Food + Drink, Things To Do in Sonoma, What's New in Wine Country

Where to Eat Oysters in Sonoma and Marin

Discover the ultimate oyster-eating spots on this slightly-off-the-beaten-path tour from Petaluma through Tomales to Valley Ford.

It’s oyster season. At least technically, since January and February have an “r” in them, which makes them safe according to popular lore. Though a true oyster lover’s passion for the briny little creatures is bound by no calendar, the cold waters of winter truly make it the best time to shuck, slurp, and savor our favorite bivalves.

Here’s the twist: As close as Sonoma residents are to oyster nirvana (aka Tomales Bay), I’ve always held to the idea that an oyster is an oyster no matter where you eat it, coast or no coast.

Sure, there is that whole sea-air thing, and the winter months are a lovely time to visit the North Coast — so I’ve decided to split the difference, heading from Petaluma to the tiny towns of Tomales and Bodega Bay then winding back a few miles to Valley Ford. It’s my take on an adventure-filled, slightly-off-the-beaten-path loop to uncover the ultimate oyster-eating spots.

Ready to go? Shell yeah!

Zoe Kimberly shucks oysters at The Shuckery in Petaluma. (John Burgess)
Oysters on the half-shell at The Shuckery in Petaluma. (Photo courtesy of The Shuckery)

11:30 a.m., The Shuckery, Petaluma 

THE ORDER: Half-dozen raw oysters, two baked Bingos, and a 2018 Pinot Gris-Chenin Blanc blend, because that’s how I roll.

THE SCENE: The restaurant is barely open for the day, but I’ve got to get an early start. Two dozen oysters aren’t gonna get in my belly on their own. Behind the counter, restaurant owner Jazmine Lalicker is tackling a pile of unshucked oysters with a quick flick of the wrist. The sunny bench seats by the window (with pillows) haven’t yet been snapped up.

I always forget how much I love the small, unassuming Kumamotos. If you’re a beginner, start with these sweeter petite half-shells and work your way up to larger, chewier oysters. The Bingos, however, I’ll dream about all day. A mixture of Cognac, mayonnaise, Parmesan, and garlic makes a crispy and browned crust. Bonus points for the oyster liquor that pools inside the shell, perfumed with garlic. I’m not afraid to admit I licked the shells — even though a small child looked at me with utter disdain.

REGRETS: Not taking a flying leap into the day with an oyster shooter.

100 Washington St., 707-981-7891,

Local friends enjoy a a drink and appetizers at the bar at the William Tell House in Tomales. (John Burgess)
Oysters on the half-shell at William Tell House in Tomales (Photo courtesy of William Tell House)

1:30 p.m., William Tell House, Tomales

THE ORDER: Half-dozen raw oysters on the half-shell and seafood chowder with a crisp and minerally white wine. You don’t sit at a bar and order a Shirley Temple. Nor does it really go with oysters.

THE SCENE: Belly up to Marin’s oldest saloon, just across the county line. Though the dining room and outdoor patio are delightful, the antique wood bar is much more convivial. Take a peek at the to-and-from chalkboard where you can see which locals have bought a round or two for a fellow drinker. The full menu is available at the bar, from oyster po’boys to chowder, fish tacos, and smoked trout salad. To make dining easier, you get a wooden tray that extends the eating surface — convenient to oyster-liquor sippers. Raw oysters are served on ice, which is so much nicer than piles of salt. Ice-cold oysters with a touch of mignonette, sip of wine, spoon of hot chowder. Repeat. Everything is so right with the world.

REGRET: The oyster po’boy I didn’t have.

26955 Highway 1, 707-879-2002,

2:15 p.m., Dillon Beach Coastal Kitchen, Dillon Beach

Thick fog blankets this tiny coastal village just minutes outside of Tomales. Coastal Kitchen is part of the revamped Dillon Beach Resort, and chef Matthew Elias’ locally sourced menu has been tempting me for months. It’s a casual, family-friendly kind of place with warming homemade chowder, hearty Stemple Creek burgers, plenty of seasonal veggies, and fresh oysters. I sit down, ready for awesomeness before the devastating news: No oysters today. I dream of buying a little house in this misty little village that seems to vanish as soon as I pull away.

1 Beach Ave., 707-878-3030,

2:30 p.m., On the Road

Digestion is about the most exciting part of this leg of the trip. Not that the drive to Bodega Bay isn’t lovely, but a combination of rogue farm implements, bicycle riders, and winding roads along these windswept hills requires attentive driving rather than rubbernecking.

Chef Brandon Guenther from Rocker Oysterfeller’s in Valley Ford. (John Burgess)
From left, grilled oysters with pesto butter, Louisiana hots, and garlic butter from Rocker Oysterfeller’s in Valley Ford. (John Burgess)

3 p.m., Rocker Oysterfeller’s, Valley Ford

THE ORDER: Half-dozen raw oysters, five cooked. Margarita, rocks.

THE SCENE: Like walking into your super-cool grandma’s house. Everything here is warm and cozy, brightly colored, with a slightly Southern drawl. It’s easier to plop down at the bar than sit alone in the dining room. Plus, it’s a lot funnier to listen in to someone else’s conversation than the one in your head saying, “God, I don’t know if I can eat another oyster.” I pray over the margarita a little. The Tomales oysters are a little bigger than I’m hoping, but the jalapeño-honey mignonette adds just the right sweetness to the briny raw oysters. I’m more excited about the baked oysters. Their signature Rocker Oysterfeller is a cheeky take on the old school Oyster Rockefeller, made with arugula, bacon, cream cheese, and a cornbread crust. That and the Estero Gold cheese-blanketed oysters are delish, but I fall in love with the Louisiana Hots, an oyster bathed in hot sauce and garlic butter. My resolve is renewed, I can eat at least one more oyster. With a little more garlic butter this time.

REGRET: Being afraid of the Hangtown Fry. Not hanging out with my bar mates just a little longer.

14415 Highway 1, 707-876-1983,

The Bodega Bay fishing fleet is reflected in the windows of Fishermna’s Cove in Bodega Bay. (Kent Porter)
Inside Fishermna’s Cove in Bodega Bay. (Kent Porter)

4:30 p.m., Fisherman’s Cove, Bodega Bay

THE ORDER: Half-dozen barbecued oysters, coffee.

THE SCENE: Fishing boats and crab pots along Bay Flat Road are within oyster-shell-throwing distance. I’m headed for what looks like a bait and tackle shop because, well, it is. That is not mutually exclusive to also selling some dang good barbecued oysters with garlic butter. These aren’t the tiny sweet ones, but hearty, palm-sized oysters that can put up a fight with the shuckers. Overly optimistic tourists huddle outside on picnic tables. Locals gather at the tiny tables and bar stools inside, gingerly slurping the hot oysters served on the half-shell and laughing at the shivering tourists. Slivers of extra-garlicky garlic bread are ideal for sopping up any remaining juices. I could now safely repel a vampire, should it come to that.

REGRET: Coffee and oysters taste awful together.

1850 Bay Flat Road, 707-377-4238,

The sun sets over Bodega Bay. (Kent Porter)

As the sun drops in my rearview mirror and the oyster shells cease crunching under my tires, I take a deep breath — or at least as much as one can with two dozens oysters in tow. What’s become obvious is that oysters are delicious no matter where you eat them, so long as they’re freshly shucked, the wine is cold, and the company is good.

Subscribe to Our Newsletters!


One thought on “Where to Eat Oysters in Sonoma and Marin

  1. After reading this article we set out to duplicate this supposed delightful itinerary on Saturday January 25th. We were successful in eating in only one out of the 4 we wanted to try. Here is the FRUSTRATING experience we had at each one.
    William Tell House: Despite being on the verge of starvation we were VERY disappointed. The $15 Po’ Boy Oyster Sandwich showed up with 3 small, black, charcoaled Tomales Oysters and I would have declined it if I had not been so hungry. Nothing in that sandwich tasted like an Oyster. The $5 Taco Del Dia was small, and just not impressive. The Gun Club in Geyserville has Korean Tacos that are FANTASTIC. For $10 your get two huge open face tacos that are habit forming. They are intended to be an appetizer, but they are a meal….one of the best values we have found anywhere.

    Rocker Oysterfeller’s, Fail!! Never dreamed that a restaurant dependent on tourists would Not Open Until 3:00 on a SATURDAY. No food for us!

    The Schuckery: We had a question so I called them as we were planning our route. No answer, but the message said they were open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 to 4:30. FALSE!!!! 10 PINOCCHIO’S FOR THEM! We arrived at 3:00 walked in…..and were told they were closed and would be open at 5:00!!!!!! AAARRRGGHHHH!! That same message is still lying to the hungry public as I write this
    Dillon Beach Coastal Kitchen: Upon checking their website we found that they were closed for the “winter”….we are from Minnesota….they don’t know what winter is. BUT we decided to check out the town and started following our GPS, and we came to a point where the GPS said to turn onto what looked like a cow path. We were “cruising the coast” in our Jaguar convertible and there was no way I was going to take that car down that road. I’m still not sure if what I saw was the actual
    road, but by then we were fed up (no pun intended) and headed home.

    We learned you can’t trust any restaurant to be open when you need them. You can’t trust the hours on websites, and you can’t trust phone messages, and that in California MANY restaurants are not open 7 days a week. If you aren’t familiar with the restaurant and can’t talk to a HUMAN BEING to determine the hours…DON’T GO!
    We knew that Fisherman’s Cove in Bodega Bay is Oyster Heaven. We will drive from our house in Healdsburg to Fisherman’s Cove JUST TO EAT AT FISHERMAN’S COVE. Don’t tell anyone because it is already always crowded.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read previous post:
Santa Rosa’s Miracle Plum Cookbook Club Brings Foodies Together

The club began in January 2019 with just 22 members and has since grown to over 100. At each gathering,...