History goes down every year in the small town of Urbanna, Virgina. For 62 years, the town has transformed into an international destination in honor of our favorite food: the oyster. It all started in 1958 when a group of locals came before Town Council and requested $150 for “Urbanna Days.” Within two years, this local festival was named The Urbanna Oyster Festival. By 1988, it was designated as the “official” Oyster Festival of the Commonwealth.
Every year, 60,000 people come to explore the region, indulge in local oysters, sip on Virginia craft beer and wines, shop fine art, learn about America’s early history and so much more. The festival is big and bad. If it’s your first time or your 62nd time, here are tips to take on the 62nd Annual Urbanna Oyster Festival.
Be a VIP
We may be a small town, but laid back luxury is our thing. The best way to take on the festival is the VIP Oyster Lovers Experience. A $100 ticket gives VIP guests access to three hospitality tents, oyster shooter tastings at the Town Marina Tent, wine and beer tastings, and a half dozen oyster tasting from your choice of oyster farm. At each of the hospitality tents, a festival concierge will help you navigate the event, serve water, and offer respite at the tables and private restrooms. When it’s time to head home, be sure to take your commemorative poster and a swag bag from Virginia’s River Realm. Learn more and get your tickets today.
Stay in Style
We recommend coming and staying for a while. Throughout the River Realm, our campgrounds, boutique hotels, and historic inns will keep you cozy during your stay here. Each one has its own character and calm. The owners and staff are gateways to the River Realm, full of knowledge and recommendations. After all, they get to call the place we love home throughout the year. Click here for all of our lodging options.
Make Time to Parade
We pack it in all weekend long! Make sure you know the schedule of events, including our parades that take over the streets. We kick things off with the siren-filled Fireman’s Parade Friday 7 p.m., which concludes with a classic evening dance at the firehouse. Saturday’s feature parade is at 2 p.m. and is the official Oyster Festival Parade. Make room for the zipping and zooming shiners, marching bands, antique cars, beauty queens, floats and more small-town flare you won’t find anywhere else. Click here for the full schedule.
Sip All the Virginia Spirits
This wouldn’t be a true foodie festival if we left out the booze! For all the ladies and gents over 21, follow the sound of laughter and “mmms” to the wine tasting area on Virginia Street between the U.S. Post Office and the ABC Store and a craft beer tasting area on Rappahannock Avenue in Taber Park. Tasting hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and it costs $10 to have a ball and receive a souvenir wine or beer glass. You’ll find breweries and wineries including Bold Rock Cider, Center of the Universe, Starr Hill, Lake Anna Winery, Williamsburg Winery and more. You can also try “boutique” oyster tastings from Rappahannock River Oysters or Tidewater Oyster Company. Learn more.
Watch and Be an Oyster Champion
Ever seen a woman shuck two dozen oysters in less than three minutes? We have! Local sisters Deborah Pratt and Clementine Macon Boyd are two of the top shuckers in the world. They’ll take the stage along with other champs hoping to advance to compete in the National Oyster Shucking Contest in St. Mary’s, Maryland. The National Champion then travels to Galway, Ireland for the World Championship! It’s an exciting ode to the oyster festival. Someone has to eat the oysters, so you want to be there! Grab a seat on the hillside or at VIP seating if you’re a VIP ticket holder.
Take it to the next level and compete yourself! You will be judged not only on finishing time, but also on presentation. Pieces of shell and damaged oysters result in time deductions, adding to the suspenseful announcement of the ultimate champion. Sign-ups are at 10 a.m. behind the firehouse. Learn more here.
Come one, come all. You and your crew can get to the festival via boat or by car. There are no admission tickets and you pay as you go. If you’re coming by car, you do have to pay for parking: $10 on Friday $20 on Saturday. Follow the signs as you drive into town and our friendly parking attendants will help you find a spot. After you park, hop on a wagon to head into town via tractor–the River Realm way!
You can also arrive by water. Water taxis will be available both days. Two boats will be running from a variety of pick up points at marinas. To set up a water taxi, ride, call Captain Loftis at (804) 366 – 1778 or Captain Edmonds at (804) 436-3898. Don’t leave a voicemail if it’s busy, simply call back. They’ll answer when they get service! Boats can only hold six people at a time. Learn more here.
You Don’t Have to Eat Oysters
Yes, you can try oysters any way you can possibly imagine at the festival: raw on the half shell, fritters, Oysters Rockefeller, roasted on a grill, in a stew, fried, Po’Boys and more. However, if you’ve had your fill of oysters or oysters aren’t your favorite, this is a full-service foodie experience! More than 50 vendors will also serve up local favorites like roast beef, crab cakes, gourmet popcorn, crab bisque, chocolate dipped cheesecake on a stick, shrimp, BBQ, and soft shell crab sandwiches. Make room for it all. Trust us.
Get Your Learn On
Take a step into history and into the world of science you can only find in the River Realm. Walk down to the waterfront of Urbanna Town Marina for hands-on learning about the environment of the Chesapeake Bay and its oysters, ecology and heritage. Climb aboard historic sailboats and traditional watermen boats. Explore the historic 1766 Old Tobacco Warehouse/Scottish Factory Store and visit the historic encampment of the Colonial Seaport Foundation. Costumed historical interpreters will lead the way and bring the history of the port town of Urbanna to life. Learn more about all the history and science exhibits here.
Bring a Bag to Shop
Our shops and boutiques in Urbanna will be open for business. Artisan tents will line the streets. Get your holiday shopping started with custom gifts for family and friends on your list. Treat yourself with a new dress, earrings, scarves or pair of shoes. Suit up for the cooler months with jackets and blankets. Fill a wall in your home with art inspired by the River Realm. You won’t find another time when all of this is in one place. Click here to get our Urbanna guide of shops and spots we love.
Know the Rules
It’s always good to be prepared. We have a few new rules this year to be sure you know and understand:
- No Pets are allowed at Urbanna Oyster Festival except service pets.
- Alcohol can only be served from select vendors and consumed at designated spots at the Craft Beer Tent, Wine Tasting and a selected area at the Waterfront.
- A new Town ordinance prohibits driving a motor vehicle (except service vehicles related to the gathering), a bicycle, skateboard, moped or similar device within the streets or sidewalks designated for the gathering or festival.
It’s Always a Good Time to Visit
We love to welcome you during our big bad oyster festival every November. We want you to know it’s this fun, fresh and delicious all the time. Urbanna is just one of our eight small towns to explore. Life on the river is gorgeous and inspiring every season. Visit our website to learn more about all we have to offer for a day trip or for a week long getaway with the family: https://www.virginiasriverrealm.com
For details on VIP tickets, Urbanna Oyster Festival activities, schedule of festival events and directions, visit www.urbannaoysterfestival.com