Each year the vibrant little Northern California town of Arcata holds one of the nation's largest parties in honor of a mollusk: the Arcata Oyster Festival. This one-day summer event is recognized as the seventh-best food festival in the U.S., according to the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Each June Arcata's residents and visitors from around the country gather to celebrate the local harvest and indulge in this prized delicacy.
The Humboldt Bay region around Arcata has ideal growing conditions for oysters, which take 18 months to get from the bay to your plate. Evidence of the region's abundance of oysters dates back thousands of years in the piles discarded oyster shells left by Arcata's earliest inhabitants. Today, five local oyster farming companies farm in just 450 acres of bay water, but provide over 70 percent of the oysters found in California's seafood markets. June is peak harvest time for oysters and for over 20 years Humboldt County has celebrated this yearly accomplishment with the Arcata Oyster Festival, an all-day event with oyster tastings, cooking competitions, live music and kid-friendly activities.
What to Expect
Whether you like them raw or barbecued, you will find dozens of chefs, restaurants and seafood harvesters shucking and selling their most delectable oysters. Many offer newly harvested Kumomoto oysters, which are grown in few places outside of Humboldt and Arcata Bay waters. While you shuck and swallow, you'll be entertained by local disc jockeys who play everything from reggae to folk in between live band sets. One of the most popular events is the Oyster Calling Contest, where participants squawk and hoot in an attempt to replicate the sound an oyster might make if inviting friends to the festival.
Tips for Attending
Although it might seem odd to eat oysters for breakfast, you'll want to get there when the event starts on Saturday morning to take advantage of shorter lines. Arriving earlier also ensures you find good parking, and if you are attending with children, your kids will have plenty of space to run around in the kid's play area. As the day goes on, thousands of attendees pack the event grounds to eat and drink, which makes it challenging to maneuver through crowds.
What to Bring
Fill your wallet with cash before heading to the festival. Oysters aren't cheap and you can expect to pay a premium to enjoy this culinary delicacy. You will likely spend more than you anticipated, but at least you know your purchases will help support Arcata's local businesses. A wide variety of hand-crafted local merchandise and artwork is also available at the event to test the willpower of any art aficionado, so bring re-usable grocery bags to haul your purchases. You might also want to dress in layers since Arcata's June weather is unpredictable and ranges from heavy morning mist and fog to bright, warm temperatures in the afternoon. Packing a light rain jacket is a good idea since it's not unheard of for rain to occur.
Where to Stay
As the Arcata Oyster Festival grows in popularity, finding a place to stay in town becomes more challenging. If you want to stay in the heart of the action, book a room at the Hotel Arcata (hotelarcata.com), a historic boutique hotel located steps away from the festival grounds on the Arcata Plaza. There are other more economical options near the festival, such as the Fairwinds Motel (fairwindsmotelarcata.com) and the Best Western Arcata Inn (bestwesterncalifornia.com/hotels/best-western-arcata-inn/). After arriving, find a good place to park your car while you are there, since Arcata is a pedestrian-friendly city that also has free event shuttles running throughout the day.
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