DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — Before the official start at 4 p.m., hundreds of spectators filled the Destin harbor for the first day of the Destin Seafood Festival.

Organizer Cali Hlavak said they expect thousands of travelers and locals over the weekend. The 44th annual festival is the first year back since the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 70 vendors stretch from Harbor Tavern to the Emerald Grande at the Harborwalk Village serving seafood and local arts and crafts.

“Honestly the docks are filling up, the traffic on the road is absolutely filling up. We expect it to be packed down here for the next three days,” said Hlavak. “And that is so great for our community, for the money we are raising for the Destin charter boat association, and for everyone that has missed this for the last two years.”

Traffic will be a topic in Destin through the weekend. Streets backed up before the festival and local bar parking lots have been closed.

There is a map and parking information on the Destin Seafood Festival Website. The event is free except for the Call to Chef competition. This event brings 10 local restaurants out to compete in appetizers and seafood entrees. The Call or Chef is in a gated area and day tickets can be purchased online.

Proceeds from the festival will be donated to the Destin Charter Boat Association, the Destin High School, and the Destin History and Fishing Museum.

Hlavak said the organization raises more than $25,000 each year for charities. Tagged on to the festival spectators can enjoy the month-long Destin Fishing Rodeo. Daily weigh-ins are held behind AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar.

WKRG News 5’s Kimber Collins hit the harbor for set up Friday. She caught up with Cali Hlavak in person for a Facebook like. Watch the full video below.