Practically any festival that has existed on Hilton Head Island for any decent length of time can trace its roots back to a small gathering of some well-intentioned locals hoping to raise some money for a charity of choice. If you’ve been on the island long enough, you can name more than a few.
One of those, in a very short decade and a half, has become one of the area’s largest. It’s the Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival, and if what we have seen the last few months is any indication, the 2023 edition is looking like it could be their best effort yet. How do we know? As you read this, most of the events have already sold out.
The festival has grown beautifully into a nearly weeklong affair, featuring a Tour of Homes at Callawassie Island (sold out), a Pig Pickin’ and Oyster Roast (sold out) and, of course, the main event, the sixteenth annual Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival being held this year from 1 to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 25 at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina. (This is the festival’s second year being held at Shelter Cove.)
“We knew something was clicking,” is how Kelly Smith, one of the festival organizers put it. “Two of the retailers that day had higher gross sales during that 3.5-hour period of time than they did the entire week of Fourth of July,” she said. Of course, that makes everyone happy considering the event is a full takeover of the waterfront.
The footprint at Shelter Cove Harbour & Mariana will be larger than it was last year, with plenty of room for everyone to enjoy a few hours of sampling both food and drink. The ticket to the Saturday event includes all alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage tastings, plus a $10 credit to purchase food from any of over a dozen food vendors including Charleston’s The Darling Oyster Bar, and local favorite Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar.
Other tickets remaining include a variety of dinners and “pop-ups” islandwide. 2022 James Beard Award Winner Fernando Olea will participate in a dinner alongside Tim Nelson at Holy Tequila. Chef Fernando’s New Mexican Mole is said to be legendary, and he will undoubtedly be serving some of that classic Mexican dish. The next day, he will offer a master class at the South Carolina Yacht Club on how to prepare it yourself.
Thursday night features a Lowcountry Homegrown Supper at Alexander’s. Chefs Charles Pejeau, Jon Buck, and Kevin Yeung will reunite to create a dinner inspired by their personal memories of Hilton Head Island. The dinner with be paired with wines from Elyse Winery.
The week will end once again with the very popular brunch on the dock at Hudson’s.
There is much more, of course; those are some of the highlights. What started as a traditional oyster roast in the parking lot at Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks on the island has evolved into one of the better culinary events in the region. The locals all know this, which is why most of the events are sold out. A couple of them sold out in the fall. Yes, they are that good.
What is a little bit lost in all of this is the fact that this six-day event is a major tourism driver for the island during February. We are told that just over half the tickets for this year’s event were purchased by folks who never bought a ticket before. That’s a rock solid sign of growth and a fantastic creator of revenue for the David Carmines Foundation, allowing them to donate tens of thousands of dollars every year to local non-profits.
For more information on remaining events and tickets, please visit hiltonheadseafoodfestival.com.