With brilliant waterfront vistas, a collection of shops and restaurants, and enticing attractions, it can be hard to figure out what to discover first when vacationing in scenic Beaufort, NC. A small town with a lot of coastal charm, this waterfront destination is surprisingly packed with things to do that will appeal to visitors of all tastes, and all interests.

With that being said, however, there are a few essential activities that new and longtime visitors alike will want to ensure are included in their Beaufort vacation plans to enjoy the best that this town has to offer. From scoping out the waterfront to diving into the local history, these are the “things to do” that can’t be missed, and which will effortlessly enhance any Beaufort vacation experience.

The Front Street boardwalk in downtown Beaufort NC

A Stroll along Front Street

Whether a vacationer lands in Beaufort for a week, a weekend, or just a single afternoon, no visit is complete without a stroll along Beaufort’s iconic main drag, Front Street. Renowned as one of the oldest streets in this more than 300-year-old town, and bordering the waterfront along Taylor’s Creek, Front Street is scenic, historically rich, and hopping with activity, thanks to a collection of sites, attractions, and popular shops and eateries. Peruse the assortment of vessels perched along the waterfront, or relax in the small park adjacent to the Boat Yard to unwind and enjoy the view. The waterfront docks boast a wide boardwalk / sidewalk, pretty seasonal landscaping, and plenty of benches making it easy for newcomers to pause and enjoy the scene. In addition, Front Street is where new visitors will find a literal boatload of information on area cruises, tours, and water taxis, which makes it an excellent launching point to embark on a waterfront adventure that extends well past Beaufort’s borders.

Shackleford Banks water taxi

Ferry Ride to Shackleford Banks / Cape Lookout National Seashore

The Carolina Coastline’s most beautiful and isolated beaches are just a boat ride away from the heart of Beaufort, and downtown explorers will find a collection of water taxis and ferry services to make an endeavor to these beautiful shorelines a breeze. Head to the waterfront along Front Street to explore the varying options, and climb aboard for a quick 20 minute cruise to the Shackleford Banks, or a 40-45 minute ferry to the outlying Cape Lookout Lighthouse and National Seashore. Once you arrive on your island destination, you’ll discover exceptional beaches with equally great fishing and shelling conditions, as well as some incredible natural attractions like the famed herds of wild “banker ponies” – the wild ancestors of Spanish explorers from centuries ago. With a trip that’s as scenic and enchanting as the undeveloped destination itself, a visit to the Cape Lookout Shoreline is a must for any Beaufort beach lover.

Pier fishing on the Crystal Coast strand

Fishing

Considering that Beaufort is surrounded by water in veritably every direction, it should come as no surprise that fishing is one of the most popular activities in this inherently coastal community. Drop a line from the waterfront along Taylor’s Creek or Radio Island, or sign up for an inshore or offshore fishing trip to target the big catches that are abundant in the open sound and ocean waters. There are plenty of fishing expeditions to choose from which range from kayak fishing tours to offshore Gulf Stream adventures, ensuring that every angler can tackle a fishing trip that suits their style and ambition. As home to one of the biggest fishing tournaments on the East Coast – the Big Rock Blue Marlin Offshore Tournament – it’s clear that Beaufort’s love of fishing runs deep, and remains one of the biggest lures to anglers of all abilities.

Plenty of kayaking opportunities in Beaufort

Kayaking

Beaufort is a dream destination for kayakers, thanks to a beautiful waterfront where paddling is a breeze, and barely offshore attractions are just a few minutes’ cruise away. Pick up a kayak rental from one of the many watersports shops that are found along the waterfront downtown area, and head into the water for an exploration of Taylor’s Creek and the Back Sound that is truly breathtaking throughout. With popular yet isolated attractions like the Rachel Carson Coastal Estuarine Reserve located just across the creek, and miles of marshes and open waters where the local wildlife flourishes, a paddling trip provides a scenic perspective of the local environment, and is a great way to capture enviable photos of the natural setting, as well as the stunning downtown area from a waterfront vantage point. Best of all, the sport can be enjoyed by veritably any visitor – regardless of their experience level or athletic ability – and a number of tours and cruises are available so that visitors can easily uncover the best views and on-the-water regions in and around town.

NC Maritime Museum Watercraft Workshop

NC Maritime Museum

Visitors who want to learn all about the culture of Beaufort from the inside out should make a trip to the NC Maritime Museum a first stop. Located in the scenic downtown area, this museum is brimming with treasures that outline the more than three centuries of history that this town is famed for, which includes infamous brushes with pirates, (including Blackbeard himself), the tumultuous Civil War and World War I and II eras, the early roots of commercial fishing, and Beaufort’s status as the third oldest town in North Carolina. After admiring the artifacts recovered from Blackbeard’s pirate ship the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and breezing past intricate replicas of boats from the past decades, visitors will fall in love with the maritime culture of Beaufort and garner a newfound appreciation of this coastal town. If possible, try to sign up for a workshop or educational program during your stay, (like the famous boat building classes), and enjoy a hands-on approach to discovering the local history.

Shackleford Banks horse

A Wild Horse, Shelling, Sunset, or Pirate-themed Cruise

Take a waterfront adventure to the next level by signing up for one of the incredible themed cruises that depart from the Beaufort waterfront docks on a regular basis during the height of the summer season. The region is home to a number of tour or cruise companies that feature an array of specialty excursions, including pirate themed tours for the kids, sunset cruises, dinner or lunch cruises, shelling expeditions, dolphin watching cruises, and even wild horse tours, which makes it easy for any vacationer to enjoy their favorite Beaufort interests on the water. With tours that circle through some of the most scenic destinations in the region – including the Shackleford Banks, the Rachel Carson Reserve, and even Cape Lookout – visitors will find a treasure trove of adventures and absolutely unparalleled views when they climb aboard a tour boat and start exploring. The possibilities are seemingly endless, so check out options online and reserve well in advance to secure a trip that will leave your crew absolutely fascinated.

Rachel Carson Reserve

Rachel Carson Coastal Estuarine Reserve

Though the heart of Downtown Beaufort may be a hopping destination, visitors who crave a natural refuge can take a quick ride across the creek to encounter and explore the Rachel Carson Reserve. Comprising of a total of 2,315 undeveloped acres, and encompassing a complex of islands, this barely offshore destination is a stunning and undeveloped representation of the varying ecosystems and habitats that call the Crystal Coast region home. The reserve is a roughly 10 minute paddle or water taxi ride away from Front Street, and once on the islands, visitors will find two approximately mile-long nature trails that cut through the region and provide unparalleled views of the natural terrain and nearby Beaufort waterfront. More than 200 species of birds have been spotted in the area, making it a dream destination for birdwatchers, and an array of animals call the reserve home, including bottlenose dolphins, diamondback terrapins, river otters, and a herd of famed wild horses that roam the islands freely, and were brought to the site in the 1940s. Bring a camera and a sense of adventure, and discover a natural slice of the coastal terrain that’s just a shell’s throw away from Downtown Beaufort.

Old Burying Ground is a good stop while walking downtown

Historical Walking Tour

Because Beaufort was established more than 300 years ago, and a number of homes from the area’s earliest residents still stand, the area is teeming with historical structures and sites around veritably every corner. As a result, newcomers will soon discover that the best way to soak up this rich history is via a walking tour that veers past the Beaufort Historic District, the Beaufort Historic Site, and all the engaging sites and structures in between. The Beaufort Historic Site, which is a collection of nine buildings and residences from the 18th and 19th centuries is a great place to start, and visitors who want to explore on their own will find a number of local walking maps at gift stores and attractions throughout the town. For a more in-depth exploration, sign up for one of the many walking tours available through both the Beaufort Historical Association and privately owned tour companies, and delve deep into the stories and legends behind the region’s top sites like the Carteret County Courthouse, the Old 1829 Jail, and the iconic Old Burying Ground, which are all found in the heart of town.

Waterfront restaurant on Front Street in downtown Beaufort NC

A “Food Tour” of Beaufort

Beaufort has some of the top rated restaurant along the Crystal Coast, and as such, it’s a crime to pay a visit to this city without exploring and enjoying the distinctive dining scene. Home to fine dining restaurants, local bakeries, casual cafes, ancient pubs, and everything in between, visitors of all tastes can find exactly what they’re craving with just a stroll through the heart of the downtown area. Iconic destinations include restaurants that have been open for more than a century, high end eateries that are stand-outs in regional and national food magazines, and waterfront bars or restaurants where every meal comes with an incredible view. Visitors with a lighter appetite or a sweet tooth will also find a number of mouth-watering options, including plenty of ice cream shops and a homegrown fudge shop where patrons can smell the goods wafting through the air before they even step inside the door. From sweet treats to decadent and multi-course meals, Beaufort is a dream destination for foodies of all tastes.

Antiquing in downtown Beaufort

Scoping out the Shopping and Gallery Scene

Any visitor with an appreciation of nautical style will fall in love with the Beaufort shopping scene. A combination of practical supplies for the steady stream of mariners that flock to the docks, and upscale gift items for visitors passing through, the shops in Downtown Beaufort are truly unique, and all feature a coastal vibe and charm that can’t be found anywhere else along the Crystal Coast. Take the kids to the local watersports shops and general stores for an ice cream cone and a couple active souvenirs, or peruse the local art galleries for eye-catching works that are inspired by the natural waterfront environment. In addition to the catch-all gift shops and galleries, the streets of Beaufort are also lined with book stores, candy shops, boutiques, jewelers, and everything in between, making it easy to find a treasure or two to take home and enjoy. From cute sundresses that are perfect for a night on the waterfront, to guidebooks that outline the local species and shells that call the Crystal Coast home, there’s a wealth of coastal treasures waiting on every corner of Beaufort, making it an eclectic shopper’s dream destination.

From ample food and drink options to deserted islands where the beaches steal the scene, Beaufort is truly a unique destination that boasts all the perks of a charming coastal environment.

Spend a full vacation uncovering all the cool things to do, or plan a day trip that will be overflowing with activities, and discover all the incredible and distinctive ways to have fun in this undeniably enchanting small waterfront town.

Shackleford Banks
Rachel Carson Coastal Estuarine Reserve