My husband and I eased into post-pandemic travel by exploring closer-to-home destinations in the South. Opting for road trips with our pup rather than flying to far-off locales, we returned to favorite destinations that offered the comfort of familiarity. The historic town of Beaufort in South Carolina’s Lowcountry is one, topped off with a visit to nearby Hunting Island State Park.

The beauty of Beaufort

Gracious southern homes and majestic Live Oaks line the streets in downtown Beaufort

Gracious southern homes and majestic Live Oaks line the streets in downtown Beaufort (credit: DiscoverSouthCarolina)

Beaufort, located on Port Royal Island, one of the Sea Islands, offers a step back in time. Majestic live oak trees, antebellum mansions, and historic churches line the streets in the historic downtown.

The Beaufort History Museum covers the town’s rich history from the first Native American settlers to early European explorations, the cotton and plantation cultures, through the Revolutionary, Civil, and, Spanish American wars and up to present times. It was the site of the Battle of Beaufort in 1779 and the Battle of Port Royal in 1861, when Union troops occupied the town. Penn Center, built by the troops to educate former slaves and now a museum, is where Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his “I have a dream speech.”

As one of the largest Gullah communities in the U.S., Beaufort also offers a great introduction to the Gullah Geechee culture. These descendants of enslaved Africans have a unique language, music, crafts, art, and cuisine that’s heavily influenced by West and Central Africa. For all things Gullah Geechee, check out the Gullah-Geechee Visitors Center or book a tour with Gullah-N-Geechee Mahn Tours. You may taste Gullah cuisine about 10 minutes outside Beaufort at Gullah Grub on St. Helena Island, the heart of the Gullah community in South Carolina. Plan ahead to attend the Gullah Festival, celebrated annually on Memorial Day.

The town’s heritage sets the background for a thriving artists community, intriguing boutiques, and regionally-inspired restaurants. Perhaps tour by horse-drawn carriage, or book a cruise along the Beaufort River to watch the dolphins. Film buffs may recognize familiar scenes, as movies shot here include Forrest Gump, The Prince of Tides, and The Big Chill.

Exploring Hunting Island State Park

Hunting Island State Park pristine white sand beach

Hunting Island State Park’s pristine white sand beach (credit: DiscoverSouthCarolina)

At the suggestion of the owner of Anchorage 1770, the boutique inn where we stayed recently, we spent a day visiting Hunting Island. This secluded barrier island is South Carolina’s most popular state park. The approximately 18-mile drive from Beaufort to Hunting Island passes through marshlands and swamps that all-but-demand stopping for a photo or two.

This 5,000-acre park entices visitors with marshes, maritime forest, five miles of sugar sand white beaches, a lighthouse, eight miles of hiking and biking trails, a fishing pier, a picnic shelter, 100 campsites, and a nature center. You can even rent Ted Turner’s former retreat on neighboring St. Phillips Island for an extended visit and family getaway.

Make reservations to visit the lighthouse, which dates from 1859. Rebuilt in 1875 after being destroyed during the Civil War, beach erosion forced relocation 1.3 miles inland in 1889. Today, visitors may climb the 167 steps for panoramic views encompassing the Atlantic Ocean and maritime forest from 130 feet above the ground.

Views of the lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park from the beach (credit: DiscoverSouthCarolina)

Views of the lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park from the beach (credit: DiscoverSouthCarolina)

Closeup view of the lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park

Closeup view of the lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park (credit: Gwen Pratesi)

Hunting Island State Park draws birders with hundreds of species. These include pelicans, painted buntings, oystercatchers, herons, egrets, wood storks, and other shorebirds such as plovers and sandpipers, as well as sea birds such as gulls, terns, and skimmers. Many of these birds nest on the beaches from March to August, so be careful in unprotected areas as their nests may be challenging to see.

Sunny days, soft white sand, and quiet beaches at Hunting Island State Park (credit: Gwen Pratesi)

Sunny days, soft white sand, and quiet beaches at Hunting Island State Park (credit: Gwen Pratesi)

Do watch your step while exploring, as you might encounter an alligator, raccoon, or eastern diamondback rattlesnake, especially in the forest. From May through August, loggerhead turtles nest along the beach, and their hatchlings emerge July through October. During these months, their nests may not be disturbed. And in the water, you can expect to see barracuda, seahorses, crabs, and dolphins.

We found Johnson Creek Tavern, a casual spot on the marsh offering fresh, local seafood, the perfect spot to grab a late lunch or early dinner before heading back to town.

Beyond Beaufort and Hunting Island State Park

Mesmerizing and photo-worthy swamps along the drive (credit: Gwen Pratesi)

Mesmerizing and photo-worthy swamps along our drive (credit: Gwen Pratesi)

If you’re visiting Beaufort for several days, consider visiting the surrounding barrier islands or take a boat ride and guided Shackleford Wild Horse and Shelling Safari to Shackleford Banks, an island in the Outer Banks in North Carolina, where you’ll see the Cape Lookout National Seashore’s wild horses; or go day-tripping to Hilton Head and Bluffton.

And, don’t be surprised if the Lowcountry’s distinctive beauty, culture, and cuisine make you extend your stay.

What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • Beaufort is a walkable town with a rich history, gorgeous architecture, a waterfront park, and several excellent restaurants, including Saltus River Grill.
  • Hunting Island State Park offers plenty of outdoor activities and has a beautiful quiet beach. It’s well suited for a multi-generational family day trip.
  • Anchorage 1770 serves a lovely breakfast each morning. Enjoy sunset at its rooftop honor bar. The top-notch Ribault Social Club at Anchorage 1770 serves dinner Wednesday through Saturday and brunch on Sunday.
  • In Hunting Island State Park, Ted Turner’s former five-bedroom/five-bathroom house comes with a long list of amenities, including transportation to and from the island. It is available for a minimum of a five-night rental: Rent the house ($12,000) or the entire island ($20,000).

Take note

  • Beaufort is a year-round destination, but consider planning your getaway in the cooler months, from late September to mid-May. The weather is pleasant and less humid, and you’ll miss the busy summer season.
  • Reservations are required to visit the lighthouse on Hunting Island.

Covid-19 Update

COVID restrictions and health and safety measures change frequently. It’s best to check with the individual properties, restaurants, parks, tour operators, and attractions before you go. Also refer to the Visit Beaufort website for updated information.

Photo credits: As shown, lead photo credit,

Disclosure: The author received a complimentary stay and one dinner at Anchorage 1770. All other meals and activities were at her expense. Any opinions expressed are her own.

Previously on GettingOnTravel:

Exploring Two Sides of History at Boone Hall Plantation

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Lowcountry South Carolina Getaway