The hour-long tours include informative strolls through the farm followed by oyster shucking and tasting.

many osyters stacked in a crate
J.D. Simkins
Oysters on oysters

Anyone who’s been to the North County region of San Diego has, at one time or another, gazed upon the Encina Power Station. The plant’s towering gray smokestack, a gas- and oil-fueled electricity generator that first went operational in 1954, offered tourists and locals alike a visual aberration in an environment comprising the historic Highway 101, oceanfront homes, and adjacent coastline. At least, that was until it was decommissioned and dismantled in 2021. Few who laid eyes on the gloomy stack over the years, however, were aware of the hidden gem immediately next door.

Concealed behind a fence line shielding the ongoing demolition of the plant is the Carlsbad Aquafarm, an eco-friendly, agricultural haven for shellfish harvesting that offers informative tours featuring classes on oyster shucking and, even better, sessions for tasting these mouthwatering delights.

I recently embarked on the farm’s hour-long jaunt and, in addition to leaving with a stomach full of nonpareil treats, gained great appreciation for the meticulous purification process unique to this little seaside jewel.

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Each day, approximately 750 million gallons of fresh seawater are cyclically filtered from the neighboring Pacific Ocean in a process that provides an abundance of nutrients to oysters and mussels that grow here. Working in conjunction with the Wrigley Marine Lab at the University of Southern California, the farm selects oysters to breed that show greater evolutionary signs of resilience to an ocean that continues to change along with a warming climate. Once brought to the lagoon, these oysters begin the cycle of producing and maintaining the highest quality of shellfish in the region.

Grown in underwater trays and lines, the shellfish are suspended below the surface but off of the seafloor to protect from predators and contaminants. The harvesting process, simultaneously designed to protect the lagoon’s ecosystem, is one that requires immense patience in order to mimic the natural process of the ocean. Every few weeks, harvested oysters are retrieved from trays and put into a gentle tumbling apparatus to simulate the churn of the local tide. It’s an exercise that also keeps the shells polished and free of mud.

By the time the oysters reach between 2 to 5 inches in length—considered market size (and most delicious)—they are removed from their trays and placed in tubs that filter seawater three times to remove any remaining hint of sand or other finite debris.

The batches, rich in an array of vitamins our bodies love, are subsequently tested in accordance with United States Food and Drug Administration standards before being packaged on ice and sold to customers, or in my case, made available to devour as part of the tour.

This information, and much more, was readily dispatched during the first informative half of the tour. Once our crash course in conservation and marine biology concluded, it was time to get down to business. My group, made up of about a dozen guests, was then squired into a shaded dining area replete with barrel tables, shucking knives, gloves, and a delectable spread of shelled delicacies.

Our guide provided a brief demonstration on shucking techniques and instructions on avoiding bladed mishaps and shell fragments—you do sign a waiver—before sending each guest on their way with six oysters and a tasty ensemble of sauces.

It was a good thing that the tour was restricted to an hour, otherwise my proclivity for shellfish may have led to my status as a permanent aquafarm resident. Each bite tasted better than the last, and what were once a hollow void of shucking skills blossomed to new heights of mediocrity.

It was, to say the least, an unexpected—given its unsuspecting location—yet amiable experience, and one I highly recommend booking if you find yourself in the San Diego region.

Schedule a Tour

The one-hour Farm Tour and Tasting experience can be booked any day of the week at 10 a.m., noon, or 2 p.m. (Also available on the weekend is a 4 p.m. slot.)

Reservations are required and can be made up to one hour before the tour begins, so be sure to schedule ahead. Each tour includes a 30-minute (estimated) guided stroll around the farm, highlighted by explanations about the local environment and the function of each piece of equipment. This is then followed by 30 minutes of shucking and tasting.

Adult tickets (ages 13 and over) are $35 each, while tickets for children ages 6 through 12 are $10. (Children under 6 are free.)

Additionally, shellfish, shucking equipment, and Carlsbad Aquafarm merchandise are available to purchase after the tour. Or, if you’re simply wanting some of the best oysters on the West Coast, the aquafarm offers to-go orders via its Oysters & Mussels page throughout the week that should be placed at least two hours ahead of your scheduled pick up.

Book your tour today.

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