Hit the Road, Snack

The Best Oysters in California Are a Short, Sweet Day Trip Away

Where to eat and what to do in Tomales Bay.

August  8, 2018

Pack your bags! In honor of life’s most delicious highways, we give you Hit the Road, Snack, our travel guide of things to eat, see, and do this summer, from coast to coast.

Photo by Alex Citrin

Before I moved to San Francisco, I espoused the typical notion of what my getaways would involve: sun-soaked weekends in Wine Country and visits to Half Moon Bay. Arguably, that’s what most of us food obsessives have read and heard about when it comes to vacations in the Bay Area.

But there are many other interesting and exciting spots to explore outside the city. One of these local gems, tucked away by the coastline, is Tomales Bay, a region famous for its delicious oysters, for which I have a particular fondness. Growing up on the coast of India, I ate more fish than meat, including fried oysters and scallops and shrimp pickled with chiles and turmeric. When I came to the United States, I was exposed to a new world of raw oysters, crudo, and gravlax, all of which I've grown to love eating.

Photo by Nik Sharma

I could spend an entire weekend in Tomales Bay, shucking oysters with my husband, exploring the different parts of the coast. I love its proximity to both SF and Oakland, and that within a short period of time (traffic depending), you can be right next to the water. The mountains are right there, too, which makes Tomales Bay a wonderful place to relax and get away. In fact, when I need a break from writing about food and cooking, I like to go up there for a day—just one day—and unwind. I can free my mind, take in the scenery, and enjoy the many scenic views that this part of northern California has to offer.

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If you're interested, pack a bag; I'll take you there:

The Short, Sweet, Scenic Drive Out

Even though the drive is only an hour and a half from San Francisco, it’s a good idea to start your trip early to avoid traffic. And, because a picture is worth a thousand and one words, there are several compelling spots you might pass by, including views of the Pacific that you'll want to capture in a photograph.

Photo by Nik Sharma

Point Reyes National Seashore

As you head north toward Tomales Bay on State Route 1, you'll pass through the Point Reyes National Seashore—I highly recommend spending some time here as you start your trip. Take the walk up to the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse, which was built in 1870 to help warn and guide seafarers away from the dangerous headlands that have the potential to wreck ships and boats (!!). You’ll also get a glimpse of the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean coastline up there.

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Top Comment:
“I'd include Hog Island Oysters (the "farm"and the new cafe in Marshall), along with Marin Sun Farms in Point Reyes. Other "cool" spots include the Bear Valley Visitor's Center where the epicenter of the 1906 SF Earthquake can be seen. A short but pretty drive inland from Marshall will take you to the Marin French (Rouge et Noir) Cheese Factory. Dillon Beach is also a great spot to visit!”
— Cookin' C.

Things to look out for: the tule elk which you may spy grazing, and the sea lions, which you can view at Sea Lion Overlook (bring a pair of binoculars!). Don’t forget to check your car for gas; the closest gas station is 20 miles away. 1 Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, Inverness, CA 94937.

Where to Catch a Few Zzz's

Nick’s Cove and Cottages

Built during the 1850s, Nick’s Cove represents one of the few remaining settlements in Tomales Bay where fishermen and farmers operated. The property is surrounded by a rich history reflected in the architecture of the cabins whose style has been preserved but updated with modern amenities. 23240 California 1, Marshall, CA 94940.

The Old Point Reyes Schoolhouse Compound

This is another piece of Point Reyes history that’s been converted to a lodge for tourists. The property was built in 1879 and served as a school for the local children. The original structure fell off its foundations during the 1906 Earthquake and was then pulled back by horses, later repaired and updated to its present glory. 11559 California 1, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

Photo by Nik Sharma

oysters & other very necessary bites

Tomales Bakery

Living in San Francisco, I of course live and breathe and think in bread, and can never resist a good bakery. Make an early stop at Tomales Bakery to sample the creative pastries, like the chocolate devil and the marzipan croissant, among the other more proper “breads.” Oh, and plan well because they sell out fast! 27000 California 1, Tomales, CA 94971.

Tomales Bay Oyster Company

If you’re visiting Tomales Bay, you should take a moment to drive to the edge of the water to watch the oysters sorted and harvested from the water. It’s fascinating. The company has taken active steps to ensure the sustainability of oysters production on the coast. Pro tip: Bring a shucking knife or two to crack open the shells, so you can taste the sweet flavor of the fresh oysters that come straight out of the bay. 15479 California 1, Marshall, CA 94940.

Photo by Nik Sharma

The Marshall Store

A short distance further up from the Tomales Bay Oyster Company is the Marshall Store, which is famous for its smoked oysters and meats. The oysters are served on crostini with pickled onions and a bit of cheese, and are great with a cold bottle of beer. Equally delicious are their pulled pork sandwiches. 19225 California 1, Marshall, CA 94940.

The Station House Cafe

A gorgeous historic restaurant with tall ceilings, this was a popular spot for grub during the days of the North Pacific Coast Railroad. For breakfast, you should definitely try “The Hangtown Fry,” an omelet made with fried Pacific oysters and bacon. 11180 California 1, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

the many, many things you can do here

For wine lovers: Not only can you make a trip to Point Reyes Vineyard to sample the wines, but you can also book a room and stay on location at this vineyard. As my husband says, "It defines relaxed Bay Area living, the ability to get away." 12700 Shoreline Highway, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

For green thumbs: This quirky little local nursery specializes in selling native plants suited for growing in the Bay Area of northern California. 54 B Street, Unit D, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

For horse whisperers: I wish I were a horseback rider, but alas, I am not. But if you possess the dexterity and balance, there are several options to choose from: Point Reyes Arabian Adventures (11925 California 1, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956) and Five Brooks Stables (8001 California 1, Olema, CA 94950) provide various guided trails for people of all ages and skill levels to ride through and take in the area's gorgeous wildlife.

For thrill seekers: There are several fun options when it comes to kayaking in the waters of Tomales Bay, with guided tours of the region provided by Point Reyes Outdoors. One option includes bioluminescent camping, which involves wading through the waters, brightly lit by plankton. 11401 California 1, Point Reyes Station, California 94956.

For farm tours: This region is also home to numerous farms including the Straus Family Creamery, which was one of the first organic dairies to be established 75 years ago in the West. Visits to the Straus Home Ranch (at a different location than the creamery) are organized and run via the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) by the Straus siblings, Vivien, Miriam and/or Michael. The tours last about two hours and begin at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays (visit their website for additional details). 22888 Shoreline Highway, Marshall, CA 94940.

Hit the road, snack!

What's your favorite West Coast getaway? Let us know in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Malcolm
  • 702551
  • creamtea
  • Cookin' Carol
    Cookin' Carol
  • Eric Kim
    Eric Kim
Nik Sharma is a molecular biologist turned cookbook author and food photographer who writes a monthly column for Serious Eats and the San Francisco Chronicle and is a contributor to the New York Times. His first cookbook, Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food, was a finalist for a James Beard Foundation award and an International Association of Culinary Professionals award. Nik resides in Los Angeles, California and writes the award-winning blog, A Brown Table. Nik's new book, The Flavor Equation will be released in October 2020.


Malcolm April 5, 2019
Missed Hog Island completely. Also need to update for Tony’s Seafood restaurant, which is owned by Hog Island. Bovine bakery deserves a mention as does Toby’s Feed Barn. Many more.......
702551 August 8, 2018
Weird to see a California oyster article posted in August. This is about the worst time of year to eat California oysters. They are much better when the ocean water is cooler.

The water in this area is about 60-62 degrees Fahrenheit right now. In the dead of winter (January-February) it is about 48-50 degrees.

That is when you want to enjoy the local oysters.

This article has totally missed the mark from an editorial timeline standpoint.
Eric K. August 9, 2018
Mmm I love eating oysters in the winter, too. Thanks for your feedback; I'm sure readers will appreciate the bivalve advice. For what it's worth, it was National Oyster Day last Sunday.
Nichola August 11, 2018
Speaking on behalf of the southern hemisphere, we think it was quite timely!
creamtea August 8, 2018
Point Reyes, one of my favorite places.... Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese is worth seeking out (and utilizes vegetarian rennet)
Eric K. August 9, 2018
Thank you for the rec!
Cookin' C. August 8, 2018
Delighted to see one of my all time favorite spots highlighted here! In addition to the raw oysters, one must try the local style of preparing BBQ Oysters! I'd include Hog Island Oysters (the "farm"and the new cafe in Marshall), along with Marin Sun Farms in Point Reyes. Other "cool" spots include the Bear Valley Visitor's Center where the epicenter of the 1906 SF Earthquake can be seen. A short but pretty drive inland from Marshall will take you to the Marin French (Rouge et Noir) Cheese Factory. Dillon Beach is also a great spot to visit!
Eric K. August 9, 2018
I love it. Thanks so much for these, Carol.