From slurping them back with some bubbly on the beach to frying them up for a sandwich to putting down a dozen or two at happy hour, Americans just can’t get enough of oysters. We’re also pretty efficient at harvesting them: These delicious bivalves actually represent the highest-volume production of shellfish in the country, with 42 million pounds of oysters harvested in 2019 alone, according to the Fisheries of the United States report.

While any oyster lover might have the basics down on the differences between East Coast and West Coast oysters, the nuances of the category can get deep. In addition to there being a range of oyster varieties available around the country, each oyster-producing region in the U.S. offers different growing conditions that can massively impact the size, shape, texture, and flavor of the oysters residing there. This individuality is similar to the concept of terroir in wine, but is aptly termed “merroir,” as it refers to the marine environment. Exploring and comparing the different flavor expressions across multiple regions is part of what makes tasting oysters so compelling.

So grab a seat at your local oyster bar, order a glass of Chablis, and work your way through this guide for a taste of the best oysters the U.S. has to offer.
The Major Oyster Regions of the U.S. and the Best Varieties from Each [MAP]

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East Coast

Damariscotta River, Maine

Maine is littered with incredible oyster sites, but 80 percent of oysters harvested in Maine come from the fresh, clean water of the Damariscotta River. The unique positioning and the cold, hearty tides of the river create perfect conditions for oyster growing, leading many to call it the “Napa Valley of oysters.” Seek out the region’s succulent and briny Glidden Point oysters, clean and balanced Pemaquid oysters, and the large and sweet Norumbega oysters.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Massachusetts’ aquatic offshoot, Cape Cod, is a hotbed for rare oyster varieties. Here, you’ll find fan favorites including Duxubury and Wellfleet oysters, each named after its corresponding town. Duxbury oysters are great for those who prefer a fatty and buttery texture, whereas the Wellfleets hit more of those fresh saline notes. Other hidden gems from this region include the briny WiAnno oysters and the sweet Barnstable oysters.

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island

Great oysters can be found along the coast of Rhode Island, making the state’s oyster trail a worthy destination for seafood lovers. Narragansett Bay is home to many interesting oyster varieties, and the phytoplankton in the bay give the shells a distinct orange hue and fatten up the meat of the oyster. Key varieties from this region include Quonset Point, Beaver Tail, and Wild Goose oysters, which are known for their clean and light flavors.

Another area in Rhode Island to watch out for is Point Judith Pond, south of Narragansett Bay. Here you can find Moonstone Oysters, which are known for their stunning white shells, deep cups, and rich, savory flavors.

Long Island, New York

While New York City used to have an abundance of oysters growing in its surrounding waters, inhabitants of the city ate so many that the entire area was depleted by the 1820s and the waters later became unfit for food production due to pollution from industrialization. The state now counts on Long Island to provide the delicacy; its classic Blue Point oysters are a great introduction for bivalve beginners thanks to their mild flavor and hint of salinity.

Chesapeake Bay, Maryland

In the 1600s, wild oysters used to fill the Chesapeake Bay, but have dwindled due to over-harvesting and habitat loss. Now, oyster farming is bringing the mollusks back to this region. The pristine Rappahannock River is a prime location for oyster production in the area, as it is connected to both the freshwaters of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay. The freshwater gives the river’s namesake Rappanhannock oysters their trademark sweetness. These oysters also have a lower salinity, which lets the delicate flavors of the oyster shine.

Capers Island, South Carolina

This island outside of Charleston is home to the Capers Blades oysters, which are famously hand-harvested by local Clammer Dave, who runs the sustainable oyster farm. These oysters have a rich, briny flavor, making them a favorite of the nearby Charleston restaurants. Also near Charleston is the Barrier Island Oyster Co., known for its bright and salty Sea Cloud oyster.

Gulf Coast

Bayou La Batre, Alabama

Even though Alabama only has 60 miles of coastline, the state is one of the leading producers of oysters in the U.S., with great examples coming from sites like Dauphin Island and Bayou La Batre. In the Bayou La Batre area on the gulf, look out for Murder Point Oysters, which have a rich and creamy texture.

Caminada Bay, Louisiana

Oysters from Caminda Bay are known for their large size and plump, juicy meat. This area is littered with little islands that are also prime for oyster production, including Beauregard Island, where you can find the delicious Beauregard oysters. This impressively sized variety is ideal for frying up in a classic Louisiana po’boy.

Galveston Bay, Texas

Outside of Houtson, Galveston Bay is home to a distinct growing area for oysters. The bay is a mix of saltwater and freshwater, so each area lends a different flavor profile to the oysters. Shellfish grown on the east side of the bay have saltier meat, and on the west side where there is less salt water influx, the oysters tend to be more fatty and sweet with less brine flavor. Keep your eye out for Elm Grove oysters from this area, which are known for a chewy texture that makes them perfect for grilling.

West Coast

Hood Canal, Washington

Oysters are abundant in Washington’s Hood Canal, where visitors can spot them along the beaches. The Hama Hama Company is a sixth-generation, family-run oyster farm known for its world-class bivalves. It’s known for its Summerstone Oysters, which have a beautiful cup and ruffled edges.

Puget Sound, Washington

The Puget Sound is home to Olympia oysters, a variety native to the region. The area offers many inlets that are ideal for oyster production including the Totten Inlet and the Eld Inlet, where Olympia oysters can thrive. This variety is known for its smaller size, but they pack a punch of earthy, salty flavors.

Willapa Bay, Washington

Willapa Bay off Washington’s Pacific Coast is known as the state’s premier oyster region, producing the renowned Shigoku oysters. Shigoku, meaning “ultimate” in Japanese, is meant to portray the perfectly balanced flavor of these oysters. They’re cultivated using a specialized suspension technique through which they’re farmed in raised bags that move with the currents.

Humboldt Bay, California

Off the coast of Northern California, Humboldt Bay is the oyster capital of California, producing the largest quantity of these bivalves in the state. Look out for the Kumamoto oysters — though small, they offer a buttery, succulent meat and a delightful aftertaste of cucumber and melon.

Tomales Bay, California

Tomales Bay is just north of San Francisco off the coast of Sonoma wine country, which makes it a great place to try out some wine and oyster pairings. The esteemed Hog Island Oyster Co. is based here, and its flagship Hot Island Sweetwaters are a must-try. The small, deep-cupped shell boasts deliciously plump and sweet oyster meat.

*Image sourced from Tiffany Jae –