48 Hours in Humboldt County
By Lisa Page
I spent the first 18 years of my life in Humboldt County, but it took me years after that to fully appreciate the small town vibe, slower pace and breathtaking scenery. Now, I’m the first to recommend it is a weekend getaway to my Sacramento and Bay Area friends – many of whom have not even driven through that part of the state on Highway 101 before (that’s once they get over their shock when they find out that it’s about 400 miles from San Francisco to the Oregon border).
The area seems to be more widely recognized for its marijuana plants, especially with a proposition on the ballot this November to legalize it, than for its ancient old growth redwoods. But it was the big trees (not the plants) that made Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Jurassic Park 2 film scenes here. And The Majestic, starring Jim Carrey, and Outbreak were filmed in one of my favorite towns, Ferndale, which is a time warp back to the 1950s, because of its well-preserved Victorian architecture.
Distance to Sacramento:
290 miles to the largest city in the county, Eureka, which is in between Ferndale and Arcata – two other must see – and vastly different – towns.
There are non-stop flights from Sacramento to the Eureka/Arcata airport on United and Horizon Air (Alaskan Airlines), but be prepared to pay a pretty penny for a very over priced flight. The small airport and lack of flights in Eureka makes it an expensive option and with the dense fog on the coast, it’s unreliable as well. Plus, you’ll need a car to get around once you’re here. There’s not much by way of public transportation in this rural area.
The entire county is laidback, but each town has its own charm and character. Ferndale is a Victorian town with dairies and cowboys, while Arcata is a progressive college town known for its hippies and arts & crafts. Eureka feels more like a bustling thoroughfare because Highway 101 runs through it (not so appealing). However, there’s a quant old town area with some unique boutique shops and a waterfront that they’ve been slowly redeveloping for decades.
The square in Arcata, Main St. in Ferndale and Old Town Eureka are pedestrian and pet-friendly. The Carter House Inn (mentioned below) is pet-friendly and will even give your dog a keepsake blanket and water bowl.
Hot Brew (Fortuna) – Choose from eight or nine local coffee varieties, including organic options. If you’re hungry, pair your cup o’ joe with the “potatoes n’ stuff” – lots of veggies scrambled with home fried potatoes – or try one of many omelet options. On the lighter side, there are some healthier breakfast dishes to choose from as well.
Lunch or Dinner
Eel River Brewery (Fortuna) – This brewery touts itself as America’s first certified organic beer producer, and it’s worth the stop. Try the IPA or the Blonde Ale – there’s something for everyone. The tap room has a tasty menu to pair with its hearty brews. Try the tri-tip or fish and chips. Bring a sweater in case it’s chilly so you can sit out back on the patio and play horseshoes.
Curly’s Grill (Fortuna) – This restaurant used to be located in Ferndale but is now 10 minutes away in Fortuna (my hometown). It’s known for its rich and flavorful tomato basil soup – great comfort dish for a foggy day, of which there are many. The menu features everything from pecan crusted chicken salad to lamb shanks with sweet mashed potatoes.
Ivanhoe (Ferndale) – Hearty Italian food in an old saloon setting. I love the chicken piccata and the scampi but you really can’t go wrong with any of the dishes on the menu. There are always specials to try as well.
Sea Grill (Eureka) – You’re on the coast after all, so I highly recommend eating some local seafood while you’re here. The Sea Grill is the most expensive restaurant on the list, but the high quality, local fish makes it well worth the cost.
Hurricane Kate’s (Eureka) – This casual and funky restaurant fuses diverse flavors – small plates include wood fired pizzas with ingredients like pesto, artichokes and mushrooms and Asian-inspired options like honey-hoisen glazed baby back pork ribs and spicy ahi and avocado tempura rolls. This place has the most diverse menu in Humboldt and something for everyone to love.
A Place to Lay Your Head:
I usually stay with friends or family when I visit, but there’s are the places that I’d recommend:
Victorian Village Inn – This bed and breakfast encapsulates the quaintness of this historic Victorian town. It’s the perfect setting for a romantic getaway. This bed and breakfast has a restaurant in the first floor and is right across the street from the Ivanhoe. You’re also on the main street with all of the other shops and sites in walking distance.
Carter House Inn – This bed and breakfast is in a Victorian as well, but this one sits alongside Humboldt Bay in Old Town Eureka. It, too, has its own restaurant plus its own wine that is complementary and served with appetizers by the fire every evening.
Patrick’s Point Campground – If this trip isn’t a romantic getaway and it is summertime, I highly recommend staying at one of the many campgrounds on the north or south end of the county. Patrick’s Point, which is 25 miles north of Eureka, is forested but has the most spectacular view by far. Just be sure to pack lots of layers and warm clothes because it will be chilly, even in the summer. This state park campground overlooks the coastline, Agate Beach and tied pools. Attractions include a reconstructed Native American Village and hiking trails.
So if you only have 48 hours in Humboldt County, here’s my recommended itinerary…
DAY 1: Grab breakfast at your B&B or try Hot Brew in Fortuna and then head south for about 15 minutes until you hit the Avenue of the Giants, which parallels highway 101 for about 30 miles and boasts more than 50,000 acres of redwoods – including the largest remaining group of old growth redwoods in the world. Pack a picnic lunch and if you’re the outdoorsy type, stop along the way to hike, swim or fish. Then once you’re a little car sick from driving on this old windy road and looking up at all the huge trees, head back to Ferndale and check out the shops along the Victorian Main Street. Make sure you stop for some candy at Trudy’s Sweets and Treats. This store and many others along Main St. had their windows knocked out earlier this year when a 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck.
NIGHT 1: Dine at the Ivanhoe for dinner and hang out in the bar afterwards for some more wine. Or if you like dive bars, grab a beer at The Palace just a few buildings down.
DAY 2: Head north for your second day to experience the very different vibe and culture of the square in Arcata (compared to Ferndale). Be sure to check out shops like Heart Bead and Plaza Design for locally crafted jewelry and other unique souvenirs like Fire and Light handmade glassware, which is a personal favorite of mine. For the afternoon, hopefully the fog will have cleared and you can drive north toward Trinidad to take in the beautiful ocean scenery, including lighthouses, sea lions, etc. Take one of the hiking trails that winds along the coastline.
NIGHT 2: If it’s the first Saturday of the month, check out Arts Alive! in Old Town Eureka to see many local artists’ work featured in shops and galleries. Also, grab dinner at the Sea Grill or Hurricane Kate’s while you’re there. Be sure to make a reservation. If you’re looking for a more bustling nightlife, then spend the evening in the college town of Arcata instead. Sidelines is the bar where many locals hang out.
EDITOR’S NOTE: What’d we miss? What are your favorite restaurants, shops, sights and places to stay in Humboldt? Submit your advice below or email us your own “48 Hours” city profile to girlsonthegrid AT gmail DOT com.