You can't please everybody. Unless you can. Adventurers, artists, epicureans — whether you're traveling solo or with the whole family, the North Coast has something for every palate and pace.
The Trinity River can be dangerous for visitors unused to its powerful current, not to mention the poison oak and occasional steep trails down to the riverbank. Opt for user-friendly spot Big Rock right outside the town of Willow Creek. Stock up on snacks at River Song Natural Foods, hang a left on US Highway 96 and look for the sign about a quarter-mile up the road.
The Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge (1020 Ranch Road, Loleta) encompasses some of the most picturesque and biologically rich habitats in the world, providing sanctuary for the great diversity of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, invertebrates and plants in the Humboldt Bay area. Stop into the visitor center, check out the dioramas and observation room, then stroll the 1.7-mile Shorebird Loop and bask in the beauty.
Drive north past Trinidad and you'll discover Humboldt Lagoons State Park. Stone Lagoon sits in the middle and is perfect for beginning paddlers, especially those with a fondness for sighting shore birds and river otters. Stop into Kayak Zak's (115336 Highway 101 North) at the State Park Visitor's Center, where you can rent kayaks or stand-up paddleboards and get all the advice you might need on how to make the most of your day.
Shelter Cove, the gateway to the King Range Conservation Area, the nation's first national conservation area, is a jewel all on its own. The drive from Redway is a scenic thrill, and the aptly named cove offers a warm spot to stretch out and play. Slightly north is Black Sands Beach, where greywacke and shale combine to create the unusual color. Wildlife abounds and the views are superlative.
The Punta Gorda Lighthouse site is at the end of a 3-mile, strenuous hike along the Lost Coast Trail, which begins at the Mattole Beach campground. The trail offers beautiful black-sand beaches, dunes and tide pools. A large portion of the hike is through fine, loose sand, and hiking beneath the cliffs can be dangerous at high tide. Tide information is usually posted at the trailhead. To reach the site from US Highway 101, take the Honeydew/Dyerville exit in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Travel west to Mattole Road in Honeydew to Lighthouse Road, almost an hour and a half trip. Travel five miles to Mattole Campground.Humboldt County boasts not only the world's tallest redwoods, but an unspoiled ocean, remote beaches, hiking trails for all levels of physical fitness, six different rivers, an inviting bay and sprawling lagoons. Take advantage of world-class paddling, birding, fishing, diving, hiking, hunting, cycling and disc golf via the Pacific Outfitters Academy day (or longer) trips. What you don't know, they're happy to teach you. For the leisurely to the ambitious, pacificoutfittersadventures.com.
While winding your way through Willow Creek, you will see a darling, if unassuming, little bakery. Stop there. Heart and Sol (39010 U.S. Highway 299) serves deliciousness in the form of jalapeño cheese rolls — emphasis on the jalapeños and the cheese — cinnamon rolls dripping with icing (as they should be), and an excellent selection of gluten-free options, including coconut flour cupcakes and cinnamon donuts. It's OK to get several of everything.
Food options at The Local (517 F St., Eureka) vary and what's on tap rotates, but the number of beers available remains consistent at over 100, and the friendly atmosphere does as well. Immediately beloved, the beer bar also offers a selection of ciders and four wines on tap (yes, wine on tap). Hope you visit on a night when the Humboldt Smoke House sriracha-cured bacon is on the menu, but rest assured you'll find something to celebrate regardless.
The Arcata Plaza is a fine place for people watching and picnics. No need to make your own, as Pasta Luego (791 Eighth St.) offers Italian subs and paninis — try the "Coco," a sweet-savory-sharp combination of cotto, gorgonzola, apricot jam, roasted red peppers, arugula and vinaigrette. Buy some Italian nougat treats for after. Not too sweet and strangely addicting.
Located up in the Northtown (aka "student") part of Arcata, stands Japhy's (1563 G St.), a longtime favorite of both transitioning and permanent residents. The soups, noodles and fast turnaround are reminiscent of what you'd find in a big city, but with the emphasis on local and organic ingredients Humboldt is known for. Ask anybody and they'll tell you to have the curry.
Breakfast at T's Café North (860 10th St., Arcata) requires some time — all because deciding what to order is nearly impossible, given how good everything looks. Local favorites include the "un"-Benedicts, the potato skillets, the scrambles, the pancakes, the "goin' south" choices ... yes, essentially, everything. Start with a mimosa du jour and admire the crisp lines, artwork and great lighting while you wait.
You won't find much outdoor seating in Humboldt due to the region's usually copious rain, but one of the most dependable places to sit in the sun is out at Mad River Brewery's Tap Room (195 Taylor Way, Blue Lake). Good people, great beer and the opening of a kitchen this past year mean you can now power down a grilled Thai chicken sandwich or scoop up the white garlic potatoes inside or, even better, out.Art Lovers
It's often said that Humboldt has more artists per capita than any other region of California. Perhaps an anecdotal statistic, but step into the Sewell Gallery ( 423 F St., Eureka), where the work of over 50 of the region's premier visual artists is on display in a warm, spacious light-filled gallery and you'll be an instant believer.
Trinidad's views are stunning, certainly, and stepping away from them might feel counterintuitive, but only for as long as it takes you to get through the door at the Strawberry Rock Gallery (343 Main St., Trinidad). A newer gallery on the scene, Strawberry Rock features both established and emerging Humboldt artists.
Matt Beard's art has been shown worldwide in galleries and magazines. The subject matter is typically beach and ocean in nature, with much of it capturing the vibrancy of the Humboldt coast. Stop by Beard Art Gallery (336 Grotto St., Eureka) to see fine art paintings, prints, T-shirts and more. A portion of sales goes to the nonprofit of the buyer's choice through Beard's AidCurrent project.
The nonprofit American Indian Art and Gift Shop (241 F Street, Eureka) serves a couple of purposes. One is to exhibit the unique art created by over 40 local Indian artists. The second is to provide training to those needing work experience. Stop in and see baskets, jewelry and calendars made by Northern California tribal artisans.
Evidence of Humboldt's back-to-the-land history shows up in the amount of high-quality functional art featured throughout the county. Be impressed by the hand-forged fireplace tools, wine racks, cabinet hardware, cutlery, candle holders, pot racks, lamps, sculptures and many other pieces of useful beauty at The Blacksmith Shop (445 Main St., Ferndale).
Not a gallery, but a place of inspiration, SCRAP Humboldt's Creative Reuse Center (101 H St., Suite D, Arcata) offers all kinds of art supplies and vintage ephemera for the imaginative, plus a boutique featuring the buyable art of local creators, all made with at least 75 percent recycled materials. Great for whimsical gifts and stylish repurposed ware.Not Strictly for Tourists
Blue Lake's spirit is embodied in The Logger Bar, (510 Railroad Ave., Blue Lake) an institution that hit a sad patch a few years back, closed and then was eventually purchased by resident Kate Martin and restored through the almost-all-volunteer effort of community members. Saws and blades line the walls and floor, testifying to the area's burly past, but the drink offerings include fine spirits and fresh herbs.
Myers Flat on the Avenue of the Giants is not only known for the majestic redwood trees in the area, but also for the outstanding wines of Riverbend Cellars (12900 Avenue of the Giants). This extraordinary winery offers wine sampling at its tasting room, which is open seven days a week from11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Riverbend Cellars also offers a selection of specialty foods, picnic items and local art.
The redwoods are always open and late fall can be a stunning time to visit. Just south of Orick, the national and state parks' Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center (U.S. Highway 101 at Orick) provides orientation, information and trip-planning advice, plus books, maps, gifts and more. Peruse the displays, talk to a ranger, then launch into a forest exploration perfect for the day and your desires.
If walking is too mundane for you, why not saddle up and go by horseback? Redwood Trails Horse Rides and Redwood Creek Buckarettes (1000 Drydens Road, Orick) will take you up into the Redwood National Park's old growth majesty with a trusty steed beneath you. The interpretive tour includes information on redwood ecology, local wildlife, flora and local history.
Unwind from all the sightseeing with a soak or steam at Finnish Country Sauna and Tubs (495 J St., Arcata). Private outdoor hot tubs and sauna cabins allow for complete relaxation in an enchanted environment. On your way in and out, you'll pass through Café Mokka, Humboldt County's oldest coffeehouse, where you can find magazines of global interest, a warm fire and Scandinavian-style open-faced sandwiches.
For a quick, easily accessible interaction with a breathtaking seascape, drive out alongside Orick's Redwood Creek (from US Highway 101, take Hufford Road west) to the ocean. Park and stroll north. You're now adjacent to the Reading Rock State Marine Conservation Area, part of California's network of marine protected areas, and entering Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The mix of marine habitats means an abundance of wildlife above and beyond most experiences. Watch for whales, seals, sea lions and diving auklets around the water, nesting murres and cormorants along the rocks.With the Kids
Before you explore the bountiful tide pools around Trinidad and Patricks Point, take the children to the HSU Marine Laboratory (570 Ewing St., Trinidad) where the seven aquaria, two touch tanks and other displays will introduce them to the various sea critters living in the lab and out in the greater world.
Share the area's seafaring history at the Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum (77 Cookhouse Road, Samoa), where displays encompass everything from shipbuilding to shipwrecks. Learn about the first ships to enter Humboldt Bay, the lonely lives of lighthouse keepers and current restoration activities aligning the past with the future.
Oooh, pretty things! Since 1990, Heartbead (830 G St., Arcata) has helped customers design and create their own jewelry. Children can pick from the thousands of beads ranging from elegant to playful, and then have the staff transform their selections into bracelets, necklaces or earrings — or get help for the kids to assemble masterpieces on their own. Either way, you'll leave with a treasured, personal souvenir of your visit to Arcata Plaza.
The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary provides more than just habitat to over 200 species of birds — it also serves as the City of Arcata's innovative wastewater treatment facility. Older children may be impressed by the science of the marsh, younger ones will simply enjoy scampering along the 5.4 miles of trails. Everyone should stop into the interpretive center for activities and clues about which raptors, songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds you're most likely to see. Blue Ox Millworks (1 X St., Eureka) is a rarity — a fully functioning Victorian job shop which produces custom architectural millwork using antique woodworking machinery from the 1800s and early 1900s. Take the kids on a "back in the old days" tour featuring a demonstration of human-powered tools, a lathe room, print shop, textiles studio, mill and molder buildings, blacksmith shop, ceramics and stained glass studios, boat works and horse drawn carriages — then meet and greet the farm animals.
Not every town has a multicultural bagel shop, but Humboldt's beloved Los Bagels has a presence in both Eureka (403 Second St.) and Arcata (1061 I St.). Jewish and Mexican heritages join together with bagels and knishes alongside empanadas and chango bars. Pick up a copy of Natasha Wing's children's book Jalapeño Bagels for a charming interpretation of co-founder Dennis Rael's childhood and inspiration for the bakery.