Humboldt County in far Northern California is a wild and beautiful place that has provided both scene-stealing backdrops for Hollywood movies and a mellow away-from-it-all kind of place for travelers nonplussed if they lose track of time — and cell phone service — while road-tripping the Redwood Coast. Despite being home to the world’s tallest trees, the second-to-last county in the state is an often-overlooked region — even for those within California — but with oyster happy hours, cannabis farm tours and a Bigfoot museum, it’s got a ton of cool and quirky experiences for those willing to adventure off-grid.
Getting to Redwood Country: drive, and you won’t miss the scenic Avenue of the Giants
Flying into the California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport is the fastest option, although weather delays are common. Taking the Amtrak San Joaquins to Martinez is a scenic (if slower) option, but it’s a four-hour straight shot up Highway 101 from San Francisco — and driving means you can pack in the sights on the way north, including hitting the Avenue of the Giants. Named after titan trees that line the 31-mile route, it parallels Highway 101 while weaving through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It’s also where the speeder bike chase sequence in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was filmed. Located at the park’s northern entrance, the historic Scotia Lodge is a sweet spot to overnight with cozy rooms, comfort classics at restaurant Main & Mill and $2 PBRs at the Wonder Bar.
Welcome to Eureka: the former California Gold Rush settlement, now an artsy working seaport
The coastal city of Eureka has two distinct but equally charming sides: a Victorian-era Old Town filled with period buildings and then a working seaport. Known for its creative character, Eureka is one of the top 10 mural towns in the country, with colorful works on buildings and alleyways, which can be self-toured using this map. A scenic, six-mile waterfront trail spans the length of Eureka, framed on one side by the harbor and adjacent Humboldt Bay. An excellent way to get a lay of the land is with a cruise — like one with cocktails from “the smallest licensed bar in California” — aboard historic vessel The Madaket.
This Tiny Pacific Coast Town Is the Perfect Spot for Your Next Weekend AwayWith a population of just 122, Jenner-by-the-Sea offers Russian River kayaking, sea lion-spotting tours and more
Where to stay: the Humboldt Bay Social Club
Set on the historic grounds of a former WWII blimp air base on the Samoa Peninsula, The Humboldt Bay Social Club makes a whimsical home away from home. A 10-minute drive from Old Town Eureka across the Samoa Bridge, it offers a variety of accommodations, including four Social Club hotel suites furnished with vintage store finds and located near the convivial Lobby Bar, which serves picnics and food-to-go for DIY grilling outside, including a 25-pack of fresh Humboldt Bay Bucksport Oysters from local supplier Aqua-Rodeo Farms. Across the road on Oyster Beach, a series of ranch buildings were renovated into six extended-stay cabins, each with a suitably nautical aesthetic (think ropes, salvaged redwood), along with a bathhouse for alfresco soaks.
What to eat and drink in Eureka: oysters by the half dozen and craft beer
Love or loathe them, there’s no escaping oysters in Humboldt Bay, California’s oyster capital — slurp down a half dozen at Humboldt Bay Provisions in Old Town Eureka. Humboldt is big on microbrews, too, and its famous local export is Lost Coast; the brand’s pub and cafe is a solid choice for lunch or dinner — try the Indica Pale Ale with a charbroiled elk burger. Caribbean cuisine might seem unexpected in this section of NorCal, but Taste of Bim is highly rated. If local seafood on a harborside patio appeals more, head to Cafe Marina. For breakfast and good coffee, try Los Bagels and the Humboldt Bay Coffee Company.
What to do in and around Eureka: walk among the redwoods and weed tours
It is possible to walk among 250-foot-tall redwoods without leaving Eureka at the Redwood Sky Walk, a network of suspended bridges 100 feet above the forest floor that connect a stand of old-growth and mature second-growth redwood trees. For a deep dive into Humboldt Bay oyster aquaculture, Aqua-Rodeo Farms runs boat tours and tasting for small groups. If finding famous movie locations is what you’re after, there are downloadable maps and apps for that. Alongside Trinity and Mendocino counties, Humboldt makes up the “Emerald Triangle” — an 11,000-plus-square mile swath of land considered the cannabis capital of the U.S. Humboldt Cannabis Tours provide an informative way to meet the farmers and learn about Humboldt’s sun-grown weed. Bigfoot has been synonymous with Northern California since the Patterson-Gimlin film footage of a hairy hominid walking through the forest went viral in 1967. Every July, a festival dedicated to Sasquatch is held in Willow Creek, where a 153-mile scenic highway named for the man-beast also begins. Anyone curious to study the evidence should make the 47-mile drive from Eureka to the kitschy-but-cool Bigfoot Museum.
The Redwood National and State Parks — drive north for some serious Big Tree Energy
Drive around 43 miles up the coast to neighboring Del Norte County and the majestic Redwood National and State Parks, where notable groves of towering redwoods include the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. There are 200 miles of hiking, biking and horseback trails to explore here, but two of its most renowned draws are the 4.5-mile round trip Tall Trees Trail (apply for permits online; the hike should take four hours) and Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which is home to the otherworldly Fern Canyon immortalized in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Apply for a permit online and pay the $12 day-use entry fee in cash upon entry.
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