The World’s Your Oyster at Tomales Bay

Tomales Bay is almost synonymous with oysters. Since 1909, this long, narrow bay, bounded on one side by coastal Sonoma County and on the other by Point Reyes National Seashore, has been known for its delicious farmed oysters and breathtaking views. Its scenic length was shaped by events like the 1906 quake that devastated San Francisco, as it lies directly atop California’s San Andreas Fault. The last of the above-water fault crosses a narrow spit of land between the mainland and the Point Reyes Peninsula, passing through quaint old towns like Olema and through groves of eucalyptus and coastal redwoods.

It’s an easy drive to the coast if you’re in Marin County or the Napa Valley. Just head out to Olema from Highway 101, toward Point Reyes, and you’ll be in oyster territory. Driving north from Olema on Highway 1, you pass through towns like Point Reyes Station, which hosts many interesting shops and restaurants as well as a thriving farmer’s market. Most restaurants here feature oysters, but the “main event” can be found further north, where the winding road finally winds through grassy fields, descending to almost water level at the upper end of Tomales Bay. Just before reaching the Bay, you might want to make a small detour to Point Reyes Vineyards on the right, to pick up a bottle of wine to go with your oysters. It’s definitely worth the stop!

The first place you’ll encountered at Tomales Bay’s offerings of all things Oyster is the Tomales Bay Oyster Company. This is the direct source, and has been here over one hundred years. Be prepared to buy in bulk, by the dozen or bag of 50, and shuck your own. They offer first-come, first-served picnic tables, and oysters in quantity. Stop and barbecue your own, or slurp them right out of the shell. They also have clams and mussels, so you can dine on an array of  tasty mollusks!

Farther on, you’ll find Tony’s, a seafood restaurant with far more than just oysters, built out over the water next to the pier where local fishing boats tie up. Tony’s offers everything from delicious plates of fresh barbecued oysters (they keep them in bags in the bay next to the restaurant) to some of the freshest fish and chips you’re likely to find! Whatever comes in off the boats is what Tony’s offers. They make delicious fried oyster sandwiches, too!

Not into formal dining? Stop at the Marshall Store, a mile or so down the road. The Marshall Store is also surrounded by docked fishing boats, and you can order your oysters  at the funky bar next to the store, then eat either outside on the deck, watching the moods of the Bay, or at tables along the roadside parking. You can also accompany them with fresh clam chowder or deli sandwiches, snacks, soft drinks, and beer or wine from the store, or maybe that bottle you picked up down the road at Point Reyes Vineyards.

One of the best experiences I’ve ever had at the Marshall Store was in January, sitting in the literal eye of a storm system, with everything warm and dead calm, looking out across the Bay toward the moody redwoods of the Point Reyes Peninsula, across the water. It had rained earlier, and we knew it would rain again, but for that hour in the afternoon, everything was perfect, and we sipped our cream sodas and ate our oysters in perfect serenity, watching changing patterns in the clouds above.
Last but not least, you can stop at the Hog Island Oyster Company. Hog Island, which brought out its own oyster cookbook, is located in a funky little cluster of buildings that is almost a ghost town. However, a cluster of cars parked by the road will clue you in that something amazing is going on in these buildings. While Hog Island has an oyster bar in Napa and in the Ferry Building in San Francisco, you’ve come to the source, on Tomales Bay! Buy in bulk, and picnic on fresh oysters at their actual farm. This is no-frills oyster-eating, so bring your own Hog Wash (the recipe below, plus check their web site more more delicous ideas!), barbecue sauce, and fixings. You can dine on Pacific, Kumamoto, and Atlantic oysters, plus Manila clams and mussels.

So, whatever your favorite mollusks, you’re sure to find plenty to suit your taste at Tomales Bay!

Hog Island Oyster Company “Hog Wash”
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup natural rice vinegar
1 large shallot, peeled and finely diced
1 large Jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/2 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime

Great for saucing raw oysters, or to use as a cooking sauce for oysters on the grill!

Tomales Bay Oyster Company
15479 Highway One
Marshall, CA 94940

Tony’s Seafood Restaurant
18863 Highway 1
Marshall, CA  94940
(415) 663-1107

The Marshall Store
19225 State Route 1
Marshall, CA 94940
415 663-1339

Hog Island Oysters
20215 Highway 1
Marshall, CA 94940
414. 663.9218, x208

Jane Beckman

Jane Beckman is a reformed workaholic who has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil. Her passions are food, wine, cooking, travel, and history, in no particular order. In fact, they tend to feed into each other. She might be found cooking over a fire at a historic adobe one weekend, eating crabcakes at a 19th century hotel in downtown Gettysburg on another, or getting lost on a back road, only to find an amazing park or hidden gem of a winery. Her family's love of exploring back roads has always influenced her, as did her father's love of exotic foods. Living in Hawaii at the age of 5, she acquired a taste for poke, pickled octopus, and poi. Japan hooked her on mochi and udon noodles, as well as Japanese kimono. When she was growing up on the Central Coast of California, her parents taught her how to be a "resident tourist" and find things even the locals didn't know about. She continues in that tradition, keeping an eye out for the unique and unexpected.

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