The town of Urbanna, Va. is getting ready to put on its biggest event of the year for the first time in two years. The Urbanna Oyster Festival has been held the first week of November for an impressive 64 years, and will be again this weekend, Nov. 5-6. It brings an estimated 55,000 people to Urbanna, a Middle Peninsula town of just 476 people at the last census.
After making the difficult decision to cancel the festival in 2020, organizers are bringing back the beloved oyster festival traditions, like the Virginia State Oyster Shucking Championship and the Fireman’s Parade, drawing more than 80 agencies from all over Virginia. Then there is the crowning of the Oyster Queen and her pageant mini-me, Little Miss Spat.
And of course, for eating and drinking there are oyster tastings, craft beer and wine tents. An antique car show and the Urbanna Oyster Festival parade complete the lineup.
The day before the festival starts, the Marine Science Legacy Program hosts its annual Oyster Festival Education Day just for local students at the waterfront. Young people learn about tall ships, the oyster industry, and the environment. The program is funded by Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund license plate sales.
The Urbanna festival claims to be the second-oldest oyster festival in the world, and is designated as the official oyster festival of the Commonwealth of Virginia. How big a deal is it? During the two-day festival, the entire town is closed to vehicular traffic by order of the police.
And this one weekend in November is estimated to generate nearly $4 million in tourism dollars for the four-county region surrounding Urbanna.
The oyster festival is a walking, “pay as you go” festival, organizers explain. There are no admission fees, but parking fees ($20) go towards the programs of the Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation. You can also come by boat. Water taxis are running throughout the festival and the use of the Upton’s Point Marina dinghy dock is available.
Oyster festival organizers say they are following state protocols related to the COVID-19 pandemic and ask that anyone who isn’t vaccinated wear a mask. For festival information visit urbannaoysterfestival.com.
–Meg Walburn Viviano