19 Of The Best Things To Do On A Day Trip From Hilton Head To Beaufort, South Carolina

Renowned for its championship golf courses, beautiful beaches, and outstanding assortment of shops, restaurants, and recreational activities, Hilton Head Island has all the amenities of a world class resort. But what do you do when you’d like to explore a little more of the Lowcountry? We have a suggestion for even more adventure just a short road trip away. Plan a day trip to Beaufort, South Carolina. We have carefully curated a list of the best attractions in this lovely city for your day trip bucket list. Read on. There’s something for everyone.

Beaufort, SC

Named “The South’s Best Small Town” in 2017 by Southern Living, Beaufort is a historical gem with beautifully preserved antebellum homes, walkable oak shaded streets, and a stunning waterfront park overlooking the Beaufort River.

The entire downtown is a National Historic Landmark with more than 50 architecturally significant buildings, some dating to the 1700s. Mixed among the stately mansions and historic churches are restaurants, gastropubs, inns, shops and antique stores, and galleries showcasing the work of regional artists.

Beaufort is just 34.5 miles from Hilton Head Island and the drive takes approximately 40-60 minutes.

19 Amazing Things To Do In Beaufort, SC

Take a Carriage Tour

Beaufort has so much interesting history, and on the guided tours offered by the Sea Island Carriage Company, you can learn all about it. From historic churches to antebellum mansions, you’ll see it all with a knowledgeable local guide. These fun horse drawn buggy tours are typically about an hour in length and are very informative. It’s a great way to start your trip and give you a lay of the land for the day.

Sea Island Carriage Company

930 Bay Street

Beaufort, SC 29902

(843) 476-7789


Check Out the Pat Conroy Literary Center

Check out the Pat Conroy Literary Center for an in-depth look at how this Beaufort icon crafted his works. Did you know that many of his books were made into movies and were filmed in Beaufort? At the literary center, you can get the backstory on all his books. Be sure to check out the calendar of events for master classes on writing or book discussions.

Pat Conroy Literary Center

601 Bladen Street

Beaufort, SC 29902

(843) 379-7025


Plan a Picnic at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park

Henry C. Chambers was an early mayor of Beaufort who fought for the establishment of public space. This park is the result of his struggle and encompasses seven acres of walking paths close to downtown Beaufort.

The park doubles as a local marina and provides plenty of Palmetto and oak trees for shade during the summertime. It’s a popular lunchtime destination for those heading from downtown. If you don’t have time to pack a lunch, don't worry. There are plenty of restaurants nearby where you can order items to-go to bring to the park.

Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park

Bay Street

Beaufort, SC 29902

(843) 525-7011


Hike or Bike the Spanish Moss Trail

Winding its way through South Carolina’s Lowcountry, the scenic Spanish Moss Trail is a treat to hike, run, or bike along. Popular with locals and tourists alike, it takes you past spellbinding scenery with interesting historic sites, beautiful views, and charming neighborhoods also dotted along the route. Now covering 10.2 miles, the Spanish Moss trail connects downtown Beaufort to Port Royal.

The paved Spanish Moss Trail is one you can walk or bike. It follows the path of the former Port Royal Railroad (it’s also called the Beaufort Rail Trail) and if you’re lucky while trekking this out and back trail, you can catch a peek of a fighter jet from the nearby Marine Corps Air Station taking off or landing while doing drills.

Spanish Moss Trail

Trail end points: Clarendon Road/US 21 (Burton) and Ribaut Road/US 21 (Port Royal)


Explore Bay Street

Bay Street is the vibrant heart of downtown Beaufort. It’s one of the best free things to do in Beaufort, as it’s always free to look. But if you’re keen to do more than people watching and soaking in the great atmosphere, then there’s also some great shops, restaurants, bars, and galleries for you to drop some hard earned cash on some delicious food and drink or to come home with something amazing.

See the Spots Where Famous Movies Were Filmed

Hollywood directors love Beaufort for its quaint small-town feel and picturesque look. The Big Chill, Forrest Gump, The Great Santini, and The Prince of Tides are just some of the movies that have been filmed here. You can take a self-guided tour of the film sites or book a guided tour with Beaufort Tours.

Beaufort Tours

1006 Bay Street

Beaufort, SC 29902

(843) 838-2746


Roam Hunting Island State Park 

Hunting Island State Park, the most popular state park in South Carolina, is only a 20-minute drive from downtown Beaufort and is a tropical paradise. Explore the hiking and biking trails or just spend some time on the beach. If you enjoy fishing you can do so at Johnson Creek or the lagoon within the park. You can buy bait or tackle at the park store if you didn’t bring any of your own. Another draw here is the 19th century lighthouse, the only one in the state that is accessible to the public.

Hunting Island State Park

2555 Sea Island Parkway

Hunting Island, SC 29920

(843) 838-4868


Discover the Beaufort Historic District

The Beaufort Historic District lies a few streets from the downtown area and features rows of gorgeous Antebellum houses. Streets lined with trees and Spanish Moss invite visitors to walk through the shade as they gaze at the timeless architecture highlighting this historical area of town.

Watch the Swing Bridge Open and Close

The opening and closing of the Woods Memorial Bridge is a site to see. Just hang out in downtown’s Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park and you’ll catch it opening sooner or later to allow boats to pass through it on their journey along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

The Woods Memorial Bridge in downtown Beaufort is one of only a handful of swing bridges still in operation in South Carolina. A swing bridge is different from a drawbridge. Drawbridges rise and lower, swing bridges move left and right.

Learn About the History of Beaufort

The best place to get an overview of Beaufort’s rich 450-year history is the Beaufort History Museum. It covers the founding of the city and surrounding area through its role in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction.

This is also a good stop as visitors can pick up maps and information on other attractions at the attached visitor center.

Beaufort History Museum

713 Craven Street

Beaufort, SC 29902

(843) 525-8500


Visit the Old Sheldon Church Ruins

The Instagram-worthy ruins of the Prince William’s Parish Church is one of the most sacred spots in all of the Carolina Lowcountry. Constructed between 1745 and 1753, the church claims to be the first replica of the Greek temple in America. In 1779, the church was burned by the British during the Revolutionary War and later rebuilt in 1826. The church was burned again by General Sherman in 1865 during his march through the South during the Civil War.

Intriguing, mysterious, and stunningly beautiful, the sacred grounds are said to be haunted. The site, located 17 miles north of Beaufort, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 22, 1970.

Old Sheldon Church Ruins

Old Sheldon Church Road

Yemassee, SC 29945

(843) 522-1712

Head Across the Bridge to Saint Helena Island for Lunch at the Shrimp Shack

Just 10 minutes from downtown Beaufort, the Shrimp Shack is a casual place where you order at the window and eat outside on the deck. Rumor has it that when Forrest Gump was being filmed in Beaufort, Tom Hanks made frequent stops here. (It’s that good.) Try the famous shrimp burger and hushpuppies.

Shrimp Shack

1929 Sea Island Parkway

St. Helena Island, SC 29920

(843) 838-2692


After Lunch Tour the Penn Center

For centuries, St. Helena Island has been the heart of the Gullah Geechee Nation, descendants of West and Central Africans known for their well preserved traditions, distinct cuisine, and Creole language. Founded in 1982, the 50-acre Penn Center is the site of the former Penn School, the first academic school for freed slaves, and now houses a Gullah Community Center.

When the plantation owners fled after the Civil War, the freed Gullah Geechee people remained and were taught how to support themselves.

The site of the Penn Center also served as a secret meeting place for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his struggle for Civil Rights. It is alleged that he penned his “I have a dream” speech from Gantt Cottage on the estate.

The Penn Center is considered one of the most significant institutions for African American education, history, and culture in existence today.

Penn Center

16 Penn Center Circle East

St. Helena Island, SC 29920

(843) 838-2432


Go Birdwatching at Cypress Wetlands Park

Whether you are an avid bird watcher or simply love birds, Cypress Wetlands Park will get you really excited. The entire looped trail is only 0.6 miles, but you can spot a great many birds on this short and pleasant walk. There are owls, gees, hawks, eagles, ducks, herons, and other birds that make their homes here either year round or during times of migration.

Stroll along the boardwalk that will lead you through a verdant swamp surrounded by cypress trees and draped with Spanish moss. You might even encounter hidden alligators and turtles along with the rich and diverse bird populations.

Cypress Wetlands Park

1700 Paris Avenue

Port Royal, SC 29935

Purchase a Painting at Beaufort’s Local Art Galleries

Beaufort has made the list of “Top 25 Small City Arts Destinations” by American Style Magazine and it’s been named a “Top 100 Art Town in America.” Boasting over 12 art galleries in the downtown area, with dozens and dozens of locals contributing to the scene, you’ll find everything from glass art to Gullah art to classic southern styles. Find original paintings of the Hunting Island lighthouse, sea turtles, and much more in downtown Beaufort.

View the Secession House

Once owned by Edmund Rhett, brother of U.S. Senator Robert Barnwell Rhett, this Greek revival style mansion is where Southerners first met and later launched their secession plan. There is even an inscription on the basement wall that reads, “In this house, the first meeting of Secession was held in South Carolina.”

Experience a piece of American History and go view the Secession House and read the historic marker. It is not a museum, but it is still worth seeing the place which changed the course of history.

Secession House (Private Residence)

1113 Craven Street

Beaufort, SC 29902

Pay Homage at the Beaufort National Cemetery

Beaufort National Cemetery is one of six cemeteries across the United States established in 1863 to honor and re-inter Union soldiers and sailors who had died in the region during the Civil War. More than 14,000 soldiers are laid to rest here.

The cemetery’s design is unique, even among national cemeteries, because of the hub and spoke layout. It was commissioned by Abraham Lincoln. The meticulously maintained landscape has allowed old oak trees and Spanish moss to thrive over centuries of slow growth. The entire area feels untouched since the headstones were first installed.

Beaufort National Cemetery

1601 Boundary Street

Beaufort, SC 29902


Enjoy Dinner at Saltus River Grill

Set on a waterfront park, Saltus River Grill is a fine dining experience. It concentrates on fresh catch and seafood specialties, with raw bar selections and well-crafted sushi as well. The atmosphere is refined yet welcoming with a busy bar and patio.

Saltus River Grill

802 Bay Street Suite C

Beaufort, SC 29902

(843) 379-3474


Extend Your Day Trip and Spend the Night at the Rhett House Inn

The Rhett House Inn is a charming boutique hotel offering 10 rooms in the Main House, seven peaceful cottage rooms, and a fully appointed home.

They serve Southern inspired food for breakfast such as grits, hash browns, eggs, and country ham.

Rhett House Inn

1009 Craven Street

Beaufort, SC 29902

(843) 524-9030


Is Beaufort Worth Visiting?

 Absolutely!! Beaufort is a beautiful coastal town with plenty of attractions and activities for visitors to enjoy. From historic sites and museums to outdoor recreation, shopping, and dining opportunities, there’s something here for everyone. If you are vacationing at nearby Hilton Head Island, then Beaufort is well worth the day trip.