Bejeweled at both ends by historic riverfront mansions and ancient live oaks, with a dynamic commercial district in between, Bay Street in downtown Beaufort seems a microcosm of the city: a place where Old South and New South peacefully coexist. Founded in 1711, Beaufort was the birthplace of secession, but the town was occupied by Union forces early in the Civil War and later spared Sherman’s torch. On nearby St. Helena Island, the 1862-founded Penn Center memorializes the country’s first school for freed slaves; Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech there a century later. So plentiful are its pre-war and post-war landmarks, President Barack Obama established Reconstruction Era National Historical Park in Beaufort in January 2017.
But for all its weighty history, a light spirit pervades downtown Beaufort. Bay Street is alive with the clip-clop of carriage tours and the chatter of window shoppers, gallery-goers, and al fresco diners. Architecture enthusiasts wander through the Verdier House (c.1804) and stroll the storied Old Point neighborhood, while behind Bay Street, in Waterfront Park, children watch sailboats from swings along the seawall.
In 2014, first-time hoteliers Frank and Amy Lesesne transformed Beaufort’s oldest and largest tabby mansion, built in 1770, into a world-class waterfront inn. Enjoy the culinary artistry of chef Daniel Salazar—as well as the best breezes and sunset views in town—on one of three spacious porches overlooking the Beaufort River.
Scout Southern Market
Like Harper Lee’s unforgettable heroine who inspired its name, Scout is a high-spirited Southern original. Named one of the top shops in the region by Southern Living, this welcoming establishment specializes in handpicked, artisanal items for the home—teapots, card boxes, chandeliers made of vintage teaspoons—along with Beaufort’s only sweet tea bar.
Tucked away on the backside of Bay Street, beneath the historic Thomas Law Building, this unassuming Beaufort institution is the ultimate locals’ joint and a first-class dive. The bar, crafted of salvaged heart pine, seats about six. Sidle up for a killer Bloody Mary, and if the daily specials list includes the meatloaf sandwich, order it. 843-521-4480
Saltus River Grill
This sophisticated restaurant known for its Lowcountry-centric cuisine and stunning Beaufort River views is where locals take visiting relatives to show off. The wine list is expansive, the specials are inspired (lemon and basil deviled quail eggs), and the classic offerings (like shrimp and grits and crab bisque) are not to be missed.
Panini’s on the Waterfront
This favorite waterside restaurant is known for its brick-oven pizzas (try the roasted chicken-and-pesto variety), specialty pastas (like mac and cheese with prosciutto), and the tasty, toasty Italian sandwiches that lend the spot its name.
Cook on Bay
Wander through the captivating maze of cookware, tools, gadgets, quirky kitchen gifts, and specialty foods and seasonings at this foodie’s fantasy come true. From Big Green Egg to Blue Crab Bay to Le Creuset, all the big brands are here, along with local favorites like Bluffton Tea and Gullah Gourmet.
Southern Sweets Ice Cream & Sandwich Shop
Stop into this old-fashioned, family-owned ice cream parlor for a scoop of salted caramel or black cherry, or go all out with a specialty sundae like the Peanut Butter Attack or the Moon Pie. Standout sandwiches include the tarragon chicken salad and the Beaufort BLT.
Atelier Off Bay Art Gallery
Site of a family-owned department store for over a century, the beautifully restored Lipsitz Building (c. 1883) is home to the studio galleries of fourteen of the town’s finest artists. Walk in to watch them work, chitchat about art, or just browse the walls. Everything’s for sale.
A hobbit hole of wonders, this cozy shop is chock-full of whimsy. Find the perfect gag gift, a hilarious birthday card, or a singular piece of handmade jewelry. Browse the shelves for stuffed animals, shawls, fine leather bags, pajamas, even silly socks and naughty cocktail napkins.
This article appears in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Southbound.