If you love oysters, you’ll find the best of the best in Wellfleet Massachusetts. The town is so renowned for its oysters that thousands of people visit each year for Wellfleet OysterFest.
For two days in the fall, the town celebrates clam, oyster, and shellfishing traditions with family fun and hometown flavor! Here’s everything you need to know about this famous oyster festival.
An Oyster Fest Wellfleet Is Proud Of
On the outer arm of Cape Cod, Wellfleet has a deeply rooted history of shellfishing. The annual Wellfleet OysterFest, which was first held in 2001, celebrates with an oyster shucking contest, food, cooking demonstrations, local art, and more.
Alongside all the fun, the festival plays a pivotal role for the local community. All of the proceeds go back into the community in the form of support for the local aquaculture and shellfishing industries, community grants, and a college scholarship program.
Festival Dates, Times, & Prices
Wellfleet OysterFest takes over Main Street in October on the Saturday and Sunday after Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day. Generally, all of the events and things to do happen between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Entry is $10 for anyone 13 and older. (Times and prices may vary.)
About Shellfish Promotion and Tasting, Inc.
The Welllfleet Shellfish Promotion and Tasting, Inc. (SPAT) organizes Wellfleet OysterFest every year. The acronym SPAT is a tribute to the oyster — it’s what newly attached baby oysters are called.
Wellfleet S.P.A.T. was established in 2002 and is devoted to sustaining shellfishing and aquaculture in the town. The group promotes interest and knowledge about shellfishing through many other seminars and events too.
Things to Do at the Wellfleet Oyster Festival
Whether you’re a local or out-of-towner, there’s something for everyone at Wellfleet OysterFest. Take a look at all of these things to do before planning your visit.
The Wellfleet OysterFest Shuck Off
The Annual Oyster Shuck-Off Competition is the most famous Oyster Fest Wellfleet event. Professional shuckers of all kinds register to participate in oyster shucking competitions, including restaurant chefs, raw bar shuckers, and commercial fishermen from all over the country.
The Shuck Off starts on Saturday with preliminary face-offs to narrow down the contestants to the best ones. Aside from their own skills, all that they use is an oyster shucking knife to open 24 oysters as perfectly and fast as they can.
The judges review the contestants’ work and add time penalties for cutting themselves, breaking the shells, and destroying any oysters. A small group with the quickest final times will compete again on Sunday.
Whoever wins the Wellfleet Oyster Shuck Off will receive $1,000 cash and a spot in the National U.S. Oyster Shucking Championship Contest to compete against other professional shuckers.
Local Food, Beer, & Wine
If there’s one thing that festivalgoers of all ages love, it’s festival food. And, Cape Cod is known for having some of the freshest seafood in the nation. Wellfleet OysterFest is one of the best times to try a little bit of this and that.
Food vendors of all kinds dish out tasty treats during the two-day event. You can choose from barbecue, fish tacos, savory crepes, conch fritters, steamed mussels, and so much more. You could even swing by nearby Cape Cod restaurants to sink your teeth into more delicious fare during the oyster celebration.
Adults can also sip on craft beer and wine made on Cape Cod and in other parts of Massachusetts and greater New England. These locally produced drinks pair well with oysters and other shellfish.
Culinary Demonstrations & Tastings
Along with eating and drinking from food vendors, you can join cooking demonstrations and tastings during the oyster festival. The cooking demonstrations show you tips and tricks for preparing oysters, clams, and the like in different ways.
The food tastings involve more than just tasting shellfish fare. They give you the chance to explore the subtle flavor variations in the oysters that grow in different areas along Wellfleet Bay.
Oyster Farm Tours
Are you interested in seeing what goes into farming oysters? Oyster farm walking tours are available during Wellfleet OysterFest. The Shellfish Grant Tours take you to see two multigenerational family oyster farms, where you can see how oysters are harvested during the shellfish farm tours.
Family Fun Area
In the Wellfleet Memorial Garden next to the Wellfleet Preservation Hall, you’ll find a Family Fun Area. It features all kinds of fun activities and things to do for families and kids — face-painting, craft activities, food vendors, moon bounces, performances, and educational displays.
Shuck n’ Run 5K Race
Anyone aged 10 and older has a chance to win some cool prizes by competing in the Shuck n’ Run 5K Race. Prizes are also given to the men and women who achieve First Wellfleet Resident and First Race Walker. But, the first 100 entrants can get special event T-shirts.
The race route may change from year to year. In the past, for example, the route has started at Dunkin’ Donuts on Route 6, run to Indian Neck Beach, and ended back at Dunkin’ Donuts.
Local Artwork & Live Entertainment
Do you admire the talents of Cape Cod artists? We aren’t just talking about paintings, photographs, pottery, jewelry, and the like. Although, there’s a stunningly wide range of arts and crafts from 70 artisans at Wellfleet OysterFest.
We’re also talking about music! All types of bands play live music during the festival — bluegrass, roots-rock and original songs, rockabilly classics, R&B, soul, and funk. There’s no way you won’t want to dance in the street!
If you want to learn more about Wellfleet oysters, aquaculture industries, and the shellfishing industry as a whole, sit in on one of the educational programs. A series of discussion panels and educational talks led by top marine experts are scheduled at various times throughout the festival.
These presentations cover current research and the problems that affect the local environment. You can even watch related film screenings.
Where to Stay During Wellfleet OysterFest
With all of the events and opportunities to try oysters, Wellfleet OysterFest is one of the best fall things to do on Cape Cod. To keep your morning drive to the festival short, stay at Candleberry Inn on scenic Route 6A in Brewster. The drive is only about 30 minutes.
Before you embark on your oyster adventure, you can fill up on our gourmet breakfast. When you return after a full day of shucking and eating, our comfortable rooms and suites and luxury amenities will be waiting for you.
Don’t wait to check our room availability and rates. Our bed and breakfast fills up fast during Oyster Week!
History of Wellfleet Oysters
Wellfleet and shellfish have a rich, intertwined history. Before commercial shellfish sales started in 1665, the Pononakanet people were enjoying these delicacies. Later, shellfish were enjoyed by European settlers too.
Popularity Leads to Near Depletion
With a growing oyster industry, Wellfleet oysters became renowned around the world for their unparalleled flavor. In fact, Wellfleet oysters are some of the most highly sought-after shellfish because of their flavor and exceptional quality.
Their popularity, though, led to the native oyster population being almost depleted in the early 1800s. However, aquaculture started with importing young oysters, flavoring them, fattening them in local estuaries, and harvesting them for the Boston market.
Now, the town leases about 200 acres of Wellfleet Harbor shoreline to local commercial fishermen specifically for shellfish farming. Every year, an estimated 850,000 oysters are harvested.
Special Conditions for Superb Wellfleet Oyster Taste
Wellfleet oysters are of the Crassostrea Virginica species, which is the same species that grows in Long Island Sound, Chesapeake Bay, and maritime provinces along Canada’s coast.
However, they’re known for being cleaner and plumper and for having a better balance of brine and creamy sweetness than their counterparts. Six factors make Wellfleet oysters special.
The average water temperatures in Wellfleet estuaries are colder than in estuaries farther south, such as the Chesapeake Bay. Because of that, the oysters’ metabolisms slow down so that they can store more glycogen — a compound that gives them a sweet taste.
It’s fortunate that the water where Wellfleet oysters grow is free of contaminants. Wellfleet has kept the estuaries clean and unaffected by oil spills and other pollutants over the centuries.
Wellfleet Harbor also has a relatively high salinity (28 parts per thousand) compared to other oyster-growing areas. The saltier water tends to give the oysters a sharper, cleaner flavor.
In general, the meat that you eat gets some of its flavor profile from the food that the animal ate. The same is true for oysters. Wellfleet oysters feed on a unique mix of local phytoplankton species and nutrients that are different from other parts of Massachusetts and elsewhere, creating a distinct flavor.
The tides around Wellfleet estuaries are significant, averaging 12 feet, and the estuaries are shallow and broad. As a result, the waters wash a high volume of plankton through the estuaries, feeding the oyster beds regularly.
At low tide, the shoreline along Wellfleet Harbor is exposed, creating flats. Rather than hinder the growth of oysters, this air exposure makes them more hardy. Because of that, they stay fresh during shipping.