HAMPTON BEACH — The region’s biggest seafood festival kicks off Friday as the Hampton Beach Seafood Festival celebrates its 26th year.
The festival runs Friday from 4 to 9 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ocean Boulevard in Hampton Beach — the main road that runs the length of the beach — will be closed to traffic as an anticipated 150,000 people descend on the seaside resort.
For the vast majority, they will be there for one thing:
“It’s all about the seafood,” said Jude David, chairwoman of the festival.
The staple of the event is an incredible variety of seafood, prepared in a mindboggling number of ways. Some 60 of the Seacoast’s top restaurants will serve favorites like fried clams, shrimp and lobster (steamed, fried or in a roll), as well as non-seafood items like BBQ Ribs, “Blooming Onions” and desserts.
Throughout the event, some 80 arts and crafts vendors will be promoting and selling locally made products, and hundreds of Ocean Boulevard merchants will be offering end-of-the-season sidewalk sales.
There will also be continuous entertainment on two stages featuring 15 bands and orchestras playing a variety of music — blues, jazz, the oldies but goodies and rock ‘n’ roll. Hampton Beach recently saw a major renovation of its seafront facilities — bathhouses, boardwalks and stages. The result is a much improved waterfront, said David.
“The seashell stage is just gorgeous,” she said.
The festival also caters to kids. There will be a “Kiddie Land” featuring children’s celebrities, magicians, jugglers, clowns, face painting and games.
“It’s really a family event,” said David. “For some people it’s almost like a reunion. We have groups of up to 20 people who rent a place so they can spend the weekend at the festival. You don’t come to the seafood festival without leaving with new friends.”
David noted three main events that are crowd favorites:
On Saturday at 2 p.m., the 4th annual lobster roll eating contest will be held. The event draws large crowds to see who can eat the most.
On Saturday night, the fireworks display begins at 8:15. Immediately preceding it is a concert by the 39th Army Band, a New Hampshire-based National Guard band.
On Sunday, the Skydive New England team will perform. It will feature 16 skydivers jumping from 14,000 feet and landing in the center of Hampton Beach. Skydive New England will be dropping a total of 16 skydivers including a 10-person formation with smoke, a four-person canopy formation stacking one skydiver on top of another, and two skydivers will freefall at 125 mph, opening their chutes at an altitude of 5,500 feet with one carrying a Canadian flag and another the United States flag.
Other events include Pat Whitley Culinary Chef Demonstrations Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
David emphasized that the best way to get to the event is to park in one of the several designated free satellite parking areas and use the free shuttle buses.
“It’s the fastest and most cost-effective way to get to the festival,” she said.
The following lots have been designated:
FRIDAY, SATURDAY AND SUNDAY
Municipal parking lot, High Street, Hampton
Old Town Hall parking lot, Winnacunnet Road, Hampton
FRIDAY AFTER 5 P.M.; SATURDAY AND SUNDAY
Town Hall parking lot, 100 Winnacunnet Road, Hampton
Center School, 53 Winnacunnet Road, Hampton
Hampton Academy Junior High, 29 Academy Ave., Hampton
Marston School, 4 Marston Way, Hampton
SATURDAY AND SUNDAY ONLY
Winnacunnet High School student lot, 1 Alumni Drive, Hampton .
Medical Building, 55 High St., Hampton
Ocean Bank, 117 Winnacunnet Road, Hampton
Merrill Industrial Drive, Merrill Drive, Hampton
Free handicapped shuttle service is available at Hampton Beach State Park, Route 1A, Hampton
For those who want to park closer to the beach, catch free trolley service from the state park, 8 State Park Road (just north of the Seabrook Bridge). Parking is $15 per car with free shuttle service from the state park to the festival.
Hampton Beach Seafood Festival Friday from 4 to 9 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ADMISSION: Friday: $5 per adult Saturday: $8 per adult Sunday: $5 per adult Children under 12 free of charge Parking: Offsite available and recommended