You've picked a perfect time to explore Humboldt. Summer's haze has given way to the clarity of fall. South winds bring a tropical feel, while night brings just enough of a chill to justify extra snuggling.
The 12-mile Paradise Royale Loop is a thing of legend in the mountain biking community — a quick Google search turns up hours of YouTube videos documenting an area known as much for its challenging climb — known to regulars as "Fool's Paradise" as for the relentless beauty accompanying it. To reach Paradise Royale, head toward Shelter Cove from Redway. After 20 miles, you'll pass the Bureau of Land Management office on the left. Further up the hill, turn right onto King Peak Road, then go two more miles to the trailhead and parking. Be prepared for thick forest, steep slopes, Bear Creek bridge crossings and, at times, a very narrow trail. Make sure to ride in a clockwise direction so you can revel in the east side's long descent. Pack water and some Dick Taylor chocolate — the experience is reward enough, but you'll deserve that something extra!
Much more accessible, the Arcata Community Forest offers trails from easy to challenging, variously friendly to hikers, bikers and horseback riders. The further back you go, the larger the old-growth experience, but even the most accessible trails immediately sweep you from the mundane world into a dreamscape of ferns, creeks and towering redwoods. Stop by Arcata City Hall for a map or print one from the city's website, and do keep track of where you're going. You can enter from Fickle Hill Road or take either 11th or 14th streets into the park. The 11th Street entrance will have you parked by a playground — an added bonus for those with young children. In addition to the various wondrous hikes, an expansive field offers a fine place to fling a Frisbee, toss a ball or, as the locals are inclined to do, play hacky sack or hula hoop.
The Cooper Gulch Disc Golf Course (1720 10th St., Eureka) supplies users with a technical nine-hole course at one of Eureka's most versatile parks. In addition to the disc golf course, the area boasts softball fields, a children's playground and a skate park. The course is short. It's also mostly flat and runs among thick woods. For a course of similar skill level, but a wholly different view, head out to the peninsula to play on the Manila Disc Golf Course (end of Lupin Avenue, east of US Highway 255, Manila), which is situated right on Humboldt Bay. Exceptionally fun, but you'll want to check the tides and aim to arrive around high tide for the prettiest experience.
Arcata isn't a particularly busy city, but the area around Cafe Phoenix (1360 G St., Arcata), a sort of transitory point between downtown and Northtown, tends to bustle. Which makes the tranquility upon walking into the charming café an instant appeal. Fortunately more than just the atmosphere is soothing — one sip of a smoothie or specialty juice will have you brimming with a healthy vibe you likely haven't experienced before. The quinoa salad tastes even more beautiful than it looks. And for those seeking a bit of celebration, Café Phoenix includes a local beer, wine and cider list. No matter what shape you arrive in, you'll depart lighter, sated and renewed.
Whether you sit inside or out — choose out if weather permits — Jack's Seafood (4 C St., Eureka) brings the bounty of the ocean to your table. You may struggle choosing between the halibut or cod and chips, but unlike most places, Jack's serves up adorable cottage fry-like potato wedges in lieu of traditional fries, which, given the sizeable amount of fish delivered, works out just perfectly with a bowl of clam chowder. The seared ahi salad features tuna rolled in Los Bagels' "Slug Slime" — trust us, this is a good thing. All this perched on the jewel that is Humboldt Bay. Cover your ears when the Madaket blows her horn and enjoy.
Trinidad Eatery (607 Parker, Trinidad) has everything. Not only is the beloved café situated half a block from one of the prettiest views in Humboldt County, but the proprietors strive to utilize only the best and freshest, mostly organic ingredients in their fare. Lunches and dinners are excellent; breakfast is renowned. Potato lovers can start the day with a Spud Boat, a huge serving of homemade hash browns, green peppers, onions, melted cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon (or sans bacon for a vegetarian option) and green onions. Served with sour cream and salsa. Not enough? Top it with an egg to make for an even more complete experience. They also make their own fudge. Fortunately the Eatery is located near Trinidad Head, so you can walk off your indulgence immediately after.
The wire sculptures of Elizabeth Berrien have resulted in worldwide recognition and fame. No wonder, given the balance of sturdiness and delicacy they represent. Think three-dimensional line drawings made whole, fluid, lacelike. Berrien is a recipient of the prestigious Victor Jacoby Award and teaches wire sculpture workshops to K-12 school children, college students and art educators throughout the United States. See her work at the Morris Graves Museum of Art and the Eureka Waterfront. Check out wirelady.com for gift options and the latest details about other public showings.
For an overview of the artistic genius Humboldt's most progressive city has to offer, stop into Arcata Artisans (883 H St., Arcata), a cooperative endeavor of accomplished Humboldt County artists. Styles include a wide selection of representational and abstract paintings, prints, jewelry, photographs, ceramics, weaving, and sculpture for the home and garden. Kris Patzlaff's metalwork takes the form of art jewelry, as does Candace Miller's clay creations. See them on exhibit in October and view the whole smorgasbord year-round.
Seamoor's (418 Second St., Eureka) is a perfect place for the child who loves oddities – a fan of the Roald Dahl books, perhaps. Full of novelties, vintage and simply bizarre toys, as well as more familiar but nonetheless quirky offerings, Seamoor's is a treasure unto itself. Don't be surprised if you arrive home from vacation having to explain exactly what and why you brought a Bigfoot action figure home with you. (Sourpusses and serious grown-up types need not apply.)
The newly reopened Discovery Museum (612 G St., Eureka) offers interactive, hands-on exhibits focusing on science, art, culture and technology. Highlights include the playmarket, hands-on water table, raceway and the Young Discoverer's Room, designed especially for children three years and younger with books, toys, mirrors and very small person furnishings.
Weather is no object, as RampArt Skatepark (700 South G St., Arcata) offers 4,000 square feet of indoor wooden ramps for the beginning to advanced skater. In addition to the inherent coolness of being a sanctioned place for youth, art and music, RampArt offers a variety of instructional courses, workshops and thematic events. Born from a desire to ensure future generations of aspiring skateboarders and artists have a venue, RampArt adopted a nonprofit business model to enable expansion of its programs — every visit is more than just a chance for your child to shred, it's a way to ensure continuation of one of Humboldt County's most unique outlets.
Stand Up Paddling, aka SUP, has exploded in the past few years. With beautiful, expansive Humboldt Bay, Trinidad Harbor, Big, Stone and Freshwater lagoons, and the Eel River and Mad River estuaries, your options encompass a full variety of experience. New to SUP? Sign up for a class via Pacific Outfitters (1600 Fifth St., Eureka) or the Humboldt State University Aquatic Center (921 Waterfront Dr., Eureka). Ready to rent? The Aquatic Center is right on Humboldt Bay or head north to Kayak Zak's to paddle out on Stone Lagoon. Totally hooked and ready to buy? Support local at One Love Stand Up and Surf (1930 Fourth St., Eureka).
Or maybe you're interested in a more traditional ocean experience. Perhaps you can quote every line from Point Break and dream of catching waves of your own. Salty's Supply Co. (332 Main St., Trinidad) not only offers surfboard, wetsuit and booties rentals by the half- or full-day or even week, but if you book "The Shell Seeker," a vacation home two miles south of Trinidad, you'll find yourself right above two of Humboldt County's main surf spots. In addition to viewing the action from the comfort of your kitchen, the guest house includes complimentary rentals at Salty's. Vacation or staycation, it's bound to be epic.
Let's be blunt: You would not instinctively think to stop here as you enter Eureka from the south. This is not the city's best side. And yet the Elk River Hikshari' Trail (Hikshari' is the Wiyot name for our area) waits to surprise you. The multiple-use, paved trail runs 1.5 miles along the Elk River and through the Elk River Wildlife Sanctuary between Truesdale Avenue (just south of the Bayshore Mall) to the Pound Road Park & Ride lot, off the Herrick Avenue and US Highway 101 interchange. The trails are flat, the access easy, the view spectacular. Stop for the interpretive signs dotting the trail for info on Humboldt Bay's marsh reconstruction, bird species, geology and railroad history, plus Wiyot village life, Elk River sandspit formation and marine life, dune plant ecology, and plant and animal identification.