After yet another Thanksgiving without Dungeness crab, it might be time for the Bay Area to adopt a new seafood tradition for the holidays: an oyster road trip along Tomales Bay.
A picturesque winter drive to the West Marin town of Marshall will test the mettle of even the biggest oyster lovers. With two historic farms and multiple eateries, you’ll run out of money before you run out of room in your belly.
Along the way, you’ll find some of the least expensive and most delicious oysters on the West Coast—not to mention a wide variety of other locally harvested seafood, meats and cheeses. And whether it’s clear or foggy, the views will be nonstop gorgeous.
Veterans prefer tackling this road trip from north to south, starting in the teensy town of Tomales and slurping your way down the bay to Point Reyes Station. The quick trip up Highway 101 and scenic cruise past the ranches of western Petaluma enables you to quickly get down to the business of bivalves.
So pack your layers, your cooler and your friends for a perfect day of oysters—you won’t even miss the Dungeness.
Join the road bikers and motorcyclists in line at Route One Bakery & Kitchen for a pastry and Equator coffee to start the day. If you plan to picnic, you can also grab a loaf of perfect sourdough (or try it later in the day because it is served by most of the restaurants nearby). Reopened in 2020 by the owner of the Marshall Store, Shannon Gregory, the kitchen serves delectable squares of pizza and other lunch-y items, but beware: Route One usually sells out of everything by mid-afternoon.
Pick up more picnic supplies and a wide variety of other locally produced items at the Tomales General Store across the street. The cavernous 1867 storefront was remodeled and reopened in 2021 by Rob and Stacey Lawson, whose family owned the store for 50 years in the 1900s.
On the way out of Tomales, past the herds of its famously coiffed Scottish Highland cattle, Highway 1 curves down the bay to Nick’s Cove. The historic roadhouse is packed with vintage nautical decor, including an impressive bar that’ll serve a festive bloody mary to the nondrivers in your party.
It’s time to dive into some seafood. Order the Grand Aioli tower to whet your whistle. It comes with a dozen oysters, shrimp cocktail and a platter of veggie crudites—or try one of Nick’s other apps, perhaps a dip made from clams or smoked cod?
Tote your feast down Nick’s pier and enjoy it over the water or in the cozy Boat Shack. And if money is no object, book ahead, and you’ll get a seafood-and-champagne-filled wheelbarrow wheeled down the dock to you and your closest friends.
Now it’s oyster time. Hog Island is not the oldest farm in the area, but for four decades, it has served as a cheerleader for oyster farming in Marshall. A stroll past the wet storage tanks leads to the Boat Oyster Bar. Its bayside tables are legendary but must be booked a month out (as do tours of the farming operation).) If you get to sit, go for the raw Sweetwaters and Earthquake Bays—or the grilled oysters with chipotle bourbon butter. The local cheese and charcuterie boards make for nice grazing in between slurps.
No reservation? No problem. The Hog Shack on-site store sells shuck-your-own oysters plus all the supplies and fixin’s, from its famed Hog Wash mignonette to shucking knives to plain ol’ lemons. Then simply drive a bit farther south on Highway 1, find a pullout along the bay and start shucking. And consider adding a few pounds of Manila clams to your cooler before you go; Hog Island’s are the largest, sweetest and cleanest around and make for a lovely linguine alle vongole when you get home.
Two years after being named one of the the New York Times' favorite restaurants in America, Marshall Store is still the same old roadside oyster shack, with jammed parking and lines around the building.
The rock cod ceviche and fish tacos are popular, but the smart money goes to the extraordinary prepared oyster plates—Rockefellers with Point Reyes Toma cheese, Kilpatricks with bacon and smoked oysters on crostini with Cowgirl Creamery fromage blanc—that come with an order of grilled Route One Bakery garlic bread.
Open Friday through Monday, the Marshall Store offers lots of seating, including tables along the road, beside the bay and behind the store. Or head out for lunch on Thursday when only a limited menu is served, but oysters are just $2 each.
Even though it's been four years since Hog Island reopened the beloved diner, Tony’s Seafood is still an easy reservation to get and almost as lovely as its Boat Oyster Bar up the road. With both outdoor and indoor tables right on the water, and all the deliciousness of Hog Island’s oysters and staples on the menu, it’s another must-stop for foodies heading down Highway 1.
If your group is ready for some non-seafood noshes, Tony’s serves a solid Stemple Creek burger and a ridiculous grilled cheese. But its clam chowder, mussels and fish and chips are tough to resist.
Tomales Bay Oyster Company
Here’s where the magic of the Marshall Store begins: The feted restaurant is owned by the same family that owns the Tomales Bay Oyster Company, the oldest bivalve farm on the bay, dating back to 1909.
You’ll know the farm is open if you see the sandwich signs along Highway 1 featuring the restaurant's swashbuckling oyster-hawking lass. There’s no picnicking on-site, but you can grab a final dozen or two—don’t miss the Golden Nuggets if they are in season—to enjoy at another pullout along the bay or bring home for a Hangtown fry the next morning.
Tomales Bay Hike
If there’s a smidge of daylight left, walk off a few of your dishes at this smidge of a trail. Part of the Point Reyes National Seashore, the hike awkwardly called the “Tomales Bay Trailhead” loops through the grass down to the bay and back. Though open space seems to be everywhere near Marshall, this is one of the only spots to stretch your legs after so much driving and eating.
Point Reyes Station
Tips for Oyster Tasting in West Marin
Though most Marshall destinations are open on weekend days, the hours and days of operation vary for each location, so be sure to check the hours of each before departing for the coast. Cell service is almost nonexistent along Highway 1, so check directions and make plans to meet friends before you leave home.