Clamming the California Coast

Posted on January 25, 2011


I have been researching clamming in California for sometime now in an effort to learn how one goes about finding clams on the California coast. I have found much information about digging razor clams in Del Norte and Humboldt county, and I have also found much on the subject of pismo clams down in Southern CA. What I have found for Central California is some very basic information about digging horseneck and goeduck clams in Tomales bay. I read what I could and then set out to dig something up on a poorly planned clamming adventure.

We drove up to the Point Reyes peninsula early one morning only to find that the road to the point had been closed due to a downed tree. We changed course and drove the inland highway along Tomales Bay towards Dillon Beach. There we discussed access to the mudflats (clams are found in tidal mudflats usually exposed only at minus tides) with the gatekeeper at Lawson’s Landing RV Park. We learned that the mudflats near Dillon beach are accessible only by boat, because we carried only a shovel and a bucket we decided to search elsewhere and we drove north to Bodega Bay. We arrived at Doran beach an hour before the peak of low tide and although the rangers at the park’s entrance knew little about clamming we found lots of exposed mudflats to begin our search.

Upon closer inspection of the flats we realized that the mud was littered with holes. some were large, some small, some had mounds of sand built around them. Randomly we set about digging and began finding dozens of small white clams I believed to be known as butter clams, more on these later. The search moved on and we encountered a family fishing for eel among a rocky area next to the bay’s boating channel. We chatted with them for a brief moment about eel fishing (an adventure for another time) and then asked if anyone knew anything about clamming. The family’s patriarch was able to give us some tips on recognizing the clam’s siphon holes and also on how to dig for them (holes should be flat and irregular in shape, sometimes the actual siphon is visible. Never dig straight down on the hole, you are likely to damage the siphon and the clam, instead dig off to the side). With some basic guidance we were able to claim 2 large bay clams each nearly the size of my fist, one horseneck and one washington. Light was running out and we drove a little further along the coast to grab some mussels from a nearby rocky beach. Dusk came and went and we returned to San Francisco with enough shellfish for several decadent meals.

The butter clams were cooked the night we arrived back in the city. A friend cooked and he threw the clams into a pasta dish he made with a garlic base. As it turned out the butter clams were awful. Tragically the pasta dish was ruined and everything was thrown out. We discovered that the clams stomachs were filled with silt and gave the taste and texture of eating tiny packages of gritty mud, not palatable. The next day for breakfast I cleaned the 2 large bay clams, rubbed them with bread crumbs, and fried them on a skillet, delicious! There were some tricks to removing the rough leathery skin portion of the horseneck clam’s siphon and indeed the siphons of both clams were a bit chewy, but none the less the clams were savory in just the right way. Special attention should be paid to the abductor muscles as it turned out to be the most flavorful portion of the clams innards. That night the mussels we caught were cooked on a charcoal grill and thrown into a simple butter and white wine reduction. Take note to remove the mussels attachment appendage after cooking and before eating. These were also very savory and in terms of effort to enjoyment they were the largest pay off.

I still have much to learn about clamming and I am excited to explore new areas of the central coast where clams can be found. Clamming is muddy, tiring, and difficult work but nonetheless enjoyable and satisfying and I am sure to return to either Tomales Bay or Bodega Bay the next time the minus tide recedes during day light hours.


If you found this article helpful you may enjoy reading a more recent article I wrote on the subject. Please follow the provided link.