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Aug 7, 2006 12:39 AM

Need some Oyster direction in Tomales Bay

The husband and I are heading north on a coastal road trip up Hwy 1. We plan to land in the Pt. Reyes/Tomales Bay area around lunchtime. Thanks to the awesome new search engine, I'm leaning towards grabbing lunch at the Pine Cone Diner in Pt. Reyes. The late breakfast, burgers, and espresso shakes sound great! Depending on time and mood, I also have Bovine Bakery, Marshall Store, and some oysters on the agenda.

I need some guidance w/ the oysters part...It looks like there are a number of locations to enjoy DIY oysters. Hog Island, Tomales Bay Oyster Co., Drake's. One post mentioned that the Marshall Store offers oysters and has nice deck seating. Since we will probably be very full from lunch, I'm thinking of just sampling a few raw oysters, assuming raw is safe to eat right now (I'm a little nervous w/ the Pacific NW oyster problems). We don't want to lug charcoal or go all out w/ a picnic. Would also appreciate a place where we can learn the basics about oyster farming, perhaps talk to staff, etc.

So which place would be the best raw oyster pitstop for us? I was leaning towards Tomales Bay, but I'm really not sure...

Thanks so much for your help. I'll post a report w/ photos after we return.

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  1. Carb Lover, maybe wait until September (months that end in R)

    I just love Marshall Store, though haven't been in a while. Best clam chowder, bbq oyster, raw oyster, but I'd go in the R months!

    1. During the summer, oysters are best enjoyed cooked. While some of our local producers claim that the oysters taste the same years round, my sampling of Hog Island's three types last night says differently. So, I have bbq oysters in the summer and wait until "r" months and cold weather to have them raw.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Hmmm...I was afraid of that. To clarify: Are they safe to eat raw, but just not as tasty this time of year or is safety also an issue? I can pass on the oysters if necessary...

        Is there a place in Tomales that will cook them for us that's not a sit-down restaurant? Does Marshall Store do this? If not for eating oysters, which place would make the best pitstop to stretch our legs and wander around?

        1. re: Carb Lover

          Safety's not an issue around here. The taste and texture is different in warm weather, and it has been warm. Sometimes they're still affected in September and early October locally.

          I haven't been to the Marshall Store, but I believe they cook oysters. There's also a casual place in Olema.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Oysters spawn when the water temperature rises, irrespective of what the calendar actually says. When they spawn, the texture changes (not for the better). They're still OK to consume raw, but they're not as tasty or pleasant as when they're not in spawn mode.

            Because of the recent heat spell, water temperatures rose along much of the CA coast, accounting for the "off" taste that Melanie noted recently. Usually NorCal coastal summers are pretty mild, so raw oyster lovers (like myself) could consume them with impunity. Interestingly, the Indian summer that we normally have in the September/October timeframe meant that oysters in June/July tasted better than in September/October (even though those were "R" months), because the water temperature would be higher in those "R" months and oysters would go into spawn mode.

            We're lucky that the only time we really have to worry about consuming either raw or cooked oysters is when there's a heavy rain along the North Coast. That's when storm runoff into the ocean can raise the level of parasites above industry-accepted levels (which are actually lower than federally mandated levels).

            Here's a good article about the different taste of raw oysters in warm water months:

            Forgot to add that I'd recommend you try Tomales Bay Oyster Co. They aren't as busy as Hog Island is in any given weekend, so you'll be better able to engage with the staff and ask questions. Besides, Hog Island has that annoying $12/person "entry" fee just to use their picnic facilities (space permitting, as they're usually reserved by groups). The really galling thing is that the per-person charge is not credited towards any oyster purchase, so a group of 25 would be out $300 before anything had been purchased. I've had plenty of great picnics at Tomales Bay Oyster Co. where $12/person covered the cost of the wine, beer, bottled water, meats, cheeses & veggies that we consumed in addition to the oysters we bought.

            1. re: Eugene Park

              Eugene, very informative article - thanks!

          2. re: Carb Lover

            Here's the website for The Marshall Store -

            Apparently there's some chance it might close at the end of September.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Thanks for the link; I didn't have a chance to check it out yet. The coupon for 2 free oysters w/ the purchase of half dozen is printing as I type this. :-)

        2. Marshall Store does cook bbq oysters. It's a tiny store with an outdoor patio. Hope you can check them out.

          don't know if its safe to eat raw now, I just won't take the chance.

          I'd do the Pine Cone Diner (I haven't been yet) for the burger and espresso milkshake, get some Cowgirl Creamery cheese to go, then head to Marshall Store for bbq oyster or small cup of clam chowder.

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