20 of the Best Things to Do in Beaufort NC (Boat Tours, Wild Horses, and More!)

Last Updated on September 8, 2021

Disclaimer: This site uses demographic data, email opt-ins, display advertising, and affiliate links. Please visit our Disclosure and Privacy Policy pages for further explanation.

If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.

Of all the small coastal towns we’ve visited, it’s hard to beat all the fun things to do in Beaufort, North Carolina. While this certainly is a chill place, we’re always sad to leave when it’s time to go home.

But just what is there to do here? You could easily enjoy yourself staring out at the water after parking on Front Street, but let’s get into the “why” of a trip to the Carteret County seat.

First, we’ll break down events in Beaufort and things to do in this historic town before moving on to tours and places to visit nearby. Before we do, don’t forget your camera, beachwear, and rod and reel (optional) as we share our favorite ways to enjoy this awesome spot on the Crystal Coast.

In case you’re looking for something specific, here’s how we’ve organized this guide:

  • Seasonal Events in Beaufort
  • Year-Round Things to Do in Beaufort NC
  • Things to Do in Beaufort’s Carteret County Surroundings (and Beyond)

You can skip to the section you want to see or continue reading about some great seasonal things to do in Beaufort!

This post covering things to do in Beaufort is part of our series on small towns throughout the state. It’s also part of a specific focus on our favorite places to visit in Eastern North Carolina.

Seasonal Things to Do in Beaufort (Events)

Things to Do in Beaufort NC
  • May: The first of our seasonal things to do in Beaufort is the annual Music Festival. This mainstay has more than 30 years of keeping people entertained under its belt. The Maritime Museum-hosted Wooden Boat Show is another May mainstay, with small wooden boats, historic vessels, nautical crafts, and demonstrations.
  • August: Pirate Invasion is pretty buccaneer-heavy, with all-ages activities, sword fighting, cannons firing, and a Captain’s Masquerade Ball.
  • October: Typically held in April, the 2020 Beaufort Wine & Food Festival will tentatively take place in the fall (October 21-25). Wine tastings, cooking demos, and more delicious fun take over the Crystal Coast during this awesome event.
  • December: keep an eye out for the Crystal Coast Christmas Flotilla in Beaufort. Also taking place in December, the Historic Beaufort Candlelight Tour is one of North Carolina’s best holiday home tours!

The Flotilla isn’t the only reason we think Beaufort is a great winter getaway!

Year-Round Things to Do in Beaufort NC

Now that we’ve covered some exciting events, here are the best things to do in Beaufort throughout the year!

Front Street

Taylors Creek
Taylor’s Creek.

If you can arrive a little early, one of the best things to do is to stop on Front St. This road runs through the waterfront and there’s at the parking lot along Taylor’s Creek.

There might be boats docked or even a massive schooner. You may even be lucky enough to spot some wild horses from across the water at the Rachel Carson Reserve.

While I can’t guarantee what you’ll see there, I do know that this is a wonderful spot to stand and stare out at the water, especially early in the morning.

Beaufort Historic Site

130 Turner St

You’ll find commemorative markers throughout the town but much of the town’s 300-year history is told via the Beaufort Historic Site. This collection of nine buildings, along with the nearby Old Burying Ground, is managed by the Beaufort Historical Association.

Prominent buildings include Leffers Cottage & Garden, the John C Manson House, and the Carteret County Courthouse. Another interesting structure is the Josiah Bell House, named for the influential family who owned it and the son who served as a Confederate spy during the Civil War.

From April to October, a narrated double-decker bus tour departs from Beaufort Historic Site on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Old Burying Ground

400 Ann St

Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground waits to tell more than a few interesting stories, too. Here, you’ll find marked (and some unmarked) graves that house residents and visitors of Beaufort. During your tour (info here), a period-dressed guide will share tales of the people buried inside.

Captain Otway Burns and a little girl buried in a rum barrel are a couple of the best-known graves found inside the Old Burying Ground.

North Carolina Maritime Museum

315 Front St

NC Maritime Museum Beaufort Harvey W Smith Watercraft Center

We already mentioned the North Carolina Maritime Museum’s Wooden Boat Show but think you should know a bit more about this place. The FREE admission museum is one of three branches, which includes another in Southport and the Graveyard of the Atlantic on Hatteras Island.

Its Beaufort location includes exhibits of shells from all over the world, coastal wildlife, shipwreck artifacts (including Queen Anne’s Revenge), and tributes to maritime heritage.

Across the street is the Harvey W Smith Watercraft Center. Inside this building donated by the namesake’s widow, completed model ships sit on the shop floor. Beyond the glass, you can even watch the Carolina Maritime Model Society build new model boats.

We included the NC Maritime Museum in our guide to North Carolina’s awesome museums!

Eat and Drink Local

Moonrakers Food Flat Lay
Moonrakers.

Some of the best restaurants in Beaufort line Front St, near the waterfront. Here are a couple of the town’s most awesome places to eat:

  • Moonrakers (326 Front St): Waterfront views accompany an adventurous American-coastal/Caribbean menu. This restaurant also offers an award-winning wine list. 
  • Beaufort Grocery Company (117 Queen St): This was the first Beaufort restaurant we visited. Great sandwiches and soups for lunch and a more fine dining atmosphere for dinner.

Other great places to eat in Beaufort include Front St Grill at Stillwater (300 Front St), Clawson’s 1905 Restaurant (425 Front St), and City Kitchen (232 W Beaufort Rd).

Stay tuned as we continue exploring the Beaufort food scene and prepare a guide that specifically covers their restaurants!

Bonus Beaufort Food Tip: Carteret Catch

Many Beaufort restaurants source locally but when searching for food in town, keep an eye out for the Carteret Catch logo. This group of volunteers works on behalf of Carteret County’s fishing industry by supplying their products to local markets and restaurants.

I discovered this while reading North Carolina Coast. Props to the author Jason Frye, a friend of NC Tripping, for sharing.

Olde Beaufort Farmers’ Market

The two-block long Olde Beaufort Farmers’ Market typically starts on a Saturday morning in mid-April and runs through mid-November. Advertised as “Rain or Shine, but not in a Hurricane,” this event brings together farmers, foodies, bakers, and artisans to share their goods with the community.

Midway through December, an “Olde Fashioned Holiday Market” is held to close out the season.

Kayak

While staring out at Taylor’s Creek, you might be thinking about how to get out on the water. If you brought a kayak or canoe, you can launch from a few spots on Front St. Taylor’s Creek is fairly calm, so you can expect an enjoyable flat water ride.

Both kayaks and canoes are also available for rental via outfitters in Beaufort.

Fishing

Taylors Creek Beaufort NC

Another great thing to do in Beaufort is to bring your rod and reel for some of the South’s best fishing. You can cast from a nearby pier or hire a charter to take you out for a morning, afternoon, or all day long.

Guides offer quite a variety of services, including access to shallow water, the ocean, and even bottom fishing. All you have to do is pick your charter, of which there are many to choose from.

Themed Tours

Before getting back to watery fun, we also wanted to mention the diverse array of tour options available on the mainland. With Hungry Town Tours, you have the option of cycling or walking around Beaufort, with some of the town’s amazing food typically joining the fun.

Port City Tour Company also offers a couple of tours (a Pirate Walk and Ghost Walk) to accompany their Escape Rooms that range from “Moderate” to “Challenging” difficulty.

Boat Tours

Beaufort NC Boat

Options galore also await when it comes to boat tour operators in Beaufort. Here are a few of them, in no particular order.

Rachel Carson Reserve

As we mentioned, folks who see wild horses from the mainland are seeing the ones that live on the Rachel Carson Reserve. To get there, you can either kayak or hire a boat that will take you to Bird Shoal and elsewhere in the Reserve.

Like with Shackleford Banks, you’ll be able to find the horses but it could take some time. There are plenty of things to explore on this network of islands that mixes fresh and saltwater habitats.

We created a guide to the Rachel Carson Reserve that shares more about our experience.

Shackleford Banks

Things to Do in Beaufort NC Shackleford Banks Wild Horse Tours

One thing that brings people to Beaufort is the wild horses, which you can sometimes see from the mainland. While the Rachel Carson Reserve is easiest to reach, one of the most iconic things to do in Beaufort (and North Carolina) is to visit Shackleford Banks.

A boat out there takes about 15 minutes from Beaufort and you’ll get a chance to do some shelling, along with searching for wild horses. Typically, you’ll spend a little more than a couple of hours on the island, unless you want more time AND there’s another boat coming later.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse

Things to Do in Beaufort NC Cape Lookout Lighthouse

Boats will also take you out to the diamond pattern-painted Cape Lookout Lighthouse, the southernmost Outer Banks lighthouse. For a small fee, you can climb to the top (mid-May to mid-September).

And if you want to explore more of Cape Lookout National Seashore and spend more than just a day here, a small number of places to stay are managed by the National Parks Service. Limited amenities include air-conditioning and some are wheelchair accessible.

If you leave from Harkers Island, you can visit both Cape Lookout and Shackleford Banks.

Ready to Explore These Things to Do in Beaufort?

Beaufort NC Waterfront

We always come back from coastal towns with happy memories that last long beyond the car ride back home and this one is no different. We love finding fun things to do in Beaufort and can’t wait to keep sharing more with you, as we continue to visit the coast.

If you’ve never been to the area, which of these fun things to do in Beaufort are you excited to try first? And if you love this place as much as we do, we want to know your favorites.

Things to Do in Beaufort’s Carteret County Surroundings (and Beyond)

If you’re staying longer than a weekend or have a whole week to spare, you have plenty of things to do in Beaufort and its surroundings. And for organization purposes, we’ve grouped them in order of time it takes to reach Beaufort.

Morehead City

10 minutes (5 miles)

Things to Do in Beaufort NC Visit Morehead City

Morehead City is largely known for the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, a huge summer event that brings boats from all over. It’s also popular for scuba diving and many folks love exploring the many famous shipwrecks found off the coast.

The NC Seafood Festival takes place in Morehead City, usually in October. It brings together awesome food, music, and people from many surrounding areas.

Atlantic Beach

14 minutes (7 miles)

Atlantic Beach Pier

Morehead City serves as a gateway to Atlantic Beach (one of the best beaches in NC) and the rest of the Bogue Banks (including Fort Macon and Emerald Isle). It’s easy to spend days just hanging out on the beach, especially when sunny skies await outside.

In fact, we consider EI and its surroundings to be one of the most romantic getaways in North Carolina.

We love staying at Atlantis Lodge, which has its own beach access!

Fort Macon

16 minutes (9 miles)

East of Atlantic Beach, Fort Macon is our second-most visited state park, even if it’s one of the smallest in the system. Visitors will find a fully restored fort that’s surrounded by trails, a swimming area, and spots for fishing (hint: bring your rod and reel).

Emerald Isle

30 minutes (19 miles)

And at the western end of Bogue Banks, after Indian Beach, is Emerald Isle. This place is very popular in the summer, so prepare accordingly if you’ve planned to eat and/or shop there. Regardless of when you visit, the Point offers some of the best beach views you’ll find throughout North Carolina.

Cedar Island

45 minutes (38 miles)

You can also island hop by taking the Cedar Island ferry to Outer Banks towns Ocracoke and Hatteras. Don’t sleep on Cedar Island before heading to the Outer Banks because you’ll find plenty of things to do.

Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge is managed within the Mattamuskeet, Swanquarter, Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Within this refuge, a wealth of hunting and fishing opportunities await.

New Bern

53 minutes (41 miles)

New Bern NC Clock and Church

New Bern is filled with many famous historic sites (including Tryon Palace), bear statues, beautiful churches, and an easily walkable downtown.

I recommend getting an early start because people will be out visiting the town’s interesting buildings and locally owned businesses. During an interview with a New Bern local, we learned quite a bit about both.

Someday, I’m pretty sure this spot will be the first along the coast that we seek out (after Beaufort) when retiring.

If you’ve never been, follow our guide covering things to do in New Bern!

Jacksonville

1 hour 10 minutes (47 miles)

Jacksonville NC Montford Marines Memorial

Jacksonville is largely known for the heavy population that lives at Camp Lejeune, the largest Marine base on the US East Coast. But give this place a visit and you’ll find plenty to do.

Of course, start with a respectful stroll around Lejeune Memorial Gardens, which honors Marines who’ve served (and died) in multiple conflicts.

Go even deeper and explore the city’s restaurants (get a Paul Parker from Jeff’s) scene, Hammocks Beach State Park (and Bear Island!), and the awesome small town of Swansboro.

Croatan National Forest

1 hour 20 minutes (45 miles)

Croatan National Forest Pine Cliffs Beach

Croatan National Forest is a wonderful recreational area, very popular for campers and at low tide, home to beautiful beaches hugging the Neuse River. Croatan also offers some of the best coastal hiking in North Carolina.

Two of its easier trails are Flanners Beach (1 mile with optional 5-mile addition) and Patsy Pond Nature Trail (3 loops ranging from .75 miles to 1.9 miles).

The most challenging walk here is the Neusiok Trail. It’s a 20-mile trail that starts along the Neuse (pictured above) and eventually leads to the Newport River.

More Things to Do in Beaufort (and Carteret County)

Leave a Comment