16 Fall Festivals on the Coast

Who says cotton candy, clambakes, and Ferris wheels don't mix? Find these and more at the following seasonal seaside celebrations.

Harbor Festival

Santa Barbara Harbor and Seafood Festival
Santa Barbara, California

Courtesy of Santa Barbara Harbor and Seafood Festival

Chowder, Blues & Brews
Florence, Oregon
October
Visit this small town on the Oregon coast and you'll find exactly what the festival's name implies: groovy blues music and enough award-winning chowder and local microbrews to fill an oil tanker, or at least the Florence Events Center, to the brim. Showcasing the talents of Oregon's finest blues musicians, chefs, and microbrewers, the latest installment of this annual festival brings out the competition in everyone. Bring your appetite Saturday, when local chefs compete in the Oregon Coast Professional Chowder Cook-Off. Judges decide on the winner, but festival goers get to taste and vote on a People's Choice award. Be sure to wash all that chowder down with beers from five of the state's finest microbreweries. Admission is $15 for the entire weekend or $7 for Friday and $10 for Saturday; 541/997-3128 or florencechamber.com/events/chowder-blues.shtml.

Pensacola Seafood Festival
Pensacola, Florida
September
With a variety of food and fun for all, this festival features something for the music lover, seafood enthusiast, and aspiring chef in everyone. Continuous entertainment fills the air as you fill your belly while perusing Seville Square in historic downtown Pensacola. Sample delicious delights from the Gulf prepared by 18 carefully selected seafood vendors offering an array of recipes to choose from. The variety guarantees to satisfy the most demanding taste buds, whether they prefer seafood gumbo or coconut shrimp. Visit the Grille throughout the weekend, where chefs from local restaurants work their kitchen magic and demonstrate how to prepare their favorite recipes. Finish off the weekend by trying whites or reds at the wine tasting Sunday afternoon. Admission is free; 850/433-6512 or fiestaoffiveflags.org/seafoodfestival/.

The North Carolina Seafood Festival
Morehead City, North Carolina
October
Feel like trying something new? Learn how to build a boat, or tour the state's main port and discover the ins and outs of the import/export business. Want some quality time with the kids? Enter a family fishing contest, ride a Ferris wheel overlooking the Atlantic, and let your little ones compete in the "fossil dig." In the mood for good eats? Sample seafood from a variety of vendors and learn the right way to prepare coastal North Carolina delicacies from local experts. Need we say more about the endless possibilities awaiting you on the Morehead City waterfront? Throw in a hodgepodge of music genres, including blues, country, and Motown, and this festival really does have something for every member of the family. Admission is free; 252/726-6273 or ncseafoodfestival.org.

Bayfest Music Festival
Mobile, Alabama
October
Join more than 200,000 other music lovers as you stroll through the streets of Mobile's downtown waterfront and take in the sounds of almost every musical genre ever contrived. Nestled among historic buildings and parks, nine stages become home to hundreds of musical acts during this three-day coastal festival that the Mobile Bay Monthly claims surpasses Mardi Gras as the city's best event. Bring your own chairs or find your niche among the crowds. With big-name acts as well as a stage dedicated solely to aspiring new artists, the festival always anticipates a crowd. Tickets are $45 for the weekend; 251/208-7835 or bayfest.com.

Dungeness Crab and Seafood Festival
Port Angeles, Washington
October
The Dungeness crab season may have drawn to a close at the end of summer, but that doesn't stop this festival on the Washington shore from hosting its very own Grab a Crab Tank Derby. Volunteers are on hand to assist in catching, cleaning, and cooking the crabs, and everyone who catches one is eligible to win a prize. In addition to this unorthodox sporting event, festival goers enjoy an old-fashioned crab feed, fresh seafood, wine tasting with samples from award-winning local wineries, a beer garden, and cooking demonstrations. Fresh Northwestern seafood abounds, as well as products and treats brought by retailers from all over the Olympic Peninsula. Admission is free; 360/452-6300 or crabfestival.org.

Santa Barbara Harbor & Seafood Festival
Santa Barbara, California
October
Head to the Santa Barbara Harbor, where if the lobster, sea bass, and prawns were any fresher, they'd still be swimming. Dozens of local fishermen cast their nets and lines all day and bring their fruits of the sea directly to the pier, where you can handpick your meal and watch as local chefs prepare them in every style imaginable. Other distractions include live entertainment, free boat rides, diver demonstrations, tours of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum and a Marine research vessel, children's activities, and a breathtaking setting on the harbor. Admission is free; 805/897-1962 or harborfestival.org/.


Bowen's Wharf Seafood Festival
Newport, Rhode Island
October
For two days in October, sea chanties, Irish folk songs, and good old-fashioned rock and roll fill the air in downtown Newport as festival goers fill their bellies. Local restaurants offer their specialties, and brews and wines flow from the outside bar. Pony rides, beanbag games, crafts, face painting, hayrides, and sand art contests keep the kids occupied while the adults meander through the street and sample the fare, including wines from the best of Newport's vineyards. Be sure to bring your appetite! Admission is free; 401/849-2243 or bowenswharf.com/bowens_wharf_events.html.

Pismo Beach Clam Festival
Pismo Beach, California
October
Celebrate with the one time "Clam Capital of the World" as it celebrates its 65th annual festival. A parade on Saturday morning kicks off the festivities, which include a Chowder Cook-Off with festival goers as the judges, vendors of all kinds, live musical entertainment, inflatable jumpers and animal rides for the kids, and the weekend's highlight: the annual Kids Clam Dig. One hundred numbered clams are buried, and each one discovered carries a prize. The lucky kid who digs up clam 100 wins $100 and bragging rights for the next year. Don't plan to bring your other diggers, as pets aren't allowed. Admission is free; 800/443-7778 or pismobeachevents.com/october-events.htm.

Urbanna Oyster Festival
Urbanna, Virginia
November
Join the festival's Queen and "Little Miss Spat"―a spat is a baby oyster―along with more than 75,000 others for two days of old-fashioned, family-oriented fun. Don't miss the event's two parades. One is traditional―think marching bands, antique cars, and floats. The other, The Fireman's Parade, features more than 100 fire and rescue vehicles of every size and description. On Saturday, cheer on professional shuckers from around the state as they vie for the title of champion of the annual Oyster Shucking Contest. (The winner competes in the National Championship.) And we can't forget the heart of the matter: an abundance of delicious oysters served raw, roasted, fried, smoked, steamed, and stewed. And for those who are squeamish or skeptical of the seafood staple, food vendors serving traditional festival fare will come to your rescue. Admission is free; 804/758-0368 or urbannaoysterfestival.com.

National Shrimp Festival
Gulf Shores, Alabama
October
Get your peeling fingers ready! Held annually at the Gulf Shores public beach since 1971, this four-day festival draws crowds of more than 300,000 and features an international marketplace, fine arts and crafts from more than 200 artists, two stages of musical entertainment, a Children's Art Village, and, of course, more varieties of shrimp and shrimp recipes than Bubba Gump could ever want. And for those with a competitive spirit, kids of all ages can enter the annual sand castle contest on Saturday. Don't fret if your castle falls or gets trampled, as you won't go home empty-handed: Every entrant receives his or her very own sand bucket to keep. Admission is free; 251/968-4237 or nationalshrimpfestival.com.

Carolina Kite Fest
Atlantic Beach, North Carolina
October
Whether you're a kite connoisseur or just a beginner, this unique yearly festival (hosted by local shop Kites Unlimited) on Atlantic Beach (in front of A Place at the Beach Resort) offers opportunities for everyone. BYOK and fly all day. And if you find yourself kiteless, Kites Unlimited's shop sits just a few miles away. This is a "participation event" with lots of opportunities for enjoyment. Fly a kite, volunteer, build a kite with your child, fly a kite, watch a demonstration, fly a kite. You get the picture. Come and go as you please, but don't miss the Night Fly on Saturday night, as local pros light up their kites and indulge viewers in an unforgettable show. Admission is free, but bring your own lunch and dinner; 252/247-7011 or kites-birdstuff.com/ckf.html.
 
Stormy Weather Arts Festival
Cannon Beach, Oregon
November
Discover your inner Van Gogh at Cannon Beach's 23rd annual three-day festival filled with art, music, and literary events. Catch the weekend's highlights including an art walk, art gallery receptions, photography exhibits, and a "So you think you can paint" competition. Be sure not to miss a festival favorite--"The Quick Draw." This fascinating event features artists creating their own individual masterpieces out of raw materials in one hour. The completed pieces are then auctioned off to lucky recipients. Buy your tickets early for this annual event that's always sold out in advance! Prices vary for individual festival events; 503/436-2623 or cannonbeach.org/chamber/events/stormy/stormy-weather.html
 
Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
November
Forget about Sundance! The Rehoboth Beach Film Festival is becoming a coastal staple for movie buffs from across the U.S. Enthusiasts can enjoy approximately 100 of the best American and international films including features, documentaries, and shorts over the five-day festival. All films are conveniently shown at one multiscreen location. Other highlights include informative seminars, opportunities to meet celebrity guests, and a Children's Cinema Corner. Tickets are $9 for general admission and $8 for seniors, children, and students. Not that tickets must be purchased for each film; 302/645-9095 or rehobothfilm.com/festival.html.
 
Southern Coastal Bluegrass Festival
Wilmington, North Carolina
September
Grab your dancing shoes and head over to the 8th annual bluegrass festival to experience clogging, square-dancing, and storytelling. Held at the historic Battleship Park on the Cape Fear River, festival-goers can enjoy local cuisine and lots of fresh air while tapping their toes to the sounds of banjos, fiddles, and guitars. Ten of the country's best bluegrass groups from North Carolina and beyond are scheduled for some good ol' foot-stompin' entertainment. Be sure to bring chairs and blankets to enjoy the show. Advance tickets are $18 for Saturday and $10 for Sunday. Tickets may be purchased at the gate for $25 on Saturday and $15 on Sunday. Children under 12 are free; 910/251-1788 or  coastalbluegrassfestival.org/.
 
Poquoson Seafood Festival
Poquoson, Virginia
October
This three-day staple on the fall calendar of the Virginia Peninsula draws nearly 50,000 people to celebrate the heritage of the Chesapeake Bay Waterman. With over 150 arts and craft vendors, 25 food vendors, and a plethora of commercial exhibits, every picky palate and creative soul will be satisfied. Check out the aunnal 5k run and workboat races that kick off the festival each year, and be sure to pick up a tasty crab cake! Admission is free. 757/868-3580 or poquosonseafoodfestival.com/default.htm.

Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival
Bluffton, South Carolina
October
Held in the charming historic district of Bluffton, this week-long annual event features locally harvested seafood, rich history, a juried art show, and more. Pack a picnic and enjoy the festival's kickoff gospel concert on Sunday, then save room for the Tour and Oyster Roast at Waddell Mariculture Center on Monday. With a 5k oyster run, family night, and boat tours as just a few of the other activities offered during the week, everyone's sure to have a good time. Ticket prices vary for each event; 843/815-6278 or blufftonartsandseafoodfestival.com.

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