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Northern California oysters

Northern California oysters from Tomales Bay

What: About an hour north of San Francisco, you’ll find West Marin County, a stunning landscape of rolling hills, watercolor bays and estuaries, and some of the best hiking trails in the Bay Area. You’ll also find a trio of oyster farms—Tomales Bay, Hog Island, and Drake’s Bay—responsible for all those delicious local oysters on San Francisco menus. All three use Japanese oyster farming methods, hanging “racks” of oysters in the cold, salty water of West Marin’s bays—a method that lets oyster farmers here keep the bivalves out of reach of many predators while avoiding the soft, sandy bottoms of the bays, which tend to bury the oysters before they can be harvested (East Coast bays are more likely to have hard bottoms). Flavor-wise, North Cali oysters are a little sweeter and creamier than their East Coast counterparts. We particularly love sweet, nutty Kumamotos, an oyster breed that thrives in Japan and on the West Coast.

Where: There’s no better way to develop a taste and an appreciation for West Coast oysters than to head up to Tomales Bay Oyster Company (15479 Hwy 1, Marshall, map). Show up early and snag a first-come-first-served wooden picnic table, then buy bags of oysters straight out of the water and shuck them yourself. Available in a variety of sizes, the bivalves are delicious raw or warmed on the free-to-use barbecues. There’s nothing quite like slurping down oysters while looking out on the Bay where they were harvested.

Good to know: These oysters are DIY. You can borrow a shucking knifefrom the farm ($10 refundable deposit) or bring your own. Not sure how to shuck? There’s no formal shucking instruction on-site, but you can check out the farm’s online tips here.

When: Daily, 9am-5pm. If you have a group larger than 9, be sure to reserve space and read up on the picnicking rules. (You can also buy live oysters to go; just bring an ice chest to keep ’em cold.)

Order: A wide variety of oysters ($12-$25 for a dozen, $40-$60 for a bag of 50, plus a $5 per person drop-in fee; cash only). The best way to find your preferred size and style is to try as many as you can! Don’t miss the Golden Nuggets when they’re available—these small oysters are packed with particularly rich flavor. Be sure to bring plenty of picnic goods—bread, cheese, wine, and beer all pair well with oysters—and some fresh lemon and hot sauce for the bivalves themselves. (Tapatio hot sauce and lemons are available for purchase, if you forget yours at home.)

Alternatively: Hog Island (2015 Shoreline Highway, Marshall, map) and Drake’s Bay (17171 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Inverness, map) are similarly open for visits and picnics. No time for the farm? There are plenty of places in town to get great local oysters on the half shell. We especially love the West Coast specimens on offer at Sotto Mare (552 Green St., betw. Grant & Columbus Aves., map), the venerable Swan Oyster Depot (415-673-1101; 1517 Polk St., betw. California & Sacramento Sts., map), Woodhouse Fish Co. (multiple locations including 2073 Market St., at Church St., map), Bar Crudo (655 Divisadero St., betw. Hayes & Grove Sts., map), and ICHI Sushi (3282 Mission St., betw. Valencia & 29th Sts., map). You can also visit Hog Island Oyster Company’s restaurant (1 Ferry Building, 11A, at Embarcadero, map), in a stunning location right on the water in the Ferry Building. 


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