A little off the Coast of Northern California lies a hidden gem.
It was Sunday afternoon, cloudy and gray in St Helena. We had our first special visitor, reason enough to explore the Bay side and show him a good time. So we jumped in the car and headed West.
Tucked away in the Central Coastal of California is the little town of Tomales.
A Little history:
For hundreds of years, Miwok people (Tomales Bay Natives) lived along the shores (12 miles of shore that is), building canoes from the abundant tule plants and harvesting shellfish from the waters. Clams, oysters, abalone and salmon supplied a rich diet from the bay with deer and elk grazing on the grasslands surrounding it. Can you say yummy!
So what makes Tomales Bay worth the detour?
Not only is the scenery completely mind-blowing for someone who’s grown up in the city, but there’s something about overcoming challenges before reaching your goal that just makes it that much better! Kinda like a treasure hunt.
Queasy stomachs beware! It’s a 40 minute car ride going up and down, left to right, suddenly braking because you can’t see out of the sharp turn… Sounds discouraging? Don’t let it be, it’s all worth it! We almost got lost several times, but our inability (or should I say our GPS’s inability) to orient ourself forced us to chat up some locals and get so much more pumped for our day excursion!
When entering Tomales, you are surrounded by the natural beauty of a 6800 acre estuary. The smell of sea water invades your nostrils and instantly cleanses your mind to relax you. The rolling hills that drop into the water, the odd patches of clouds, and a fog that peaks his head from time to time paint a picture perfect post-card. Serene you say? No, I died and went to oyster-breeding ground heaven!
You need to pay attention because if you have a heavy foot, you’ll just drive past it. Located right after a sharp turn on Highway 1, you’ll see the sign: Hog Island Oyster Co. The cars parked on both sides of the road are a good indicator you’ve arrived.
Another sign to look out for: the empty oyster shells constitute the driveway. If that doesn’t inspire you to indulge in the feast, I don’t know what will!
Walk through a gate and make your way to a counter. You can choose your oysters, order them there and shuck them yourself (they supply rubber gloves, a tray and an oyster knife for the motivated shuckers) or walk a little closer to the bay and order from the “Boat”.
We opted for the easier version.
“Hey guys, how you doing? Will it be raw oysters with a mignonette or the BBQ’d ones?”
Oh the dilemma! The boys, who are both huge BBQ fans, were very confused… But at 1$ the oyster, why limit yourself? It was obvious we’d go all out!
Served with a cilantro and vinegar mignonette, the very mineral raw oysters are the bomb! 4 dozens later, we thought it might be wise to slow down…
So we switched. Layered with a smoked paprika and sun-dried tomato butter, these bad boys only need a few minutes on the grill before reaching pure perfection! No other words to describe it, they are sinfully delicious.
Still hungry after all those oysters? The “Boat” also has a chalkboard menu with different local cheeses, bread, charcuterie, wine and beers.
What you should consider bringing:
- Coal: Little BBQ’s are set up in the Picnic area.
- Meat and any other items you enjoy grilling
- Wine or beer if you don’t feel like purchasing on the spot.
Why this is cool: For so many reasons, but I’ll spare you and give you two.
Probably the freshest oysters you can eat. They are farmed only a few feet away, and you can see how they grow them.
The manager is super friendly and if asked to, he will take time to tell you everything you need and want to know about the oyster. Happy oysters mean happy waters, and happy waters means a happy planet.