Blake Walsh

21 Best Things to Do in Beaufort, NC

  • Published 2023/02/03

Located in the 85-mile-long Crystal Coast, Beaufort is a small town in the Carteret County of North Carolina.

The Budget Travel Magazine regarded it as “America’s Coolest Small Town.”

Dating back to the early 1700s, this town exudes an old-world, southern charm.

It is here where you can explore the rich maritime history of the land and enjoy a wide range of activities.

If you are visiting Beaufort, then here are the 21 best things to do.

Enjoy a Stroll Along the Front Street

Dock at Front Street

Stephen B. Goodwin /

Beaufort’s Front Street is one of the most picturesque places in town.

It is here where you can soak in some of the waterfront’s most scenic vistas.

The street is also home to many small boutiques, cafés, and restaurants.

Shops along Front Street

Stephen B. Goodwin /

So when you are here, try gorging on lip-smacking food at one of the cafés.

Alternatively, you can also visit the boutiques and shops and get your hands on local souvenirs, gift items, clothes, and other things.

Or, you can simply take a relaxing stroll along the waters while enjoying the beautiful natural views.

Aerial view of Front Street

Stephen B. Goodwin /

Learn About the Town’s Rich History at Beaufort Historic Site

Beaufort boasts of rich 300-year-old history.

And while there are many commemorative markers all through the town, the best place to learn about them is at Beaufort Historic Site.

The site is essentially a collection of nine buildings and is managed by the town’s Historical Association.

The nine buildings of the site include Leffers Cottage & Garden, John C Manson House and the Carteret County Courthouse.

This historic site also includes the Old Burying Ground and the Josiah Bell House.

The site offers you a glimpse of coastal North Carolina as it was during the 18th and 19th centuries.

In addition to learning about the history, you can also witness several historical artifacts at these places.

Pay a Visit to Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground

View of the Old Burying Ground

Ryan McGurl /

Want to get transported to the eras gone by during your visit to Beaufort?

Head over to the Old Burying Ground in the town.

Home to many marked, as well as unmarked graves, the Burying Ground has quite a few stories associated with it.

Upon your visit, you can also use guide services to learn about the people who have been buried here.

Tall trees at Old Burying Ground

Ryan McGurl /

Built in the early 1700s, the cemetery has many weathered tombstones that act as the remnants of the town’s rich history.

The Old Burying Ground is one of the most mysterious spots in the town.

Amongst the famous tales here are those of Captain Otway Burns and a little girl who was buried in a rum barrel.

The northwest section of the cemetery is also said to be the home of unmarked graves of Native American war victims.

History marker of the Old Burying Ground

Carl Griffith, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spend Some Time at the North Carolina Maritime Museum

Boats outside North Carolina Maritime Museum

Ryan McGurl /

When in Beaufort, you must spend some time at the North Carolina Maritime Museum.

The museum is home to various exhibits and displays of coastal wildlife, shipwreck artifacts, as well as different types of shells from all over the world.

One of the main attractions here is the artifacts from the shipwreck of Queen Anne’s Revenge.

You will also learn about the region’s pirate history.

Exterior of the North Carolina Maritime Museum

karenfoleyphotography /

Upon your visit to the museum, you can also get a lot of information about the lighthouses and their history here.

For a more unique experience, you can also learn about the town’s local seafood market and industry.

After exploring, visit the gift shop to pick some souvenirs to take back home.

Go Kayaking at Taylor’s Creek

Taylor’s Creek is one of the most tranquil spots in all of Beaufort.

In addition to taking a stroll along the creek, you can also indulge in kayaking here.

The waters around Front Street are fairly calm, making it great to enjoy a flat-water ride inside a kayak.

Taylor’s Creek is also one of the best places in North Carolina to go kayaking.

Pass by downtown Beaufort and the Rachel Carson Reserve.

Or cruise all the way to Back Sound, while enjoying views of Shackleford Banks, Harker’s Island, and the Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Pay a Visit to Shackleford Banks

Wild horse in Shackleford Banks

Ryan Narron /

Shackleford Banks is considered to be a haven for nature enthusiasts.

And it is made even more famous by the presence of wild horses.

Accessible by a short boat ride from downtown Beaufort, Shackleford Banks is perfect to indulge in shelling and searching for wild horses.

Shackleford Banks is a pristine 8.5-mile-long barrier island.

People walking along the shore at Shackleford Banks

Margaret.Wiktor /

It is also one of the three components of the Cape Lookout National Seashore.

During your visit here, you can see over 150 wild horses roaming around freely here.

These horses are said to be the descendants of the Spanish horses that were being transported in a shipwreck.

Sunny day at Shackleford Banks

Kim McGrew /

Explore the Rachel Carson Reserve

Wild horse in Rachel Carson Reserve

carol corder /

The Rachel Carson Reserve is located between the Newport River and North River across Taylor’s Creek.

It is home to many islands, which include Carrot Island, Horse Island, and Town Marsh.

The reserve also boasts of a vibrant coastal ecosystem.

It is amongst the very few places in town which enclose varied terrains.

Trail at Rachel Carson Reserve

ThePhotoFab /

You can see shell bottom, ocean beaches, tidal flats, dredge areas, salt marshes, sand dunes, as well as aquatic vegetation here.

Sprawling across more than 2,300 acres of land, the reserve is also the abode of wild horses.

Additionally, it also acts as the natural habitat for a wide range of birds, mammals, fishes, as well as invertebrates.

A bird at Rachel Carson Reserve

The Old Major /

Get Inspired at Mattie King Davis Art Gallery

Looking for something artistic in Beaufort?

Pay a visit to the Mattie King Davis Art Gallery.

Located at the Beaufort Historic Site, it is the oldest art gallery in the entire Carteret County.

You can see various masterpieces by local, regional, as well as internationally-famed artists here.

The gallery also features numerous artworks, including oil, acrylic, and watercolor paintings, as well as pottery and weaving.

In addition to getting inspired by the wide range of artworks and displays, you can also purchase your favorite pieces here.

You can also soak in the verdant views of the waterfront and skyline from the gallery.

Or, you can attend one of the workshops that are organized here on a regular basis.

Learn About the Land’s Maritime History at Harvey W.Smith Watercraft Center

Interior of Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center

Jarek Tuszyński / CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located across the North Carolina Maritime Museum, this center stands as a testament to North Carolina’s wooden boat-building process.

It is at the Harvey W.Smith Watercraft Centre where you can discover the town’s rich maritime history.

You can see the entire process of boat building here.

The sounds of the building, rustic wood smell, and the overall ambiance here will surely transport you to the eras gone by.

A display in Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center

Jarek Tuszyński / CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For a more unique experience, you can also sign up for one of the many boat-building courses here.

These courses are available for people of all skills and age groups.

You can also see how members of the Carolina Maritime Model Society build small wooden boats from start to finish at this center.

Indulge in Parasailing

Tourists looking for some adventure must try parasailing in Beaufort.

Simply head over to Beaufort Inlet Water sports and awaken the adrenaline in you by availing yourself of a parasailing experience.

Get the feeling of flying hundreds of feet above the serene Crystal Coast waters.

Enjoy bird’s eye views of the famous Cape Lookout Lighthouse in all its glory.

Or witness the beautiful Carrot Island and Shackleford Banks from high up in the air as your parasail in Beaufort.

Try Scuba Diving

Scuba diving in Beaufort

Love Lego /

When in Beaufort, don’t forget to indulge in a one-of-a-kind scuba diving experience.

Beaufort is known for its rich marine ecosystem and is the home of much vibrant fish and other underwater species.

All you have to do is prepare yourself to explore life under the water here.

Once you take the plunge, you can also discover various shipwrecks in this amazing region.

Scuba diving is amongst the top adventure activities that you can enjoy in the coastal town of Beaufort.

Fish beside a shipwreck at Beaufort

Tidewater Teddy /

Tuck Into a Delicious Meal at 34° North Restaurant

In search of fine dining options in this coastal town?

Look no further, as the 34° North Restaurant is your place to be.

Located alongside the coast, the restaurant can cater to up to 150 guests at a time.

This waterfront restaurant is known all over North Carolina for offering locally-inspired eastern North Carolina dishes on its menu.

From the freshest seafood and hand-cut chops to delicacies using seasonal ingredients, you can get it all here.

The restaurant takes its inspiration from the local farms and pristine waters here.

You can choose to dine inside the restaurant, or at the outdoor patio under the open air.

34° North Restaurant also offers an exclusive collection of alcoholic beverages, including whiskeys, North Carolina beer, and several wine options.

Go On a Sailing Excursion

Sail boats in Beaufort

Ryan McGurl /

During your trip to Beaufort, you must indulge in a sailing excursion at least once.

Choose from the sunrise and sunset cruises and set sail on the tranquil waters of the Crystal Coast.

The experience also offers you a chance to explore the waters around this historic coastal town.

Sunset sailing at Beaufort

Dawn Damico /

As you sail across the waters, you can also soak in stunning vistas of the Beaufort waterfront and Beaufort Inlet.

Sip on some delicious wine as you cruise along the waters beyond the inlet.

Or take a full day cruise to the beautiful Cape Lookout, while learning new trivia about this rich and exotic land.

Enjoy the Various Food and Dining Options

Clawson’s in Beaufort

ThePhotoFab /

Just like any other coastal town, Beaufort has its own range of cafés, restaurants, as well as street food stalls.

It is in these places, you can sample and gorge on some of the most lip-smacking food and drink options during your holiday.

For southern-style food, Beaufort is the best place to be.

Some of the best places to tuck into mouth-watering food in Beaufort include Clawson’s on Front Street and Beaufort Grocery.

If you are in search of fresh seafood, The Dock House should be on your list.

You can also head over to the Royal James Café for the best burger in town or No-Name Pizza for its wide array of pizzas.

Travel to Cape Lookout

Pelicans in Cape Lookout

Kim McGrew /

Cape Lookout is one of the most beautiful places in Beaufort.

A day trip to the Cape Lookout National Seashore should be a part of your itinerary during your holiday in this town.

This place offers you a whole new side of the Crystal Coast, something that you should not miss.

The place is also the abode of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

During your day trip here, climb the lighthouse to enjoy magnificent views of the waters, the beaches on Crystal Coast, and the wild horses on Shackleford Banks.

View of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse

Keith Murphy /

Learn About Beaufort’s Legends On a Ghost Tour

The best way to learn about Beaufort’s 300 years of history is on a ghost tour.

Avail one of the many ghost walks and tours during your trip to the town and travel the streets that Blackbeard did hundreds of years ago.

Typically, a ghost tour in Beaufort is led by a guide.

The tour takes you through the historic district of Beaufort.

From seeing Pirate Guides and enjoying chilling stories to visiting ghost ships and haunted houses, the tour has it all.

You can also listen to several unexplainable stories and tourist accounts that took place during ghost tours in the past.

Shop for Fresh Local Goods at Olde Beaufort Farmers Market

Rain or shine, you’ll expect to find rows of local vendors selling their goods at Olde Beaufort Farmers Market.

Drop by at the Courthouse Square grounds under the shady live oaks every Saturday morning until lunchtime.

Pass by the tents and meet the farmers offering fresh, locally-grown vegetables, eggs, farm-raised meat products, honey, and more.

Likewise, try some delicious homemade baked goods like tomato pies, croissants, cupcakes, cookies, morning buns, and other tasty treats.

And of course, you’ll find an array of fresh seafood catch like fish, shrimp, and crab to name a few.

Aside from the variety of food and produce, take your pick of unique handcrafted pieces all made by talented artisans and craftspeople.

You won’t get bored while shopping because local musicians will keep you entertained; you can also enjoy breakfast and lunch fares from food trucks serving their specialties.

Other things your family can enjoy at the Olde Beaufort Farmers Market are the art workshops and activities at the Kids’ Program and exhibits by various local non-profit organizations.

Learn More About Whales at the Bonehenge Whale Center

If you want to discover more about sea life and the wonderful creatures that live in the waters, visit the Bonehenge Whale Center.

This research and exhibit facility is found on West Beaufort Road Extension and is used as a base for marine research and conservation efforts, along with educational programs, marine specimen collection and maintenance, and other related activities.

Book your visit and take a glimpse of the complete skeletal display of Echo, the stranded sperm whale along with other amazing marine life exhibits.

You’ll also appreciate the different artistic contributions on display, with whale themes that are sure to amuse you.

Some of these artworks teach about human culture, biology, wildlife behavior, and the interesting life of whales.

Enjoy a tour at Bonehenge Whale Center.

Get Tasty Grub and Drinks at CRU Beaufort Coffee & Café

Whether you want a coffee break or you’re hungry for some delicious café food, you’ll enjoy both at CRU Beaufort Coffee and Café.

Located on Turner Street, this full-service food stop is true to its mantra of giving customers a place to Consume, Relax, and Unite.

Bring your family any time of the week to enjoy the assorted fare on the menu from filling breakfast to tasty snack treats.

Start your day with breakfast options like the Hearty Breakfast Bowl, Breakfast Flatbread, Breakfast Burrito, or Garden Bagel, and have a cup of their special Costa Rican Arabica coffee to perk up your morning.

Take a bite of filling sandwiches and wraps with your choice of white bread, wheat bread, or wrap; you can also have your orders grilled or cold.

Go for other healthy varieties like Italian, Veggie Wrap, BLT, or Tuna Melt; for sure, you’ll never go wrong with servings of Smoked Salmon or CRU Club sandwiches.

They also have assorted soups, salads, pizza, and artisan cheese plates you’ll enjoy.

For something to cool you on a warm day, a scoop of natural ice cream will do the trick, or have an ice cream float, banana split, or espresso Milkshake for a change.

Dine in with your family at CRU Beaufort Coffee & Café.

Catch the Annual Wooden Boat Show

Beaufort prides itself on its waterfront treasures and locations so events like the Annual Wooden Boat Show are always well-celebrated and looked forward to by locals and guests.

It was first thought of by Charles McNeill and Michael Alford who were both traditional wooden boat enthusiasts and initiated an event in 1975 to foster and share this passion.

Little did they know that over the years, it would draw many boat enthusiasts like themselves and would become the longest-running wooden boat show in the Southeast region to date.

Come by on the first Saturday of May and enjoy plenty of activities with your family.

This free event showcases North Carolina’s unique art of boat building, along with exciting boat racing sports.

This free event celebrates the art of North Carolina boat building and the sport of boat racing.

See dozens of handcrafted wooden boats, historic vessels, and boat models on display, likewise, let your kids enjoy games and crafts at the Wooden Boat Kids area.

Try to virtually maneuver the “Boston Whaler Dauntless 200” at the North Carolina Maritime Museum library and see if you have the navigating skills to sail the seas.

And of course, there are free boat rides at the Annual Wooden Boat Show event just outside the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center.

Enjoy the Celebrations at the Beaufort Music Festival

You’ll surely enjoy lots of family-friendly attractions at the two-day Beaufort Music Festival.

This yearly event happens in May at Gallant’s Channel waterfront venue and has been running for over 30 years.

Join locals and tourists for great music with a diverse line-up of artists and genres like the Avett Brothers, Richie Havens, Mandolin Orange, and many more.

You’ll also enjoy local delicacies and cuisine from rows of food trucks; you can also check out the beer and wine sales at the festival.

Likewise, kids will have lots of activities and games, and have some fun time at the play areas, too.

The Beaufort Music Festival also aims to support local charitable endeavors and community programs so you’ll also be proud to take part in a good cause.

Final Thought

Beaufort is more than a usual small waterfront town.

It is in fact dubbed as, “America’s Coolest Small Town”, so there’s much to enjoy here and for sure, you won’t be disappointed.

With plenty of maritime attractions to see, shops to visit, and wholesome local experiences you can bring your family, you’re in for a great vacation treat.

So go and explore Beaufort, North Carolina’s southern charm and beauty.

Discover More of Carteret County, NC

Things to Do in Morehead City, NC

Things to Do in Emerald Isle, NC

Things to Do in Atlantic Beach, NC

© All rights reserved.