The Seduction of Tomales Bay

Following a surge of seductive magazine travel pieces about Tomales Bay—about 1.5 hours north of San Francisco—the lure hooked its mark.  Spouse and I recently made an off-season trek to the 12-mile bay–design and movement courtesy of the San Andreas Fault.  (During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake,  Tomales Bay  experienced an amazing 20 feet of land displacement .)

While we placed faith that the two tectonic plates that meet up and separate midway through the bay would not make another one of those 20-foot displacements during our visit, our agenda was to admire the area’s geologic and natural beauty. Like  kids heading out for a first-time fishing expedition, excitement ruled. 

When we neared the first sign of civilization along Highway 1, spouse declared, “This is great! There’s nothing here.”

“Nothing” indicated a deficiency of swank hotels, chi-chi bistros, and chic boutiques.  Not a Starbucks or a Pottery Barn to be found.

There are tiny villages, a smattering of family owned inns, a Czechoslovakian café, and the oldest saloon in Marin County.  There are also a whole lot of dives offering barbecued Tomales Bay oysters.

“Yum,” I thought. But the reality of an oyster eating binge was about as likely as reeling in a prize sea bass.  I settled on the probability that I’d straddle two tectonic plates, and be happy for it.  You see, when I nosed about stopping for local oysters, spouse made it clear, “Oysters are gross.”

Fortunately, we had no plan other than to trawl about the landscape and see what happens.

Off-season—our favorite travel time—always presents the good and the bad news.  The good news is no crowds and good deals on lodging.  (Forget about finding Motel 6-like prices around Tomales Bay. The best we found was two-nights, mid-week for a flat $200.)

The bad news is restaurant owners took a break and many of the dinner houses were not open mid-week.  That’s how we discovered the oldest saloon in Marin County.  The bar menu with some good wine was our only option in the town of Tomales where we roomed.  Breakfast options were either prepackaged muffins from the nearby general store, or a deli that served up tasty breakfast burritos, but if the flies were of the fishing variety, our tackle box would have overflowed.

I fed my camera fresh batteries, filled our water jugs, opened an old map, and sang “Que Sera Sera,” as spouse took the wheel and we randomly scouted about.

 Miller Park (directly across from Tomales Bay’s iconic Nick’s Cove) beckoned photo opportunities.  It also set up the rest of the day.

Four men in their forest green waders, hauled metal sacks from a boat on to the back of a flatbed pick up. I pointed my camera and one of the workers posed.  Cool.

“So what are you guys doing,” I queried.

“Harvesting oysters,” he said while heaving another metal bag of fattened shells.

“How many oysters are there?” I continued.

“’Bout 5,000 today.  We harvest about 75,000 to 90,000 oysters a year,” he claimed proudly.

“All oysters?” I went on in disbelief.

“That’s right.  I farm two acres out there,” he said pointing out to the bay.  “…and look at the clams I got.

That’s my bonus,” he added.

“Whaddya do with all those oysters,” my curiosity continued.

He wiped his hands against his flannel shirt and invited, “Well, drive south about 5 miles—down to the Tomales Bay Oyster Company—and I’ll see you down there and you can taste these babies.”

I hopped back into the car where spouse patiently waited and announced, “Honey, we’re gonna go taste us some oysters!”

First, let me explain one thing.  This was an anniversary trip and spouse practiced his manners, other than mumbling under his breath, “…slimy little sons of #*@!”

I countered, “Dude, it’s a good story.”

“Fine.  Just don’t force this on me, okay?”

“You know,” I began in a breathy tone, “Oysters are supposed to be aphrodisiacs.”

Well, boys will be boys.

So down at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company these bivalve mollusks were king of the world. Open air grills and picnic tables lined the bayside property, next to a shack that sold bags of oysters ready to shuck. Small groups spread clothes on the tables, grilled bags of fresh oysters until their shells opened, and then smothered the prize meat with tasty sauces or melted garlic butter.  Yum.  One group invited us over. 

“Here taste it,” offered the nicest young man.

It was an OMG moment.  Delicious. 

I’m guessing spouse thought it might be too early to bite into the aphrodisiac when he fervently declined a just-off-the-grill specimen. Besides, we had the entire Point Reyes National Seashore to explore. 

Charm oozed from the wee towns that line the western end of the North American Tectonic Plate:  Marshall and Point Reyes Station.  When we crossed the San Andreas Fault and entered the Pacific Plate, the bay’s other village, Iverness, offered country roads that ended at the Pacific Ocean. Tule Elk, hawks, and a smattering of coastal birds posed for my camera.

“Are you hungry?” spouse asked while we admired the wicked waves near the Point Reyes Lighthouse.

“Are you saying it’s oyster sampling time?” I angled my favorite catch.

“Well, after passing all these other oyster farms ( Drake’s Bay Oysters and Hog Island Oysters) I’m curious.  I’ll give it a shot,” he mused as he bit right down on my bait.

When we returned to the North American Plate we drove directly to Nick’s Cove, which is right where we launched this oyster odyssey at Miller Park.

Nick’s lunch menu was the Mother Lode of oyster tasting.  My favorite? The Tomales Bay oyster—creamy, salty, and easy on the chew.

Did spouse dive into the oyster samplings?  Oh yes he did and he even slurped from the shell. 

What happened after our oyster feast?  Are oysters really an aphrodisiac?   Truthfully, I have to end this story someplace.  Tomales Bay is seductive, the oysters an unexpected surprise, and even the mooing-cows not far from our room at the Continental Inn is all I have to say, except that another visit is on our future agenda.

Notes: 

1.  I shared this story with daughter, Chef Dakota Weiss.  She warned, “Always eat raw oysters with a fork and don’t touch the shells–they can harbor tiny worms.”

2.  Birdwatching in this region is wonderful.

All photos, excluding the aerial shot, by Charmaine Coimbra

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