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Hog Island Oyster Farm **OR** Tomales Bay Oyster Co?

Which is the better pitstop when driving north from San Francisco?


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  1. Depends on what you mean by pitstop and which days. Weekdays are much easier than weekends at both. I personally prefer the oysters and picnic area at HI but using it requires a rezzie and $5pp fee. TB's picnic area is 1st come, 1st served but it gets mighty crowded from all the people who are trying to avoid paying at HI.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rubadubgdub


      This is a weekday activity. Don't try it on the weekends. It's too crowded.

    2. I believe one of them shucks for you and the other doesn't...which may factor into decision making (I could be wrong though).

      1. I don't think either shuck for you, but HI from my understanding, at least provides the knives to do so.

        I'll be driving up on a Friday early-afternoon and planning a small clambake (and oyster picnic!) for only two. I don't mind paying a $5 table fee, especially since HI provides the shucking instruments.

        I'm more interested in the freshness and quality/taste of the oysters and clams.


        2 Replies
        1. re: OliverB

          I haven't been to HI, but I've been to Tomales twice and both times they provided a knife when asked. I think the first time we paid a deposit for it and the second time they just gave it to us to use. The oysters were great, but we enjoyed the first time so much more because it was a weekday and not crowded vs. unbelievably crowded the second.

          1. re: OliverB

            At HI, we grill the Manila clams for a taste sensation.

          2. Hog Island shucks for an extra fee. I'm not sure but I recall the price of the res being deducted from the oysters we bought. Love it there. I go a lot. I prefer the atmosphere by far to that of Tomales.

            1. Just went to TBOC for the first time a couple weeks ago and then we stopped by HI on our way home as a comparison. My impression was that TBOC is good if you bring your own stuff (wine, cheese, bread, cooking supplies, shucking supplies, etc) and HI is good if you don't bring your own stuff since everything you would want is available for sale. HI seemed like there was less seating, but they do have valet parking.

              2 Replies
              1. re: hummy

                To clarify, are you saying HI now sells wine, cheese, bread? I haven't been in a while for the reason Eugene mentions, but I only remember hot/cocktail sauce, lemons, and ice as being for sale.

                1. re: rubadubgdub

                  The HI website notes they sell all of the above now. Smart move.

              2. I'd given up on HI years ago when the reservation fee was $10pp, and have been going exclusively to TBOC since. Good to know the pricing has changed. $5pp is manageable for small groups based on what they provide.

                1. I prefer Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Go through Inverness and follow the sign towards the Lighthouse, the road to DBOC will be on your left and well marked. Not only can you get fresh oysters and a picnic bench to enjoy them but also they will shuck them for you if you wish. They are the sole remaining oyster cannery in CA so you can purchase them already shucked and they will provide shells on which to serve them hassle free at home! You can also get a tour of the operations, an education about the processes and have a delightful time. The traffic is much better, the scenery is delightful, the crowds are far less dense. It is wonderful. Remember though, the weather at the coast can be a bit chilly so bring some warm clothes just in case, a bottle of champagne (or wine), some baguette bread and butter and you cannot beat a day at Drakes Bay! They are open from 8:30 to 4:30 daily, 415-669-1149 and check out their website at www.drakesbayoyster.com

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: PointReyesFoodie

                    Drakes Bay Oyster Co. isn't a pit stop on the way north, it's a 45-minute detour.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      If one is travelling Hwy 1 from SF to points north, one is usually in no hurry. DBOC is well worth the trip on it's own, not to mention you can take a trip out to the Lighthouse where you can do some whale watching, drive out to see the historic ranches, Tule Elk, pop into Vladimir's, enjoy Inverness, even stay a night at any one of a number of fabulous B&B's etc., etc., etc. Just one more way to thoroughly enjoy the splendor of our area.

                      1. re: PointReyesFoodie

                        It's a very nice detour, but I believe OliverB is driving to Mendocino for the weekend, and via Highway 1 that's already a five-hour drive.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          His note just said driving north from SF. If he's on his way to Mendocino via Highway 1 from San Francisco, he has a beautiful, long but, beautiful drive ahead.

                          1. re: PointReyesFoodie

                            He said Mendocino in another topic:


                            If possible, I'd break that up into two trips. There's plenty to do and see in West Marin and the Sonoma Coast to fill a weekend, and the direct route to Mendocino takes you through Anderson Valley, which is a destination in itself.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Never been to TB, but HI was a really wonderful experience. They teach you how to shuck and give you the tools. Not realizing they had a wine bar and store to buy snacks, we packed an ice chest and brought our own goodies.

                              I agree with Robert - I'd break up the trip. We enjoyed LOTS of wine with our oysters at HI... having to drive a few more hours afterward would be a buzz kill.

                    2. re: PointReyesFoodie

                      The Interior Secretary declined to extend Drakes Bay Oyster Company's lease. I'm not sure if that means today is their last day of business, they have 90 days to remove their property from the park.


                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        That makes me happy. They bought the place knowing they had a limited amount of time on the lease and then they fought it.

                        1. re: Missmoo

                          to me, "8 years" is not that limited. yes, it wasn't quite as good as tomales or hog island, but it was not quite as expensive, and also not quite as out of the way, not to mention it made for a great stop en route to point reyes hikes.

                        1. re: Mike C. Miller

                          That's an old story. The owner filed a lawsuit and there was a hearing Friday on his request for an injunction. The judge hasn't ruled yet but she sounded skeptical.


                        2. re: PointReyesFoodie

                          Lease or no lease, DBOC is in trouble with the California Coastal Commission for:

                          "... violations of harbor seal protection requirements, failure to control significant amounts of its plastic that has polluted the marine environment, failure to pay fines imposed in 2009 for illegal activities, and failure to correct ongoing violations of the California Coastal Act despite repeated notices from the Commission. ... impacts to eelgrass from motorboat propeller cuts, impacts to water quality from wooden racks treated with chromated copper arsenate, the spread of the aggressive and highly invasive Didemnum vexillum, the spread of other invasive species including Manila clams, and the general nature of ongoing mariculture operations without required Commission review ... unpermitted development [without a] coastal development permit like it was expressly and repeatedly instructed to do over the past seven years."


                          1. re: PointReyesFoodie

                            The judge ruled against DBOC and the National Park Service ordered Lunny to shut down by the end of the month.



                          2. Interesting that no on has mentioned who's oysters are better. I've had both and Hog Island's oysters are WAY better than Tomales. However, I've BBQ'ed (with a reservation) at Hog Island and I thought the fee was ridiculous. My advice is to bring a cooler/ice/bbq supplies/oyster knife, buy oysters from whichever farm you prefer, then drive out to Point Reyes where there are free picnic areas, no crowds and beautiful views.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: talad

                              Where did you decide on, OliverB?

                              Had I seen this ealier I would have suggested a mission for you --with a report back here:

                              Prepare a taste test for your guests of oysters from the two (or three) suppliers.
                              I would think factors like size would matter more than from whom, but I suppose even within Tomales there are certain "terrior" (or perhap "acquoir"?) aspects to flavor.

                              1. re: MagicMarkR

                                In regards to "terroir"... normally I agree but in this case I do not. Hog Island's oysters are the same species, but they are much plumper, sweeter, fresher tasting. I have heard from a couple of sources that this is because they are closer to the inlet of the bay and the water has more nutrients and is colder there. They are like night and day.

                                1. re: talad

                                  I'd like to add to this.

                                  I believe the difference in flavor is due to more than location: different species of oysters, different growing methods, and a huge difference in aquaculture knowledge.

                                  Hog Island grows a variety of oyster species. They include c. gigas (commonly called Pacific, HI's name for these is Sweetwater), but also some c. virginicus (Atlantic oysters), and some c. sikamea (Kumamotos).

                                  Tomales stocks c.gigas, and they have been shipped in from Oregon (they do not put this on any sign or volunteer it. so be sure to ask directly if the oysters are grown in Tomales). I'd like to know what percentage of oysters that Tomales sells is grown by them. I believe Drakes are c. gigas only.

                                  There are growing differences (rope growing at Drakes, vs. the French rack and bag
                                  method at Hog Island).

                                  Then, harvesting differences. Hog Islands are sorted, placed in tanks with saltwater sterilized by UV light. The tanks at Tomales seem generic; I'm unaware of what Drakes does.

                                  Finally, the Hog Island owners are marine biologists (John Finger, Terry Sawyer and formerly Michael Watchorn). Both Finger and Sharp are so sharp on the best ways to grow oysters and on strict testing of pollutants and toxic run-off from nearby farms.

                                  That aquaculture knowledge and frequent testing makes a huge difference in the sanitation of the water the oysters grow in. Drakes is rather, um, lacking in this regard.

                                  In addition to location differences, there are also differences between the Drake Estero water and the Pacific Ocean, and the Tomales Bay/Bodega Bay water.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    exactly why I chose Hog Island to pig out on oysters when last in the area

                                2. re: MagicMarkR

                                  I actually did this once. I gave my hubby an Oysterfest for our anniversary. I got a room in Inverness, packed all my oyster needs and we hit all three oyster farms in one day, then settled in to enjoy the spoils (pun) of our venture. The DROC were the largest that we got...and while we enjoyed them, they were a bit too big for my preference. The Pacific oysters were comparable between HI and TBOC, but the Kumomotos from HI were addicting. I order oysters from them shipped in...once in awhile you just have to have them! The last time I got an oyster yen (hubby could eat them anytime) we needed to be in SF and picked up an order of 3 doz. at the Farmers' Market at the Ferry Building. I had to pre-order...but...what a treat!

                                3. re: talad

                                  I thought this a week or so ago, and forgot to bring it up. Thanks for your post.

                                  I agree, Hog Island's are more flavorful: sweeter, fresher, plumper. I've been to Tomales a few times when the only oysters were those Tomales had "shipped in," usually from Oregon. That nixes the deal for me right there. Though the Oregon oysters have been fine, it's not eating "close to the source," my preference.

                                  The problem with Hog Island is crowds, so plan a weekday visit if possible. We always bring a picnic: our own bricquets if we're planning to grill (not usually), wine, slaw, lemons, hot sauce, etc. I love it there if it's not too crowded, and have had great fun even when it is. HI provides an oyster knife, but it's best to bring another so that two people can shuck and share the workload/save time. HI will shuck for a fee, but it seems part of the ritual of fresh oysters to shuck them yourself. Easy to do once you learn to find the magic spot where the halves attach.

                                  Good luck.

                                4. Another vote here for HI..oysters, clams and mussels are always great with usually more oyster varieties than TB. Weekends are crazy, unless you get there very early...a good idea since they can run out of product. Did I read they now have valet parking? What's the world coming to!!!

                                  As for Drakes Bay...love the people and their fight to continue their aquaculture...but although scenic, the drive is longer and the dirt road can be in really lousy shape.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: nikki2

                                    There *have* to be some alternatives to Hog Island. We've been driving out to Tomales Bay for over 15 years every October for an "Oystoberfest". Back then, HI was a shack by the side of the road where you could buy fresh oysters and a knife. Peaceful, quiet and beautiful. Now, valet parking, live music, and fees for the use of picnic tables make it more like going to Disneyland. No thanks. Can anyone help us get away from the Hollywood crowd driving their Tesla's, and get back to good oysters? Thanks in advance for suggestions.

                                    1. re: Marinite

                                      To my knowledge there are only three oyster farms in Marin: Hog Island, Tomales Bay, and Drakes Bay.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        And: oyster harvest at all three has been halted due to bacteria in Tomales and Drake's Bays. (A not unusual occurrence in warm months.) Drake's Bay closed; Tomales Bay imported oysters from the Northwest (which they often do anyway); not sure what HI sourced but they stayed open. Most recent Dept of Public Health ruling will allow them to begin harvesting again.

                                        That being said, I have always greatly preferred Hog Island for taste, freshness, variety of bivalves, and being their own source. They also have been extremely generous in supporting marine environmental causes by providing oysters and shuckers for fundraising events. So I am willing to put up with the packed house they have become--where they are located there is no place to expand to try to un-Disneyland the place. Mostly though, I buy a bag to take home and enjoy in comfort, quiet and without needing to worry about driving home (not in a Tesla) after drinking the accompanying wine.

                                        1. re: alfairfax

                                          Thank you. I've been concerned about the growing conditions and water flow at Drakes, and will no longer purchase from them.

                                  2. Drakes got an extension to March 15. The judge didn't seem to be leaning their way in the hearing on their request for injunction yesterday.


                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      The scumbag environmentalist's and their lawyers make me sick.