The coastal town of Beaufort has quickly become one of the most popular vacation destinations for Inner Banks travelers and boating enthusiasts of all varieties, and for good reason. The small 2.7 mile town, (surrounded by nearly a mile of water), is a vacationer and maritime lover's dream, with a hearty downtown scene lined with shops, galleries, and acclaimed restaurants, in addition to dozens of maritime supply stores.
Small parks and benches border the seemingly endless docks, and cafes and coffee shops have sprung up all along the harbor front so folks passing through, or anyone enjoying an early morning stroll, can relax with a hot cup of Joe or a big breakfast while enjoying the scene. Home to some of the Inner Banks' best loved dining establishments and galleries, and a 20 minute water taxi or maritime shuttle away from the enticing Shackleford Banks, Beaufort has gained a recognizable name on the North Carolina tourism scene as one of the best spots to unwind and let your inner mariner shine through.
Hundreds of years ago, well before European settlers appeared, the town of Beaufort was called "Cwarioc," or "Fish Town" by the local Coree Indians who called the region home. Early settlers began purchasing property in the region around 1709, and by 1713, a local Craven County merchant hired a surveyor to lay out to the not-yet fully constructed town. The surveyor designated streets and names, including Anne, Queen and Moore Streets, (named after Colonel Moore who ended the Tuscarora War), and the names have stuck ever since. It should be noted that Beaufort's busiest stretch of town, located right along the downtown's waterfront, wasn't constructed until the early 1800s, and as commerce grew along this road, the street was eventually called "Front Street," in honor of its waterfront locale.
After these early town layouts and surveys, Beaufort was officially appointed a port for unloading vessels by the Lords Proprietors, the New World's form of government, and the town blossomed with dozens of lots and sites purchased within the city's limits by merchants, traders, boat builders, and countless other members of the maritime industry. The port town of Beaufort grew, and commerce blossomed.
Unfortunately for the town, a thriving port town was just the sort of allure that attracted pirates in the late 1600s and early 1700s, and sure enough, Beaufort was a popular destination for both Edward Teach, (more commonly known as Blackbeard the Pirate), and his former lieutenant, Stede Bonnett, a gentlemen by birth but eventually a successful pirate in his own right. Both notable pirates were frequent visitors to the Core Sound, located on the outskirts of Beaufort, and also of the town itself - Blackbeard was said to be a regular guest at Beaufort's own "Hammock House."
After the era of pirates had subsided, (with Blackbeard meeting his end off the coast of Ocracoke just 40 or so miles away), the town grew at an unhurried pace, still serving as a port town, and delving into a little bit of the commercial fishing industry that is a prime characteristic of the Outer and Inner Banks.
Today, not much has changed since the town was first patched together in the 1700s. Historic homes stand a block or two away from Front Street, carefully preserved by the Beaufort Historical Association, although more modern buildings have taken up residence along the busier waterfront downtown sections as well, catering to passing mariners, day-trippers, and long weekend or weeklong tourists who want to admire the coastal scene. The area has also become a favorite retirement or second-home spot for water lovers, and new communities can be found outside of the downtown with private boat docks or community boat launches for easy access to both the Shackleford Banks and the Core Sound.
A first-time visitor to Beaufort will find plenty of ways to stay entertained, beginning with the incredible dining options located throughout the town. Several restaurants are historic sites in their own right, dating back over a century, while a half-dozen downtown eateries feature unparalleled outdoor seating overlooking the always busy waterfront docks. All of these restaurants feature fresh seafood in abundance, including oysters, blue crabs, NC shrimps and scallops, and plenty of seasonal fish, and are a perfect destination for any seafood lover.
The downtown also has a renowned collection of shops and galleries that vary from the practical to the downright fun. In Beaufort, travelers will find a bevy of maritime supply stores to replace or add onto existing boating equipment, innumerable galleries, and souvenir shops to take a few treasures back home.
There are a number of adventures to be had in Beaufort as well, and local cruise ships and ferry vessels offer everything from a water taxi to the neighboring Shackleford Banks to full-on pirate cruises with the option to shoot cannonballs at rival vessels.
A quick ferry ride to Shackleford Banks is a very popular venture, as this island is home to the famous "Shackleford Ponies," the barrier islands' feral residents and the supposed descendants of shipwrecked Spanish Mustangs from passing Spanish ships of the 1500s. In addition, the beaches produce some incredible seashells, sand dollars and starfish, and are a sunny and secluded respite for Beaufort visitors who want to soak up miles of the sand and sun. Located just 15-20 minutes away by passenger ferry, with summertime and seasonal departures every 30 minutes or so, a waterfront taxi to a neighboring island is a must for anyone who loves spending the majority of their vacation time on the water.
Accommodations are relatively limited, but very enticing. There are several waterfront inns, complete with boat docks and fantastic views, a number of cabins and vacation rentals, and several campgrounds on the outskirts of the town. There are also a number of Bed and Breakfasts located in converted historic homes along the downtown's side streets, which are idyllic romantic and quiet retreats. Due to Beaufort's growing popularity, especially in the summer season when the climate is warm and inviting and the town is home to a number of events like the annual 4th of July Celebration, advanced reservations are strongly recommended for in-town accommodations. Rooms and vacation rentals can fill up months in advance, and early bookers will enjoy their pick of places to stay, in addition to plenty of time to look forward to their vacation.
Beaufort is, at its heart, a nautical town. Filled with maritime stores, restaurants featuring fresh seafood, and hundreds of docks bordering the waterfront Front Street, this North Carolina community never lost its ties to its history as a reliable port town. A popular destination for maritime traffic and day-trippers alike, visitors will find Beaufort a charming and unique destination, as well as a definite highlight of the Inner Banks' tourism scene.