Ferris Wheel full of riders at the NC seafood festival.

North Carolina Seafood Festival

The NC seafood festival is hosted every year in Morehead City, NC. It can be confusing because many locals also call it the Morehead City seafood festival. They’re one and the same.

It’s a fun festival with bands, vendors, a Midway with games and rides, and some of the best seafood around. I’ve got everything you need to know for a great time at the seafood festival.

How Much Is the Entrance Fee to the NC Seafood Festival?

Entrance to the North Carolina Seafood Festival is free. But don’t think that a free festival means it’s lackluster. Morehead City puts on one heck of a show and rivals many other events that have entrance fees.

NC Seafood Festival attendees on a local rooftop bar with a birds-eye view.

You’ll need to bring cash for food, the Midway rides and games, and to purchase items from vendors, but basic entrance for shopping, enjoying the bands, and walking around is free.

PRO TIP: Bring cash. Most of the vendors only accept cash. I noticed my cell phone had limited signal which could be why they weren’t using the card readers. There are pop-up ATMs, but they looked sketchy.

Location and Times

The festival is hosted on the waterfront in Morehead City from the NC State Port to 11th Street. You can find specific information on the North Carolina Seafood Festival website.

Events are scheduled from Friday through Sunday. You’ll want at least a half day to walk around, eat, and shop. Plan on staying longer to enjoy the bands and explore the midway.

I highly recommend arriving around 3-4 pm, walk around the festival, do a little shopping, grab some dinner, go on a few rides, then settle in on the lawn for an evening of music.

Where to Get Up to the Date Information on the NC Seafood Festival

My first visit to the festival was in 2022 and it was slated to start when Hurricane Ian came through. While the storm had weakened by the time it rolled through, the executive committee did some last-minute shuffling to ensure the safety of their vendors and all participants. Events on Friday were canceled, and they opened Saturday at 3 pm.

The website was slow to post these updates, which is not unexpected. Like Hillsborough’s Hog Day, the most up-to-date information is shared via Facebook on the North Carolina Seafood Festival Facebook page. You’ll get the best information following this page.

The Kona Ice Food Truck serving iced beverages.

Parking

Parking is FREE at the North Carolina State Port. Keep following Arendell Street past the festival towards Beaufort and make the right when you see the sign for the State Port. If you miss the turn, you’re going to head for the bridge to Beaufort.

It looks like you can’t enter the port, but be brave and just drive on in. Once you’re past the split in the road, someone will direct you into the lot and you’ll be guided into what looks like an odd parking spot, but the man helping you is a genius at packing in the cars. You’ll be able to easily get out when you’re ready to leave.

There’s a shuttle from the port to the festival, but it’s a short walk along a sidewalk and many families with strollers found walking an easier option.

Local businesses along Arendell will offer parking for $10 to $20. If you want to help a local business then by all means do that, but don’t get taken by someone that’s trying to look like a festival official guiding you into their private lot.

A local vendor selling soy candles in square, glass containers.

NC Seafood Festival Events and Entertainment

Friday Specific Events

Friday evening is home to Wine and Brine. This is a paid-in-advance event where you will have the opportunity to meet oyster and clam growers while sampling chef-made dishes. Each dish is paired with a wine. A local caterer is also onsite with local NC seafood.

There is also an Armband Friday Fundraiser to support local schools. Festival goers can purchase armbands in advance and a portion of each transaction is donated to a school of your choice. The armbands provide unlimited access to the midway rides on Friday.

Saturday Specific Events

If you’re a runner or support one, then Saturday morning at 8 am you may find yourself at the Seafood Festival road races. There’s a 5K, and a 10K race, both require registration and have an entry fee. You can register in advance, or on-site starting at 7 am the day of the race.

All Weekend Events

Friday through Sunday, there is a ton of activity.

Music

Bands are scheduled to play from Friday night through the close of the festival on Sunday. There’s usually a great mix so bring your lawn chair, grab something to drink, and settle in.

Midway Rides and Games

The NC Seafood Festival has a midway full of rides that rivals the State Fair. There’s a Ferris wheel, swings, a fun house, and rides for the little ones. I admit I was jealous of the dinosaur train roller coaster.

Test your luck at one of the games and try to win a prize, or get a birds-eye view of the festival from the Ferris Wheel.

While the Mount Olive Pickle Festival also had a Midway area, this one was much larger with bigger rides.

The swing ride at the NC Seafood Festival stopped and waiting for riders.

Eat and Shop

Several restaurants, food trucks, and local organizations will be on hand selling a variety of seafood. You can start with a shrimp and crab stuffed potato, head down for some Bang Bang Shrimp, and finish it off with Cajun Shrimp.

If you’re thirsty, there are non-alcoholic drinks from lemonade to tropical smoothies.

Adults can enjoy the Tiki Bar with its various concoctions or visit the Wicked Weed Brewing truck. There are also many places to purchase beer and wine.

The restaurants along the main strip of the festival remain open if you are looking for something fancier.

A food vendor selling a variety of different shrimp and fish dishes.

Local vendors with some great products line the streets. There are heavenly scented soy candles, carefully hand-made stands for dog bowls, jewelry, and many other items.

Bring plenty of cash because many of the vendors and food stations are cash-only.  

The Car and Boat Show

There wasn’t much when I was there due to the storm coming through, but I’ve heard this is a great event and I’m looking forward to seeing it next year.

If you’re an impulse buyer, make sure you’ve got someone with you to stop you from pulling out your wallet on this one.

Oyster Shucking and Steam Bar

You can learn how to shuck an oyster properly, and even compete in the oyster shucking contest. Don’t worry, you don’t have to compete with the professionals. There’s an amateur and professional contest.

You’ll need to enter and pay a fee to register.

This was new in 2022 and hopefully, they’ll keep it on the schedule for the coming years.

Cooking with the Chefs

This is only on Saturday and Sunday, but it’s free and worth your time. Every hour 30 guests are seated and treated to a sample dish of local seafood prepared by a local chef. There’s a different chef every hour. If there’s someone you’d really like to meet, check the schedule to see when their dish will be served.

Summing up the NC Seafood Festival

Morehead City knows how to throw a seafood festival. It’s easy to see why this is the one that owns the title of NC Seafood Festival.

I would say this is one of the best North Carolina festivals around. It’s definitely worth visiting and I’ve got it on my list as an annual pilgrimage. 

You can grab a place to stay in nearby Beaufort to get away from the crowds each evening, then come on back for another day of seafood, rides, and music.

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