Picturesque, gentrified downtown Beaufort (BEW-furt) fronts the broad Beaufort River estuary. Stroll Waterfront Park and nose around the shops and cafes on and near Bay Street (www.downtownbeaufort.com)B&Bs abound. Take a carriage or walking tour of the town.
The second-oldest S.C. town (www.beaufortsc.org), it is well-preserved and turns up in many movies (including “The Big Chill”). Port Royal, between Beaufort and the open sea, is more relaxed. Chow down at 11th Street Dockside (www.11thstreetdockside.com) or Moondoggies; check out the boats at the marina (www.portroyallandingmarina.com). Take a fishing/sightseeing or eco-tour charter with Captain Tim: up to three anglers for four hours: $300. (www.beaufortcastawaycharter.com)
Nearby Parris Island, the famed Marine Corps base, has a large, free museum loaded with Corps exhibits plus items from the area’s fascinating past (including the Spaniards’ Santa Elena settlement).
Hilton Head (www.hiltonheadisland.org) is known for high-end relaxing and golfing. Most iconic photo op: the Harbour Town lighthouse in Sea Pines. The closest thing to a downtown may be 60-store Coligny Plaza (www.colignyplaza.com) with more than a dozen places to eat and drink; several offer outdoor dining. Hilton Head Plaza has a well-regarded brewpub – Hilton Head Brewing – and several nightspots. Park Plaza, outside the entrance to Sea Pines, has five restaurants/bars, a wine shop, cheese shop, tobacconist and The Sanctuary day spa (www.sanctuaryeurospa.com). Got money? Try Studio: An Artistic Dining Experience, on Pope Street (www.studiodining.com).
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Something free? Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, open daylight hours, is a marshy expanse where flat terrain makes for easy hiking (www.fws.gov/pinckneyisland). Eight trails wind to or through six maritime habitats.