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I get it…Oysters aren’t for everyone.
The textures, the flavors, the vibe…I guess it’s not everybody’s cup of tea.
Personally? I love them. But, as a Long Island girl who craves the smell of the sea, oysters represent more than just a briney appetizer. They remind me of where I spent the bulk of my childhood…Long Island. Home of Little Joe’s Pizza, Lavender by the Bay, and – of course – the freshest seafood you’ll find on the Eastern seaboard (yes, I am biased!). Even if Oysters aren’t your ‘thing’, there is an endless assortment of faire that will leave your mouth watering even after you’re stuffed.
Using this logic, I was over the moon when I saw Oyster Bay was hosting their 40th Annual Oyster Festival! As a Long Island girl, this spinster traveler is embarrassed to say that I’ve never experienced OysterFest. Long Island is so deliciously oversaturated with waterfront activities and dining, the annual two-day festival has always eluded me!
This year, I was determined to see what Oyster Bay had to offer.
And, boy did they deliver.
Oyster Bay, New York
Located on the Eastern border of Nassau County, the land that is now called Oyster Bay was originally inhabited by the Lenape people. Following European colonization (which displaced many First Nations tribes across Long Island), the area became part of the colony of New Netherland. It was later purchased in 1640 by the Dutch West India Company. The first real settlement began in 1653. After decades of border disputes, the land was officially incorporated as Oyster Bay in 1687.
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Fun Fact: Today, the town of Oyster Bay includes 18 villages and 18 hamlets. Oyster Bay is the only Nassau County township that extends from the North Shore to the South Shore of Long Island, giving it prime waterfront real estate on both the Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean! (Talk about a real estate jackpot…) Today, Oyster Bay is one of Long Island’s most coveted townships. With breathtaking views along both coasts, there is no limit to waterfront dining and activities. Long Islanders and visitors alike make the trip by car, boat, or rail to Oyster Bay to enjoy activities including Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park, Bailey Arboretum, and – of course…
Oyster Bay’s Annual OysterFest.
What is OysterFest?
Aside from being the largest waterfront seafood festival on the East Coast, OysterFest is an annual two-day celebration of Long Island culture, centered around community, the Long Island Sound, and – you guessed it – Oysters. Under the auspices of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Rotary Club and its Oyster Bay Charitable Fund, over 200,000 Long Islanders and visitors flock to the historic village of Oyster Bay each year for food, fun, and fellowship.
“Service Above Self” is the motto for Rotary International and it’s befitting that the Oyster Bay Rotary plans the largest nonprofit event of its kind in the Northeast of the United States,” said Monica Rubin, president.
Attendees are encouraged to sample the many forms of the festival’s mascot – The Oyster. Try it raw, grilled, fried, steamed, ‘chowder’-ed…the more the merrier! (I recommend trying Blue Point Oysters if you’re jonesing for the authentic Long Island staple!)
Not an Oyster fan? Not to worry, readers. OysterFest serves food for every palette, including shrimp, clams, hot dogs, corn, and other traditional festival foods (yes, even funnel cake!).
Along with culinary curiosities, the festival also includes live entertainment, Newton Shows amusement rides & games, Oyster shucking competitions, a massive arts & crafts pavilion, the New Belgium craft brew tent, and more! It’s hard to imagine fitting so much excitement into two days, but – in typical fashion – Long Islanders always manage to get it done (they don’t call it Strong Island for nothing!).
40th Annual OysterFest
Although it was a dreary Saturday, I couldn’t wait to explore Oyster Bay and all of its curiosities. Upon my arrival to OysterFest, however, I was… confused. I wondered if perhaps there was another festival or parade happening in the town center.
Surely, there was NO WAY the entire town was dedicated to this waterfront festival…Right? Wrong!
Knowing the scale of the event was very different from actually seeing it. I was shocked and thrilled to find endless rows of tents, performers, vendors, and what looked like hoards of visitors. Long Islanders (or, shall we say Strong Islanders) donned their rainboots and umbrellas to celebrate the 40th Annual Oyster Festival. With views from the main strip all the way to the water, it looked like OysterFest had consumed the entire town!
Delighted and eager for more, I followed the crowd down the village streets and made my way to the big event (yes, it gets even BIGGER).
The Town of Oyster Bay
The village of Oyster Bay can only be described as a dream-like stroll through a nautical, fall-centered hamlet typically reserved for only the quaintest of movie sets! Think Gilmore Girls meets Halloweentown. It was truly captivating and – dare I say – magical? With the Long Island Rail Road tracks cutting directly through town center, it feels like you’ve stepped back in time. Cute boutiques, cafes, and tiny bookstores crowd the main road. Side streets offer ample dining with views of the Long Island Sound in the not-so-far-off distance.
After crossing the train tracks towards the waterfront, I entered the main space for vendors, seafood, and entertainment! While Newton Shows amusement rides & games were temporarily closed due to inclement weather, it was easy to imagine thousands of families flooding the streets in search of funnel cake, ferris wheels, and fresh faire. Lively rock music on various stages throughout the festival baited visitors to explore new terrain, while keeping the energy alive for its excitable (albeit, wet) audience members. For those who might enjoy a quieter moment, the beach is extremely accessible from the festivities. Never one to turn down a beach walk, I made my way to the sandy shoreline and marveled at the rainy yet beautiful views.
P.S. – OysterFest features Kings of the Coast Pirate Show!
The Eats (Not just for Oyster-Lovers!)
Yes, we are back to Oysters.
And, while I love Blue Points as much as the next shellfish enthusiast, there were plenty of options that had nothing to do with our favorite mascot. Eager to sample everything, I found myself stuffed with hot dogs, corn cobs, and gluten-free cider (hooray!). Plenty of options for gluten-free foodies and shellfish-free eaters, as well as beverages for those who choose not to imbibe. With food trucks, kiosks, and tents everywhere you look, it’s easy to imagine spending an entire day exploring (and eating!) everything in sight.
The Shopping in Oyster Bay
Am I a material girl living in a material world? Absolutely.
But, did I think I would find myself fully immersed in retail therapy at an Oyster Festival?
Ready for a moment of reprieve from the ever-looming rain, I popped into what I thought was a tent with one or two vendors. What I found was the Mel Warren Arts & Crafts Tent, an indoor market with everything from raw honey to homemade soaps to crystal windchimes to wood-carved maps of Long Island! Snacks, apparel, gifts, souvenirs…the tent seemed to go on forever. Vendors happily chatted with patrons as they peddled their custom and curated wares. I sampled, sniffed, and touched everything I could get my hands on, and chatted with small business owners based all around New York State.
Even on an otherwise dreary day, Oyster Bay’s 40th Annual OysterFest managed to bring light and joy to the faces of thousands of (only mildly wet) Long Islanders. After decades of missing out, this Long Island Spinster now completely understands the hype of this waterfront festival. I am so grateful to the sponsors, coordinators, and vendors of OysterFest for bringing food, art, and entertainment to Long Island communities. I headed home drenched and happy with a full heart and very stuffed stomach. Next year, I am already planning my visit to Oyster Bay’s 41st Annual Oyster Festival – Who knows, maybe I’ll see you there! (I’ll be the one eating everything in sight…)
What are you waiting for?
P.S. – To watch a video of my OysterFest adventures, check out my Instagram account: @heyitsaurie
Author Bio: Aurie Ceylon is a writer, reader, and traveler from New York, NY. A quirky and self-proclaimed “Spinster”, she writes detailed exploits of her travels, favorite eats, and love & relationship blunders on her blog – Spinster Stories. Aurie is finding joy and healing through her travel adventures. Stick with Aurie as she fills her heart – and stomach – in small towns across America.