Editor’s Note: NEA Member Benefits understands how much you love to travel and how much you’ve missed it. As states begin to relax their regulations with regard to COVID-19 and more Americans become vaccinated, travel is opening up more and more. Before planning a trip, read the health and safety protocols and requirements for visitors to any destination, as well as those of airlines, car rentals and hotels before booking and again before traveling.
One of the quickest ways to understand a destination is to taste its local cuisine. In U.S. cities both large and small, food festivals offer the opportunity to sample a region’s must-have dishes while meeting the people who produce it.
Consider yourself a crab connoisseur? A lobster lover? You’re in luck. You’ll find Maryland blue crab, Maine lobster and more at five seafood festivals across the country. Interact with renowned chefs, amateur cooks and local fishermen and, most importantly, enjoy delicious seafood.
After a pandemic-forced hiatus for many festivals, these five fests are back and stronger than ever, so pencil them into your calendar and start planning a seafood festival-focused trip for this summer.
1. Maine Lobster Festival, August 3-7, 2022
Photo courtesy of Maine Lobster Festival
For five days, lobster lovers converge on Rockland’s Harbor Park at the Maine Lobster Festival, August 3-7, 2022. This year marks the festival’s 75th anniversary, so expect extra excitement. Indulge in lobster dinners, lobster tail cocktails, lobster rolls, lobster Caesar wraps and lobster salads. And every Mainer knows that a piece of blueberry cobbler with the fresh fruit from local farms is the perfect dessert to follow a succulent lobster meal.
But there’s more to the Maine Lobster Festival than fresh lobster. Enjoy cooking contests, watch lobster being prepared on a giant cooker by the shore or wave at the newly crowned Maine Sea Goddess in The Big Parade. The festival also includes headliner music events, a 10K road race and a 5K walk/run event. Because of the 75th anniversary, this year’s admission tickets are free of charge.
NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through the NEA Travel Program to Portland International Airport (PWM) to get great prices, and then it’s 81 miles to Rockland. You can also fly into Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), though it’s about 200 miles away. Visit NEA Travel: Hotels to find deals at cozy inns like The Country Inn at Camden Rockport, which has an indoor pool and a better-than-average complimentary buffet breakfast, and has an average price of $249 per night on the portal. For a bed and breakfast feel, check out the six-room Elms of Camden, which has a lovely garden and an average nightly rate of $250 available on the travel portal.
2. Maryland Seafood Festival, September 24–25, 2022
If crab is your thing, Maryland is the state to experience a festival devoted to the state’s famous crustaceans, along with other seafood favorites. Located right on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis’ Sandy Point Park, this annual event is famous for its crab soup cookoff, crab picking and eating contests, and its beer and oyster tent.
Here’s an insider’s tip: Jimmy’s Famous Seafood takes preorders for its delicious steamed crabs, so order in advance and avoid long lines (and the possibility of them running out!).
The sandy shore also hosts live music, plenty of kids’ activities, and a massive artists village with local artists selling their handmade wares. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, and kids 12 and under are free. On-site parking is $10.
NEA member travel benefits: For a great deal, book a flight through NEA Travel: Airfare to Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI), which is about 30 minutes’ drive from Annapolis. The hotels booking page features deals like an average of $181/night for the Hampton Inn & Suites Annapolis, which has an outdoor pool and game room, or $266/night for the Crowne Plaza Annapolis, which has an indoor pool and hot tub, plus a 24-hour gym.
3. Galveston Island Shrimp Festival, September 23-24, 2022
Photo courtesy of Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau
In the movie “Forrest Gump,” Forrest called shrimp “the fruit of the sea.” If you agree, consider heading far south for one of the best shrimp festivals in the country.
At the Galveston Island Shrimp Festival in Galveston, Texas, the shrimp comes gumbo-style. The fun happens September 23-24, 2022. Don’t miss the Shrimp Gumbo cook-off with amateur and restaurant divisions or the Lil’ Shrimps Parade. Purchase a ticket for gumbo tasting, and then run off the calories in a 5K race. Live music and a children’s area round out the shrimp fun. A “Gumbo Stroll” ticket has sold for $14 in past years and entitles you to sample gumbo from dozens of teams.
NEA member travel benefits: Fly into Houston Hobby International Airport (HOU), which is about 40 minutes away from Galveston. NEA Travel: Airfare is the best place to find great prices on airline tickets and hotels. You can find hotels right by the beach, like the Quality Inn & Suites Beachfront, for an average of $142 per night, or upgrade to the Hilton Galveston Island Resort, for an average of $177 per night, which is also beachfront and has a pool with a bar, a sauna, a fitness center, and an on-site restaurant with free breakfast.
4. Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival, November 4-6, 2022
Photo courtesy of Jekyll Island Convention & Visitors Bureau
If you prefer your shrimp with grits, then visit the Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival, November 4-6, 2022, on Jekyll Island, Georgia. This year’s event is the 75th anniversary of the festival, which includes family-friendly entertainment, live music, wildlife demonstrations and shrimp, shrimp, shrimp. Attend cooking competitions presented by chefs who are chosen through regional cooking competitions. Or stroll the paths of Jekyll Island’s Historic District to check out more than 100 arts and crafts vendors.
Enhance the experience by purchasing tickets for the brew fest, Jekyll Island wine cruises or a behind-the-scenes turtle center tour. This event is free, but you can buy a VIP Experience that includes extras such as catered meals and snacks, beverages, and access to on-site lounges.
NEA member travel benefits: The closest airports to Jekyll Island is Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), which is about an hour away, and Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV), which is about 1.5 hours away. You can book your flight through NEA Travel: Airfare for great prices. Then head over to NEA Travel: Hotels to find deals like an average of $187/night at Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island, an IHG Hotel, which offers suites with bunk beds for families, or $229/night at Hampton Inn & Suites Jekyll Island.
5. The Santa Barbara Harbor & Seafood Festival, October 15, 2022
Photo courtesy of the City of Santa Barbara
The Santa Barbara Harbor & Seafood Festival, October 15, 2022, honors the sustainable fishing folks whose hard work provides seafood for the citizens of Santa Barbara, California, and beyond. The free event includes lectures at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, boat rides and tours of the tall ship, Spirit of Dana Point, and the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, Blackfin. A wide variety of seafood, from lobsters to oysters and freshly caught Santa Barbara uni (sea urchin), is available for purchase. Walk off the seafood meal by browsing arts and crafts booths or dancing to live music.
NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through the NEA Travel Program to Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) to get the best prices. You can also fly into Bob Hope Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which are both about 80 miles away. Visit NEA Travel: Hotels to find deals at hotels like Best Western Plus Encina Inn & Suites, which is bookable for an average of $205 per night and has an outdoor pool and hot tub, or the Quality Inn Santa Barbara, which you can reserve for an average of $217 per night.