I was six years old when I saw my first oyster. My uncle Brett, who lived in San Diego, wanted to share his love of nature with my brother and me. He got us up at 5:00 a.m. to watch Southern California's tangerine sunrises and taught us how to climb rocks with only ropes. One day, he took us snorkelling in La Jolla Cove and called me over to a crevice between two rocks, pulled an oyster from it and asked, "Do you know what this is?" Then he shucked it and slurped it down with utter contentment.
Oysters are one of the world's finest delicacies enjoyed by adventurous eaters. Delicate, full of texture and utterly rich in flavor, oyster festivals are celebrated during the fall across the United States and around the world. The festivals are big events with music, drinks, food and joyous crowds toasting an abundant oyster harvest.
Today's modern aqua farming methods produce fresh oysters year-round. But if you're craving wild oysters that grow plump this time of year or if you just enjoy autumnal bivalve traditions, then head for the following festivals to slurp, sip and have fun:
Shelton, WA, October 5-6
This OysterFest samples an array of Washington wines as well as oysters and brews and is the biggest fundraising event for South Puget Sound charities. With more than 100 different food vendors and 70+ wines to sample, it proudly offers gluten-free options. Just a few of the oysters you can taste here are Baynes Sounds' Chef Creek Oysters, which are sweet and briny with a light crispy finish, and Baynes Sounds' Fanny Bay Oysters, with a sweet, salty, tangy taste and cucumber finish.
Where to Dock: Oakland Bay Marina
Chincoteague, VA, October 12
With 45+ years of celebrating the region's oysters, this fest is filled with oyster lovers ready to let loose and enjoy all that the coastal Virginia oyster has to offer. As the longest-standing festival on the Eastern Shore, the event commemorates watermen's heritage and marks the arrival of the island's oyster season. Surrounded by a gorgeous shoreline and laid-back beachy vibe, festival goers get to appreciate the divine Chincoteague Salt's skinny and elongated shape, admired by oyster aficionados around the globe.
Where to Dock: Snug Harbor Marina
Baltimore, MD, October 12-13
Ryleigh's beloved local raw bar has held its festival for 13 years and donates a portion of the proceeds to the Oyster Recovery Partnership, Living Classrooms Foundation and Shipboard Department. You can binge on an array of local bivalves at a new location this year in West Covington Park. Classic Maryland crab cakes and Baltimore-style pit beef accommodate those who want more than oysters.
Where to Dock: Port Covington Marina
Los Angeles, CA, October 12-13
If you're looking for Southern California flare, this oyster festival may suit your mood. Started by Christophe Happillon, owner of The Oyster Gourmet, the event invites farmers from across the country to showcase and sell their wares. Featured West Coast farms include Olympia-based Chelsea Farm, Sol Azul Seafarms from Baja, California, and Glacial Point Oysters from Kachemak Bay, Alaska. With oysters from all over the country, this downtown LA oyster extravaganza is the perfect seafood escape.
Where to Dock: Marina Del Rey
Portland, ME, October 17-20
Harvest on the Harbor takes place at Brick South, a venue filled with history and charm. From its steel beams to brick walls, the venue blends perfectly with the region's industrial past. Maine is known for crisp, East Coast oysters, especially the sweet, petite Basket Island bivalves that are great for beginners and Pemaquid oysters with a clean, balanced flavor that comes from growing in Damariscotta River.
Where to Dock: Dimillos Marina
Wellfleet, MA, October 19-20
If you're an oyster fan, you've most likely heard the rage about Wellfleets. With nutrient-rich coastal waters, Wellfleet produces exceptional oysters, which have a unique sweetness mixed with a high salinity and firm, meaty texture. With local attractions ranging from scenic White Crest Beach, the Great Island Trail and the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, the festival presents an ideal opportunity to explore a charming Cape Cod town and sample local oysters.
Where to Dock: Town of Wellfleet Marina
Oyster Bay, NY, October 19-20
Known as the East Coast's largest waterfront festival, the Long Island town of Oyster Bay invites more than 200,000 attendees to celebrate the town's famous oysters. From pirate shows to 60+ food choices, this festival is an oyster lover's dream. Over the weekend, guests will consume more than 60,000 oysters thanks to Oyster Bay Rotary Club and Oyster Bay Charitable Fund. Oyster Bay was Theodore Roosevelt's birthplace, and you can head over to Sagamore Hill National Historic Site to tour his home.
Where to Dock: Oyster Bay Marine Center
Leonardtown, MD, October 19-20
After a whopping 53 years, this festival has it down pat. The food showcases every imaginable oyster dish including oyster tacos, oyster chowder and fried oyster sandwiches. Need a little sweetness to offset that briny taste? Then choose from an extensive range of food options from fried Oreos and funnel cakes to homemade ice cream. Maryland oyster farmers pack the schedule with entertainment for all ages along with the U.S. National Oyster Shucking Competition Championships and National Oyster Cook-Off.
Where to Dock: Combs Creek Marina
St. Michaels, MD, October 26
This charming town comes replete with historic sights, beautiful inns and St. Michael's gorgeous harbour. This Chesapeake getaway offers the perfect spot for sampling oysters. Harvested from the Eastern Shore's low salinity waters, the local oysters are creamy, mild and meaty. The festival includes Chesapeake-style Bloody Marys rimmed with Old Bay seasoning, pit beef and variations of oyster dishes from fritters to steamed or raw. It's a perfect family outing with face painting, scavenger hunts and boat tours.
Where to Dock: Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
Urbanna, VA, November 1-2
This festival includes everything from crowning the Virginia State Oyster Shucking Champion and tasting local wines to attending the fireman's parade and antique car show. Urbanna also has a lovely waterfront at the town's marina with presentations on the seafood industry's traditions and current preservation projects for the Bay. More than 50,000 oyster fanatics flock to this town of 1,000 to revel in the oysters' distinct flavor profiles.
Where to Dock: Urbanna Town Marina
Apalachicola, FL, November 1-2
Could you eat more than 300 oysters in 15 minutes? If so, this festival is the place for you! With an oyster-shucking competition followed by an oyster eat-off, this festival is packed with family-fun events. Come witness the coronation of Miss Florida Seafood and King Retsyo (oyster spelled backwards). Nearly 90% of Florida's oysters come from Apalachicola and some of the best reside in Bay Bayou. A good Apalachicola oyster is big and fatwith a flavor-blending briny richness that can't be beat.
Where to Dock: Scipio Creek
Newport, OR, February 20-23
Although the festival is seafood focused, it shares the spotlight with wineries such as Honeywood Winery, Crater Lake Cellars, Buddha Kat Winery and Naked Winery. Don't be surprised to see people walking around in costumes adding to the festival experience. This festival trends towards a younger crowd, but everybody loves the local oysters and day trips to Yaquina Head or the Yaquina Bay lighthouses once used to guide ships at sea.