End-of-Summer Fun at the Seafood Festival

Here's an insider's guide to the massive Hampton Beach fest

Organizers of the Hampton Beach Seafood Festival claim that their event is "the largest festival in the state of New Hampshire." Not many events can claim such lofty superlatives, but, with crowds numbering 150,000 and beyond, this one probably can. The Seafood Festival, put simply, is huge.

"The Hampton Beach Seafood Festival has really become a reunion of sorts for so many people and groups," says festival chair Jude David. "They plan their vacations and everything around it."

It's no surprise the festival's fans are so dedicated. In addition to being a great excuse to spend one last weekend on the beach, fried shrimp and beer in hand, before fall begins, the Seafood Festival boasts a remarkable roster of attractions. There's the seafood of all shapes and sizes, of course, but the festival also features 70 craft vendors, an oo- and ahh-inducing skydiving show, culinary demos, a packed schedule of live entertainment, and a lobster roll eating contest that attracts professional eaters from across the United States.

With all of these crowd-pleasing components, many festivalgoers return year after year. David recalls a couple she met at the Seafood Festival 15 years ago. It was David's first year as festival chair and the couple's first year as attendees.

"They had six people with them that first time," David says. "This year, they have 26 people coming. That's why it's grown. People come, then they start bringing their friends…" You get the idea. 

The first Seafood Festival was a modest affair in Hampton Beach State Park in 1988. Attendees telling their friends, who then tell their friends, has ballooned the fest into its current state, which shuts down Ocean Boulevard and packs the waterfront. The festival these days has high-powered headliners — including, new this year, the 39th Army Band closing out the weekend in tribute to 9/11 — and a national reputation. If you're going to pay a visit this year, you'll need a game plan.

The festival's website will provide you with the first tool in your arsenal: food vendor maps and menus. Many festival diehards will stick around for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the festival, so, to save yourself a headache, you'll want to plan ahead for which vendors you want to visit.

If you're looking for award-winning grub, last year's Best of the Festival winner Rye Harbor Lobster Pound can be found serving from two booths in Tent 2, and you can pick up 2015's Best Lobster Roll from Temple Street Diner in Tent 1 for only $13. Quirky options include the shrimp gazpacho ($8) from Ashworth by the Sea and lobster ravioli ($9) from The Seafood Shack. For those who are a bit more turf than surf, be sure to check out 2015 Best Non-Seafood winner JR's in Tent 1.

You may also want to avail yourself of the free shuttles that can transport visitors from 13 designated free parking lots around Hampton. The shuttles drive in express bus lanes, so trust us: it's quicker than fighting your way to a "better" spot in your own car. You'll also need to leave the pets at home, per city ordinance, and be sure to bring plenty of spending money beyond the admission fee due at the door.

One last tip? Dress in stretchy pants and comfortable shoes. You've got a long day of delicious eats ahead.