Daycation to Tomales Bay for a Picnic Adventure
A unique picnic adventure with oysters, beaches and summer sunshine
It’s June and picnic season is in full swing. For those who prefer a more out-of-the-ordinary picnic experience, travel about 50 miles northwest of San Francisco to the sleepy town of Marshall, California, home to Tomales Bay and some of the best oysters on the West Coast. Two oyster farms make their home in Marshall: Hog Island Oyster Company and Tomales Bay Oyster Company. Both raise several types of oysters as well as Manila clams and mussels.
If you are a planner, Hog Island Oyster Company is for you. Weekend reservations can take a while to get, but can be made online for up to 15 guests. In April, I went up to Hog Island with a group of friends for a Sunday afternoon picnic. Picnic tables overlook the bay and come with a grill, oyster shucking tools, lemons, condiments and a free shucking lesson. Oysters—including Hog Island’s popular Sweetwater oyster—are sold by the dozen. The picnic area is open daily from 10am to 5pm with 10:30am and 2pm reservation time slots. There is a $5 per person picnic fee. Bags of mesquite charcoal can be purchased on site for $7 or bring your own.
Bring side dishes, dessert, drinks and your own picnic supplies. Beer and wine are allowed. Be sure to pack a container or platter for ice to keep your oysters fresh. At Hog Island other items are allowed on the grill, so feel free to create your own barbecue extravaganza and get ready to enjoy an afternoon of good food and great company.
Our group was split between raw and barbecued. If you haven’t done it before, barbecuing oysters is simple. Just put the whole oyster on the grill. When the shell pops open (after about 5 to 8 minutes), dump the juice on the coals and pry off the top with the shucking tool. Watch it, though—the shells are hot.
Hog Island also has a small restaurant called The Boat which is open Friday through Monday. They serve grilled oysters, local cheese, charcuterie, beer and wine. No reservations are required for The Boat. Seating is first-come, first-served.
If spur-of-the-moment is more your style, head to Tomales Bay Oyster Company. Parties of nine or fewer may use the drop-in tables and grills, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis. They suggest arriving by 11am or around 3pm to get a table. There is a strict two vehicle maximum per party, so plan on car pooling.
At Tomales Bay, the grills are for oysters only and shellfish from other farms is prohibited. Oyster knives, ice, charcoal, lemons, sauces and gloves are available for purchase. You can also borrow a shucking knife with a $10 deposit. Tomales Bay also has a $5 per person picnic fee. Children under 14 years old are free here, but count toward group size. Tomales Bay only takes cash. There is an ATM on site.
Bonus: Tomales Bay has a small beach for your enjoyment. Swimming in the oyster area is not allowed, but splashing in shallow water is encouraged.
Things to know: Bring sunscreen, a hat and layers. The weather at Tomales Bay is changeable with sunny afternoons often turning cool and misty towards early evening. Wear comfortable walking shoes. Both Hog Island and Tomales Bay are open daily from 9am to 5pm. Well-behaved dogs on leash are allowed. Oysters are available for to-go purchase. Please bring your own cooler. For more info, visit hogislandoysters.com or tomalesbayoystercompany.com.