Summer is ending, but you wouldn’t know it in the North Carolina town of Beaufort.
Beaufort, located at the southern range of the famed Outer Banks, is a perfect place to visit during the shoulder season. Here the water at Fort Macon State Park and other beaches is warm enough for swimming in October.
Of course, there is much more to do and see than the beaches.
North Carolina’s third-oldest town (population 4,186) has several blocks of old homes — some dating to the mid-1700s. Talk about curb appeal.
Among the oldest houses are those on Front Street facing Beaufort’s harbor, the waters of which were known to Edward Teach (better known as Blackbeard) and other pirates more than a half-century before American independence in 1776. One of the houses belonged to Jacob Henry, a Jew twice-elected to the state legislature at a time when Protestantism was the official state religion.
Across the waterfront is Carrot Island, a barrier island-turned-nature reserve with a herd of wild horses. More wild horses can be found at Shackleford Banks, part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
To discover all of the history, visit the North Carolina Maritime Museum. The collection includes around 300 artifacts from Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Continue exploring the past at the Beaufort Historic Site. The grounds feature several old buildings, including the now-former early 1800s county jail. Vintage English double-decker bus tours of town also depart from here.
A couple of blocks away are two antebellum Carpenter Gothic churches, St. Paul’s Episcopal and Anne Street United Methodist. Next to the Methodist church is the Old Burying Ground, which was established by colonial-era Anglicans in the early 1720s and is purportedly the oldest cemetery in North Carolina.
Where to eat and stay
I stayed at the aptly named Beaufort Hotel NC, which is flagged under Choice’s upscale Ascend Collection brand. Normally, I wouldn’t consider a Choice-affiliated property — their assorted brands are plagued by hotels and roadside motels that have seen better days — but this hotel stands apart.
From the exterior architecture to the comfortable and well-appointed rooms, including nifty automatic window curtains and blackout shades, you can tell the owner put a lot of thought into the hotel. It more than exceeded my expectations. Best of all, downtown is within walking distance.
Beaufort may be a small town, but the food scene is competitive. Hands down the best restaurant is Aqua, though reservations can be difficult at the weekend. Solid alternatives are Moonrakers and 34 North, the hotel restaurant. Turner Street Market is recommended for breakfast. For brunch or lunch, try Beaufort Grocery Co.
How to get there
The closest airports are in Jacksonville and New Bern with the former having the most extensive service. By car, Beaufort is six hours from Washington, five hours from Charlotte and eight hours from Atlanta.
Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.