Best Of Humboldt

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Best Of Humboldt -- Staff Picks 

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Best Of Humboldt -- Staff Picks
Best Of Humboldt -- Staff Picks Best Of Humboldt -- Staff Picks Best Of Humboldt -- Staff Picks Best Of Humboldt -- Staff Picks Best Of Humboldt -- Staff Picks Best Of Humboldt -- Staff Picks Best Of Humboldt -- Staff Picks Best Of Humboldt -- Staff Picks

Best Of Humboldt -- Staff Picks

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Fifty-one weeks of the year we peer into your closets, nose into your affairs, spotlight your indiscretions, rat on you, question your integrity, demand answers, point fingers, get other people to point fingers, trot out your victims, laugh at your big ideas, nod seriously, expose your weaknesses, tap your knee, wipe a judging finger along your moldy sills and generally treat you most despicably, dear, dear Humboldt County. We are a newspaper.

Enough! This week we are being nice. Because, we do love you. All 2.3 million acres of you. Very, very much. And just because we’re a newspaper doesn’t mean we can’t say the L word now and again about the place we live.

So here it is, a Valentine in September, wherein we lavish praise and sentimental gop all over the things that make us get up in the morning, throw open the salt-smeared window and shout, “Good morning, everyone!” We asked readers to join in the lovefest, too, and vote on some of the bigger themes in life: best food, best store, best reason to live here (you’ll be surprised), best politician, best activist and more.

Here, take it: The Best of Humboldt.

— Heidi Walters

BEST BURL BEAR

Until a few years ago, I thought burl bears were dumb. Too cutesy. And they're not even burl -- just plain old redwood chunk or whatever. Tourist traps!

Then one day I wandered into Bill Ward's shop, Creative Woodworks, on the far north end of Orick (121397 S. Hwy 101) -- the last shop on the right as you leave town. And a young man from Crescent City walked in with a gleam in his eye. He said he'd been saving his money for six months to buy a bear, and now he finally had it. He wanted his bear. And -- whew -- the one he'd coveted was still there, waiting for him. Eagerly, judging by its cute face.

And I looked at this young macho -- yeah, he was macho -- and I looked at the cute little redwood bear cuddled in his arms. And I got it. Ward's bears are different. They embody true cellulose affection. And now I, too, yearn for one. If it happens to you, be warned: You have to go in person to pick out your woodbuddy. Ward, who's shipped his bears to points international, doesn't do phones or Internet or any of that nonsense.

-- Heidi Walters

BEST PLACE TO BE SEEN

At the Humboldt County Library. It shows you still care about the printed word, about literacy, about keeping open a cornerstone of a free and educated society. You are not a techno-snob showing off your latest Audiophile acquisition on your iPhone. You are not a slave to your high-def-surround-sound home entertainment system. You are afraid of neither prostitutes nor Ingomar club members. In a world where ownership and insulation are everything, you enjoy borrowing, sharing and the slightly frayed pages of the more popular books. You don't care about being seen, clearly, because you're at the library -- which only makes you cooler.

Rent Party Girl for inspiration, then plan your visits accordingly. Wednesdays are the "late" night, with open hours stretching to 8 p.m. Check humlib.org and click on "Events" for gems such as Saturday's 1:30 p.m. presentation on "Stephen Shaw: A Life of Travel, Adventure, High Cultural Achievement and Romance." (1313 3rd St., Eureka)

-- Jennifer Savage

BEST OLD-TIMEY GENERAL STORE

Mosey through the Fieldbrook Market's Old West wooden facade of a Fridee evening and you'll find plenty o' kind folk tappin' their feet to the live music (some astride hay bales), drinkin' local draught beer and chowin' down on barbecued tri-tip sandwiches or teriyaki chicken over rice (both grilled out front).

Following a change in ownership four years ago, this small-town market evolved from quaint convenience store to lively community hot spot. They'll pop open a brewski from the cooler fer ya to wash down something from their broad menu of delicious homemade food (try the jalapeño cheese bread or a chewy brownie). Grab some locally made groceries, peruse the "wall for artisans," rent a DVD or just jaw with locals.

A couple weeks back they hosted an all-night video game lockdown, and they're planning an outdoor movie night with a digital projector. Okay, that's not old-timey. But it's awesome. (4636 Fieldbrook Rd., Fieldbrook)

-- Ryan Burns

BEST RIDE TO THE WILD WEST

The mechanical pony inside Carl Johnson Co., of course. It's not so much the shiny hoss' crazed blue eye that goggles askance at you as you plop your quarter in and ease a leg over the black fancy tooled saddle. Nor the gauntlet of gifty temptations you must ride swift-as-the-wind past on your journey into the smoky distance of time. Nah. Nunnah that stuff.

It's the painted desert backdrop -- oh, cain't you hear the coyotes a-howlin' over yonder ridge as you and your steed race across the desert plain while a deep blue sky beams fortune upon you? Kinda makes one wax all Zane Grey-like and stuff.

-- Heidi Walters

BEST CROP REVIVAL

Up until fairly recently, local locavores wanting to eat from their own foodshed and follow the 100-mile diet always found a serious hitch: They were hard-pressed to find wheat for bread. And what is life without toast and PBJ sandwiches? (Although, come to think of it, peanuts might be a problem too.)

There are some folks growing wheat way out in Scott Valley in the Siskyous (a 150-mile drive from Arcata), but there hadn't been any grown in Humboldt County for years. At least not until Keven Cunningham started up Shakefork Community Farm in the Arcata Bottoms, and SoHum farmers John LaBoyteaux and Dan Primerano planted a wheat crop at Camp Grant out by South Fork. Now all you need is a mill and an oven and you're ready to bake that bread. Add a churn for homemade butter and you've got toast.

-- Bob Doran

BEST LATE-NIGHT GREASY GUT-BOMB

Whether it's the inhibition-lowering power of alcohol, a mean case of the munchies or some mysterious biochemical reaction of the human gut, those post-party wee hours seem to trigger an animalistic craving for junk food -- oh, the glistening fat of freshly cooked hamburger; the subtle crunch of salt crystals on hot French fries; the thick, creamy sweetness of an old-fashioned milkshake. Du-roool.

For all the above and then some, have a DD haul your soon-to-be-expanding ass to Toni's off Giuntoli Avenue in Arcata. No gourmet pretensions at this 24-hour joint -- just expertly calibrated burgers and a shit-ton of fried stuff. (Soups and salads are on the menu, too, though I've never asked them to prove it.) Feelin' strong, my friend? Try the double bacon chili cheese dog or the triple country burger. Their homemade onion rings, which resemble oil-saturated parchment flaps, would be kinda gross if they weren't so tasty. Malts and shakes are available in stoner-pleasing flavors like chocolate peanut butter, butterscotch and pineapple.

Me? I go with the bacon cheeseburger, onion flaps and a chocolate malt, and worry about the hangover later. (1901 Heindon Rd., Arcata)

-- Ryan Burns

BEST WEED DISPENSARY FOR STRAIGHT-UP STONERS

Humboldt residents looking to purchase legal marijuana (as in medical) have four dispensaries to choose from, all located in Arcata. Which is best? Well, duh, dude ... It's gotta be The Humboldt Co-operative. THC has a number of things going for it to make it No. 1, most notably being the clinic's vast selection of green buds.

The varieties offered are ever changing, and one can always find a number of top-quality strains to choose from. The clinic also offers merch ranging from jars and books to calendars and totally badass hoodies. THC earns bonus points by always offering some type of hash in addition to yummy edibles. They also have pretty broad hours of operation, for a Humboldt business anyway.

The icing on the "Best of" cake is their staff: friendly, patient and ready to help choose the best meds for you. Who wouldn't want to buy their bud from a little shack-like structure in a big parking lot right outside downtown Arcata? And yes, best acronym -- THC baby! (7th & I sts., Arcata)

-- Emily Hobelmann

BEST REPORTER

The journalist who most influenced me wasn't Bob Woodward. It was Carl Kolchak, tenacious reporter for the Independent News Service of Chicago. Each week he chased demons of the night on the 1974 TV series The Night Stalker, a pork pie hat on his head and a camera and tape recorder hanging off his shoulders, compelled to expose the truth to his readers. Everyone from the cops to his boss thought him a pain in the neck, but he didn't care. That's how I see Kevin Hoover.

In his Arcata Eye, news stories jostle each other for cramped space. Colors scream at you to pay attention. In the community there Hoover is, relentlessly, baseball cap on his head, eyes behind glasses seeing and recording, camera ready for the photo. Cops and city officials, most everyone around town, thinks him a pain in the neck. As all good journalists should be.

-- Marcy Burstiner

BEST THING TO SAY TO A SULKY ARCATAN

"Damn, dude -- who raided your grow house?"

-- Hank Sims

BEST DOG BEACH

Dogs aren't allowed off-leash in very many places in Humboldt County, and with no leashless dog parks to be had (a fund-raising effort for a $300,000 park in Eureka has so far generated a piddling $500), our canine pals have few options for good cardio. Ask anyone who's owned a nut-case like, say, a border collie: If the dog don't get good cardio, it's goodbye furniture, so long shoes.

Thankfully, well-behaved canines may run free in the sea foam of Samoa Beach, and good god do they love it. You may remember an unfortunate incident last year when two pit bulls and a Lab-chow mix went berserk, injuring three women. But those fuckers were leashed; coulda happened anywhere. Still, if your dog has asshole potential -- no judgment; I've got one myself -- keep the bastard at home and let the rest enjoy a goofy, hedonistic sprint across Samoa's broad, sandy expanses.

-- Ryan Burns

BEST PLACE TO GO BIRDWATCHING

Arcata Marsh. Period.

The marsh scores high on the Location/Accessibility/Diversity scale. It's a 10- to 15-minute drive from many central Humboldt towns, and an easy 10-minute walk from downtown Arcata. And with maintained paths that meander through meadows, lush stands of willow and alder, around ponds and past Humboldt Bay's ever-changing mudflats, the Arcata Marsh has more bang for the birder's buck than just about any other location in the county.

The marsh doesn't demand a high technical ability of birding skill either. Hard-core birders may scoff, but even an amateur will be generously rewarded. A brief walk may yield more than a score of species -- black-capped chickadee, American and lesser goldfinches, pine siskin, black-shouldered kite, osprey, great egret, mallard, Western gull, Allen's hummingbird, house finch, song sparrow, ruby-crowned kinglet, violet-green and barn swallows, Vaux's swift, common raven, American crow, red-winged blackbird -- all in about 15 minutes. Without binoculars. Score.

-- Holly Harvey

BEST PLACE TO LOSE YOUR DISC

It seems like new disc golf courses pop up in Humboldt County faster than you can replace the discs you lost on your last round. And while each new location is a welcome addition to the Humboldt circuit, the top destination for those who worship at the Church of the 7 1/2" Circle is still the Redwood Curtain.

Adjacent to Humboldt State University and scattered through hilly, beautiful, Sequoia-littered terrain, the Curtain's 18-hole marathon course is not for the easily frustrated or fatigue-able. It's a strenuous uphill/downhill workout. And what Curtain regular has not considered renting scuba gear in an attempt to tap into the undoubtedly endless treasure trove of discs that you'd be sure to find at the bottom of the murky lake that sits damn-smack in the middle of Hole #10? What jerkwad came up with that plan, anyway? Sorry, had to vent.

-- Andrew Goff

BEST DAY HIKE

Some folks head inland for the heat. Others translate "day hike" as several hours climbing switchbacks for a moment of glory at the summit before racing downhill to beat the encroaching darkness. But the best day hikes celebrate Humboldt's defining characteristics -- redwoods, cliffs, ferns and Pacific -- while leaving time for a picnic upon arrival at the destination.

Prairie Creek's Ossagon Trail stretches a mere 1.8 miles each way, but with enough elevation change to make your thighs burn and enough beauty to cause your heart to sing. Four hours roundtrip -- you'll sweat enough to know it's a "hike," not a "walk," yet have plenty of time for food and play. Layers, grilled veggie sandwiches and homemade cookies recommended. Celebrate, then reward yourself with a nap on the postcard-worthy beach. (Park at Ossagon Trailhead off the northern portion of Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.)

-- Jennifer Savage

BEST PLACE TO HORRIFY A VEGETARIAN

Right across the street from the looming salmon behemoth of the county jail is one of the best and most affordable places for steak in the county -- AA Bar and Grill. You can get a head start on your next heart attack with succulent top sirloin, ribeye or porterhouse steaks, cooked to your specifications while you enjoy a cocktail or brew. There's also a deal for two steaks, which makes it ideal for a carnivorous date.

The Quonset hut sports bar atmosphere makes no concessions to the modern day. There's a tropical fish tank in the middle of the bar to gaze at if you don't have company, and an outside patio for smokers who've decided to completely throw caution to the wind and give the American Heart Association the middle finger.

And no, the widely spread rumor that you can trade in an Alcoholics Anonymous token for a free drink is not true. (929 Fourth St., Eureka)

-- Jay Herzog

BEST SOCIAL NETWORKER

It's not that you live and die by his tweets or Facebook entries. Mike Dronkers' primary social networking platform is his shift as a deejay for KHUM radio (without the rules). People tune in weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. because he's totally connected to Humboldt County. Want to know why there's a traffic jam on the Mad River Bridge? Or why shiny black cars are massing in that supermarket parking lot? Wondering if there's blue-green algae in the Trinity River?

Ask Mike. He may not know, but he'll find out. He'll tap into his network, which might start by asking your question on the air. At any given moment, he's engaged in up to a dozen online chats, checking Twitter (and tweeting) and talking on the phone, all while curating an eclectic mix of cool music. "What we're really doing is keeping our listeners company," says Mike, who also serves as music/program director for KHUM and sister station K-SLUG. Need we mention that the latest Eastlan radio ratings show he's No. 1 in the Monday through Friday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. time slot for listeners ages 12-64, beating out radio big shots Rush Limbaugh, Amy Goodman and Terry Gross?

-- Bob Doran

BEST FACEBOOK GROUP

Hands up if you remember the Jolly Ho-Hos! The Yowling Zygotes? Dukes of Burl? Jane Maxwell Band, Pope Joan, Grimace, Garden Weasel, the Schmidtheads?

If punk is dead, then the best place to pay your respects is at Humboldt County Punk Scene, 1970s to Current. Not only have the admins rounded up almost 500 members of the old crew, they've assembled a massive collection of photographs and old flyers documenting scene life behind the Redwood Curtain -- everything from Black Flag to Mr. Bungle to Bummerfest. It's an awesome collection of primary source material, and someday a historian or anthropologist will come along and base a book on it.

If they were lucky enough to be there, casual Facebookers will find scores of memories and old friends. If not, they'll get a glimpse into a bright and unique moment in time, and a scene that wasn't quite like any other.

-- Hank Sims

BEST FREE OUTDOOR WIFI PLUNK IN THE MIDDLE OF A GREEN GODDAMN OASIS

Wednesday afternoon found Stuart Brioza sitting at a picnic table in Rohner Park, in Fortuna, catching up on San Francisco restaurant gossip and industry news via the Web site Eater.com. A curtain of breeze-ruffled trees, filtering the hot sun creekside, draped one open side of this cool, shady pavilion in the park. The park road wandered by the other side, and from beyond that came the muted sound of a bouncing basketball, kids' high voices and the occasional rattle-twang of a basket scored.

Brioza's an S.F. cook, but right now he's in Fortuna, visiting his in-laws who don't have Internet. So, boo-hoo, he had to come to Rohner Park to check his e-mail and network a bit. "It's such a dream," he said. "It's such a pleasant place to sit. I don't know any other city that has free WiFi."

-- Heidi Walters

BEST BLOGGING PARK RANGER

Actually, we secretly resent Bob Flame, Ranger. Poor feller, every dreary work-a-day morning he confronts the emptiness of his seaside office in the Redwood Parks visitors center at the mouth of Redwood Creek. A desolate beach, often empty of people. Nothing but gull-squawk and sandgrain rustle. The crash of waves. Dune-loving flowers.

On May 1, Flame had a particularly bad day. He wrote in his blog: "Reading Rock seemingly floats above the ocean six miles out. The ebbing tide uncovers a rocky path from the north side of the creek to the Sisters. Dark boulders, usually unseen, surround Little Girl Rock. A single long wave breaks a hundred yards offshore indicating a shallow sandbar raised by gravels carved from the redwood hills and transported downhill in the belly of the creek."

OK, secretly we love this guy. Because he loves his job. And our heart goes out to him on the heat-wave days when he has to sit indoors in a meeting -- No! Plus, he reads like a maniac, all kinds of good books which he often reviews. And he does our wine-tasting for us, too. Bastard. (Heh heh, just kiddin' Bob.)

-- Heidi Walters

BEST COP CAR

I don't know, firsthand, that it has a minibar and a cozy blanket draped over a little courtesy rack on the back of the driver's seat and magazines and WiFi and a free telephone -- oh yeah, you do get a free phonecall, I recollect -- and a bucket of cooled soda pop and dainty fingerfoods in crinkly wrappers and other special treatments.

But I do know that the Fortuna Police Department has the bitchinest police cruiser around. Snazzy wavy flag paintjob (beware, nonpatriots)! Eagle on the trunk! Woo! Can you say Woo-ooooo-ooo boopboop pull over!?

-- Heidi Walters

BEST DRIVE-THROUGH BARISTA

"Hey there, what's new with you? Triple in a 16 with cream?" There's a line behind you, but you are the only one on the planet at this moment. "Hi!" Jaunty eyebrow raised. "Did you do something different with your hair? It looks good!"

I don't drive through this coffee stop on the corner of 5th and N streets in Eureka every day. Really. But still, Dutch Bros.' Jacob Nunes remembers my drink, as well as incremental changes in my appearance. He's high-energy, with a teasing, gentle style that let's you in on the joke. The tunes are loud, and they're dancing and singing. Although, says Nunes -- who's a Mt. Shasta native but came to Humboldt via Hawaii -- if he sees a known crank approaching, he thoughtfully dials it down. He's the manager, he can do that. But the dancey-singy thing? Dutch Bros., says Nunes, knows "people want caffeine because they want to get jacked up. So we're like that, too."

It has to be real, though -- to get hired, you hoops-jump through three interviews. Well, 22-year-old Nunes didn't have to interview -- he was so what corporate wanted, they recruited him. "This job's so cool," he says. "I never had a job before where I could be myself. And I've worked since I was 13. And this has been my favorite job."

-- Heidi Walters

BEST BIG-CITY GETAWAY

According to Google Maps, if you're parked on the Humboldt-Del Norte county line you are only 10 minutes closer to San Francisco than Portland. So let's say you're sitting there with the engine idling and a couple of free days ahead of you. You're trying to make up your mind. Do you drive north or do you drive south?

No Humboldter with an ounce of sense would waste more than half a second on this calculation. The San Francisco of today is a dirty, overpriced hellhole, populated exclusively by dot-com scum and the homeless. Meanwhile, everything you've ever heard about Portland is 100 percent true and then some. Beautiful neighborhoods, awesome food, bustling nightlife, inspiring arts scene, fun and funky people -- all at the low, low price of way cheaper than here.

So even if you're not based in Orick or thereabouts, go ahead and travel the extra miles. You will come back refreshed, enlivened, enchanted and a little bit wistful. Go, and bring a piece of Portland home with you.

-- Hank Sims

BEST PLACE TO FIND SOLITUDE

For a relatively large county, geographically, we sure are a small town. You're almost as likely to run into someone you know while hiking on a weekday as you are shopping at Wildberries on a Saturday.

Short of wandering into random woods (not recommended), finding solitude can be challenging. You could sequester yourself in the Rose Court Cottage, book a private sauna at Café Mokka or wander over the Wildcat range to see how Cape Mendocino's holding up, but for the ultimate in introspection, book a float at Chumayo Spa. Chumayo is located on the other corner in Blue Lake -- the one that's not the Logger Bar or Dell'Arte or Stardough's. Within the New Mexico-inspired décor lies the flotation tank, a magic place where the constraints of gravity, sound, light, touch and other people fall away. (120 H Street, Blue Lake)

-- Jennifer Savage

BEST ETERNAL RESTING PLACE

Go to the end of Main Street, Ferndale -- beyond the gingerbread sweetness of the Victorian Village's mercantiles, antique shops and B&Bs -- hang a left and there, through a foreboding wrought iron gateway, you'll find a spectral hillside graveyard worthy of Edgar Allan Poe. Scattered amidst the tilted wooden crosses, unmarked graves and eroding granite tombstones you'll find an odd array of baubles and remembrances, presumably left by loved ones -- a garden of ceramic figurines bleached white by the sun; a rusted kerosene lantern surrounded by stones; fabric flowers turned gray and papery with time.

Established in 1868, the Ferndale Cemetery sings a dirge for the dead. The grounds are pregnant with a palpably macabre energy sadly lacking in modern cemeteries. Crumbling lambs and angels of grief adorn 19th Century headstones bearing the worn particulars of lives lived. Blank wooden markers poke from the soil like zombie fingers. Solemn engravings mourn the loss of spouses, parents and children. Wait for a misty morning to wander among the remains, ruminate on our fleeting existence and imagine the lives of people named Leander, Mabel or, simply, Mother. (Ocean Avenue, Ferndale)

-- Ryan Burns

BEST MYTHICAL MAN-BEAST

Timid old Bigfoot comes on like an oversized stuftie, the kind of thing you win when your ping pong ball lands in the center fishbowl. He's old and tired and doesn't scare anyone at all. But listen, now, and hear the story of an indigenous beast omnipotent and deadly and full of rage.

The legends speak of the creature Ahr Klee -- the shadow-slicer, destroyer of cities. Pay close attention, newcomer, and you may still hear his name whispered around cafes and action group potlucks, whispered by men of haggard appearance, with downcast eyes. If they take you into their confidence, they may tell you the old tales. Of the time he slew and devoured a county planner as a lesson to the others. Or the time he reached up to the nation's capitol and smote to ashes the leader of the Congress, who had displeased him.

Ahr Klee has been quiet of late. Reports from the Deep South suggest that he has been quietly terrorizing the citizenry there, having been offered significant tax advantages. But the prophesy states that he will return, and that when he does he will attempt his vile master stroke -- the complete reduction of the county seat to rubble!

Some say that the creature's ancient enemy, the powerful Ni Lee, is well poised to foil this insane plan. Maybe, maybe not. What is certain is that when these two finally meet in battle, the spectacle will be nothing short of stupefying.

-- Hank Sims

BEST PERSON

Her work is invisible to most because the people she helps are invisible: those sleeping on the street, living beyond the borders of mainstream society. Betty Chin tirelessly helps the homeless, serving them coffee and food every morning in association with St. Vincent de Paul, and filling their day-to-day needs by bringing them clothes, toiletries, phone cards -- whatever they need. When the weather turns cold, she's there with blankets and sleeping bags; when school-time comes for homeless kids, she's there with backpacks. She's been doing this for over 20 years, basically on her own, gathering donations when she can through her Blue Angel Project for the Homeless web site, but most important, giving of herself -- her time and energy -- without thought of return.

Her latest project, something she calls "Restoring Dignity One Shower at a Time," was inspired by the death of a wheelchair-bound man who drowned in the bay while trying to clean himself. Her simple goal: Install showers at the St. Vincent de Paul facility so that those with no bathrooms can bathe. There's a Spaghetti Dinner Benefit for the project coming up Saturday, Oct. 17, at St. Bernard's Parish Hall in Eureka with pasta and desserts, music, a raffle, silent and live auctions, all for a great cause: helping a good person help others. For details on the benefit and on Betty's life and work, check out www.bettysblueangel.com.

-- Bob Doran

BEST SPORTS REVIVAL

If popularity serves as an indicator, Humboldt Roller Derby can claim success. In the few years since the organization skated into existence, they've managed to sell out just about every bout in Redwood Acres' Francesci Hall arena and whup plenty of bigger-city teams. In addition to their ever-increasing legion of fans, they've inspired members of the Crab Grass Band to take up the derby cause.

Humboldt Roller Derby sports their own cheer squad and now has enough members to make up three teams: the fluidly powerful North Betty Jettys, the bone-crunching Widow Makers and the irresistible force known as the Redwood Rollers. But while the derby girls may feed off the frenzy of the crowd, a greater relationship than voyeur-exhibitionist is at work. Each woman serves as an athletic goddess, a veritable Artemis on wheels, and we are their worshiping supplicants. To see a bout is to witness muscular thighs and biceps glistening with sweat, to marvel at the speed and agility on display, to feel every thrust toward victory as if it were your own. Humboldt Roller Derby makes us proud.

-- Jennifer Savage

BEST PLACE TO RIDE A BICYCLE UPHILL TILL YOUR LEGS CATCH FIRE AND YOU HAVE TO DOUSE THEM IN A COOL, COOL RIVER

Freshwater-Kneeland Road to the Kneeland post office, or to the airport if you wish for more pain, then backpedal down a bit to Freshwater County Park where Freshwater Creek flows through. Ahhhh.

-- Heidi Walters

BEST BIKE RIDE TO THE BEACH

The Hammond Trail begins in green-gold farmland, sails over the Mad on an arching footbridge, zips through a shady corridor of trees past Hiller Park, then plummets into the flowery dunes and, at last, spills into the parking lot at Clam Beach. There, you can make a pit stop, fill up your water bottle, wheel your steed into the sand, prop it against a driftlog and yourself against a slow-shifting slope of warm sand and doze off listening to the ocean.

-- Heidi Walters

BEST SINGLETRACK

The redwoods are lovely, indeed it is so, and there are trails and roads aplenty to please in Arcata's forest. But if you want a trail specifically made for mountain biking, its design and construction overseen by professional trail builder Joey Klein -- who's designed trails all over the world -- then you'll want to ride the 14-mile Paradise Royale Mountain Bike Trail in the King Range.

It was the Bureau of Land Management's idea to develop such a delight, and, true, some BLM stiffs do like a good wheel wander along those curving, sun-dappled trails through the tan oaks, Douglas firs and alders, swooping past rocks and little poison-oak clusters, ascending to ocean views and dropping back down to creek crossings. Sun. Shade. Heat. Coolness. Heart-pumping hill climbs. Tricky twisting descents. And campgrounds nearby.

-- Heidi Walters

**BEST STILL-IN-USE ROAD THAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU'VE STUMBLED INTO ALAN WEISMAN'S **THE WORLD WITHOUT US

We have to pick just one? Let's see, there's that arm-jigglin' puzzle of roads in McKinleyville by the bluffs. There's the severely potholed 14th Street entrance into the Arcata Community Forest. There's Jackson Ranch Road, shaped like a long, narrow, gently sloping mountain range. And ... no, it is impossible to choose. We have a healthy portion of brain-jarring, hip-displacing, carpal-tunnel-inducing, tooth-chipping ribbons of mechanic's joy in our beloved county.

-- Heidi Walters

BEST ROUNDABOUT

This is a tough one, because the new roundabout out on Old Arcata Road/Myrtle Avenue is a great big whee of a thing -- if yer bored in yer car, that is -- but the best roundabout has got to be the sweet little disc in the intersection of 14th and I streets in Arcata. It's a flower garden! With a cute little tree in the middle.

-- Heidi Walters

BEST BLOCK FOR EXPERIENCING AN ECLECTIC MIX OF HUMBOLDTIA

E Street, Eureka, between Second and Third Streets. You've got Los Bagels, our fabulous Jewish-Mexican bagel shop, perhaps the only one of its kind, with the treasure house known as Booklegger across the street. You've got Ramone's, with their lovely, yummy cakes. Ciara's pricey-and-worth-it Irish Shop holds forth across the way. Humboldt Baykeeper offers up environmental protection and a five-foot aerial map of the bay that keeps lookie-loos glued to the window for a half-hour at a time. Just around the corner on Opera Alley stands the doorway to Café Nooner, with outdoor seating and fusion food by local legend Tommy Chase. On the other side of E, Gabriel's offers up higher-end Italian next door to the Frisbee-hookah-flavored confines of Humboldt Glassblowers. A couple of steps further and you're at the Clark Museum, a treasure trove of eclectic Humboldtia from throughout the ages. (Admission: free.)

It's the county in a nutshell, a place where exploring tourists mingle with experienced locals in the salty breeze and a multitude of values remain on display.

-- Jennifer Savage

BEST NEARLY-ALWAYS-OPEN-STUDIO ARTIST

On E Street in Eureka, next to the Labor Temple -- best-named edifice, dontcha know -- there's often an impromptu art show in front of Curtis Otto's house. You know Otto: Revered local artist whose impressionistic work, often featuring local themes -- nude bathers at College Cove, political battles -- employs rich, muted golds, blues and rusts and cool, local-sky grays and, nearly always, a dash of red to draw the eye. He's the guy who had the honor of having one of his oils, "House Near Ferndale," stolen 38 years ago off the wall at the Humboldt County Courthouse. He's still pleased about that.

Often, Otto hauls his paintings outside, props them against house and hedge, then brings out palette and paints and gets to work on a piece.

-- Heidi Walters

BEST MUSIC FANBOYS

The college professors who make up the core of the Redwood Jazz Alliance are serious jazz fans who were not satisfied with a couple of big jazz shows a year at the Van Duzer and an occasional club visit by a touring band.

Their mission: "Simply put, RJA wants more jazz in Humboldt County, more traveling artists coming our way, more performances in our venues, and more collaborations with our local students and musicians."

The profs banded together three years ago, put together a 501(c)(3), and started booking shows in various venues with help from the university and donations from local businesses and like-minded jazz aficionados. There's always an educational component: The cutting edge players they bring to town lead a workshop the day after each show.

After two successful seasons, last week RJA kicked off their third with a dynamite show by Dave Douglas and Brass Ecstasy. They have five more shows lined up for the current season (although they've been known to add more artists mid-season). For details on upcoming shows and all things jazzy in Humboldt, go to redwoodjazzalliance.org or tune in "Bright Moments with the Redwood Jazz Alliance," a weekly radio show, Fridays from 8-10 p.m. on KHSU.

-- Bob Doran

BEST VINYL DESSERT

After satisfying yourself from one type of craving -- next door at 3 Foods, for example -- Missing Link Records is the best place to quench that licorice vinyl thirst (and in the case of this writer, a never-ending one). Excellent for an appetizer, main course or nightcap, with an all-day "supper theatre" performed by a vast cast of entertaining regulars, hosted by the knowledgeable co-proprietors Adam Pokorski and Matt Jackson.

At times, it seems as if you've stumbled into a real High Fidelity moment, while other times it feels as if you're in an existential '60s French film (without the subtitles). Regardless, there's always a killer selection of obscure/rare records in the bins, a few CDs for those still hung up on that format, and hip music from around the globe blasting from the old stereo speakers (along with a staff of true music lovers, a mammoth orange cat and a comfy sofa). What's not to like?

-- Mark Shikuma

BEST KID-FRIENDLY SNOW SPOT

When snow falls in the hills, the conventional wisdom is that it's time to take the tykes up to Horse Mountain. There, out in the backwoods of the Six Rivers National Forest, down Titlow Hill Road a ways, you will find miles of hiking or cross-country skiing opportunities, as well as a sled-friendly hill.

Here's the problem. The road into the Horse Mountain parking area is a sketchy one-laner dirt lined on either side by a dirt bank and a perilous dropoff into the canyon. When it's covered with ice and old snow and dozens of cars trundling back and forth between the main road, you drive it white-knuckled at 5 m.p.h. or not at all. Don't even think of going without four-wheel drive and snow chains. Even then, your safety is far from guaranteed.

Forget that. What you want to do of a weekend is head up to Kneeland School, the only snow spot in the county with a built-in playground. An adjacent soccer field provides those white, wide-open spaces. The road is frequently plowed, so your chances of returning home whole of body and auto are greatly improved. (9313 Kneeland Rd., Kneeland)

-- Hank Sims

BEST LACTOSE WONDERLAND

Skip the gift room filled with jars of local jams, hot sauce, mustard, etc. At The Loleta Cheese Factory, it's all about the cheese cooler -- a refrigerated trough packed with multi-colored bricks of pure cheese goodness. Smoked salmon cheddar, roasted garlic Monterey jack, habañero white cheddar, herb & spice Havarti ... nearly 40 different varieties, most offered in sample-sized cubes just waiting to be impaled on a toothpick and consumed.

While savoring a curd, peak through the window at the huge industrial vats beyond, where you'll often find a factory employee churning 1,750 gallons of whole milk at a time, yielding about a ton of cheese per batch. Bring a pocket knife, buy some crackers and a block of your favorite queso and head on out to the flower garden patio for some creamy, pasteurized joy. (252 Loleta Drive, Loleta)

-- Ryan Burns

BEST PLACE TO BUY A PEACH JUST MOMENTS FROM THE TREE

You could say the people in Hoopa, Willow Creek and Orleans are out there cultivating Summertime just for their fogbound neighbors. And they all have something fab to offer -- heck, as far as wine goes, we've got a veritable Napa-north sprouting in our rugged Humboldt backwoods.

But the ones who win our hearts are those lovely elderhippies and their offspring at Trinity River Produce, the O'Gormans, whose 25 acres wander the riverbank, pretty and productive as can be. Tom O'Gorman started the farm, at 2443 Hwy 96 in Willow Creek, in 1971 when he was 21, says his daughter Molly, who with her sister Susan and their mom, Kay, help run the place. "The property was his aunt and uncles' and he dropped out of college to come take care of them and the land," says Molly. A fog refugee -- or anyone, really -- can stop, buy some glowing orbs of goodness and wander around the parklike acreage soaking up the good sun's warmth.

-- Heidi Walters

BEST ALL-LOCAL FOOD CONCOCTION TO TAKE TO A POTLUCK

Summer/fall: Slice a Brio focaccia loaf in half, lengthwise. Spread Cypress Grove Fresh Chevre (dill flavor) over each half. Very thinly slice Farmers' Market tomatoes and layer on top of chevre. With a good bread knife, slice assemblage into bite-size pieces. Cheat slightly by sprinkling with salt and pepper. Surround with apple wedges tossed with juice from a Meyer lemon (again, your choice at the Farmers' Markets).

Fall/winter variation: Start with a similarly sliced focaccia loaf. Spread Cypress Grove Fresh Chevre (natural flavor) on inside of each half. Layer basil (look for local options at your favorite neighborhood market) over the cheese. Grate a frozen Sjaaks Dark Chocolate bar over the basil. Really. Place remaining focaccia slice on top. Heat in a sandwich press or use two cast iron pans to fake it until chocolate is melted and everything's heated through. Slice into bite-size pieces. Again, use a good knife. Crazy? Crazy good.

-- Jennifer Savage

BEST SIGN SCHOOL'S ABOUT TO START

Naked Ladies, springing forth all leggy from the earth like a party favor woman from a giant pink-frosted cake, ruddy bare but for a pink flowery topknot, discarded grass skirts moldering on the ground beneath them.

As soon as Amaryllis belladonna shoots out of the ground, locals know that summer is officially over and the kids will soon be rounded up and sent off to the brick and concrete edifices, and Arcata's population suddenly will bust at the seams with fresh-eyed Humboldt State students.

-- Heidi Walters

BEST SIGN IT'S SUMMER

The Crabs.

-- Heidi Walters

BEST SIGN IT'S CHRISTMAS

The crab.

-- Heidi Walters

ON THE COVER

NCJ Production artist Lynn Jones illustrated this week's cover with an original linoleum block print, using a hodgepodge of imagery to create a portrait of Humboldt County.

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