Beaufort, North Carolina, is a small town with plenty of southern charm and maritime history. There are so many things to do in Beaufort, NC, that any visitor will have difficulty getting board. From world-class fishing to walking around the historic downtown area, any trip to Beaufort is sure to be a memorable one.
Before we dig into the best Beaufort attractions, it’s crucial to distinguish the difference between Beaufort, NC, and its southern sister of the same name. Specifically in its name. Beaufort, North Carolina is pronounced “BOW-firt,” while Beaufort, South Carolina is pronounced “BEW-furd.” They are both named after Henry Somerset, the second Duke of Beaufort. He never visited South Carolina or North Carolina.
Best Things to Do in Beaufort, NC
Enjoy a Walk along the Boardwalk
One of the best things to do in Beaufort, NC, is to walk around the boardwalk. Front Street of Beaufort is home to a waterfront boardwalk providing unparalleled views. Boats of all shapes and sizes have sought the refuge of the harbor, and early morning strolls along Front Street offer a unique glimpse at sailors prepping for the journey ahead.
The boardwalk takes up two blocks and features various sweet shops mixed with some of the area’s best restaurants—sunsets over the adjacent waterfront offer the perfect backdrop for an afternoon stroll.
Explore the Maritime Museum
North Carolina’s waters have witnessed decades of sailing history, and the North Carolina Maritime Museum is responsible for preserving these stories. The museum houses hundreds of authentic artifacts and models of ancient boats throughout its halls, highlighted by its collection of Queen Anne’s Revenge parts.
Queen Anne’s Revenge was the home of Blackbeard, a famous swashbuckler who made his living tormenting sailors in the waters outside of North Carolina. He eventually met his demise on the very same shores. The recently discovered artifacts fit perfectly into the rest of the museum’s collection. Any item salvaged from the wreckage is on display in the museum.
Educate yourself at the Beaufort Historic Site
The Beaufort Historic Site is a multifunctional epicenter for the town’s history. It also functions as a visitors’ center and a museum. It’s an excellent central location to start your exploration of the area. Browse the museum to learn about what is on offer in the area, and head to the visitors’ center to find the best ways to get a closer look.
In addition to these establishments, the historic site also includes a dozen homes built hundreds of years ago. These homes have been preserved in their original condition and are now uninhabited – perfect for a guided tour.
Rent a Kayak and explore
Beaufort offers various rental boat companies and launch locations to get the most out of its waterfront experience. There are waterways across the town, and most landmarks in the area are a short paddle away from the city center.
Equipment can be rented and delivered to the put-in location of your choice, allowing you to customize your day on the water completely. The surrounding islands offer protection of Beaufort’s waters, so even the most inexperienced kayaker can paddle with confidence. Beaufort Paddle is a great company that will rent you kayaks and offers route insights, so you get on the perfect trip for you.
Some of the most popular kayaking routes are:
- The Rachel Carson Reserve
- Bird Shoals
- Historic Old Towne Beaufort Waterfront
the Cape Lookout National Seashore
The ideal access method to the island from Beaufort is aboard the Island Express. The scenic ferry takes you from the mainland to miles of unexplored beaches along the Cape Lookout National Seashore and Shackleford Banks. The only way to access the National Seashore is via boat (three miles offshore), meaning there are no roads in the area.
This lack of development is a nature lover’s paradise. Wild horses are known to roam across the shores, and a variety of endangered species call the protected dunes home. In the heart of the Seashore lies a historic village where the area’s first settlers’ perseverance is on display.
Driving is allowed on the open oceanside beach, seaward of the dunes, and down to the tide line with an ORV Beach Driving Permit and a proper 4×4 vehicle that can drive on the sand.
Discover the Graveyard of the Atlantic
The rough waters on the outskirts of Beaufort have been home to numerous shipwrecks of all shapes and sizes. Over two dozen known shipwrecks are in the waters outside of Beaufort, ranging from wooden vessels to German U-boats.
The best way to access these graveyards is through a scuba trip like no other. Experienced divemasters take you close enough to the wreckage to allow for a close look at where it all went wrong for the vessels. Some legends say there are still treasures to be found in these wrecks. Discovery Diving is a great option to get you to these wrecks safely.
Break barriers at Shackleford Banks
Shackleford banks act as an eight-mile barrier between Beaufort and the Atlantic Ocean. The banks protect Beaufort from the Atlantic Ocean’s full brunt and protect various plant and animal species, some of whom wound up on its shores in shipwrecks.
The island is open for anyone to roam but is only accessible by boat. If you make the journey, you will find pristine beaches and the widest variety of seashell activities in North Carolina. The bank’s length makes it perfect for a day trip.
Grab a Flight at Mill Whistle Brewing
Mill Whistle Brewing was the first brewery to open in Carteret County. Since they opened their doors, they have been innovators in the brewing industry, operating as a nano-brewery. This unique indication implies the company brews a wide variety of beers in small proportions.
The offerings on tap at the location reflect that commitment. Each week brings a wide variety of selections to the menu, and the brewers haven’t been afraid to think creatively over the years. Try a small sample of five different beers to see what Mill Whistle offers.
Embrace Nature at the Rachel Caron Reserve
Rachel Carson started the modern environmental movement, and this reserve in her honor seeks to carry on her legacy by providing a home for over 200 species of wild birds. The reserve is only reachable by boat, and there are no roads or commercial construction on the island.
Paddlers will find a unique look at what happens when nature is left alone. Carson’s legacy encouraged human development to coincide with nature, and additions like this take that ideology into action.
Grab a home-cooked snack at the Olde Beaufort Farmers Market
For decades, locals have been gathering, rain or shine at the Olde Beaufort Farmers’ Market selling everything from cupcakes and quiches to farm-raised meats and vegetables. Every Saturday, the market is protected by shade from oak trees in the Center of Beaufort.
Artists and local artisans offer various hand-made souvenirs and delicacies, and local musicians fill the air with peaceful music perfect for perusing.
Uncover the Past at the Old Burying Ground
Cemeteries may not always be the first stop on the trip, but Beaufort Historic Site’s Old Burying Ground’s history makes it a central highlight of the town. There are headstones in the area dating back to 1724 and stretching into the early 1900s.
Its preservation reserved the place of the burying ground on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The area is a popular stop on any tour of downtown Beaufort.
Eat where the Land Meets the sea
Since its early days, the unique blend of southern cuisine and seafood has defined Beaufort’s food scene. Restaurants along the waterfront boardwalk feature local delicacies alongside fresh-caught seafood.
Further away from the waterfront, local restaurants provide another favorite of Eastern North Carolina, pulled pork BBQ. North Carolina leads the nation in pork production, and that homegrown flavor has found its way onto menus town-wide.
Some of the best oceanview restaurants are:
Get Spooked on a Ghost tour
No historic southern town is complete without a ghost tour, and Beaufort is no exception. Beaufort has seen plenty of wars and pirates, making the area ripe with haunted regions. Guided tours with Beaufort Ghost Walk take you through the highlights of the area’s spooky history.
Tours in the daylight hours serve as historical info tours suited for the whole family, while adult-only after-hours expeditions take you to the heart of the haunted history of Beaufort.
Catch your dinner
Thanks to the bountiful waters of the fisheries, Beaufort has excellent access to fresh fish. Fishing is one of the oldest and most popular recreational activities in this coastal community, and boats lay waiting to take you out for a fresh catch.
Fishing expeditions can be as simple as casting a line off a Beaufort bridge to day-long excursions into the deep sea to pursue bigger fish. There are various guided excursions and equipment rental opportunities downtown. Try contacting Beaufort Charters to take you out.
Find some Knick-Knacks at Scuttlebutt
ScuttleButt has embraced its nautical history while establishing itself as the area’s only independent bookstore. This blend of two niches makes Scuttlebutt a favorite for locals and visitors. Whether you are looking for something to read while you relax or something to take back to something special, you can find it at Scuttlebutt.
They have embraced regional traditions by offering traditional designer baskets and authentic crab house nuts from Blue Crab Bay. This local favorite has allowed its roots to spread deep and has put local flavor into every store corner.
Enjoy a perfect pairing at the Beaufort Wine & Food Festival
Heading down for a weekend at this festival will ensure the most challenging decision you make all week is where to eat. Chefs and winemakers combine from across the world every April to use the region’s unique flavors in particular dishes. Various pairing events have been established throughout the festival to ensure you get a taste of everything offered.
Saturday Nights, it all comes together with the Saturday Night Throwdown. Beer, wine, and spirit samples collude with featured dishes from area restaurants and a thriving live music scene.
Feel the rush of Beaufort Watersports
Beaufort Inlet Watersports allows visitors to get out into the sea on a variety of various crafts. Sailing, speedboats, kayaks, and more are possible across Beaufort Inlet.
No option is more iconic than the parasailing trip offered by Beaufort Watersports. The trip guarantees 10 minutes of flight time for Fort Macon State Park’s fantastic views and the distant Cape Lookout Lighthouse.
Climb to the top of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is the highlight of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, and seeing it is one of the best things to do in North Carolina. This towering beacon sits 163 feet above sea level, and sailors can see its light 19 miles away from the source. The lighthouse’s checkered pattern is unique.
It stands in its original structure since it was built in 1859, surviving an attempt by southern troops in the Civil War to destroy the lighthouse. The center still serves its original purpose, igniting a white light every 15 seconds. Views from the top of the lighthouse give a dramatic look at the untouched coastline surrounding the installment.
Spar Over Fort Macon
Fort Macon was built in response to Spanish and British raiders attacking burgeoning coastal communities in the 1700s. The defenses were reinforced in the 1800s and were a base for Union and Confederate troops at various Civil War points.
Now presiding over peaceful times, the fort has been established as a state park and provides a plethora of outdoor activities with its historical significance. It was named North Carolina’s park of the year in 2015, and large parts of the fort have been restored to appear as they did in the time of civil war.
Take a horseback Sunset Ride on the Beach
Horses have played a significant part in the development of this area. Wild horses have thrived in the coastal marshland as long as human settlers have. Companies take homage to this heritage by providing a unique opportunity to tour the beachfront land on horseback.
The horses available for a gallop down the coastline are not the same wild horses you may see while you wander across the shores. You don’t have to worry about breaking a new steed, only relaxing and soaking in the last rays of a sunny day. Cedar Island stables offer the best horseback riding experience on the coast!
Relax at the Hammock House
The Hammock House is the oldest home in Beaufort and still holds architectural and historical significance. Its Caribbean design is unique to the area. The house is still privately owned and unavailable for tours, but the variety of hammocks hung on the double balconies is a sight.
The house is a highlight of any haunted tour of the area, and its inaccessible nature mixed with its history makes it the perfect setting for local folklore.
Cedar Island Refuge
The Cedar Island Refuge is a marshland refuge established five miles from the eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Many bird and animal species call the island home, while unique sea creatures soak at the water’s edge. Boardwalks and shaded areas line the pathways of this Island Refuge, accessible for all ages.
The Best Restaurants in Beaufort
- Moonrakers — Located in the historical district, Moonrakers is a mecca for magical meals. The name is derived from the rectangular sails which are flown at the high mast on 17th-century ships, an homage to the nautical past of the coastal culture and cuisine of Beaufort.
- Black Sheep — Focused on American fares and wood-fired pizzas, Black Sheep is a bastion of waterfront dining in Beaufort.
- Mezcalito — Mezcalito has been a much-appreciated addition to the Beaufort cuisine scene, keeping the hungry masses satisfied with spectacular Mexican meals.
- The Dockhouse — The Dockhouse has been a beloved institution of Beaufort since it opened its doors in 1978 and is definitely one of the best Beaufort, NC Restaurants!
Where To Stay In Beaufort, NC
Beaufort Hotel NC
Inn At Pine Knoll Shores
Pecan Tree Inn