A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

In beautiful Beaufort, all roads lead to the water — with plenty to see, taste, and do along the way. Around every corner, this former fishing village, established in 1709,

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In beautiful Beaufort, all roads lead to the water — with plenty to see, taste, and do along the way. Around every corner, this former fishing village, established in 1709,

The Ultimate Guide to Beaufort

In beautiful Beaufort, all roads lead to the water — with plenty to see, taste, and do along the way. Around every corner, this former fishing village, established in 1709, features picturesque views of historic homes, quaint waterfront restaurants, sparkling shoreline, and yes, wild horses. From boat cruises, bike rides, and beachcombing to pirate history, maritime traditions, and delicious fresh seafood, we’ll help you build your perfect itinerary to this quintessential Crystal Coast town. Just try not to pack the car before you finish reading.


Browse for nautical attire at Harbor Specialties. photograph by Dylan Ray Photography

What to Do:

To begin getting acquainted with the third-oldest town in the state, take a leisurely stroll down Beaufort’s 12-block downtown historic district, popping into local art galleries, boutique clothing stores, and antiques shops along the way. Don’t miss the nautical attire and accessories at Harbor Specialties and Jarrett Bay Boathouse. Or head to the Old Beaufort Shop and the Mattie King Davis Art Gallery — both part of the Beaufort Historic Site — for books, gifts, artisan-made items, incredible local art, and more.

On Front Street, be sure to pause along the waterfront to soak in the beauty. Spot beautiful boats cruising along Taylor’s Creek, but look out across the water, too, to the islands that make up the Rachel Carson Reserve, and keep your eyes peeled for wild horses: A herd of 25 is protected here by the state and managed by the North Carolina Coastal Reserve as part of Carteret County’s cultural heritage.

See the wild horses on a ferry ride around the Rachel Carson Reserve. photograph by Betsy Cartier

For a closer look at these equine residents, find your sea legs. Comprised of 2,315 acres of salt marsh, beaches, and maritime forest across a handful of islands, the Rachel Carson Reserve is only accessible by boat, which is why visitors often choose to take a ferry ride around the perimeter with Island Ferry Adventures for a better chance of seeing the horses. Absorb the pristine estuarine ecosystem around the Rachel Carson Reserve with an eco-adventure by Science by the Sea.

For an even more interactive adventure, beachcombers should head over to Shackleford Banks on the Island Express Ferry Service to explore and gather sand dollars, olive shells, and more. Or simply set up a chair and sink into the sand — this is the place to go to the beach when visiting Beaufort. You’ll also have another shot to see wild horses; a herd of about 130 of these resilient residents — descendants of Spanish mustangs monitored by U.S. National Park Service — calls this isolated barrier island home.

See the Cape Lookout Lighthouse on a day trip with Lookout Cruises. Photography courtesy of LOOKOUT CRUISES

Shackleford is part of Cape Lookout National Seashore, but for the full Cape Lookout experience, take a day trip — complete with a delicious lunch — with Lookout Cruises. You’ll get up close and personal with the iconic, 163-foot-high Cape Lookout Lighthouse, which has been protecting sailors from the deadly Lookout Shoals for more than 160 years. Its distinctive diamond pattern — known as a daymark — has endured since 1873. If you’re short on time, Lookout also offers sunset cruises.

Your adventure on the water should include kayaking along Taylors Creek with Beaufort Paddle or a sunset cruise with Cruisin’ Tikis of Beaufort.

The 163-foot-tall Cape Lookout Lighthouse was built in 1859. photograph by Betsy Cartier

Other nearby destinations perfect for a day trip from Beaufort? The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores — a classic rainy-day-on-vacation activity that’s impressive enough to warrant a trip in good weather and offers impressive views of Bogue Sound — and Fort Macon State Park — a carefully restored Civil War-era fort at Atlantic Beach.

Trace the historic roots of Harkers Island and its centuries-long life on the water with a visit to the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center.

Watch boatbuilders at work in the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center. photograph by Betsy Cartier

Back in downtown Beaufort, while on a walk or bike ride, it’s hard to miss the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center, where the scent of fresh wood floats through the open doors and onto the sidewalk, inviting passersby to stop and watch the boatbuilders at work inside. It’s both a fitting tribute to the state’s rich history of wooden boatbuilding, and an active workshop where volunteers preserve significant examples of the tradition.

In the Watercraft Center, you’ll see the home of the Carolina Maritime Model Society, which often showcases model boats ranging from 18 to 40 feet in length. It’s the first organization of its kind in North Carolina.

In the Old Burying Ground, the grave for “Little Girl in the Rum Barrel” is covered in toys, flowers, and stuffed animals. photograph by Betsy Cartier

The Watercraft Center is part of the North Carolina Maritime Museum across the street, which preserves pirate history (and much more): Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was discovered 28 feet below the waves in Beaufort Inlet, but you don’t have to dive in to learn all about it — the NC Maritime Museum is the official repository for the artifacts excavated from the ship. There are also exhibits on the area’s lighthouses and lifesaving stations, the seafood industry, motorboats, and more.

For more history, head to the Old Burying Ground, which dates to 1724 and is one of the oldest cemeteries in the state. Time-worn stones mark the graves of Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers, naval hero Otway Burns, and the legendary “Little Girl in the Rum Barrel” — the tomb of a little girl who died on a ship with her merchant captain father, who, rather than burying her at sea, preserved her body in a rum barrel on board to bring her home to Beaufort. Today, visitors leave teddy bears, flowers, and toys at her final resting place.


Try the fried oysters at Beaufort Grocery Company. photograph by Dylan Ray Photography

Where to Eat & Drink:

Be sure to stop by Beaufort Grocery Co.: Opened in 1991 in the former Owens Grocery Store building, this cozy bistro is known for robust salads and deli-style sandwiches at lunchtime, steaks and local seafood for dinner, and brunch dishes and cocktails on Sundays. Have a BeauGro Bloody Mary or sangria while enjoying the sunshine on the garden patio.

At lunchtime, pizza lovers should order a wood-fired pie made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients at Black Sheep, a favorite dockside spot with quirky flair, while taco enthusiasts should head to Front Street Grill at Stillwater — a Beaufort standard in a former boat house — for iconic fish tacos overlooking the waterfront. Or pick up picnic provisions for your beach day at Beaudega.

Grab a cup of joe and a quick bite at Historic Grounds Coffee Shop. Photography courtesy of Beaufort Business Association

Turner Street Market & Café is the community’s go-to spot for traditional breakfast dishes, classic sandwiches, prepared foods, gifts, wine, and coffee. Try the Bleufort: turkey, roasted red peppers, Havarti cheese, tomato, lettuce, and house-made blue cheese dressing, served on toasted wheat bread. Or, if you really just need a caffeine pick-me-up in the morning, head to Historic Grounds Coffee Shop for a cappuccino and a croissant.

For drinks, sip local craft brews at Fishetowne Brew House — whose name is a nod to Beaufort’s original name — or Mill Whistle Brewing, Carteret County’s first brewery, built on the site of a 100-year-old lumber mill. A lumberyard still operates next door, and if you stop by at 4:45 p.m., you can hear the yard’s whistle blow.

Fishetowne Brew House’s name is a nod to Beaufort’s original name. Photography courtesy of Beaufort Business Association

Keep things casual at Backstreet Pub, a warm, welcoming hub for live music and craft brews in a century-old former bakery building. Or get a little dressy and go right next door to Aqua, a stylish and spirited spot where diners sip carefully crafted cocktails and dig into elevated seafood dishes and desserts. For date night, try Blue Moon Bistro, a historic 1827 sea captain’s home that’s been transformed into a vibrant French bistro.

For a post-dinner glass of wine — and a chocolate bar known as the Beaufort Bar that’s handmade on-site — check out Cru Wine Bar & Coffee Shop.

And if that doesn’t quite satisfy your sweet tooth, top off a delicious evening with a scoop of ice cream (or two) from the General Store.


The Beaufort Hotel features expansive views of Taylors Creek. Photography courtesy of Beaufort Business Association

Where to Stay:

A nice getaway isn’t complete without a relaxing place to kick up your feet at the end of the day — and it helps if that place is at the heart of historic Beaufort, within walking distance to everything.

Check into a downtown bed and breakfast like the Pecan Tree Inn, a welcoming, 150-year-old Victorian home less than a block from the waterfront with modern amenities, old-world charm, and a spectacular garden. Over the decades, the building has served as a school, a teahouse, and a doctor’s office, but today, this inn’s five rooms are cozy respites for guests — many of whom return every year. And yes, pecans are a prominent part of the food served here, including in dishes like the pecan streusel baked French toast and homemade maple butter pecan cookies.

Angel’s Share Inn is located in the 1856 Thomas Duncan House. photograph by Dylan Ray Photography

The cozy Inn on Turner is located in a historic 1866 building. Photography courtesy of Beaufort Business Association

A few blocks away, at the Inn on Turner, located in a renovated 1866 building, take a load off in a rocker on the front porch after your adventures, and in the morning, enjoy a field-to-fork breakfast. Or wake up to the delicious aroma of homemade baked goods at the Angel’s Share Inn on Front Street, housed in the recently restored 1856 Thomas Duncan House; the building’s first floor houses Marmalade Café and Bakery, where you can sip hot coffee and try the sinfully-good signature breakfast dish — crème brûlée waffles. And if the Admiral’s flag is flying in front of Angel’s Share Inn, it means that the taps are flowing at Tapping the Admiral Bar around back — walk up Admiral’s Alley to the left of the building to enjoy a cold beer or glass of wine. 

For a waterfront stay, check out the Inlet Inn, a 36-room family-owned hotel also on Front Street. Or head a few minutes away from downtown to the Beaufort Hotel, perched on the banks of Taylor’s Creek and offering expansive and unbeatable views. You might just spot wild horses from your hotel room or the waterfront patio at 34° North Restaurant. It’s not uncommon to see a pod of dolphins in Taylor’s Creek. What could be better — or more Beaufort — than that?

This story was published on May 31, 2023

Katie Schanze

Katie Schanze is an associate editor and digital content editor at Our State.