies were shot. You can visit sites featured in films, including the resident mansion used in The Great Santini and The Big Chill, or see where the Vietnam War scenes from Forrest Gump and Rules of Engagement were filmed on nearby Hunting Island.

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Today the local film industry is celebrated each February during the Beaufort Film Festival. The five-day movie showcase has grown into an internationally acclaimed event, previewing submissions by up-and-coming creative talent and award-winning directors.

Besides the tourism industry that contributes to a healthy local economy, Beaufort has a stable economy supported by the numerous military installations around the area, including the famed Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island. The National Cemetery Administration oversees one of the most sobering, yet beautiful reminders of Beaufort’s role in our nation’s defense at the Beaufort National Cemetery.

Residents and tourists alike have been drawn to Beaufort for many reasons, especially the simple, natural beauty of its location. The area has a wide variety of activities for the outdoor enthusiast, including; cycling, bird watching, fishing, kayaking, scuba diving and much more.

The most popular places in the Lowcountry to commune with nature are on the islands in and around Port Royal Sound, including St. Helena, Lady’s, Fripp, and Hunting Islands. St. Helena is home to the Gullah culture, unique to the Lowcountry. The descendants of African slaves brought to this country to work in the rice and indigo plantations, proudly carry on their ancestor’s traditions of storytelling, dance, and music. Each May these traditions are celebrated at the Gullah Festival on the waterfront park in Beaufort.

Hunting Island, with its dense sub-tropical forests and wide sandy beaches is a favorite destination for families. The 5,000-acre island has miles of pristine beaches, ancient old-growth maritime forest, bike trails, saltwater lagoons and an ocean inlet to explore. Fripp Island is home to the Fripp Island Golf & Beach Resort, a completely self-contained vacation destination with swimming, restaurants, tennis, boating, golf, and some of South Carolina’s prettiest beaches. Families love the all-inclusive convenience of Fripp, with many choosing to trade their cars for the simple pleasure of golf cart travel while staying on the island.

Three great marinas are available for the visiting boater—Safe Harbor has two. The first is located in downtown Beaufort at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Docking at the waterfront park makes it easy to enjoy downtown Beaufort, and the park is a great place to stroll in the evening. You might even be lucky enough to watch locals gather for their evening game of bocce ball. Safe Harbor’s second area marina is located just down the river from downtown Beaufort at Port Royal Landing. Lady’s Island has their own marina on Factory Creek, entered just east of the Lady’s Island Swing Bridge.

Beaufort is blessed with year-round activities, so plan ahead for a stay at one of the marinas. Spring and fall see busy times with seasonal cruisers moving up and down the waterway. Summer is a popular time for boaters to reserve a spot downtown, especially during the Beaufort Water Festival. Held annually along Beaufort’s waterfront every summer since 1956, the Water Festival is a 10-day July extravaganza, giving Beaufort a chance to show off everything that’s special about this charming village.

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This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

Source: https://www.powerandmotoryacht.com/voyaging/beaufort-south-carolina-as-a-boating-destination