Every time I have told the story of my wonderful weekend in Beaufort, the first thing people ask me is: “do you mean Beaufort South Carolina?” Not knowing that there is a Beaufort North Carolina AND a Beaufort South Carolina I was constantly perplexed! And trust me, I will also be checking out the South Carolina version, but my tale today is of beautiful Beaufort North Carolina, the state’s third oldest city where I found all kinds of frenchiness going on! It was our first foray into things to do, places to eat, and stay in Beaufort, but it is certainly not our last. We already have another trip planned!
Beaufort flawlessly exudes a double personality. You have the historical homes in the downtown area that have been around since the late 1700s early 1800s, with history is known by all of the residents (at least the ones we spoke with) a cute museum (we walked around the outside early in the morning) about the town, and a maritime museum (which we did not visit yet) and then there are the beautiful beach homes (Bahamian like in Key West) that are along Front Street that are a mixture of very modern, sleekly luxurious and expensive homes mixed in with a few vintage houses that have managed to hold their ground.
We came for the weekend arriving in town on Friday afternoon. We parked the truck and walked through the waterfront areas on Front Street thoroughly enjoying the lovely Bahamian-style homes with charming Southern porches and rocking chairs. It was a clear, sunny afternoon, although a little chilly at 50 degrees.
Most of the homes have an “extra” front yard on the water, perfectly located for sipping wine while watching the sunset!
Or taking a nap in the afternoon,
We checked into our hotel and enjoyed a picnic dinner on our terrace. A chose a hotel near the water with sliding glass doors so that we could thoroughly ventilate the room and not use the heating or air conditioning. It allowed us to enjoy our first weekend out in a traditional hotel since Valentine’s Day weekend 2020 when we went to Atlantic Beach. I actually felt normal for the first time in a really long time (despite the fact the I wiped down every inch of the hotel room with anti-bacterial wipes!).
The next morning we woke early (as usual) and enjoyed breakfast in our room and then headed out to walk through the neighborhoods in the downtown area. The sun was just peeking out and it smiled down on the historical homes. While walking down Ann Street, we chatted with a resident who had been living in the historical home for 56 years (and let us know her family was only the 3rd to be in The Leecraft homestead). She has a beautiful garden which she takes immense pleasure out of. She gave me some fresh rosemary and invited us in for tea.
I would have loved to, but (a) The Queen (reference here) and (b) we would be late for our ferry to Carrot Island.
Seeing Wild Horses in Beaufort
One of the best things to do while visiting Beaufort, and the draw for Mr. Misadventures, is the wild horses. There are 2 spots to see them from Beaufort: Carrot Island and Shackleford Banks. These are 2 of the 3 spots to see the wild horses in all of the Outer Banks, the 3rd spot is in Corolla/Carona.
During our weekend, we visited both spots and have plans to return again!
Carrot Island/Rachel Carson Reserve/Town Marsh/Bird Shoal
Why so many names? A question I still can’t answer. Carrot Island, Town Marsh, and Bird Shoal are all parts and pieces of Rachel Carson Reserve. From Beaufort, there is only 1 tour operator that can take you to Carrot Island. The boat ride is literally five minutes, so you can’t complain too much about the ride or the boat. The ferry we took to Carrot Island was $10 a person ($10 for adults; $5 for children 11 and under) which I guess is reasonable when you are a couple but may begin to get a little pricey for a family of five considering its length.
We tried to get tickets online for the first ferry of the day which is 9:00 am, but were unable to do so and booked 10:00 am tickets. However, when the ferry ticket office opened just before 9:00, we asked if we could take the 9:00 instead. I think since we were the only ticketholders for 10:00 and there weren’t any ticketholders for 9:00 there was no issue. We were the only ones on the boat both coming and going!
If you want to see the horses, I recommend the first or second ferry (9/10 am) or the last ones at 2:00 pm or 3:00 pm. Can you see horses at other times? Sure. But your best chance is morning and towards sunset. The ferries return on the 25th minute of every hour up to 4:25 pm (and 5:25 pm once they spring forward). You have to select your return time when you check-in. We selected 11:25 which gave us almost 2 and a half hours. (If you decide you want to change your return, you can call them and they will try to accommodate you depending on boat capacity.)
[Later, we walked by the ferry building right before noon and the boat going over was full. The boats are small so I am guessing in high season, they sell out quickly.]
The Rachel Carson reserve was designated as a part of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve in 1985. It is part of a network of 10 undisturbed coastal areas protected for research, education, and some recreation. [Besides the historic downtown and the horses which draw tourists, there are several research labs both federal (NOAA) and state (Duke University) that contribute to the local economy.] Besides the horses, Carrot Island is a great spot to see migrating birds in the winter.
There are approximately 40 wild horses on Carrot Island. They get their freshwater supply in the inner forest. Besides the beach area, there are 2 trails. An inner loop trail (green) and the Outer Loop (blue). They do overlap from time to time. The horses were brought to the island in the late 1940s. This makes this particular group are feral rather than wild. In the past, they have been called Banker (like Outer Banks) ponies because they are “pony-sized” horses.
The day we went a good chunk of the outer trail was underwater and muddy so we started with the inner trail where we “fresh” evidence that horses had recently been there. Truth be told, parts of the inner trail were quite muddy but I had worn my Bogs boots so it wasn’t a problem. The weather was gorgeous and we had the island to ourselves. It was 50 degrees and sunny with a little breeze.
From the inner trail, we were able to see 1 horse off in the distance by itself and 3 other horses that were eating about 75-feet in front of us. We stopped and watched as they ate along the marsh. After walking the entire inner trail, Mr. Misadventures decided we needed to do the outer trail despite the mud warnings. By the time we got back to the area where we had first seen the 3 horses they had moved closer to the beach and we were unable to follow. As they walked further away to join the fourth one we had seen on the horizon.
Two new horses came up the beach and we watched a bit. Then suddenly 2 more appeared behind us on our left and walked right by us. You must stay at least 50 feet away so we froze and let them look at us and pass. Of course, it was the perfect opportunity for Mr. Misadventures to photograph them.
One of them whinnied to the other 2 on the beach. One responded and the 2 groups of 2 slowly made their way towards each other and we continued on our way. As the trail then got super muddy we turned back and caught the intersection with the inner trail to finish a loop.
I took a picture to illustrate the trail, but of course, because I had stayed in the spot a little too long, I got a little stuck and had to get myself out without falling – there is a reason this blog is called misadventures with Andi…
But you know, Mr. Misadventures is not exempt from misadventures. He is a master of equipment and logistics and research and has lectured me, many, many, many times about wearing the appropriate shoes, but he decided not to wear his Bogs and wore a low cut hiking boot so he got, well, a little muddy!
We spent 2 1/2 hours on the island which is plenty to see the horses if you’re going for that reason. People also go for a day on the beach or bird watching.
The next morning we tried the other ferry/boat operator to go to Shackleford Banks. Island Express Ferry Service is the only ferry authorized by the NPS to drop off at Shackleford Banks and the Cape Lookout lighthouse. (They do not go to Carrot Island.) The town of Beaufort is in partnership with the National Park Service and serves as the ferry gateway to the national seashore. You can visit the islands by public ferry and you can go from Beaufort or Harker’s Island (more on that later). We were able to book the first ferry at 9 am online (they run from 9 to 4:30 until daylight savings kicks in and then it is 8 to 5:30 or 6).
We cruised to Shackleford Banks on Papa George which I’m guessing is named after the owner of the business George who very kindly had a conversation with us while we were waiting in line. He’s very knowledgeable and very customer-focused. He ought to be, he got his experience running the Staten Island Ferry! I found his entire team to be kind and courteous. They followed safety protocols and the fleet is modern and clean. You do have other choices when it comes to getting to Shackleford Banks, but I would recommend sticking with Island Express Ferry Service.
I have been trying to research the differences between the horses on the 2 islands and it isn’t crystal clear. The horses on Carrot Island were domestic when they were brought to the island, so as I mentioned, I considered them feral, while the ones on Shackleford Banks are descendants of Spanish horses washed up from shipwrecks. DNA tests have proven their ancestral link. On Shackleford Banks, the NPS takes care of the horses to the extent they control birth and monitor the numbers, but they don’t feed or water them, or protect them during hurricanes.
This is a tough breed that has survived hundreds of years on this island facing the Atlantic Ocean (while the Carrot Island horses are certainly tough, the island is protected by the sound it faces) and they are much better off using their natural instincts and survival skills during storms than they would be if humans helped them out.
One thing that surprised me was that people were buying or bringing bags to collect shells. Given its ocean-facing position, there are tons and tons of shells on the beaches and as we walked a mile on the beach after we first landed Mr. Misadventures found a giant conch shell in pristine condition which I delicately wrapped up and put in my backpack. Personally, I got over shell collecting as a child although I do have a few that I’ve collected along the way in places Mr. Misadventures and I have traveled to, but I was super excited when we found that conch. I guess I rejoined the shell collecting tribe. I didn’t gather additional shells because I didn’t want to haul them, I will bring a bag for a future trip!
A little over a mile in we cut into the dunes. The island was dryer than Carrot Island and only a tiny bit of muddy here and there in the center. This time Mr. Misadventure wore his Bogs so it was no problem to walk into the marshy areas to seek out the horses. About another half-mile in we came upon 5 horses grazing.
Shackleford Banks is 8 miles in length. Most people attack it by doing 2 different trips: Beaufort to Shackleford Banks to enjoy the southern part of the island and then Harker’s Island to Shackleford Banks to access the East End (across from Cape Lookout). We are going to do the second part during our next trip to Beaufort coming up in a few weeks. Ideally, you will want to be on the earliest ferry possible to have the best opportunity to see horses (or at sunset). They graze around the island and drink from water sources in the forest.
There are around 130 horses on Shackleford Banks that live in 30 harems throughout the entire island. You just need to be patient and time!
Please note all photos were taken with the zoom lens You should not approach the horses you should maintain a distance of 50 feet.
After 2-and-a-half hours we headed back to Beaufort. We absolutely cannot wait to return and spend more time on Shackleford Banks! The beach is pristine, uncrowded, and full of shells! With 130+ horses opportunities abound for photography and the scenery is just gorgeous!
Where We Ate in Beaufort
Mr. Misadventures and I aren’t quite there yet when it comes to eating in restaurants; however, Beaufort has a lot to offer, in particular spots with outdoor waterside dining along with (potentially) great restaurants throughout downtown. So in terms of what to eat, I am going to stick a pin here and say, stay tuned!
Black Sheep Pizza
While on Carrot Island we walked 4 miles on the island and 3 miles wandering around town before our ferry, so by the time we returned we were famished. We headed next door to Black Sheep Beaufort, a woodfire pizza company. We do not eat a lot of pizza so when we do, we are super picky about it.
Black Sheep gets 2 giant thumbs UP. We devoured a Bishop (with arugula pesto, roasted cherry tomatoes, roasted garlic, ovalini mozzarella, parmesan, and pecorino finished with dressed arugula, Serrano ham, and shaved parmesan) and a Speckenwolf (which was olive oil base topped with Speck prosciutto, mushrooms, red onion, and mozzarella cheese finished with garlic, parsley, and oregano).
We enjoyed them immensely in the sunshine and fresh air!
Les Ciseaux Bakery
If Beaufort wasn’t already wonderful enough, a French bakery recently opened up! We went to visit Les Ciseaux and spoke with the new baker Simon (originally from Lille, France), and his business partner Matt. They are only open 3 days a week: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and only have viennoiserie on Saturday – bread on all 3 days. We chatted for a while with the intent to buy croissants but were so excited to talk to people we forgot to buy the croissants. When we went back an hour later (I felt bad about not buying anything, after all, they are a new business) but there was a huge line to buy bread!
I did contact Matt to ask some follow-up questions:
I would love a tiny bit of background on Simon. He is from Lille, I remember that, but I’d love to know where he studied, why did he decide to be a baker, and how he came to be in the US?
Simon grew up just outside of Lille but also went to school in Tournai, Belgium. For about four years, he also lived in Saint-Nazaire in Brittany. Simon’s family still lives in the area surrounding Lille.
Simon had been working in an advertising and design career for a company in Canada and wanted to make a major shift away from the corporate world. He had stopped working in January 2020 with plans to work on my real estate team as the marketing coordinator. Then, Covid threw a wrench in the works. The idea of opening a bakery came during the lockdown when he was baking for friends and neighbors. Simon is a self-taught baker. He decided to name the bakery Les Ciseaux after the neighborhood in Boëseghem where he grew up in. Coincidentally, before our shop was a bakery, it had been a hair salon for ages. I’m calling it a serendipitous occurrence because we picked the name before finding the location.
Why Beaufort? Why did you decide to open up a bakery here?
It’s my fault that Simon is in Beaufort! I grew up in this area and almost all of my family is still in the area. Simon and I both immigrated to Canada in 2014 and met in 2017. I was the organist/choirmaster at the Anglican Cathedral in Kelowna, British Columbia and Simon was working for an advertising company in Saskatoon. In 2018, I decided to move back to be near family. Simon was able to get his visa to follow and in 2019, he moved here. We got married in May 2019 and had plans to have a formal wedding service at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Morehead City (where I am an organist now) in May 2020, but had to cancel because of the Queen!
How did you choose your bread/pastry selections on your menu?
Simon chose the menu based on the staples of a traditional boulangerie. They’re all things he enjoys baking. We’ve got a limited menu of several breads (pain de campagne – both traditional and a multigrain version, rye bread, baguettes, le meteil with walnuts) and three pastry choices (croissants, pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins). We also serve Counter Culture single-origin, organic coffee (a coffee roaster from Durham, NC), and have some other merchandise sourced from France and other places. We’ve got some new menu items in the works but they’re in the testing phase now. Hopefully, we’ll be adding at least fougasse, kouign amann, and madeleines this summer.
Ingredients. Are you using any French ingredients? Any other locally sourced ingredients?
All of our bread is organic and naturally leavened. So, they’re all, technically, sourdoughs but only the rye has a sour flavor. Our plain pain de campagne is only flour, water, and salt. No fillers, no chemical yeasts, etc. We get most of our flour from Lindley Mills in Graham, NC. Our rye flour comes from various farms. We’ve purchased a flour mill to have in the bakery, so when it arrives, we’ll be milling some of our own flour.
For our pastries, we get our butter from Normandy. The salt is hand-harvested in Guérande, Brittany. These are some of the few non-organic things we use.
Bravo les Ciseaux and à la prochaine!
Where We Stayed in Beaufort
We stayed 2 nights in the Beaufort Hotel (2440 Lennoxville Rd) which is right on the water (although our room was not). We felt they followed safety protocols and we appreciated our room, the sliding glass door, and the 2nd-floor terrace where we enjoyed most of our meals and travel champagne ;-). Parking is free but a bit of a pain, the lot is across the street and down half a block. They are supposed to have a good restaurant, which we might try out another time when the Queen has left town for good.
While walking through the historic district we stumbled on a beautiful home that lured us in with its French flag. Turns out it’s an inn. I’ll tell you all about it after my next trip to Beaufort as we are staying there for a night! (Here is that post from our stay at the Inn on Turner.)
Beaufort North Carolina (and not Beaufort South Carolina!) you are certainly a coup de foudre (love at first sight) for the Misadventures family! Your town is adorable and the residents take pride and care in its flourish and controlled development. The attention to detail you put into your homes is such a joy!
Beaufort, we look forward to exploring more, tasting more, and getting to know you better. Of course, I couldn’t let your name escape me, its obvious Frenchness had me scurrying to research its origins. Beaufort was originally known as Fishtown because of the fishing activities that took place (and you will find some businesses in town still honor that name) but was then named for Henry Somerset, Duke of Beaufort.
The Duke of Beaufort may have been British, but there are definite French ties to the name. Beaufort refers to a cahteau in Champagne, France known as Montmorency-Beaufort). It is the ONLY current dukedom to take its name from a place outside the British Isles. (Fun fact: there is also an Association of Beaufort sister cities that was created in 1995 when Beaufort-en-Vallee, France hosted the first reunion of Beauforts.) Anyway, there is STILL a living Duke Beaufort today (in the UK). And there is a Duke de Beaufort in France – which has ties to Henry IV and an illegitimate son.
Back to Beaufort!
It truly was the perfect weekend (We visited the first weekend of March.) and we have already planned our next one. The high season is Easter through October, so we are cutting it close by visiting again a few days before the big bunny does. And we will be back again in the fall too and given that we have only been in North Carolina 1 year I am sure it is a town we will return to over and over again. And yes, we will get to Beaufort South Carolina too, although I am not sure they can win me over after experiencing Beaufort North Carolina!
How about you? Have you been to Beaufort North Carolina? Do you have any recommendations to share? Do tell!
Beaufort is located on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast in Carteret County. It is 2 hours and 45 minutes from Raleigh. 3 hours from Nags head if you are visiting the Outer Banks.
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