Beaufort, NC Sunrise
Credit: Mark Newsome

Sunrise along the Boardwalk in Beaufort, North Carolina.

The coast of North Carolina is most famous for the State's string of barrier islands widely known as the Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks, covering the north half of the State's coast, are wonderful indeed. They have miles and miles of pristine beaches, the amazing Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, great east coast surfing, and unmatched fishing opportunities. Farther south you'll find the beaches around Brunswick County and the city of Wilmington, a now booming mini-metropolis known for it's hip downtown and movie/film industry. 

But nestled somewhere in between the Outer Banks and the Wilmington area is a stretch of North Carolina coastline that actually runs east to west as opposed to the typical north to south shoreline of America's east coast. It's known alternatively as the Crystal Coast and the Southern Outer Banks (SOBX for short).

The crowing gem along the Crystal Coast is a small town that you may not have heard of known as Beaufort.

Taylor's Creek in Fall
Credit: Mark Newsome

A peaceful fall morning on Taylor's Creek as seen from Front Street in Beaufort.

Now Beaufort, North Carolina should not be confused with the slightly larger coastal town - Beaufort, South Carolina.

The two Beauforts have tons of things in common:

  • Both were founded in the early 18th century. 
  • Both have beautiful waterfronts.
  • Both are along the intracoastal waterway.
  • Both have popular parks and lighthouses in close proximity.
  • Both are amazing spots to visit.

So, how do you tell them apart?

By the way you say the name.

Beaufort, South Carolina is pronounced Bew-ford and Beaufort, North Carolina is pronounced Bow-ford. Easy when you think about it...Bew-ford is in South Carolina, and Bow-fort is in North Carolina and is the subject of this piece.

Why visit Beaufort, North Carolina?

The reasons abound, but three really stand out:

1. All the accolades!

Since 2012, Beaufort has received tremendous praise from a number of travel publications, starting with its naming as America's Coolest Small Town back in 2012. Just this year (2014) Beaufort was also named one of America's Quirkiest Towns along with the likes of better-known Asheville, North Carolina, Boulder, Colorado, and Amelia Island, Florida.

Also in 2014, Beaufort was named one of America's Favorite Towns along with perennial favorites like Aspen, Colorado and Charlottesville, Virginia.

While all these awards may just be a way for travel publications to create content and generate buzz among readers, the consistent mention of Beaufort as a stand out across the country comes with a ton of backup. Beaufort's waterfront historic district is home to a wooden boardwalk perfect for catching a glimpse of the wild horses that populate the Rachel Carson Reserve, a collection of protected islands just a few hundred yards across the waters of Taylor's Creek from town.

Beaufort also claims one of North Carolina's three Maritime Museums. Beaufort's Museum features exhibits about the pirate Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, which sank just a few miles from town in Beaufort Inlet, as well as a whole building dedicated to the area's boat building tradition. The Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center is a operating boat building facility that draws students and craftsmen from around the State and the east coast, and is the center of the town's Wooden Boat Show held every May.

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America's Coolest Small Town
Credit: Mark Newsome

A local business celebrates Beaufort's 2012 recognition. 

2. Beaufort is North Carolina's Most Pedestrian Friendly Town

Unlike most cities, towns, and vacation spots in North Carolina, visitors to Beaufort can pull into town for a stay at one of Beaufort's small, locally-owned hotels, inns, or bed and breakfasts, park, and never have to get back into the car until it's time to head home.

Everything a visitor needs from shops, restaurants, and bars, to museums, historic homes, and cultural sites, to affordable ferries over to the neighboring islands and beaches, are all within an easy 5 to 10 minute walk. Strolling along Front Street near the water is a perfect way to relax, as is a turn on the Boardwalk. On any summer evening, and many warm fall and spring nights too, visitors to the Boardwalk will be treated to live music and a choice of bars and restaurants with outside seating, uber-fresh seafood, and a "cool" vibe, so you can relax and get back in touch with leisure. At the center of it all is the Town's dock house - home to a famous bar and restaurant along with the offices of Beaufort's floating docks that are a favorite spot for sailers, boaters, and sport fisherman from around the east coast. It's the perfect locale for boat and people watching.

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3. The Views Are Unbeatable.

Simply put, Beaufort is beautiful.

It is along the water near the Atlantic Ocean, but is protected by a series of islands that create amazing scenery and views. As mentioned above, wild horses roam several of the islands, and catching a glimpse of dolphins playing in Taylor's Creek is almost the rule as opposed to the exception.

But, some of the best views in Beaufort are of the sunsets.

Beaufort Sunset
Credit: Mark Newsome

A Beaufort, North Carolina sunset as seen from the water's edge.


Aren't most east coast waterfront towns and beaches known for their sunrises instead?

Normally, yes, but as mentioned above, the North Carolina coast actually runs east to west along the Southern Outer Banks and the Crystal Coast. Beaufort's waterfront is oriented east to west, too.

The Town's main drag, Front Street, begins at the Town's far western border with a small traffic circle along a body of water known as Gallant's Channel, and heads east for a number of miles through downtown and along another body of water, Taylor's Creek. In the mornings, strolling east along Front Street or the Boardwalk will garner amazing sunrises, but the real thrill comes in the evenings, when a walk west along Front Street or the Boardwalk will allow you to take in some of the best sunsets on the east coast.

Several of Beaufort's waterfront bars and restaurants also have amazing sunset views as do the balconies of several of the Town's small hotels and inns.

Beaufort Sunset
Credit: Mark Newsome

Another Beaufort sunset!

Getting to Beaufort

Beaufort is located in Carteret County, North Carolina not far from the eastern termination of U.S. Highway 70. The Town is an easy 2.5 hour drive from Raleigh North Carolina via a combination of Interstate 40 and Highway 70.

It sits on a strip of land bordered on the west by Gallant's Channel and the Newport River, and on the east by the North River. It's southern border is Taylor's Creek and the Rachel Carson Reserve. The combination of all of these bodies of water along with the nearby Atlantic Ocean creates a unique feature known as an estuary, which is both a haven and a breeding ground for a variety of plant, animal, and marine life - and it creates yet another reason to love Beaufort.

Visit soon, America's coolest small town is waiting!