Road Trip: The Abalone Festival in Fort Bragg

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This Saturday, Oct. 8, the Abalone Cook-Off & Festival rocks the grounds of South Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg. I’ll be on the North Coast researching travel features for Sac Mag, so when they asked me to be a “celebrity” abalone taster, I hurried to accept. I’m no celeb, but I love abalone.

Abalone is a rare, rare treat. Typically, the stuff is the highest-priced dish on a restaurant menu, if it’s there at all—and most often it isn’t. (If it is, it’s farmed. Wild ab isn’t legal to sell commercially.) To catch abalone yourself requires a special fishing license ($20 on top of a standard license) and a willingness to pluck the mollusks off under-surface rocks offshore—sounds easy enough if you’ve got a little boat and a wetsuit and can get out there between April and November when the season’s open, but even nabbing the limit of three per diver can be impossible. This year, the pickin’s have been made slimmer by a red tide—plague of plankton—that destroyed much of the abalone population farther south along the Sonoma Coast in August, thus closing the season two months early in that area.

We’ve reserved a gorgeous oceanside vacation rental house for the weekend through Coast Getaways and we’ll be gorging ourselves on abalone at the festival, listening to live music from the Bayou Swamis, tasting Mendocino wines and roaming the craft fair. We might indulge in some of the Little River Inn’s clam chowder while we’re there, too—it’s renowned.

Come on up to the Abalone Festival—it’s a great excuse to leave town, it benefits the Mendocino Area Parks Association and best of all, admission is free.