By JENNIFER BURNS BRIGHT
The old saying that oysters should only be eaten in months with an ‘R’ isn’t always true. Washington and Oregon are an exception, with colder waters and oysters that taste great longer in the season. Raw oysters are not just delicious, they have been nourishing humans as long as both have been on the Pacific coast. You, too, can take a Pacific Northwest oyster road trip up the Oregon Coast and over to Washington’s Puget Sound and Hood Canal, savoring the beautiful and unusual landscapes that foster these species.
Winchester Bay on Oregon’s South Coast
Umpqua Triangle Oysters sells oysters from a recently renovated retail space in a picturesque white building perched at the edge of Salmon Harbor Marina on Oregon’s Winchester Bay near Reedsport. Umpqua Triangles are grown in an unusual manner, in the ocean forming a triangle between two southern jetties where the Umpqua River makes its way out to sea. These oysters are then suspended on fifteen-foot lines for two to four years. Never touching the sea floor and tumbling in the waves results in deep cups, clean flavors and a sweet finish. If you’re visiting Umpqua River Lighthouse to the south, look for the jetty triangle from the lighthouse overlook.
Yaquina Bay on Oregon’s Central Coast
In 1907, the venerable Dan and Louis Oyster Bar opened in Portland with oysters from the Yaquina Bay near Newport, where Oregon’s only native oyster—the ecologically important Olympia—grew prolifically, as did the Pacific oyster that now dominates the market. You can still taste both at a descendent of their business, Oregon Oyster Farms, a retail operation on Yaquina Bay near where the Olympias once flourished on reefs that supported a great variety of marine life. (Local tribes and scientists are working on restoring these populations from Baja California to British Columbia.) With thin shells and a melony finish, Pacifics are great raw or pan-fried. The tiny, rare Olympia should be savored on the half shell to appreciate its unusual coppery, meaty flavor.
Netarts Bay on Oregon’s North Coast
Netarts Bay near Tillamook is fed by more than a dozen small creeks and protected by its unique location. It’s home to one of the top shellfish hatcheries in the country, Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery. Nearby is Nevør Shellfish Farm, which sells its own Tørkes oyster, tumbled by the tide and wind in floating bags. Stop by the retail shop on Highway 101 for a dozen petites and a package of their smoked oysters. While you’re there, try their creative flavors like black garlic and red-hot chili. Then head north along the bay to sample them raw or baked on the patio at The Schooner Restaurant and Lounge.
Willapa Bay on Washington’s Southwest Coast
Washington’s sizable oyster industry can be an adventure on its own. The oyster farm, retail shop and pleasant waterside outdoor dining patio at Goose Point Oysters in Willapa Bay’s Bay Center keeps it ultra-local with these beach-grown, deeply fluted beauties with notes of kelp. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can harvest your own in season—check for shellfish closures and licenses first—on the west side of the bay near the Nahcotta Tidelands Interpretive Site just south of Oysterville.
Washington’s Puget Sound and Hood Canal
It’s worth stopping at the Puget Sound farm/retail locations of Taylor Shellfish Farms—in Shelton on the south end (a retail store that sells a range of the company’s shellfish products) and farther north on a lovely stretch of Puget Sound near Bellingham at Bow (both an oyster bar and shellfish market). Since the 1890s, this company has been harvesting and cultivating oysters, including native Olympias. Try their buttery, briny Totten Inlet Virginica oysters for a rare treat. On Hood Canal, a must is a visit to the outdoor oyster saloon at Hama Hama Oyster Saloon. Slurp some vibrant, carroty Blue Pool oysters, tumbled nearby on their oystering grounds.
Plan your Pacific Northwest Oyster Road Trip
Road trips like this are in AAA’s DNA, and we’d love to help you plan your next one!