California Travel Tips

Don’t Clam Up When Santa Cruz Chowder Cook-Off Hits the Beach

Published on: February 19, 2020


The old wives’ tale claiming clams should only be eaten in months containing the letter “r” gives a green light for the longest and largest running clam chowder contest in the U.S. Held in February at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz Clam Chowder Cook-Off & Festival (Feb.22-23, 2020) isn’t just a “go” but it takes place rain or shine.

The claim about eating clams in certain months doesn’t apply to dining in California’s restaurants or buying clams in licensed markets where they’re commercially grown and harvested.

However, if you fancy yourself a purist and want to collect your own fresh clams for a delicious bisque or soup, do pay attention to shellfish advisories issued by California Department of Public Health ( In a December advisory the state agency lifted warnings about shellfish–sport-harvested mussels, whole scallops, and clams–in Mendocino County. So much for the “r” month theory about eating shellfish!

Warnings are based on domoic acid lab tests in clams and other crustaceans, fish and shellfish. This naturally occurring toxin related to a “bloom” can be fatal to people if consumed in high doses. Symptoms of domoic acid poisoning such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, dizziness, trouble breathing, confusion, disorientation and even seizures, can occur 30 minutes to 24 hours after eating toxic seafood.

(For those seeking to get their feet wet with California coastal fishing, two free fishing days for 2020 are Saturday, July 4 and Saturday, Sept. 5.)

The two most popular varieties of clam chowder–New England-style and Manhattan-style, distinguished by their white and red colors, respectively–are both served to those purchasing tasting kits at the Santa Cruz cook-off. Contest categories include amateur and professional. This incredible event is a must for chowder lovers.

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