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Perfect Winter Trips 

click to enlarge Prairie Creek Trail

Photo by Dave Baselt

Prairie Creek Trail

Whether you're on a solo journey or traveling with the family, here for relaxation or adventure, have an appetite for the arts or cuisine, Humboldt has got just the thing for you.

The Outdoorsy Type

Humboldt's massive old-growth redwood trees are quite rightly famous, but few people know about the rare Albino Redwoods quietly glowing in the shadows. When you consider that only 50 or so albino redwoods exist in the known world, it's no wonder these ghost-like trees surprise and astound visitors to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Their needles lack pigmentation, making the trees look as if they're covered in snow. You can find two of them near Avenue of the Giants: the Christmas Tree in the Women's Federation Grove and the Spirit Tree about three miles north of Redcrest. (More information at the Visitor's Center, located off the Weott exit on Avenue of the Giants.)

Nestled in the hills north of College of the Redwoods, the Humboldt Botanical Garden (7351 Tompkins Hill Road, College of the Redwoods Campus) offers 44.5 acres of diverse trees, flowers and shrubs in — at the time of this writing — eight different gardens divided by easily strolled trails. Those passionate about plant particulars will thrill to the knowledge that the area's climate is a unique balance of Mediterranean and Pacific marine. Those who simply enjoy a happy few hours surrounded by beautiful flora will also have much to admire. Pack a picnic, bring a book or watercolors.

A sparkling part of the California Coastal Trail, the scenic Hammond Trail (Mad River Road, Arcata) links Arcata and McKinleyville via over five miles of easy, paved path that takes you over the Mad River and up to Clam Beach. Start at the Mad River Bridge, a statuesque and historical steel structure built in 1942, and continue on through Hiller Park to the bluffs for sweeping ocean views. Perfect for cyclists of all ages, suitable for runners, walkers and equestrians, too.

Windsurfing enthusiasts have no lack of options in Humboldt in the spring, summer and fall, but winter's wild ocean swells make Big Lagoon (exit U.S. Highway 101 at Big Lagoon) the spot of choice for those wishing to experience the exhilaration of flight. Three-miles wide, the lagoon lies just north of Patrick's Point and is separated by a sandspit on which you can find semi-precious agates, jade and moonstones — but beware the waves! Locals know to stay off the waveslope and never turn your back on the ocean.

For the hardy camper who has waterproof gear and an unquenchable thirst for sleeping outdoors, Burlington Campground (next to the Visitor Center on the Avenue of the Giants) is the spot to savor. Nestled among old- and second-growth redwoods and adjacent to several trails, one leading to the South Fork of the Eel River, this spot will leave you so awed that winter weather doesn't faze you — besides, you're guaranteed far more solitude than in the summer season.

Considered by many to be the most scenic trail in the revered Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, the 5.8-mile West Ridge/Prairie Creek Trail (127011 Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, Orick) bursts with variety and drama. You'll start off following the creek, pass through maple trees and lowland redwood grove, ultimately — and with effort — rise up to the ridgetop. This loop takes you by some of the tallest trees in existence. Winter is a wonderful time to visit as the traffic noise is minimized and the occasional rain only adds to the magic.

Foodies

Loved by locals, Brick & Fire (1630 F St., Eureka) serves up Mediterranean and Italian fare with a California touch. The menu changes often, ensuring neither the diners nor the chefs get bored, but the Wild Mushroom Cobbler is a staple that must be tried. The aptly named 2 Doors Down (1626 F St., Eureka) is Brick & Fire's "sexy little sister" that offers over 80 wines, small plates and desserts. Either — or better, both — will make your evening.

Discover some of Humboldt County's favorite wines in the Moonstone Crossing Wine Tasting Room (529 Trinity St., Trinidad). The winter months are the perfect time to enjoy both the hearty, full-bodied, rich red varietals Moonstone specializes in – or perhaps some port? – and the rotating fine art shows that elevate the tasting room to an even more sublime experience. Open Wednesdays through Sundays.

Winter means many things on the North Coast. Among the highlights, Dungeness Crab – a creature so prized, Humboldt named its baseball team after it. Whether the fresh crab pizza at Five Eleven (511 Second St., Eureka) or the fresh crab omelet at Café Waterfront (102 F St., Eureka), look for this delicacy on the menu. You can also pop by Cap'n Zach's Crab House (1548 Reasor Road, McKinleyville) or the Woodley Island docks (Woodley Island Marina, Eureka) and buy them whole.

Things to know about La Trattoria (30 Sunnybrae Center, Arcata): The motto is, "Every Month is Local Food Month"; due to the intimate size of the restaurant, it does not seat tables larger than six; the produce, meat, grains and beans come from area farms; because of the focus on local and organic, the menu changes often. Oh, and one more thing — the food is divine.

Once there was a restaurant in the Victorian Village of Ferndale, beloved by locals and visitors alike. Fifteen years after opening, however, unfortunate circumstances caused the business to relocate to Fortuna. Ferndalians wept. Finally, fate dealt a kinder hand and now Curley's Full Circle (460 Main St., Ferndale) has returned to the village where it began. The Caesar salad amazes, the steaks and grilled fish enchant.

Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor were already in one of Humboldt County's most successful bands, Huckleberry Flint, and known for their quality woodworking skills pertaining to both boats and bars. But that wasn't enough to satisfy their artistic souls, so the duo turned to chocolate. Now Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate can be found in stores all around Humboldt County and sampled at the Humboldt Bay Tourism Center. They source the raw cacao themselves and transform it into chocolate in-house, which makes for chocolate bars elegant in look and taste.

Art Lovers

If the weather's cooperative, you can stroll. If it's not, you can tool around by car. Either way, a self-guided Eureka Mural Tour will fill a couple hours admirably. Many of the murals are by local superstar Duane Flatmo and his one-time Rural Burl Mural Bureau students. Favorite Flatmos include "Building Architecture" (538 H St.) and "Tribute to Architecture and the Arts" (F Street between Sixth and Seventh streets). Be sure to pause at "Indian Island — The Sun Set Twice on the People," (612 F St.) a mural honoring the indigenous Wiyot people, by Alme Allen and Brian Tripp. Full list of murals at redwoods.info.

Eureka loves its artists and if you find yourself in town the first Saturday of the month, make sure to wander the Old Town-downtown area to experience Arts Alive! Galleries, storefronts and pop-ups host an astounding array of art, from traditional landscapes to innovative multi-media. The sense of celebration is infectious as buskers and bands provide a soundtrack that changes from block to block. Check out Humboldt State University's First Street Gallery (422 First St.) and The Hall Gallery/C Street Studios (208 C St.) for a well-rounded glimpse.

Known as "The Tile Lady," Arcata's Laurel Skye is the undisputed queen of mosaics. Check out her work at Trinidad's Seascape Restaurant (1 Bay St., Trinidad) and sign up for a workshop at her studio (948 11th St., Arcata). Offerings include beginning mosaics, light switch covers and the fabulously named "Pimp My Cup." Call (707) 822-6677 to arrange dates and times.

Get your hands dirty at Fire Arts Center (520 South G St., Arcata), a unique ceramics and glass studio celebrating art forms that involve flame and offering memberships and classes to students of ceramics, glass fusing and slumping, and glass torch work. Try out the free Thursday classes focusing on "whimsical and fun ceramic projects" from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Call (707) 826-1445 to sign up, and stop by any time during open hours to check out members' work and exhibits.

In his color-bold paintings, Shawn Griggs outlines objects we're familiar with, then inflates them into more than the observer would have otherwise imagined. Skeletons figure prominently, but their black-and-white selves would never be construed as dead — not only are they surrounded by color so intense it nearly vibrates off the wall, but the skeletons themselves are infused with bliss. Immerse yourself in his world at RedEye Laboratories (405 Main St., Ferndale).

Not Strictly for Tourists

It sounds weird, but once you walk inside Black Lightning Motorcycle Café (440 F St., Eureka), the combination of "motorcycle" and "café" totally makes sense. One part helmets, jackets, parts and accessories, one part coffeehouse and one part sandwich joint make up a fine place to grab a deliciously spicy breakfast sandwich and latté or, later in the day, a panini and pint of cider. Free Wi-Fi for customers and brilliant stone tables.

Because Coffee (corner of F & Third streets, Eureka) harkens back to the early days of the coffeehouse. Comfortable chairs, vintage tables and a smattering of extremely random books fill the cozy space, while rotating exhibits of mind-engaging art line the wall. The coffee options are many — owner Katie Hennessy spent months selecting the finest roasts to serve Humboldt's discriminating palates. Take a moment to warm up and savor the sublime.

The world is full of famous gravesites. Among those is the Ferndale Cemetery (Bluff and Craig streets, Ferndale), which sits adjacent to the lovely Russ Park just beyond the main part of the Victorian Village. Since 1868, the cemetery has served as one of California's most beautiful historic burial sites. Stroll up the rhododendron covered hillside to views of the Eel River Valley and Pacific Ocean.

Arcata manufacturers Holly Yashi have long been known for making gorgeous and creative jewelry, but you can also find home décor items, books and body care products at the Holly Yashi Store and Design Studio (1300 Ninth St., Arcata). Pop in for a peek at selections seven days a week and, weekdays, tour the design studios — a long way and many years from the early days of working in co-founder Holly Hosterman's garage.

Oh, the simpler days before those newfangled machines took over everything! Blast to the past at E&O Bowling (1417 Glendale Dr., Glendale), where you will still need to know how to score your own card with a pencil. There's a jukebox — old-school — and a temporary tattoo machine, plus pool tables and an adjacent bar full of semi-cranky locals. Best to order your drink and return to your lane.

Not thrilled with winter's short days and chilly nights? Warm up at Chumayo Spa (120 H St., Blue Lake). Inspired by the legendary New Mexico Chumayo, Blue Lake's version boasts two private cedar and redwood saunas with showers, a full menu of massage options, a floatation tank and a fully equipped upstairs guest room. Locals staycation here and visitors adore not only the spa facilities, but the proximity to other Blue Lake attractions.

With the Kids

Eureka's Sequoia Zoo (3414 W St., Eureka) has evolved from a rudimentary small town zoo to a fully comprehensive interpretive center. In 2014, the zoo opened Watershed Heroes, a stunning and thoughtful exhibit featuring bald eagles, three species of salmon and, the stars of the exhibition, river otters. Children can crawl through a clear tunnel and watch the otters play overhead and admire salmon images in the walkway under their feet. A waterfall recreates the natural cascades salmon encounter on their travels upstream. It's an intimate interaction with North Coast creatures that will educate and entertain for hours.

Look, just admit it: Driving through a tree is fun. No better chance than when coming through Leggett, a tiny town just barely south of Humboldt County. The Drive-Thru Tree Park (67402 Drive Thru Tree Road, Leggett) has operated since 1922 and The Chandelier Tree has been a popular traveler destination since 1937. Selfies encouraged.

Need a place to work out, decompress? The indoor Arcata Swimming Pool (1150 16th St.) provides satisfaction with six, 25-yard lap lanes, both shallow and deep areas, a one-meter diving board and Humboldt County's only water slide — 122 feet and two 360-degree turns of fun. Visitors can also use the fitness center, hot tub and sauna. Best of all, the pool system incorporates a state-of-the-art UV water treatment system that decreases reliance on chlorine for disinfection.

For an area not known for hot weather, Humboldt has some remarkable ice cream options, one of which is the fabulous Livin' The Dream (1 F St., Eureka). Featuring handmade ice cream manifested from organic and local ingredients — you'll never look at a scoop the same way again. Favorites include "Grandpa's Breakfast," a blend of whiskey and cornflakes, and "Candy Cap Mushroom." For the less adventurous, chocolate and vanilla remain safe and delicious options.

Viewing the stunning collection of Hupa, Yurok and Karuk artifacts at the Hoopa Tribal Museum (State Route 96, Hoopa) is an immediately gratifying way to learn about the culture of one of California's first peoples. The display contains local indigenous basketry, ceremonial regalia, redwood dugout canoes, tools and other implements used by North Coast tribes. In addition, guided tours of Hoopa Valley's historic sites, including the traditional village of Takimildiñ, are available through the museum by appointment.

The Humboldt County Library's (1313 Third St., Eureka) multiple floors reward visitors with not only a substantial collection of variations on the written word, but outstanding views of Humboldt Bay. A children's wing welcomes kids of all ages — check the website for Story Time opportunities — and several corners of the library allow for a long, quiet reading moment in a stunning setting.

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