Summer is just around the corner. The prospect of unforgettable road trips, sipping chilled white wines and slurping crisp, fresh oysters are probably on your mind now, more than ever. This is the year to combine all three into the best food & drink tour ever.
As much as I enjoy slurping oysters at my local establishments, I prefer to travel to them. There’s nothing quite like visiting the home of your favorite bivalve to help you gain a greater sense of where your food comes from… and to get at the freshest, tastiest oysters imaginable.
Now there’s good news for fellow oyster-loving wanderlusters: a handful of enthusiastic, passionate oyster growers and shellfish stewards from around the country are offering marvelous “farm-to-table” oyster tours. Every oyster farm and farmer is different, so expect a range of experiences. Generally, you’ll get a chance to meet an oyster grower, get a guided walkthrough of their facilities (hatchery, nursery, grading/tumbling station, storage, etc) and perhaps even go out on the water to visit the maturing oysters themselves. You’ll learn a LOT about how oysters are grown and — if the season is right — get a chance to scoop them right out of the water for a quick taste test. Some tours are also accompanied by fun water activities such as kayaking or stand up paddle-boarding. By the way, not every oyster farm has the resources or capability to offer public tours, but it never hurts to reach out and ask!
On a few occasions, I’ve been able to couple the oyster tour with a winery or brewery visit to make it into a foodie-fantasy adventure. There are a few spots on both coasts where this duality is easy to plan, and you don’t necessarily need to be in “wine country” to do it.
To help you cobble together a kick-ass weekend itinerary, here are four starters weekender trips to get you going.
North Fork (read about my first experience and most recent trip)
There’s a treasure trove of amazing little restaurants, oyster farms, wineries and breweries just 2 hours outside of New York City out on Long Island. It’s an easy drive out to the North Fork, but definitely more difficult to come back… because you won’t want to leave.
First, get a solid oyster primer from Karen Rivara, exclusive grower of Peconic Pearls and overseer of the Noank Aquaculture Cooperative in the Shellfisher Preserve. Then grab a bite at the Blue Canoe Oyster Bar & Grill or The Frisky Oyster. Walk over to the Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. to sample some brews, or if you prefer wine, try looking into: Bedell Cellars Corey Creek Tasting Room, Pugliese Vineyards (they make sparkling!), Croteaux Vineyards. Reach out to other oyster growers and see if a private tour can be arranged (no guarantees, but worth a shot): Little Creek Oyster Farm, Race Rock, and Widow’s Hole.
Maine (read about my experience)
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m in love with Maine. It’s a great place to fill your stomach and soul up with honest food and refreshing nature. Thanks to Dana Morse and Catherine Schmitt from Maine Sea Grant, oyster tour seekers now have this amazing tool at their disposal: The Maine Oyster Trail map (recently updated this spring). It lists out dozens of notable oyster farms, restaurants, and retailers up and down the coastline.
When you’re in Portland, there are two places that I’d recommend for a full spectrum Maine oyster tasting: Harbor Fish Market to buy your own oysters or Eventide Oyster Co. for an immensely pleasurable culinary experience. I also hear great things about Robert’s Maine Grill in Kittery. Check out Abigail Carroll’s Nonesuch Oyster Tours in Scarborough, just south of Portland (you can bring your own pairing beverage, so grab some brews from nearby Banded Horn Brewing Company.) If you make your way up Maine Route 1, stop in Belfast and pair some fresh Pemaquid oysters with the Pemaquid Oyster Stout from Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. at their 3Tides Beer Garden. To avoid swarms of seasonal tourists, time your trip with the Pemaquid Oyster Festival in the fall.
Tomales Bay (read about my experience)
Tomales Bay, Wine Country, and San Francisco have got all the right ingredients to make one killer oyster and wine road trip. Pack up your favorite BBQ items and friends and drive out to Hog Island Oyster Farm in Marshall (if you want to grill, make sure you make a reservation first). Sign up for a farm tour with George Curth, learn how to shuck your own, and savor the amazing BBQ grilled Sweetwaters. If Hog Island is packed, which may very well be the case, try Tomales Bay Oyster Co or the Marshall Store down the road. My favorite Napa Valley food oasis has to be the Oxbow Public Market, where you can stuff your face with some of the country’s best produce — including (yep) more oysters from Hog Island. Sonoma Valley is a little more casual and you might be able to find some delicious grilled oysters at the weekend market in Healdsburg. If you’re looking for a bit more guidance along your food tour, Elizabeth Hill of West Marin Food & Farm Tours might be your go-to guru. She offers a special Oyster Lover’s tour of all West Marin farms, as well as a Cheese Lover’s tour!
Humboldt Bay (coming soon…)
Although I can’t speak to the Humboldt Bay oyster tour experience myself (yet), the thoughtfully curated and choreographed efforts of the Humboldt Bay Tourism Center should be applauded. The official Humboldt Bay Oyster Tour is just one of the many alluring tours offered under their portfolio.
Other Notable Oyster Tours
Check out my ongoing (and soon-to-be growing) list of oyster tours from around the country!