It is, actually, all about the plaza. The addictive goodness -- and weirdness -- of our winning best big town, Arcata, starts there and radiates out. Begins like a big throbbing heart fed by hot dogs, tofu, noodles and beer, then massaged back to life by the hands of rope-haired travelers, their guardian cops, proud merchants and the metallic grip of Mr. Statue (McKinley). Beats wildly to the endless parade of festivals and markets, intoxicated by the shifting miasma of oysters, hoops, boobs, banjos, steel drums, fresh produce, chalk dust, whirling kids and grownups. Settles into a soothed thumping when the lawnmower comes, as the flowers in the planters stretch and bloom.
This central life force pumps into the little glam shops now embracing it, and beyond into the ballfield where the Humboldt Crabs have played for 67 years; to the far-from-doddering 98-year-old Humboldt State University. It goes into the Co-op and Safeway and Wildberries and tasty little shops, the Finnish hot-tubs and Arcata Marsh -- a fancy sewer, dontcha know -- and the community forest, and community pool (imagine that, a community pool) and homes humble and grand. We can’t list everything, but everything is included. Once in Arcata, you really can’t escape Arcata. It’s a state of mind that invades the flesh. And if you don’t like it -- well, go to Eureka. Half as popular as Arcata and, to our readers, second-best -- but, you know, perhaps its wonders are just a little less flamboyant. More real, in fact, some might say. But who’s comparing (ahem)?
Third best: Fortuna
Fourth best: McKinleyville
-- Heidi Walters
The Breakdown: Arcata 52.5%, Eureka 24.4%, Fortuna 5.0%, McKinleyville 4.3%, Voter Turnout: 12th.