It's Oysterfest Time on the Hood Canal
By Zachary Hansen | Photos contributed by Explore Hood Canal
The weather has cooled, the asphalt smells of rain, and the tides are high. To a third generation oyster farmer, this means two things: buy a new raincoat, and check the dates for Shelton’s 40th Annual Washington State Seafood Festival, OysterFest.
This October 1st & 2nd, after a two year hiatus, the Shelton Skookum Rotary Club Foundation is pleased to welcome the return of OysterFest, a charity fundraising event founded for the love of delicious seafood and remarkable non-profit organizations. Shelton is the home of exceptional shellfish producers, and OysterFest works closely with farms that have cultured clams and oysters for generations.
The festivities kick off early, beginning Friday September 30th at 6pm with Shelton Rotary's OysterFunk at the OysterFest beer garden. The event features oysters on the half shell & grilled, tacos, beer and live music performed by the Varmints. Cost is $5.
The event is made up of over eighty non-profits. Each serve unique recipes such as the Boy Scout's famous coconut shrimp, Squaxin’s grilled salmon slabs and fry bread, BBQ oysters, and MESS’s (Marine Education Science Society) raw oysters on the half shell. With the missions of improving water quality and bettering the community as a whole, all funds raised at this event go directly to vendors, scholarships, and local social programs. If you need an excuse to indulge in the world’s tastiest seafood, wipe the champagne mignonette from your lip and explain “it’s for a good cause.”
Shelton is the home of exceptional shellfish producers, and OysterFest works closely with farms that have cultured clams and oysters for generations."
The South Puget Sound is recognized worldwide for its exceptional shellfish—geoduck, oysters, and manila clams are just a few staples enjoyed with the onset of the brisk fall weather. Coming from a local shellfish farmer, there isn’t a better time to enjoy the stock. Preparing for winter, pacific oysters are plump with glycogen, making their flavor crisp, rich, and sweet. The organizers of OysterFest are in on the secret, and the event times perfectly with the harvests.
Safe growing and harvesting practices are incredibly important to growers in the Puget Sound. Because of the cooler weather, eating shellfish in October isn’t just palatable, it's safe.
The crowd gathers around in anticipation of the annual oyster shucking contest.
OysterFest is where the action happens. Staging the Official West Coast Oyster Shucking Championship, you get a chance to see the fastest oyster shuckers in the Pacific. Think you’re quick with a knife? Enter the contest and put on some gloves; the last winner shucked 24 pacific oysters in 78 seconds. The contest is fun-spirited and lively—spectators are encouraged to feast on the shucked oysters after each ‘Heat.’ Anyone is welcome to enter, with a first place prize of $750 it's worth trying your hand!
Ever tried geoduck? Head over to the shucking stage at 11:30am to catch a demonstration by the 2022 OysterFest honorary Goo, chef Xinh Dwelley as she delights the crowd with this not to be missed spectacle. Afterwards, enjoy samples of geoduck sashimi - it doesn't get any fresher than that - or head over to the bistro tent to enjoy a steaming bowl of geoduck chowder. All proceeds benefit Project Share, a low cost energy program hosted by the Mason County PUD 3.
Thirsty? Don’t worry, Washington’s microbrews and wineries have you covered. Showcasing their award winning wines, over a dozen wineries will be pouring in the OysterFest wine tasting tent.
For the weekend goers looking for places to stay, check out this selection of lodging in and near Shelton. If you are on wheels, OysterFest also offers camping and R.V. sites. Register online for camping here.
More to Explore on Hood Canal
The two-lane highway is populated with many slow vehicle pullouts—perfect views to see the passing killer whales or the herds of Roosevelt elk often caught grazing the grassy marshes along the beach.
Take the opportunity to explore Mason County and its abundance of seafood savvy saloons. Alderbrook Resort and Spa, located on the southern tip of Hood Canal, caters well to the fjord searching, waterfront loving, boat cruise ready oyster aficionado. Set amongst tall Douglas firs, the lodge’s windows glow with an orange hue, and a large, lit stone fireplace warns away the fall chill. With tall glass and square timbers, the architecture alone is an impressive experience — the stay, welcoming staff, and graceful views are complimentary.
Heading north to Lilliwaup, the road traces a fjord over 600 feet deep. It harbors an incredibly productive shellfish industry, so stop at Hama Hama Oysters and try their unique flavors of ‘fir fed oysters.’ Hama Hama’s Oyster Saloon, the best tasting pitstop along the HWY 101, offers the freshest catch around. If you aren’t one for the raw or cooked oyster, try the crab cakes and smoked salmon. Dine on a beach overlooking oyster beds, and enjoy live music on the weekends. Crack a can of local ginger beer, smell the open-pit fir of last winter’s maple windfalls, and smile.
A break from your busy, productive, everyday lives, explore the scenic
drives along Hood Canal. With pavement shadowing the shoreline, Hwy 101
is a fun drive. The long and tight curves fulfill the camber for a
sports car, and match the tranquility sought of retirees. No matter the
driver, the windows are down, the sun is shining, and you can smell a
crisp ocean breeze. Mason County is one for eclectic gas stations, and
the spurs off Hwy 101 are no exception. Stop in at one of these small
stores, meet the local, smiling attendant, buy the in-house fudge — “from the recipe book of so and so’s grandmother” —and continue on the drive. Photo: Hwy 101 ©George Stenberg