A weekend trip with kids to Beaufort, NC

29 June 2023

Last year and this year, John and I were grateful to have a three-day weekend in honor of Juneteenth. In 2022, we used it to venture to Swansboro and Hammocks Beach, and this year, we explored Beaufort, NC. Exploring a corner of the North Carolina coast shortly after school wraps up has been a delight the last few years; I think it just might become an annual tradition. I’d love to share a few photos and details of what we did, if you’d like to see!

It’s just under three hours from our house to Beaufort, which for our fam is a short trip. Because of this, we let the kids pack their own car bags, and they did a… questionable job, ha. To tide them over for the last 45 minutes I whipped up these road trip scavenger hunts on the back of a coloring sheet. They were a hit!

Before checking in at our Airbnb we stopped at a Viv’s Fridge right around the corner. Vivian Howard is an acclaimed NC chef (her flagship restaurant is Chef & the Farmer in Kinston) and these fridges are her newest invention: restaurant-quality goodies stocked in a grab-and-go vending machine! We got her signature saltines and beach essentials for our Saturday adventures.

Our Airbnb was in a new development about a five minutes’ car ride from downtown. We could, however, walk to dinner at the Beaufort Hotel, which is what we did (it took about 15-20 minutes). The weather was perfection.

The walk along Front Street was beautiful, right along the water with live oaks to climb and beautiful homes to enjoy (that’s my pick on the left and June’s on the right!). There is plenty of space to walk along the side of the road but there were more cars than I expected – just a note of caution.

Dinner at the Beaufort Hotel was lovely, with an impeccable view. I am proud and also somewhat embarrassed to say I ordered my first fish dish ever – grouper – on Friday night. Eating fish has been a slow burn for me, and though I’ve eaten off of John’s plate for years and loved it, I’d never taken the plunge and ordered it for myself. Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks :)

On Saturday morning we headed out promptly to make our 9:45 ferry to Cape Lookout from Harkers Island (we had booked tickets in advance). The weather was, again, absolute perfection – blue skies and about 80 degrees with a sea breeze. After a brief stop at Shackleford Banks to let some passengers off, we pulled up on the cape about 15 minutes later.

Like Hammocks Beach, there is some infrastructure on the barrier island – a visitor’s center, bathrooms, a hot dog stand – but it’s mostly just gorgeous sand and water. We stopped to talk briefly with the lighthouse keepers, and I remembered reading an article a few years ago about the volunteer position. Fascinating! And what a view just a few steps from their front door:

Something to aspire to in retirement :)

We set up our Shibumi and spent the next 3.5 hours playing in the water, digging in the sand, catching hermit crabs, and eating Chef Vivian’s delicious dips. As a barrier island, the sand is constantly shifting, so there were lots of tide pools and sandbars to explore. We stuck to the sound side, where the water is calmer (and perfect for little kids!), but there’s also the ocean side for thrill seekers.

We had bought return tickets for the 1:15 ferry but ended up returning on the 1:45. (You’re guaranteed a spot in your time slot but can ride standby for any other.) The big kids got to help drive the boat, and Annie snuck in a catnap on the drive back to the Airbnb. Once there, we took a dip in the community pool before taking showers and cleaning up for dinner.

Dinner on Saturday night was special. We were returning to the Island Grille, the Atlantic Beach restaurant where John and I ate dinner directly after he proposed to me just about 12 years ago. We hadn’t returned since, and thought it would be fun to take the whole crew.

While it was fun, it started out rough – two of our children almost immediately started squabbling over a cup of water and ended up spilling the entire thing. This felt very noticeable in a tiny restaurant – our waiter brought out the mop to clean it up, etc. – but thankfully things improved from there and the rest of the meal was smooth.

Afterwards, we walked the short distance over to the beach – the actual beach where John proposed! – and sat in the sand for almost an hour while our kids played. Our loose original plan was to maybe play mini golf after dinner, but we decided that mostly just sounded stressful with Annie involved and reminiscing side-by-side while the sun went down was quite literally perfect.

On Sunday (Father’s Day!) we enjoyed brunch at an old favorite, Beaufort Grocery. We arrived promptly at 10am, when they opened, and were seated right away on the patio, but the service was pretty slow. The blueberry pancakes were delicious, though :)

We then headed back to the Airbnb and prepped our paddle boards for an adventure. Beau Coast, the community our rental house was in, has a private dock on Taylor Creek; we launched our flotilla from there. John had Shep on his board and towed June on a kid-size board while I had Annie on mine. I was pleased to see that the difference between riding with a newly-minted one-year-old and an almost two-year-old is night and day! She understood she needed to sit still, could easily balance herself, and babbled and pointed things out to me the whole time.

We paddled across Taylor Creek to Carrot Island, another barrier island known to have wild horses. As we were pulling the boards up on shore, Annie started saying, “Erses, erses!” We figured she was looking at an informational photo, but then June said, “No, guys, she’s right! There are horses!!” And sure enough, right off the boardwalk was a mini herd.

After looking at the horses and resting on the boardwalk for a bit, we relaunched and paddled back toward our dock, stopping at another little beach along the walk. I know I sound like a broken record, but again – the weather was perfection. This was a peak Father’s Day moment for John for sure.

From there it was a quick paddle across the creek to get home – you can see our destination in the photo below!

Back at the house we ate a late, snack-y lunch of leftovers before heading for another dip in the pool, then once again cleaned up and got ready for dinner out. Annie fell asleep on the drive into town and actually stayed asleep as we removed her from the car seat and waited for our table, which was a sweet throwback for this go-go-go toddler. The patio view at Front Street Grill was absolutely incredible:

A point of freedom I wanted to share: while we were waiting for our food, we let Annie watch a show on the phone. If you’re counting, this heavy-afternoon napper had gone two straight (very active!) days without a proper nap – and she was feeling it. We felt like we hadn’t given her the conditions to succeed at dinner, and so a show allowed us all to enjoy the Father’s Day meal. Somewhat surprisingly, the big kids didn’t seem to mind that she was watching and they weren’t – probably because keeping her occupied allowed us to focus on them :) I still stand by my general policy of phone-free dinners out, but also think it’s wise to understand when to make exceptions.

On Monday morning we returned to the Beaufort Hotel for breakfast before heading out to Fort Macon State Park. Construction began on the fort in 1826 and it was occupied by Confederate forces during the Civil War. It was sold to the state of NC in 1924 to become a state park, but then pulled back into military service during World War II, when German U-boats were spotted off the NC coast. At the close of the war, it returned to state park status and has been enjoyed by visitors ever since.

Some museums and historical sites can be tough with kids, but our whole family enjoyed exploring Fort Macon. It’s very hands-on – kids can climb, jump, and run throughout the fort – and there’s plenty of historical information without it feeling overwhelming. The kids loved the cannons, of course, and we loved that it gave us a chance to chat through several different big moments in history.

A final little humanizing tale: Fort Macon is right on the beach, and after an hour and a half or so in the fort, we thought we’d spend a few minutes at the beach before getting in the car to head out to lunch and the drive home. We did, and it was delightful, until Annie sat down directly in the water. We immediately moved to scoop her up, to which she responded by laying down in the sand, rolling around, and essentially turning herself into a cinnamon sugar donut. We eventually wrangled her up and hightailed it back to the parking lot, which she was absolutely apoplectic about. Remember: we were now going on three days without a proper nap. She screamed through being stripped down in the parking lot, being washed off with extra water bottles (the indignity!), and being dressed in a new outfit. The only pause in her screaming was to yawn :)

It was quite the ending to the trip, but thankfully we were able to laugh through the absurdity of it, and Annie herself was even laughing a few minutes into the car ride. Despite the rocky ending, it was a truly wonderful trip, and we were so grateful to make it!

I’d love to hear if there’s been a particular historical site that’s been enjoyable to visit, with or without kids. Or if you have any questions about Beaufort, I’m happy to answer those, too!

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June 29, 2023 12:24 pm

The Annie sand story just cracks me up! I am also not into fish (a fact I dislike about myself!) and am glad to hear that you’ve overcome your distaste — there is hope for me yet! Wanted to recommend an absolutely gorgeous children’s book about lighthouses. It will definitely be over Annie’s head, and maybe Shep’s, but I bet June will love it. It’s Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall — a Caldecott winner! Frame-worthy illustrations, IMO! https://www.amazon.com/Hello-Lighthouse-Sophie-Blackall/dp/1408357399

June 30, 2023 8:52 am
Reply to  Pressley

Yes I second that book! Lovely illustrations!

June 29, 2023 3:42 pm

I spent 3 nights down in Swansboro recently and absolutely loved the area! Thunderstorms cancelled our plans to camp on Bear Island (add it back to the bucket list, I guess), but my 2.5 year old and our crew enjoyed the local beaches, hiking the boardwalk at Cedar Point Tidelands (thousands of tiny fiddler crabs!), Fort Macon, kayaking, and hunting for sand dollars in the shallows. And if you’re ever back in Swansboro, The Red Brick Inn was easily the best Airbnb I’ve ever experienced!

June 30, 2023 8:51 am

Nashville has a surprising number of great places to take kids. The parks were top notch, the Country Music Hall of Fame was very hands-on, the top level of the Art Museum was an all ages maker space and my 6 year old spent 2 hours there and then they closed, and the public library puppet show was worth the whole trip haha!