Northern California is famous for fresh, delicious oysters, and the Bay Area is home to a plethora of oyster farms, mostly near Tomales Bay, north of the city. Just like varietals of wine from different vineyards, oysters will have a range of taste depending on where you buy them—but the universal rule is the fresher, the better.
Kick off oyster season with San Francisco's annual outdoor Oyster Fest this Saturday at Fort Mason, which has views of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. The festival features live music by Cake and the Raveonettes, as well as cooking demos, shuck-and-suck competitions, and of course, lots of oysters and beer (the perfect drink to wash down the molluscs). Fair warning, though—the $30 entrance fee makes this activity more of a splurge.
But, in honor of the season, we've rounded up some more wallet-friendly ways to enjoy oysters in San Francisco.
The Freshest: The Ferry Building's waterfront Hog Island Oyster Company serves oysters fresh from Hog Island farm. Monday and Thursday happy hours feature $1 oysters and $3.50 pints of beer (5-7p.m.) Come early to beat the crowds, particularly on sunny days. Even better: Take a day trip to the 160-acre working farm on Tomales Bay, where you can purchase oysters fresh from the source and grill your quarry on the BBQ for a picnic by the bay. The farm provides the picnic table, shucking tools, and even shucking lessons. (Reservations required on weekends and holidays). Call 415/663-9218 ext. 255 for more info.
The Classic: Ever since 1912, the Swan Oyster Depot has been serving fresh oysters and other seafood to devoted customers at a long marble bar. San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer has called the 20 seats at the bar "some of the most coveted seats in San Francisco," drawing people from around the world for a taste of the succulent oysters. Watch the servers shuck from behind the bar (get a half-dozen oysters for $7.95), but don't expect any frills: Menu items are served plainly, with nothing to distract from the natural flavor of the seafood. There's always a long line at Swan, but this classic experience is worth the wait. Cash only. 1517 Polk St, 415/673-1101.
More Happy Hours: There are no shortage of bars around the city that offer $1 oysters during happy hour; check out San Francisco Weekly's ever-updated list. Our favorite is Michelin Guide notable restaurant Yabbies, which stands out for an oyster "flight" option where you can try one of six different kinds from places like Prince Edward Island and Point Reyes California ($11).
Late Night: For a late-night option, hit the award-winning Cafe Maritime in the preppie Marina district, for $3.50 beers and a dozen Hog Island Farm oysters for $13. 2417 Lombard St., 415/885-2530, 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.
And One That's Free!: Enjoy free oysters every Friday with a $5 pint-sized Bloody Mary at the Mission District's El Rio. The dive bar is known for its raucous happy hours on the sunny back patio; cheap, strong drinks ($2-$3 well drinks); and live music. Stick around on Fridays for a Red Hot Burlesque show. Cash only. 3158 Mission Street, Near Cesar Chavez, 415/ 282-3325.