Located in the southern Outer Banks region of North Carolina, Beaufort is a quaint coastal town with around 4,000 residents and storied 310-year history. Originally called “Fishtown,” the town is the third oldest in the state, established in 1709 and incorporated in 1723.
Today, visitors enjoy historical sites, fishing and quiet beaches. Southern Living recently named Beaufort the 2019 “South’s Best Small Town” and Travel + Leisure called it “America’s Favorite Town” in 2017.
An integral aspect of Beaufort is its history. During its first settlement in the 1600s, the town’s visitors built a variety of Bahamian and West-Indian styled homes and buildings, many of which still stand today. The local Beaufort Historic Site exists to teach visitors and residents alike about the town’s rich history and offers several tours.
One of which is the “Historic Buildings” tour, which encompasses a variety of building styles from a circa 1778 cottage to a mid-1800s doctor’s office, to a mansion built in 1825. The Historic Site also offers a tour from atop a double-decker bus, one that “tells tales of Beaufort’s rich past of pirates, star-crossed lovers and Confederate spies.”
With its prime location on the Atlantic Ocean, the town is an important port that played an integral role during many of America’s conflicts including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War and even World War II. The waters near Beaufort house one of the few German U-Boats sunk in the American Theater of the Second World War. The Nazi submarine’s identifier, U-352, was sunk in 1942 by the United States Coast Guard’s cutter, Icarus, and was ultimately discovered by a scuba diver in 1975.
This shipwreck, along with several others (including one of legendary pirate Blackbeard’s), can be found off the coast and make the waters an extremely popular destination for scuba divers. The various dive centers in and around Beaufort take advantage of these aground naval supplements in addition to the already-appealing dive conditions.
As during its origins, Beaufort’s fishing industry remains an important component of its local economy, with excellent inshore and offshore angling opportunities. Offshore fishing is especially popular, with many charter operations based along the town’s boardwalk. These companies offer trips that take anglers miles from shore where they have the highest likelihood of catching some of the trophy fish such as blue marlins or albacore. The waters are so attractive for these billfish that the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament has been hosted in the area for more than 60 years. The popular tournament, with a prize purse of more than $1 million, has been quoted by some as the “Super Bowl of Fishing.”
For those more apt to stay on land, the town boasts several acclaimed restaurants, several of which overlook the ocean. The eateries, ranging in price and formality, offer an array of “water to table” bites, with dishes including seafood often caught in the water just feet from the restaurant.
Also along the sea, the area’s sandy beaches are pristine and quiet, representative of the small town itself. One example of a picture-perfect, undeveloped beach is that which surrounds the Cape Lookout Lighthouse – reached by a short ferry ride from the mainland. The 163-foot lighthouse is open to climbers from mid-May to mid-September and boasts amazing views of the open ocean and the South Core Banks (island it sits upon).
Back on the mainland, there are numerous lodging options from Airbnb bungalows, to vacation home rentals, to standard hotel rooms. Aside from all the above activities, downtown Beaufort houses several shops, galleries, museums and eateries. Dr. Robert Coles, a local who flies an MU-2, says that the town is a “great destination for the weekend, a week, or even longer.”
Flying into Beaufort
For pilots considering a visit to this great getaway, Michael J. Smith Field Airport (MRH) is located just one mile north of the town.
“MRH is an uncontrolled field that is easy to fly in and out of,” said Coles. “A big plus is it never has much of a crosswind due to its three runways.”
Each runway is at least 4,000 feet and offers an RNAV (GPS) approach, enabling just about any twin or turbine owner to make the field their landing spot of choice.
The field has one FBO, Crystal Coast Aviation, which has 100LL, Jet-A, tie-downs, rental cars and hangars. Additionally, the FBO offers scenic flight tour packages for those who want to better experience the area’s beauty from the air in a lower and slower fashion than their aircraft may allow. However you decide to spend your time in Beaufort, it will be a trip to remember.