Arcata delivers the best Oyster Fest in all the West!

Photos by Charles Jarrett (click on photos to enlarge)

Above Left: Greg Dale - Coast Seafood Company

Left : Owen Lein a real shuckin' machine!

Above: Arcata Square at the festival height

Right: Jacqueline Suskin "The Poem Store"

Fathers, sons, mothers and daughters played all day in the Arcata Plaza, in Arcata, California, this past Sunday as the 22nd Annual Oyster Festival was celebrated once again by approximately eighteen thousand individuals in one of Humboldt County’s most celebrated summer festivals. Humboldt County is located on the Northern California Coast and includes the fishing port of Eureka, the Six River’s National Forest, Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the famous old grove redwoods of Richardson Grove State Park. This area is well known for its many vacation destinations, including hiking, horseback riding, biking trails, river rafting, kayaking, fishing, micro-breweries, artisan wineries, casinos and golfing.

The Arcata Main Street organization which organizes the Oyster Festival every year had not yet managed to finalize the paid attendee count as of Monday morning, but the number of participating vendors and the overall scope of this year’s event appears to have surpassed all anticipated records, including attendance and oyster consumption, according to assisting hostess Devon Goughnour. Beginning at 10 am on a beautiful cool Saturday the 16th morning, the 46 plus local restaurant, chefs and caterers and culinary aficionados pulled back their vendor’s stall curtains and began serving up their deliciously prepared oyster delights, consisting of every imaginable culinary persuasion, including barbecued, fried, baked and boiled bivalve molluscs. The food preparation entrepreneurs included many local repeat festival attendees; Coast Seafood Company, Humboldt Bay Oyster Company, Sushi Spot, Bear River Casino, Plaza Grill, Humboldt Cattlewomen, Calhoun’s South Side Barbecue, and many others, whose food and preparation styles encompassed many persuasions, ranging from seafood, to beef, to sushi, Chinese, and Thai. Plenty of beer kept everything lubricated as the Humboldt Brewery Company joined with many other local breweries to supplying their savory and thirst quenching suds.

Humboldt Bay Oyster Company’s owner, Todd Van Herpe, said that they sold and served 9600 oysters from their little booth and supplied upwards of 18,500 oysters to other booths just for this festival, in other words, approximately four and a half tons of oysters just through their distributorship alone. Another principal provider, Coast Seafoods Company’s Greg Dale, estimates that they provided somewhere in the area of 18,000 oysters through their distribution services. Greg says that normally somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 oysters are consumed in this one day event.

The event draws inquiring minds and questioning taste buds from all over the world. I met a lady from Paris, France, a gentleman from Vermont and another from Jackson, Mississippi, so the word must be getting around. Arcata Square is the hub of local business activities surrounded by many outstanding restaurants, hotels, bars, banks, sporting goods stores, clothing, furniture, arts and crafts supplies, in reality, the old fashioned “shopping center” before shopping centers had to be created to supply urban lifestyles. There is a block long Farmer’s Market where one can buy locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables or young starter plants to grow your own. There are a diverse assortment of vendors gathered just for the Oyster Fest, selling everything from local arts and crafts, novelties, items from other countries, clothing and accessories.
Many events are designed for children and they include face painting, game playing, arts and crafts, musicians, jugglers, hoola-hoop performers and so much more that it is hard to cover every aspect of this fun-filled day. Jacqueline Suskin, who does business as the” poetry store”, sat on her chair under an umbrella with her trusty manual typewriter on her knees typing out personalized poems, “your subject - your price”, to the absolute delight of many! All in all, it is a truly grand event.

There is an annual oyster shucking and swallowing contest that has been won every year for the past five years by super shucker Aiden Semingsen and super swallower Conor Eckholm. You haven’t lived until you have experienced the vocal renderings of the Oyster calling contestants. This year’s winner in the under 5 age group was Victoria Eggink, in the 6 to 10 year old group, Jackson Anos, and the ultimate experience came from Hector Quilles, Kai Beech and Mark Johnson, who called themselves Adam and Steve from the Future, who performed an oyster-filled rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”!

The food preparation winners consisted of Best of the Oyster Fest award which went to Sushi Spot, The Best Raw Oyster, went to Plaza Grill and The Best Cooked Oyster, was given to Bear River Casino. I can tell you from personal experience that this Oyster Fest was a festival to remember. Stay tuned, as next year I will give you a heads up a month ahead of time. If you want to call ahead next year, you can call the Arcata Main Street group at (707) 822-4500 for more information.

While there are some terrific hotels and motels in the Eureka/Arcata area, my wife and I have found another way to travel and stay, but in private homes in areas where we visit. Since our vacation in Hawaii last year, we have found a terrific internet connection service by the name of Airbnb, which I believe stands for Air Bed and Breakfast. This time they provided us with a connection to a lovely home and a delightful couple in McKinleyville (a fifteen minute drive from downtown Arcata) where we stayed for two nights. I love the Airbnb connection because you get to meet some local people and they always give you greater value by letting you know about the area, places to go, things to do and the best places to eat locally! You can contact them yourself if you are interested by googling "Airbnb" on the internet or by calling 1(415) 800-5959.
Karen and I drove to Arcata on Friday, June 15th, over a leisurely 6 hours and returned home on Sunday, fully satisfied, fully rested, a great three days and a great event!