Hidden Beaches of SC: Port Royal Edition

Meandering along the southern tip of Port Royal, the Sands Beach is a relatively unknown beach where Beaufort locals can access for free. Situated just south of the historic city of Beaufort and neighboring Hilton Head Island, Port Royal offers a serene escape with its pristine beaches and rich history. In addition to sharing details about Port Royal's hidden beach, we'll shore up the details on some of the best things to do while you're vacationing in Port Royal and the Beaufort area.

Dog jumping on a plaque explaining the story of the Port Royal Traveling Buoy.

The Traveling Buoy is one of the coolest stories from Port Royal SC history. Photo credit: @kona.the.explorer (Instagram)

Port Royal: A Brief History

Port Royal boasts a captivating history that dates back to 1562, when it was founded. Originally inhabited by Native American tribes, the area was later settled by French, British, Scottish, and Spanish colonialists. Its coastal location — home to the East Coast's sole natural deep-water harbor — and active railroad system made it a desirable commercial hub. Throughout its history, Port Royal has served as a vital port, military outpost, and core of a thriving seafood industry.

Today, Port Royal is proud to exemplify a burgeoning wave of small-town “New Urbanism.” Another example of a “New Urbanism” trend is the increasing popularity of small-town social districts, where alcohol consumption is allowed in a designated outdoor space. It has been lauded by regional and national publications as one of the best places to live and conduct business in the Southeast while maintaining a staunch commitment to conservation of the area's bustling ecosystem.

Kid playing in the sand at the Sands in Port Royal SC.

The Sands is one of the best SC beaches for sharkteeth hunting. Photo credit: @glew021081 (Instagram)

What to know about the Sands: Port Royal's hidden beach

Let's get right to it. Port Royal's hidden gem beach is know as the Sands, a secluded beach that offers a tranquil retreat away from the crowds. Tucked away along the Port Royal Sound, the Sands boasts pristine shores and breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.

Accessible via a scenic pathway lined with lush vegetation, the Sands is a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can enjoy leisurely strolls along the shoreline, shell hunting, or simply basking in the sun while soaking up the serene ambiance. The Sands Boardwalk is a great place to stop and take photos.

While its waters are generally calm, the Sands is likely not your best option for swimming. The edge of the water can be mucky at times, though visitors have been known to find upwards of 20 shark teeth in one beach walk! Whether you're seeking solitude or adventure, this hidden beach promises a rejuvenating escape when you and your group could use an hour or two to relax between Port Royal and Beaufort attractions.

Spanish Moss Trail in Port Royal SC

Biking the Spanish Moss Trail is at the top of our Port Royal bucket list. Photo credit: Rick M (Tripadvisor)

What else is there to do in and around Port Royal SC?

Beyond the Sands, Port Royal offers a wealth of attractions and activities to explore. History buffs can delve into the town's storied past with visits to historic sites such as the Historic Port Royal Foundation and Museum, featuring exhibits on the crabbing, shrimping, and fishing industries in Port Royal and their impact on the town's economic development.

Outdoor enthusiasts can take advantage of the town's scenic parks and nature preserves, which offer opportunities for hiking, biking, and wildlife viewing. Nearby attractions such as the Cypress Wetlands Nature Trail and the Spanish Moss Trail provide immersive experiences in the region's natural beauty.

At Fort Frederick Heritage Preserve in Port Royal, SC, visitors can step back in time and explore the remnants of a colonial-era fortification. The preserve offers hiking trails that wind through lush maritime forest and past historical ruins, providing a glimpse into the area's rich past. Visitors can discover the remains of Fort Frederick, a British outpost built in the 18th century to defend against Spanish invasion. Interpretive signs along the trails provide insights into the fort's history and significance. Nature enthusiasts can also enjoy birdwatching and wildlife spotting in the preserve's diverse habitats. With its blend of history and natural beauty, Fort Frederick Heritage Preserve offers a unique and immersive experience for visitors to Port Royal.

Front exterior of Cuthbert House in Beaufort SC

Pure Lowcountry majesty. Photo credit: Cuthbert House (Tripadvisor)

Where to stay near Port Royal

Spoiler alert: Beaufort's accommodations are favorable to Port Royal. They're also closer to dining and nightlife, and just a short drive from Port Royal itself. In Beaufort, you'll find a variety of accommodation options to suit every traveler's needs and preferences. From quaint bed and breakfasts to waterfront resorts, visitors can find a range of lodging choices within easy reach of the town's attractions and amenities.

Here are some of our recommendations for Beaufort hotels:

  • Cuthbert House Inn: Sometimes, you just need to stay in a mansion. Beaufort's show-stopping Cuthbert House exemplifies Lowcountry luxury accommodations.
  • Home2Suites by Hilton Beaufort: Free WiFi, free hot breakfast, free parking, free outdoor pool…what more could you need? Oh yeah, this hotel also offers pet-friendly rooms.
  • Beaufort Inn: Equal parts classic and modern, this laidback hotel in downtown Beaufort is only 10 minutes from the Sands beach in Port Royal SC.
  • Anchorage 1770: You won't want to leave the spacious porch beds that hang from this historic waterfront hotel's attractive veranda.
BLT from Sea Sea's in Port Royal SC

Sea Sea's Honey Hole has about the tastiest looking BLT we've ever seen! Photo credit: @lowcountryspotlight (Instagram)

Dining options in Port Royal SC

No visit to Port Royal would be complete without sampling the local cuisine. The town boasts a diverse culinary scene, with restaurants, cafes, and eateries serving up a tantalizing array of dishes. Seafood lovers can indulge in fresh catches straight from the docks, while Southern-style eateries offer up classic comfort food favorites. From casual diners to upscale bistros, Port Royal's dining establishments promise a memorable culinary experience for every palate.

Here are some of our recommendations for the best restaurants in Port Royal:

  • Chef Frank's Bistro: Your best choice for upscale, chef-driven dining. After your filet mignon, save room for fresh-made desserts!
  • Shellring Ale Works: A self-described haven for “uncommonly creative beer,” Shellring Ale Works offers flights of fruited sour ale, caramel amber lager, and chai spiced apple hard seltzers.
  • Sea Sea's Honey Hole Bait & Tackle Shop: Heaven on Earth is where you can pick up your fishing bait and lunch provisions from the same store! Keep it simple on the water with a breakast burrito, hot dog, or Cuban sandwich.

Open to expanding your palate? Check out our suggestions for the best restaurants in Hilton Head Island.

In conclusion, Port Royal, South Carolina, is a hidden gem along the state's coastline, offering pristine beaches, rich history, and a wealth of attractions and activities to explore. Whether you're seeking relaxation, adventure, or cultural immersion, this charming town has something to offer every traveler.

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