So, did you pack your hiking boots or a sketchpad? Are you scoping out galleries or restaurants (or both)? Are you looking for a little history, or just hoping to wear out the kids? Whether you're searching for trailheads or artisanal breads, we've got you covered with customized itineraries so you can coast through your trip to the North Coast.
Despite the unmarked turnout, the Johnson Prairie trailhead in Humboldt Redwoods State Park is easy to find — and once on the trail, beauty is to be had in every direction. Redwoods tower above ferns that arch over half-hidden mushrooms and briefly blooming wildflowers. From the Avenue of the Giants, head west on Mattole Road 4.2 miles. (The turnout is 0.1 mile beyond the Big Trees area.) Allow a couple hours round trip for this easy-to-moderate hike.
You'll be tempted to stop along Ferndale's Main Street, but just keep going until you reach Ocean, then hang a left. You'll see a parking lot on your right. This is your gateway to Russ Park, 105 acres of Sitka spruce, Douglas firs and red alders — with the occasional redwood. The trail options include a fast, steep hike overlooking the Eel River Valley as well as more leisurely loops, including one around Zipporah Russ' pond.
Rent a kayak at HSU's Aquatic Center (921 Waterfront Drive, Eureka) or HumBoats (601 Startare Drive, Eureka), and launch into Humboldt Bay, a jewel of a water body where you can see working fishing boats up close and catch glimpses of egrets, herons, osprey and other seabirds, plus harbor seals, bat rays and the occasional leopard shark.
From a distance, the dunes defining the Samoa Peninsula might seem all of a kind. But park at the Humboldt Coastal Nature Center (220 Stamp Lane, Manila) — a building literally housed in the sand — for a quick self-guided tutorial on the area's dynamic landscape of forests and salt marshes, sand dunes and beaches, then traipse out to experience the wonder.
If you were, for some unfathomable reason, to visit only one famed outdoor location in Humboldt County, that place would have to be Patrick's Point State Park (4150 Patrick's Point Drive, Trinidad). You'll find sheer cliffs against which waves explode into postcard perfection and from which whales are often spotted, broad sandy beaches with agates and other treasures, miles of hiking trails, a recreated Yurok Village and more.
The best day hikes celebrate Humboldt's redwoods, cliffs, ferns and Pacific — while leaving time for a picnic. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park'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. Stop in Trinidad's Beachcomber Café to stock up en route. (Park at Ossagon Trailhead off the northern portion of Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.)
Woodrose Café (911 Redwood Drive, Garberville) predates the "locavore" movement by a couple decades. Thirty years of incorporating Humboldt-grown foodstuffs into the landmark's natural, organic menu means everything's tried and true. Order off the "local favorites" section and ask for Gold Rush Coffee instead of Farmer Bros.
Ferndale offers so much, what with the shopping and Russ Park. But before you do either — or after, as a reward — stop into Lost Coast Café (468 Main St., Ferndale). The XXX Adults Only Grilled Cheese is something you didn't know was on your things-to-try-before-I-die list, but once you have it, you'll be grateful you didn't go your whole life missing out.
After a dozen or so restaurateurs tried the location (409 Opera Alley, Eureka), one stuck. Café Nooner's been serving up po' boys, flatbreads, kebobs and more since 2008, been featured on The Food Network and is one of the only places offering outdoor seating on a sunny day. Do not miss out on the Blue Noon burger, veg-style or otherwise.
Drop by the Loleta Cheese Factory (252 Loleta Drive, Loleta) and taste all of its 34 varieties of natural cheese, from fresh curds to Cream City cheddar to Real Humboldt Gold. Bring a cooler so you can stock up, or have a nibble in the garden. The factory is open daily so you can even peer through a window and see how it's made.
Don't look for the Naan of the Above food truck, look for the peaked yellow canopy strung with lights that forms its ersatz patio (Seventh and I streets in Arcata, Wednesday through Saturday). Whatever you order (creamy chicken curry? saucy chick peas?), just get it with a side order of naan bread. You'll have to wait 12 minutes (weirdly accurate), but you'll get a crisp-edged, fluffy, pull-apart wonder that glistens with butter and sparkles with just the right amount of salt.
Even those with an already sunny disposition leave Trinidad's Beachcomber Café (363 Trinity St., Trinidad) happier people. The place combines feel-good sentiment with baked goods so delish the locals take up most of the seating, and a sense of humor — T-shirts boast, "I was greatly inconvenienced at the Beachcomber Café." Leave your impatience at the door and don't forget your own to-go cup — the café doesn't do disposable.
You can't throw a rock in downtown Eureka without an artist hollering, "Ow!" (Please don't!) Start with one of the city's creative anchors, The Morris Graves Museum of Art (636 F St., Eureka). The sculpture garden and seven galleries filled with local heavy hitters and up-and-comers are a monument to just how much this coastal county values artistic achievement. Plus, the building is lovely.
If you stumble upon the Romano Gabriel Sculpture Garden (315 Second St., Eureka), you might wonder if the exhibit was snatched up from an alternate version of Disney's Small World ride. The actual backstory involves an Italian immigrant with strong ties to his homeland and three decades of creating whimsical wooden people and flowers.
Eureka Studio Arts (526 Fifth St., Eureka) is run by two long-beloved local artists, Linda Mitchell and Micki Dyson-Flatmo. They offer classes, workshops and an ongoing display of both art-in-progress and finished pieces by many of Humboldt's finest. No serious art lover should miss a chance to step inside and say hello.
Woodworking in Humboldt is anything but a simple craft. It could be the proximity to old-growth forests or the area's overall environmental ethos, but a number of artisans have turned to recycling reclaimed wood pieces into useful and beautiful things. Marvel at them in Humboldt Hardware (531 Second St.).
Humboldt State University's First Street Gallery (422 First St., Eureka) focuses on both student and contemporary art. Exhibitions are designed to stimulate, which is to say, it's quite cool. If you've had your fill of landscapes, pop in and see what the kids are up to these days.
Brilliant metalworks, lively nudes and crafty woodwork both functional and fun greet you at Arcata Artisans (883 H St.). The gallery/shop/cooperative showcases the diversity of area artists and gives you a chance to take some home. Psst — that's one of the member artists behind the counter.
Old Town Carriage Company starts by the Old Town Gazebo at Second and F streets in Eureka, and while the pace is slow, the romantic spark is quick. Owner and guide Brendan Fearon hails from Liverpool and got his start in the biz in Central Park, so you know this tour of historic Eureka is done with the utmost style.
Charter boats from Eureka's Woodley Island take experienced or novice fishermen out in search of salmon, halibut, tuna, rockcod, lingcod and even some species of shark, depending on the season. Along the way, the most beautiful coastline in California. Captain Tim Klassen's Reel Steel has been running custom tours for more than 30 years. 707-499-4925.
The Arcata Plaza centers around a historically controversial statue of President McKinley. In between vigils, protests, festivals and farmers markets, townspeople of all persuasions can be found hula hooping, hacky sacking or just stretching out in the occasional sun. Enough shops, bars and restaurants line the perimeter to make a day of it.
Trinidad has been jokingly described as a "drinking town with a fishing problem." Immerse yourself in the serious — and beautiful — side of the tiny city's maritime history by stopping at the Trinidad Lighthouse (Trinity Street), open for tours during the June 15 Fish Festival. Call 825-2300 for other tour times. A replica of the original on Trinidad Head stands as a memorial is to those lost and/or buried at sea. The view is exquisite.
You're not going to skip walking along Ferndale's Main Street, are you? Put away your cell phone and be transported back in time by Victorian architecture. OK, you can take it out again for pictures. Park at one end and walk to the other, ending (or starting) with a drink at the Hotel Ivanhoe's historic saloon, newly remodeled in the 1890s (315 Main St., closed Sundays).
Best known as a filming location for Jurassic Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park's Fern Canyon offers an easy 1.8-mile stroll through a mind-blowingly lush 50-foot-tall canyon. Wear shoes that can get wet and allow plenty of time to get there, as the road in and out is largely unpaved (and often lined with elk). From U.S. 101, take Gold Bluffs Beach Road 9.6 miles northwest. The road ends at the Fern Canyon trailhead.
Need a place for the little ones to run amok? Sequoia Park (3414 W St., Eureka) has swings, picnic tables, things to climb and a short trail down to the duck pond. Yup, that's a redwood treehouse with slides coming out of it. With wheelchair-accessible public restrooms and a zoo next door, the park is a perfect break after a long drive.
The Sequoia Park Zoo (3414 W St., Eureka) has blossomed into a thoughtful place to share the wonders of the animal kingdom. Yes, the red pandas are insanely adorable and the petting mini-zoo is always a crowd-pleaser, but the real appeal lies in the conservation and education focus, made accessible by the bounty of hands-on exhibits. Stay tuned for the new Watershed Heroes exhibit and its frisky river otters.
Humboldt Bay history runs the gamut from the ancestral times of the indigenous Wiyot Tribe to the more recent industrial legacy. Hear all about it from the deck of the Madaket (tickets and boarding at the foot of C Street in Eureka) during a 75-minute tour detailing the past, present and future of the bay. Don't worry about the kids getting bored — the thrill of the boat and the preponderance of wildlife will keep them entertained.
The Humboldt Coastal Nature Center (220 Stamps Lane, Manila) is unlike any other building in Humboldt. Nestled into the dunes — literally — and a former residence, the center now stands as a gateway into miles of trails wrapping through various coastal ecosystems and ending at a wild and uncrowded stretch of beach. Interpretive exhibits are plentiful and geared for varying ages. Pop in for a preview before you hike and be sure to ask about Dune Bingo.
Handmade organic ice cream with carousel seating — what more do you need? Cozy and sweet, Arcata Scoop (1068 I St.) is a place your children will remember. (Remind them that you took them there when they misbehave.) Like many places in Humboldt, the Scoop emphasizes local ingredients. The strawberry ice cream is particularly mouthwatering, although the honey-lavender is something you won't likely find elsewhere. The only tough part is choosing.
Humboldt State University's Natural History Museum (1242 G St., Arcata) has been enchanting children with environmental exhibits for decades. Learn alongside your small one about birds of the redwood forest, plant evolution and the difference between a trilobite and an echinoderm. A great place to whet your appetite for ecosystem knowledge before exploring the outdoors. •