Beaufort, North Carolina, is a charming seaside town located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. With a rich history and a vibrant community, Beaufort offers visitors a variety of activities and attractions to explore. From strolling through the historic district and visiting the North Carolina Maritime Museum, to boating and enjoying fresh seafood at local restaurants, there is something for everyone in this coastal gem. In this article, we highlight some of the best things to do in Beaufort, NC to help you plan your next visit to this beautiful town on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.
About Beaufort North Carolina
The town of Beaufort, North Carolina is a historic town that is steeped in colonial history and maritime heritage. Founded in 1713, it is the third-oldest town in North Carolina and has been a hub of maritime activity for centuries. The town’s historic district is a treasure trove of well-preserved homes and buildings, many of which date back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
We loved our time strolling along Beaufort’s stunning waterfront, window shopping along Front Street, and watching dolphins playing in the sparkling blue waters while enjoying a bite to eat in the North Carolina sunshine. Beaufort makes for the perfect trip to the North Carolina coast, where nature and history collide.
Where is it located?
The town of Beaufort is located in Carteret County on the southern tip of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It is situated on the state’s eastern coast, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. While there are no major airports close by, you can easily drive to Beaufort from surrounding areas, or after flying into the airport in Jacksonville, NC.
- From Raleigh NC: 2 hrs 40 mins
- From Wilmington NC: 2 hrs
- From Myrtle Beach SC: 3hrs 20 mins
- From Charlotte NC: 5 hrs
- From Jacksonville NC: 1 hr (closest airport)
- From Norfolk VA: 3 hrs 30 mins
What is it known for?
Beaufort is known for its rich history and maritime heritage, making it a popular destination for visitors who are interested in exploring the state’s colonial past. The town’s historic district is home to a collection of well-preserved homes and buildings that date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The town is so historically significant that it has been designated as a National Register of Historic Places, recognizing its unique architectural and cultural heritage.
It is also home to several nature reserves, including the Rachel Carson Reserve and Carrot Island, which provide opportunities for hiking, bird watching, and exploring the local wildlife. With its mild climate, sandy beaches, and laid-back coastal lifestyle, Beaufort offers something for everyone, from families and couples to solo travelers and outdoor enthusiasts (and RVers, like us!).
35 Things To Do In & Around Beaufort NC
Walk Around Front Street in Downtown Beaufort
Walking along Front Street in downtown is the perfect way to experience the charm and history of this coastal town. The street is lined with beautiful historic homes, local shops, art galleries, and restaurants that offer visitors a taste of the town’s southern hospitality and coastal cuisine. We loved the laid-back feel and the integration with nature and history everywhere you look. It was the perfect start to our tour of Beaufort and is a great place to get a sense of the town’s charm and unique personality.
Indulge your Sweet Tooth at the General Store
The General Store is a historic landmark that has been in operation since 1980. The General Store offers a unique shopping experience that is reminiscent of a bygone era with its creaky wooden floors and offers sweet indulgences including ice cream and homemade fudge. A great stop for a sweet treat or Beaufort souvenir!
Admire Boats on Taylor Creek
Taylor Creek is a picturesque waterway located along Beaufort’s downtown that is lined with boats of all shapes and sizes. From small fishing boats and kayaks to large sailboats and yachts, the boats docked along Taylors Creek provide a colorful and lively backdrop to the town’s waterfront. We loved strolling along the boardwalk, dreaming about the possibilities of trading in RV life for boat life with each new ship we passed by. A walk along Taylor Creek is the perfect way to enjoy a cool breeze while getting a unique glimpse of the town’s seafaring culture.
Visit Rachel Carson Reserve
A pristine coastal preserve that is home to a diverse range of wildlife including wild horses. You can kayak or take a ferry over right from Front Street downtown!
Kayak Rentals: Beaufort Paddle; Rental options along Front Street
Public Boat/Kayak Launch: Downtown Beaufort Ramp (2370 Lennoxville Road, Beaufort); Grayden Paul Park; Fisherman’s Park
Get in Touch With Nature on Carrot Island
Carrot Island is another small barrier island that is part of the Rachel Carson Reserve. The island is accessible by boat or kayak and is great for exploring mudflats, uplands, and salt marshes. Here you can hike along the island’s nature trails, watch the over 200 species of birds that call the island home, fish, and photograph the 40 wild horses that roam the island. Carrot Island offers the perfect opportunity to connect with nature and experience the natural beauty of the North Carolina coast.
Immerse in Local Culture at Beaufort Historic Site
The Beaufort Historic Site is a collection of beautifully restored homes, gardens, and buildings. It is a representation of the town’s rich and vibrant history, dating back to the early 1700s. Experience the charm and character of the town through the site’s guided tours, which provide an in-depth look at the architecture and lifestyle of Beaufort’s early settlers. The site includes a number of attractions, such as the Beaufort Historic Site Welcome Center, the Josiah Bell House, and the John C. Manson House. Visitors can also explore the beautiful gardens and grounds, which are filled with native flowers, trees, and plants.
Visit Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground
Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground is a historic cemetery that tells the story of the people of the town’s past. Established in the early 1700s, it contains the graves of many of the town’s early settlers, including soldiers from the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War. The cemetery features unique headstones and monuments that reflect the town’s rich history and cultural heritage.
View the Town’s Historic Homes
The Beaufort Historical Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the rich history of Beaufort. One of the association’s primary initiatives is to maintain the town’s many historic homes, which are open to the public for tours. Explore homes like the Josiah Bell House and the John C. Manson House, which date back to 1825, along with a cottage and courthouse that date back to the late 1700s. The association also hosts a variety of educational programs and events throughout the year, including historic walking tours, lectures, and demonstrations of traditional crafts and skills.
Relax at one of the waterfront parks
Grayden Paul Town Park
We found this to be the perfect spot to watch horses grazing on the shores across Taylor Creek on Rachel Carson Reserve. Enjoy the shade of the gazebo and the smell of the beautiful flower arrangements, admire the clear water on the small beach or walk out onto the floating dock.
Located on Front Street at the end of Gordon Street, this is a great park that offers a dock, kayak and canoe launching, parking for boat trailers, and tree-lined streets for enjoying the water views from the shade.
Explore the Cape Lookout National Seashore
This stunning stretch of coastline is located on the southern end of the Outer Banks and is home to miles of pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and breathtaking scenery. Some of the best things to do on the Cape Lookout National Seashore include taking the ferry over the Shackleford Banks or Cape Lookout where you can get far away from the pulls of modern life and immerse yourself in remote island nature.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse & Museum
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is one of the most iconic landmarks on the North Carolina coast and can be seen 20 miles out to sea. Standing 163 feet tall and flashing every 15 seconds, the lighthouse has been guiding ships safely through the local shoals for over 150 years. We loved exploring this lighthouse during our travels exploring the Crystal Coast, Cape Lookout, and all of the Outer Banks lighthouses!
Shelling on Cape Lookout Point
The seashore is home to a variety of seashells, including Conch, Scotch Bonnets (North Carolina’s state shell), Knobbed Whelk, Atlantic Moon Snail, Helmet Shell, and Coquina which can be found along the beaches and in the shallow waters. With its wide expanses of sand and proximity to the powerful Gulf Stream and Labrador Current, the seashore is the perfect place to search for these treasures.
You can take a 4WD vehicle out to the point, explore on foot, or take the Beach Shuttle Tour. You can find more information on visiting Cape Lookout and these different excursions in our Cape Lookout guide!
North Carolina Maritime Museum
Learn about the area’s rich Maritime history including stories of Blackbeard (the infamous pirate), view artifacts from Queen Anne’s Revenge, and learn about local marine life and ecology. Inside you will even find a complete whale skeleton hanging overhead and a preserved whale heart. The friendly volunteers inside are very knowledgeable and happy to answer any questions you have about Beaufort’s storied maritime past. Be sure to check out the quiet library space in the back for some great inspiration and history!
Get Out on The Water With a Ferry Ride
As you cruise along Beaufort’s beautiful blue and crystal-clear waters, keep your eyes peeled for bottlenose dolphins. Ferry rides are a great way to venture out to the barrier islands that protect Beaufort’s waterfront town and can also be an opportunity to see more of the area’s diverse wildlife. Beauforts’s local ferry options include:
- Island Express Ferry Service to Shackleford Banks
- Island Express Ferry Service to Cape Lookout
- Island Ferry Adventures Ferry Service to Rachel Carson Reserve, Carrot Island, Bird Shoal, or Sand Dollar Island
- Island Express Ferry Beaufort Fireworks Cruise
Take A Guided Tour
What better way to immerse yourself in a new place than to learn from the experts? If you have time, there are several great guided tour options in Beaufort:
Historic Beaufort Walking Tour
Take a walk around the charming town while looking at some of the over 150 houses that are over 100 years old. Learn about the town’s history and the sea captains and merchants that used to call Beaufort home.
Beaufort Ghost Walk
Interested in a ghost tour? With its history dating back to the early 1700s, Beaufort is the perfect place to connect with the past, explore haunted houses, and hear tales of ghost ships and the wartime past.
Historic Beaufort Double-Decker Bus Tour
Learn all about Beaufort’s history while riding on an iconic 1967 English double-decker bus. Available Thursdays-Saturday, April through October.
Beaufort Pirate’s Revenge
If you want to get the full experience of the East Coast’s maritime history, why not hop on a pirate ship and take yourself back in time? Enjoy a live pirate show that would make for a fun-filled adventure for kids and families.
Downtown Beaufort offers a variety of shopping options for visitors who are looking for unique gifts and souvenirs. Along the town’s picturesque waterfront, visitors can browse through a selection of locally owned small businesses including boutiques, gift shops, and art galleries. These shops offer a range of items, including handmade jewelry, pottery, and artwork that reflects the town’s rich coastal heritage.
Great Local Shops Include:
- Kitty Hawk Kites
- Seagrass Whimsical Gifts
- The Fudge Factory
- Beaufort Olive Oil Company
- Calypso Cottage
Dine on the Waterfront
With many great restaurants lining Front Street and looking out onto Taylor Creek, there are several options for enjoying a tasty bite to eat and enjoying beautiful views of Beaufort’s surroundings. We highly recommend dining outside at one of the local restaurant’s patios. We loved dining on the second-story balcony at Moonrakers. We had delicious food and several dolphins made an appearance down in the vibrant blue waters below us!
Here are some of the best waterfront restaurants & dining options in Beaufort (with links to menus!):
Old Beaufort Farmers Market
If you are in town on a Saturday morning, check out the Old Beaufort Farmer’s Market, where local farmers and artisans sell fresh produce, baked goods, and handmade crafts. Located in Courthouse Square, the weekly market opens in spring each year and is only a short walk from downtown Beaufort. Unfortunately, we visited before it opened for the year, but this is something we would have loved to experience and is a great way to get to know the locals and support small businesses! Connecting with the local community is a great way to foster a fulfilling trip!
Harkers Island is a small island community located just a short drive from Beaufort, North Carolina. The island is home to a variety of historic homes and buildings, as well as several local shops and restaurants. However, what draws many visitors to Harkers Island is that it is another gateway to the Cape Lookout National Seashore. The seashore is a protected area that includes three barrier islands, Cape Lookout, Shackleford Banks, and Core Banks. From Harkers Island, you can take a ferry or private boat to explore these areas, which offer opportunities for swimming, fishing, shelling, and exploring the local wildlife.
Annual Wooden Boat Show
Typically held in late Spring, the Beaufort Wooden Boat Show is an annual event that celebrates the town’s rich maritime heritage and the art of wooden boatbuilding. The event brings together boat enthusiasts, craftsmen, and artists from around the region to showcase their skills and talents. Visitors to the show can admire a variety of wooden boats, from traditional sailboats to modern yachts, and learn about the history and craftsmanship of these timeless vessels. In addition to the boats on display, the event also features live music, local food vendors, and a variety of arts and crafts booths.
Experience Beaufort’s charm and beauty from below the ocean’s surface with a scuba diving adventure. With hundreds of shipwrecks in the area (known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”), history awaits beneath the crystal waters off Beaufort’s shores.
Hop On the Outer Banks Scenic Byway
While Beaufort, North Carolina is not directly on the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, it is located a short drive away from the southern end of the route. When visiting Beaufort you can easily hop on the byway and enjoy a scenic journey along the Outer Banks. From Beaufort, you can drive north on the byway, passing through the towns of Atlantic Beach and Morehead City, before reaching the scenic Harker’s Island causeway and gateway to the Cape Lookout National Seashore. The entire scenic byway takes you all the way up to Nags Head and requires two ferry rides (Cedar Island to Ocracoke and Ocracoke to Hatteras).
Visit Fort Macon State Park
Fort Macon is a historic military fort located only 25 minutes from Beaufort and close to Atlantic Beach. Built in the early 19th century, this fort played a significant role in the Civil War and other conflicts throughout American history.
Today, the fort is a popular tourist attraction, offering visitors a glimpse into the country’s military past. The fort has been restored to its former glory, and we learned a lot while exploring its many rooms, exhibits, and artifacts.
The surrounding state park also features picnic areas, hiking and biking trails, and a beautiful stretch of beach, making it an ideal destination for learning about U.S. history and spending time in nature. A few great things to do at the park include:
- View the Fort
- Watch the waves crash to shore from Beaufort Inlet on the beach
- Check out the trails in Fort Macon State Park
Go to a local beach
Beaufort, North Carolina, is located in the heart of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, which is known for its beautiful beaches and picturesque scenery. Visitors to Beaufort have a variety of local beaches to choose from including many on Bogue Banks, each with its own unique features and attractions.
- Pine Knoll Shores is a small beach community located just a few miles from Beaufort. It is known for its clean and uncrowded beaches, making it a popular destination for families and those seeking a peaceful beach experience.
- Morehead City is another nearby beach community that is popular for its fishing and boating opportunities. The town has a long history as a fishing village and is home to a variety of charter fishing boats and seafood restaurants.
- Atlantic Beach is a bustling beach town that is known for its wide sandy beaches and variety of recreational activities, including water sports, fishing, and dolphin watching.
- Emerald Isle is a picturesque beach community that is popular for its crystal-clear waters and pristine beaches. The town is also home to a variety of shops, restaurants, and beachfront rentals, making it a popular destination for visitors looking for a beach vacation experience.
Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
Located just a short drive from Beaufort, this aquarium offers a unique and immersive experience that showcases the diverse marine ecosystems of the North Carolina coast. Visitors can explore a variety of exhibits, including a massive 306,000-gallon Living Shipwreck display, where sharks, rays, and other fish swim among a sunken World War II-era German U-boat. The aquarium also features interactive exhibits that allow visitors to touch stingrays and learn about sea turtle rehabilitation efforts.
Plan Your National Seashore Adventures At The Visitor Center
The National Park Service’s Beaufort Visitor Information Center is an excellent resource for visitors to Beaufort, North Carolina, and the surrounding areas. The center offers a wealth of information about the local attractions, historic sites, and outdoor activities, including Cape Lookout National Seashore, the Beaufort Historic Site, and the Rachel Carson Reserve. Speak with knowledgeable park rangers and volunteers, who can provide recommendations on things to see and do in the area, as well as maps, brochures, and other resources to help plan their visit.
- Location: 701 Front Street, Beaufort, North Carolina
- Open daily from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
See Wild Horses on Shackleford Banks
Shackleford Banks is located on the southern end of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It is a secluded and remote barrier island that offers visitors an idyllic escape where you can leave the stress of everyday life behind for a while. Shackleford Banks is a true paradise for nature lovers with its pristine beaches, wild horses, and abundant wildlife.
If you can only pick one place to see wild horses and have the time, we believe a trip to the remote Shackleford Banks is the best choice! From Harker’s Island, you can get a combo ticket to explore Shackleford Banks and the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. We have more information on that in our Cape Lookout Guide!
Watch Sea Turtle Hatchlings Return to The Sea
Cape Lookout National Seashore is the nesting location for a thriving population of sea turtles, including Loggerheads, Green Turtles, Leatherback sea turtles, and Kemp’s ridleys. Each year, from late May to early September, female sea turtles crawl ashore to lay their eggs in the sand dunes along the undeveloped beaches. About two months later, tiny hatchlings emerge from their nests and make their way to the ocean, where they begin their journey through life.
This is on our bucket list and after visiting Cape Lookout’s sprawling point and untouched coastline, we believe it would be a magical place to witness this special event.
Croatan National Forest
The Croatan National Forest is a sprawling woodland covering more than 160,000 acres. The forest features a diverse landscape of pine forests, swamps, and estuaries. The forest is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, offering opportunities for hiking, fishing, boating, and camping. Visitors can explore the forest’s many trails, including the popular Neusiok Trail, which runs for 21 miles through some of the most beautiful and remote areas of the forest
Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge
Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge is a stunning natural area located on the coast of North Carolina, just a short drive from Beaufort. The refuge encompasses over 14,000 acres of pristine coastal habitat, including salt marshes, tidal creeks, and sandy beaches. Visitors can explore the refuge on foot, by boat, or by car, taking in the breathtaking views and observing the diverse array of wildlife that call the refuge home. The area is particularly popular among birdwatchers, who can spot a wide variety of waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors throughout the year.
Cedar Island is also a great place to take the vehicle ferry to Ocracoke Island or take your vehicle to the remote beaches of Cape Lookout National Seashore.
Fulfilling Travel Tips
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO BEAUFORT NORTH CAROLINA
Located on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast with close proximity to the Cape Lookout National Seashore and ample opportunities to get outdoors and connect with wildlife, Beaufort is a great getaway for the outdoor enthusiast and history buff alike. As full-time traveling RV nomads, Beaufort offered us waterfront charm close to the state’s pristine beaches, as well as close to great camping within the dense National Forest. There are plenty of ways to stay in Beaufort:
Local Camping Options:
Camping is a great way to live in harmony with nature and bring the outdoors right outside your door!
- Tent Camping on Shackleford Banks
- Tent, car camping, or truck campers on Cape Lookout or the South Core Banks
- Oyster Point Campground (reservation and walk-in primitive sites) in the Croatan National Forest
- Cedar Point Campground (electric or primitive sites with a bath house in Croatan National Forest)
- Flanners Beach Campground (electric and primitive sites 30 minutes from Atlantic Beach)
North Carolina’s Crystal Coast is full of great campsites, ranging from RV resorts to no-frills National Forest campgrounds. If you are looking for the perfect one-stop shop for comparing RV parks, campgrounds, and glamping options and prices with instant booking, we highly recommend Campspot.
RV Rentals: If you are looking to get closer to nature but don’t have an RV, consider renting one through RV Share. We used this service when renting out our Casita and found them to be high quality and easy to use!
Other Area Accommodations:
If you are looking for other accommodations, you can find plenty of great stays not far from the pristine beaches in this area. Booking.com is a great resource that allows you to compare prices easily and lock in the best rates for stays ranging from hotels to private rentals! Some spectacular coastal areas to consider for your stay include: