Photos by Dori Arrington
Travel in the wake of legends to a town rich in history and dining options alike.
North Carolina wears its scalloped coastline with pride. Like tines on a crown, the capes of North Carolina point out into the Atlantic Ocean with enough prominence to bend the mighty Gulf Stream. Situated midway along the coastline is the crown jewel in the seaside village of Beaufort. First, let’s establish that the town name spelled “Beaufort” in North Carolina is pronounced “Bō-furt”, and the town name spelled “Beaufort” in South Carolina is pronounced “Bew-furt.” You will be politely corrected in either place if you confuse them.
Like a living time capsule, if you overlaid the original Beaufort, North Carolina town plan from 1713 onto a current map, just about everything on it would look the same, from the street names to the locations of houses and public buildings. With a deserved place on the National Register of Historic Places, Beaufort is one of the best-preserved colonial villages on the Eastern seaboard. Live oaks which were saplings at the town’s founding still shade the streets and avenues. Some homes are still in the same families as they were 300 years ago. For all of its history, Beaufort is as vibrant today as it has ever been, with locally owned shops and restaurants lining the waterfront. Businesses and homes on Front Street overlook the natural deepwater harbor of Taylor Creek. Beaufort Docks (also located on Front Street) gives visiting boaters the perfect place to tie up, with local attractions only a short stroll away.
Gallery: Beaufort, NC
Early settlers were originally drawn to the Beaufort area for the variety of marine life in the nearby sounds and rivers. The local economy is fortunate to still be based on the sea’s bounty. Anglers are drawn to the inland sounds and offshore waters for world-class fishing, and summer tourists are drawn to the clear, warm water and wide, pristine beaches on nearby Emerald Isle. While tourism dominates the economy, there is still a healthy commercial shrimp industry working the inshore and offshore waters, providing fresh local seafood and steady employment. Highly regarded boatbuilders Jarrett Bay and Parker Boats also call the town home.
The Beaufort area is blessed with as much natural beauty as historic treasure. Lying south of town across Taylor Creek is the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve, a 2,000-plus acre collection of islands and salt marshes. The desolate islands of the Reserve are home to a wide variety of birds, reptiles, mammals and sea life. Access is limited to ferry, private boat or kayak, however the trip across the creek is worth the effort. Hiking is easy on the islands and the lucky visitor may see the resident wild horses.
Continuing south from Beaufort and the Carson Reserve by water, one crosses Back Sound toward Shackleford Banks and the Cape Lookout National Seashore. The protected harbor in the Bight of Cape Lookout is unlike any other along the East Coast, in that it is outside of the barrier islands. The Bight is a popular layover for boats transiting the offshore waters. Day boaters can easily reach the Bight from Beaufort, or buy passage on regularly scheduled ferries servicing the National Seashore and Cape Lookout Lighthouse. With sea turtles and dolphins surfacing from the clear blue water and white sand beaches circling the Bight, you could easily imagine yourself in the Bahamas or the Caribbean.
A fascinating piece of Beaufort’s history was brought to life recently with the discovery of the pirate Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, located in just 28 feet of water near Beaufort Inlet. The infamous pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, used the sounds of North Carolina as a haven from which he launched raids on ships sailing in nearby waters. It is known that Blackbeard frequently stayed in a house in Beaufort. The house is privately owned today, but is visited regularly by pirate aficionados. Beaufort makes the most of its legendary visitor by holding one of the largest annual pirate festivals in August. The North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort has a permanent display of artifacts recovered from Blackbeard’s ship, including canons and personal effects of the crew.
Much of Beaufort’s past is preserved and maintained in the award-winning Maritime Museum. The Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center attached to the museum teaches boatbuilding as it was done in Beaufort’s earliest days. Craftsmen pass on generations of knowledge to enthusiasts eager to keep the old traditions alive. The Watercraft Center welcomes visitors to join the craftsmen in building a boat of their own. Plans are available for paddle boards, kayaks, sailing dinghies and skiffs.
Whether you arrive for fishing, unique local nautical gifts, dining in world-class restaurants, taking in the rich history—or just relaxing with your toes in the water—Beaufort will welcome you with the same southern hospitality it has extended to visitors for over 300 years.