For many East Coasters, fall is synonymous with oysters. Much like the taste of wine is based on its terroir, oysters are affected by their “merroir,” the marine environment in which they grow. Harvesting technique, salinity, tides, local food sources, seasonality and climate all impact the color and taste.
The following fall food festivals provide an excellent opportunity to challenge the palate’s ability to detect regional flavors of the delectable bivalve.
Morehead City, NC
September 30 - October 2
National Seafood Month is officially kicked off on the Morehead City Waterfront with a celebration listed in the top 200 “must see” festivals by the International Festivals & Events Association.
North Carolina Seafood Festival has an endless variety of the state’s fresh-caught seafood prepared a multitude of ways. This year, the festival is partnering with the N.C. Coastal Federation to promote oyster farming and bed restoration with its Wine & Brine Event featuring farmers, table-side chef demonstrations and tastings, and best wine/ oyster pairings.
Other attractions are the annual Oyster Shucking Contest and the Blessing of the Fleet ceremony for the protection of local
commercial fishermen, plus street dances, concerts, artisan vendors, educational exhibits, rides and games.
Where to Dock: Morehead City Yacht Basin is in easy walking distance
Richmond Hill, GA
In its 23rd year, the Ogeechee event, located just south of Savannah, is one of the largest seafood festivals in the Southeast. The focus is officially the mouth-watering seafood, but carnival rides, live music, arts and crafts, and other activities are also a draw. A wide range of snacks, street fair foods, desserts and other dishes are available for those who don’t eat seafood.
Celebrate the arrival of Mid-Atlantic oyster season at the 49th Annual Chincoteague Oyster Festival, home of the famous Chincoteague Salts oyster. In addition to oysters — raw, steamed, fried and frittered — you can also nosh on shrimp cocktail, clam chowder and fritters, hot dogs, hush puppies and boardwalk fries.
Island Boy, a crowd-pleaser for more than 25 years, will provide live entertainment. Other festival favorites are the Extravaganza Raffle and the “Best Place/Space Award” given to the best decorated display.
Where to Dock: Snug Harbor Marina and Curtis Merritt Harbor are located near Tom’s Cove Park
Come celebrate everything oyster as Town Center Park is transformed into a walking district offering a variety of foods, crafts, contests and musical performances. In addition to delicious food, arts and crafts vendors offer handmade jewelry, holiday decor, unique cuisines and more.
Where to Dock: Ocean Isle Marina
October 15 - 23
This week-long festival is held in the state-designated cultural district of a city well known for its quirky art community and natural river beauty. Bluffton is rich in history, culture and Southern hospitality. The event offers a myriad of activities showcasing locally harvested seafood and delicious Low country cuisine
The second weekend is the most popular time to attend. Street Fest offers a juried art show, local seafood and live music, plus a children’s fishing tournament, fireworks display and other family-friendly activities.
Mid-week events showcase the best of the local area and include boat, kayak and paddle board tours of the May River, historic home tours, an oyster roast, a street art contest, and a blessing of the fleet.
Where to Dock: Alljoy Public Dock
St. Michaels, MD
Get ready to sip, slurp and savor at one of the Chesapeake Bay’s favorite fall festivals, held at the premier collection of the region’s nautical history and culture! Chesapeake Bay wild and aquaculture oysters are served raw, steamed, frittered and in stew, along with a variety of other local delicacies. Enjoy cooking, oystering and Chesapeake Bay retriever demonstrations, as well as children’s activities, live music on two stages and more. Drink options include a specialty Lyon Rum cocktail (made by a local distiller), oyster shooters, craft beer and Chesapeake-style Bloody Marys.
Come by boat or come by land — the charming town of Urbanna closes its streets for this big celebration of everything oyster! Parade lovers line up for the Friday evening Fireman’s Parade and Saturday’s Oyster Shucking Contest and Oyster Festival Parade. Expect hometown fun with participants including the Shiners, marching bands and lovingly decorated floats.
It’s a definite foodie heaven with more than 50 food vendors turning out festival fare like BBQ and crab bisque and oysters prepared every way: steamed, roasted, fried, stewed, Rockefeller and even “Oysters in a Pot Pie.” Arts and crafts, antique autos, children’s activities and live bands are spread along the center streets.
The town marina has historical boats on display along with exhibits on the oyster industry, watermen and the conservation of the Chesapeake Bay, plus individual areas for Virginia wine tastings and craft brew tastings.
Where to Dock: Urbanna Town Marina or Robinson Creek Community Ramp Dock
The seafood celebration in Florida’s oldest maritime fishing village begins with Blessing of the Fleet and a large parade. Held at the mouth of the Apalachicola River under the shady oaks of Battery Park, the event features a smorgasbord of fresh fish dishes as well as notable events such as oyster eating and oyster shucking contests, blue crab races, and Tonging for Treasure. Arts and crafts exhibits, seafood- related events, and musical entertainment from national touring acts fill out the weekend.
Where to Dock: Water Street Marina on Scipio Creek, four blocks from downtown, has 19 transient slips for boats to 55’
Hilton Head, SC
Hilton Head’s annual oyster festival features steamed, stewed and fried oysters alongside other seafood and non-seafood dishes in two locations. The opening night party in Shelter Cove Community Park features all-you-can-eat steamed local oysters, Lowcountry boil, seafood chowder and pulled pork plus live music and entertainment. Saturday is festival day with more oysters and food stalls, live entertainment, arts and crafts, a football lounge, and other family-friendly fun in Lowcountry Celebration Park.
Where to Dock: Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina