For three days each year on the weekend after Labor Day, Ocean Boulevard in Hampton transforms into a huge showcase of fresh seafood, with options from more than 60 local restaurants, a lobster roll eating contest and culinary workshops highlighting the foodie side of the Hampton Beach Seafood Festival.
Dozens of artisan and craft vendors, live entertainment, beer tents, fireworks, skydiving demos, contests and more are also featured at the festival’s 28th year. It’s happening Friday, Sept. 8, through Sunday, Sept. 10.
For the main event, local restaurants will provide a variety of different seafoods, like lobster rolls, fish and chips, clams and various chowders, lobster bisque, seafood Newburg, and fish tacos and sandwiches. Some vendors, like the Tuscan Kitchen in Portsmouth, are joining the festivities for the very first time, while others like The Old Salt Restaurant at Lamie’s Inn in Hampton have been at the festival since the beginning.
“We go through literally thousands of cups of clam chowder and lobster stew for the festival,” said Joe Higgins, owner of The Old Salt. “We’ve tried different things over the years, like half-boiled lobsters, bacon wraps and scallops. For the past few years, we’ve done clam chowder and lobster stew in a cup and also in bread bowls.”
Other vendors will be bringing specialized desserts, like Spud’s Restaurant & Pub offering fried ice cream sundaes, and Simply Cannoli, who will have specialty cannolis and cappuccinos.
There are plenty of options for non-seafood-eaters as well, like chicken fingers, onion rings, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and more. Many of the restaurants also compete for bragging rights and several titles, like Best Fried Food, Best Chowder, Freshest Catch and others, determined by a panel of judges.
“There really is quite a variety,” said John Nyhan, chairman of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the festival. “Some vendors will bring back some of the foods that have been the most successful in the past and have won prizes, and others always like to bring something that’s totally new, so it’s a combination.”
Live performances will be held every hour on the hour on both the Main Stage and Beach Stage throughout the weekend, according to Nyhan. An opening ceremony featuring a ribbon-cutting by Gov. Chris Sununu will take place on the Main Stage on Friday at 6 p.m.
Returning features include the lobster roll eating contest, which will be held on the Main Stage beginning at 2 p.m., and local culinary demonstrations featuring more than a half dozen local restaurants, with hosts of the Wicked Bites television and radio shows.
Restaurants like The Old Salt, Colosseum in Salem, Lobster Q in Hampstead and Savory Square Bistro in Hampton will be participating on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A fireworks display on the beach will close out the festivities on Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
On Sunday at 5 p.m. there will be a skydiving demonstration courtesy of Skydive New England, a feature Nyhan said has always been a huge draw. Sixteen skydivers will jump from more than 14,000 feet high before landing in the center of Hampton Beach.
The festival has become a large draw for Hampton Beach, with new adjustments and endeavors made this year to make it even bigger than ever, according to Nyhan.
“Especially if we have good weather, we can see anywhere from 100,000 to 125,000 people walking the streets of Ocean Boulevard,” he said.
Ocean Boulevard will be closed to traffic for the duration of the festival, giving way to several dozen arts and craft vendors, merchant sidewalk sales, face-painting, train rides and a Kiddie Land with games for kids, in addition to all the food that will be for sale.
“The focus is all about running a top-notch event in the Seacoast area … with our vendors and our seafood,” Nyhan said.