Some 30 miles north of Hilton Head Island, Beaufort (Low Country pronunciation is bew-fort) is an old seaport with narrow streets shaded by huge live oaks and lined with 18th-century homes. The oldest house (at Port Republic and New sts.) was built in 1717. This was the second area in North America to be discovered by the Spanish (1520), the site of the first fort on the continent (1525), and the first attempted settlement (1562). Several forts have been excavated, dating from 1566 and 1577.
Beaufort has been used as a setting for several films, including The Big Chill. Scenes from the Paramount blockbuster Forrest Gump, starring Tom Hanks, and The Prince of Tides were also shot here.
If you're traveling from the north, take I-95 to exit 33; then follow the signs to the center of Beaufort. From the south, take I-95 to exit 8 and follow the signs. From Hilton Head, take U.S. 278 West, and after S.C. 170 North joins U.S. 278, follow S.C. 170 into Beaufort.
Beaufort Chamber of Commerce, 1106 Carteret St. (PO Box 910), Beaufort, SC 29901 (tel. 843/525-8531; www.beaufortsc.org), has information and self-guided tours of this historic town. It's open daily 9am to 5pm. If your plans are for early to mid-October, contact the Historic Beaufort Foundation, PO Box 11, Beaufort, SC 29901 (tel. 843/379-3331; www.historic-beaufort.org), for dates and details regarding its 3 days of antebellum house and garden tours.
A tour called the Spirit of Old Beaufort, 103 West St. Extension (tel. 843/525-0459; www.thespiritofoldbeaufort.com), takes you on a journey through the old town, exploring local history, architecture, horticulture, and Low Country life. You'll see houses that are not accessible on other tours. Your host, clad in period costume, will guide you for 2 hours from Monday to Saturday at 10:30am and 2:30pm. The cost is $13 for adults and $8 for children 6 to 12. Tours depart from just behind the John Mark Verdier House Museum.
The John Mark Verdier House Museum, 801 Bay St. (tel. 843/379-6335), is a restored 1802 house partially furnished to depict the life of a merchant planter from 1800 to 1825. It's one of the best examples of the Federal period and was once known as the Lafayette Building because the Marquis de Lafayette is said to have spoken here in 1825. It's open Monday to Saturday from 10:30am to 3:30pm. Admission is $5 and children 5 and under are admitted free.
St. Helena's Episcopal Church, 507 New Castle St. (tel. 843/522-1712), traces its origin back to 1712. Visitors, admitted free Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm, can see its classic interior and visit the graveyard, where tombstones served as operating tables during the Civil War.