Beaufort has been having a shrimp fest for 25 years now so once we moved down to the area, it was a must for us to go and try it out. My husband and I absolutely love shrimp and have had so much great seafood down here. Everything has tasted so fresh and flavorful at every restaurant we have tried. A whole fest celebrating shrimp, yes please!
The fest is set up along the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront park which is right in downtown Beaufort along the waterfront. The view is so pretty with a great boardwalk, swings, and a park nearby for the little ones. The food tents are all from local Beaufort restaurants that you would find right in the downtown part. There are different kinds of shrimp dishes, as well as some nonshrimp options for those of you that don't like shrimp or want something else. Most also have a sweet or dessert item. They serve different kinds of beer, a couple wine options, white claw, and nonalcoholic options. There are other vendors around from local businesses. It was a bit rainy off and on during the day, not like bad rain showers but drizzling rain off and on. It put a bit of a damper on things but we had umbrellas and made sure to keep enjoying the fun.
If you never been to Beaufort, parking is actually pretty easy. If you get to the area early enough, you can find pay to park spots on Bay street which is right across from the fest and right next to all the shopping and restaurants. Again, you have to get there in good time because those are often gone first. If you go a little past the downtown part on Bay street, you can find free parking on the street along the waterfront, but the further you go, the further the walk. My office is right in the Historic Beaufort but walking from my office is a good 15min walk and we did not really want to walk that far. There is some free street parking in the historic area but you have to know the area to know where you can park and get there early. Plus, some of it gets blocked off by home owners who do not want festival parking in front of their house. We ended up parking in a pay lot which was only a few blocks away and cost $4 for the day. With us coming from Chicago, it is always a nice surprise in how inexpensive it is to park in these downtown areas. Same thing with Savannah. In Chicago, expect $4/hr in most areas to park. We love this convenience.
The festival itself is free to enter. If you just want to go to the fest to look around and walk along the waterfront then it is free for you. If you want to try some food or drink some beer then you can get tickets for $1 each. Dogs are welcome and it is kid friendly with the waterfront park and a bouncy area set up just for the fest. The bouncy area is $7 for the kids to get a wristband and have unlimited playtime. The food varies by price. You can get small things for 3-4 tickets ($3-$4) or bigger meals for 10-15 tickets.
What we tried
With me being 8 months pregnant, the minute we arrived at the fest I smelled the food and had to just dig in. My husband wanted to wait and get a drink first. I'm more of a foodie and he is more of a drinky. My first food was fried shrimp and fries from the Sea Eagle Market. It was very good. Their shrimp sauce was the best part. It tasted like a tartar sauce and shrimp cocktail sauce mix but I loved it. The fried shrimp was good, tasted fresh and light and the fries had a hint of some spice to it. My husband tried a Southern Barrel IPA beer which he gave good reviews and said he would get again. I am not a beer drinker and obviously being pregnant I can't partake but I trust his review. My daughter is not much of a shrimp kid and was having her emotional tantrums so we got her a strawberry popsicle from Motor City Pops. There were fruit options and sweet options and the popsicles look freshly made and delicious. I did not eat it but Aubrey ate all of it so it must have been good! My husband decided to try some bacon wrapped shrimp from Southern Graces and I tried the white chocolate banana pudding also from Southern Graces. I don't eat bacon so I would not try his shrimp but he said it was good. I really enjoyed my banana pudding. I don't usually go for banana pudding but it is a southern necessity so I tried it. This one had white chocolate chunks and cookie pieces. It was sweet and a nice light dessert. Heavenly. My husband then got the shrimp burger slider from Q on Bay. We have been to Q before and they have amazing bbq food. This slider was no exception. It had a spicy kind of sauce and the shrimp was fresh. We both partaked in this slider. Delicious! The food that we did all try was very good.
The positives of the fest
We loved how everything was from Beaufort. The restaurants were local so you are able to enjoy the yumminess of the area. We have been to food fests where we are from and there is some local fare and items from somewhere else in the country or from companies that specialize in food fests. I like that we can try to food at the local places and if we like the food know where we can go back to eat again. Of course the location is perfect. Anytime I can enjoy the waterfront is a positive in my book. The food all tasted so good, tasted fresh and had different options for different people. It is great there are options for kids and for adults, dogs are allowed, and it was an all inclusive environment. Parking is easy and affordable and access to the fest is very easy. It was easy to buy tickets and it was nice that you can go to the fest then leave and then go back if you want. I have been to many fests that once you pay you don't want to leave or you can't get back in.
The negatives of the fest
Even though the fest was free to enter, it can be a bit pricey for the food and the bounce area. There were maybe 4 jump houses and it cost $7 to jump. I felt that was a bit much. There is a place in Savannah that is $6 for the day and there are several more bounce options plus arcade games. I can understand a few dollars but $7 seemed pricey especially with the short attention of a 3 year old. We ended up not going on it. My fried shrimp with fries was 10 tickets to $10. The helping was small, like an appetizer serving. I wouldn't pay that much at a restaurant. The slider was small and $4. Despite it being very good, I still say that the portions for the prices did not add up. This is normal though for a fest I guess. The fact that it was free to enter helps make it affordable. I have gone to many food fests that either had to pay for entry or asked for a "suggested donation" but also charges too much for the food or activities. This isn't necessarily a negative against this fest. It is just a negative against most fests but comes with the territory.
Beaufort is a small town and the downtown part is even smaller. There is great food and shopping but still not alot of options compared to other big cities. Since the fest features local vendors the choices there are small compared to other fests I am used to in the big city of Chicago. There were maybe 10 restaurant vendors whereas I am used to food fests having 2-3x that amount. Again, this is not necessarily a negative against THIS fest. This is an adjustment for us who are coming from a big city to a small town. Small towns are quieter. Small towns offer less choices and options. What Beaufort lacks it makes up for in many other ways. There are fests or events going on constantly in the area. The city is pretty. The waterfront is beautiful. The costs are lower. The vibe is more relaxed and the people so much more friendly.
Was it worth it?
I am glad we went. This is a fest that has been going on for a long time and the city is proud of it. If you live in Beaufort or the area then it is definitely worth it to go. I work in Beaufort but we live in Savannah so the trip up to the fest was about an hour. Savannah itself offers an event or fest pretty much every weekend. This is probably not a fest we would drive the hour to every year, especially when the weather is rainy. It was a good time and there are events throughout the day like a run in the morning and live music. If the weather is good then it is a great place to spend the day. With my daughter having a short attention span that day plus me being 8 months pregnant and eventually had a hard time walking around after a certain time, we had to leave earlier than we wanted. If you love shrimp, if you love food, if you love local fare, then this event is for you.