Welcome to winter, Humboldt's unsung hero. The days are shorter this time of year, but we make the most out of them. We venture into the rain, exalt in blustery weather and cozy up in style. Grab your rain boots and your travel mug. You're just in time.
Lacks Creek is one of Humboldt's most recently developed trail systems. The BLM and Humboldt Trails Council have been carefully restoring the watershed and opening up trails and campsites for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.
Hikers will enjoy the Beaver Ridge Trail as it descends through the lush watershed, crossing streams and the wide oak prairies of the western section of Lacks Creek. Along Pine Ridge Road in the eastern section, dedicated trail builders have created flowing single tracks specifically designed for mountain biking (but open to hikers, too). The views are unparalleled and you're likely to have the place to yourself.
To reach Lacks Creek, head east on State Route 299 for 17.8 miles from U.S. Highway 101. Turn left at the Redwood Valley turn-off (Bair Road) and travel 3.9 miles. Follow the signs for Lacks Creek Management Area up a gravel road. Four-wheel drive isn't necessary, but good tires and ground clearance are.
The Eel River Estuary Preserve is a 1,200-acre property that was identified in a 1974 California Department of Fish and Game study as the most ecologically valuable area of the estuary. Winter provides epic bird-watching on the preserve, which hosts migratory waterfowl including tens of thousands of Aleutian geese, shorebirds, bald eagles, raptors and the occasional gyrfalcon, last seen on the preserve in winter 2014.
The preserve offers guided tours for birders and nature observation. The easy-moderate 5-mile trail takes hikers through grassland, tidal wetlands, freshwater marsh and sand dunes. True adventurers will continue another 3 miles out through the estuary to the river's mouth, where freshwater meets ocean waves and seals sleep off their morning's fish run.
The Eel River Estuary Preserve is carved out of the Ferndale bottoms near Centerville Beach. The Wildlands Conservancy welcome visitors by reservation only. Call (707) 672-4725 to request access.
The Samoa Dunes Recreation Area is a 300-acre park that draws a devoted following of ATV-ers and surfers, but isn't appreciated enough for its hiking and tide pools. Grab coffee in Old Town and join dawn patrol at the North Jetty. Rent all the surf gear you need at Pacific Outfitters, bring your own or just enjoy the sunrise from the bayside. Walking the North Jetty is more of a rock scramble, as decades of high surf have eroded the masonry. You're likely to see seals, porpoises and maybe even a shark. Please only explore the jetty at low tide and keep your eyes on the waves. Don't be that guy.
The short, sweet Wetland hike in the center of the park is worth the walk, as are the World War II bunkers buried in the dunes and the bayside cypress grove. The sheltered cove just south of the Coast Guard station is the perfect place to rock hop though tide pools on a blustery day.
The Dunes are only 5 miles south of Eureka at the Southern tip of Highway 255. All visits to the dunes must culminate with a visit to the Samoa Cookhouse (980 Vance Ave.), especially if it's French toast day.
Winter is a time to indulge in comforting, rich treats. Humboldt's craft food movement is ready to support you through that daunting process. And while the food below takes a little more effort to find, it's well worth it.
Royal Bavarian Brezen-Pretzels are soft baked goodness crafted from a centuries old family recipe. Once available only in local cafés and by delivery (in the cutest basket you've ever seen), now you can visit the pretzel shop at 320 Second St. in Old Town Eureka. The savory varieties are stuffed with cheese, spinach, tomato and pesto, to name a few. The sweet brezen are crammed (as delicately as possible) with fruit and spices. Fill your belly.
First we followed it to Willow Creek, but lately the red Hum Grown Grindz trailer has been grilling up Humboldt grassfed beef sliders — sweet, juicy little numbers topped with things like caramelized onions and organic greens — in Southern Humboldt (3362 Redwood Drive, Redway). Bring a friend so you can split a trio of sliders and a hefty chicken chipoltle pesto crepe, as you'll want to try both. Peek at the Facebook page to see specials and for a heads up on any concerts or events the truck will be pulling up to.
Aqua-rodeo Farms is Humboldt's smallest oyster farm. Oyster farmer/Captain Sebastian Elrite harvests his Bucksport beauties from Humboldt Bay and sells them raw, grilled or "to go" by the bag at Humboldt Bay Tourism Center in Old Town (205 G St., Eureka). All winter, he sets up a giant grill at Second and G Street during Eureka's Arts Alive and serves his hot broiled oysters with a variety of his special sauces to grateful, chilled patrons. He also offers boat tours of his oyster farm year-round. Go to www.humboldtbayoystertours.com and give the Captain at least 36 hours notice — he's a busy guy.
Humboldt is a community of fishermen, loggers, and farmers who have worked our lands and waters for generations. We're also a community of artists and artisans whose work keeps things new and exciting on the North Coast. There are dozens of galleries in the region, but the spaces below allow visitors more intimate contact with Humboldt's creative side. Don't worry, it won't be weird.
Fire & Light was formed in 1995 as a partnership between the Arcata Community Recycling Center in Humboldt County and a group of local investors who wanted to develop a beautiful use for recycled glass. They devised a method for melting crushed glass in furnaces, adding pigment, and pressing the molten glass into bowls, plates, and glasses. The resulting rainbow-hued tableware is a truly unique local art form. Fire & Light glass can be found in homes across the region, and is also a popular souvenir for visitors.
Watch the craftsmanship in action by taking a tour of Fire & Light's factory (45 Ericson Court, Arcata). Tours are available Mondays through Fridays at 10 AM and 12 PM with 24 hours notice. The factory showroom sells seconds every Friday and Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM.
While The Sanctuary (1301 J St., Arcata) is known for its cool and intimate music shows, the nonprofit workshop and exhibition/performance space is also home to an active arts collective. For a small fee, artists can use the textile, ceramic, printmaking and even bike repair facilities, and get one-on-one help. The gallery hosts local artists' solo and group shows, which range from the meditative to the raucously interactive. Check www.sanctuaryarcata.org to see what's coming up on stage and in the gallery.
While driving to Southern Humboldt to tour Avenue of the Giants, be sure to stop to appreciate its tiny but thriving art scene. The Mateel Cooperative Art Gallery (773 Redwood Drive) in downtown Garberville features the work of artists living in Southern Humboldt and northern Mendocino.
The gallery features "local art in all media," including photography, paintings, pottery, woodwork and jewelry. As a cooperative, the artists also work in the gallery and are able to tour visitors through the works on display. The gallery is open Monday-Friday from 11 AM to 5 PM and Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM.
With the Kids
Humboldt kids aren't afraid to get wet. They play in the rain, jump in puddles, and roll around in the mud. If you're just passing through town, pick up a pair of used rain boots at Recycled Youth (1507 G St., Arcata) for your kiddo and proceed through your vacation as planned. The beach and redwoods are just as fun in winter as in summer.
Redwood EdVentures Quests are scavenger hunts with clues leading through state and local parks throughout the North Coast. The quests can be completed in under an hour, or stretched out to take all day. The quests are perfect for first-time visitors to Prairie Creek Redwoods, Patrick's Point, the Arcata Marsh, Humboldt Bay Wildlife Refuge, Grizzly Creek and others. They're also a great way to re-experience a park you've visited before. Instructions for each quest are at the informational kiosk or visitor center at each park. Once the missions are completed, kids can collect a Redwood EdVentures patch from park officials. For a complete list of quest sites, visit www.redwood-edventures.org.
If you're planning on sticking closer to town this season, there are plenty of places to explore with the family. 67-acre Sequoia Park in Eureka is beautifully scaled for small children. Its lower level (access from T St.) features a duck pond, the short Sequoia Creek trail, a toddler-size playground and creeks that are perfect for tromping through. The upper level (accessible from W Street or on the park road from the lower level) has the largest playground in Eureka, including some old-school steep metal slides sure to delight children.
A few steps away in Sequoia Park Zoo, where all the animal exhibits seem designed from a child's perspective, your child is guaranteed to delight in the watershed play area and the petting zoo. Also, the sweet potato fries in the Zoo Café will recharge any hangry family member, no matter what size.
Humboldt County Libraries are
gloriously kid-friendly. The days of librarians whisper-yelling "Shh!" are gone. Now, the kids' sections host story hours and other free childrens' programs including crafts, movies, puppet shows, music and storytellers. The Eureka branch has a large play area for reading, completing puzzles and snuggling with enormous stuffed animals. Rio Dell Library has puppet shows every other Saturday morning. Become a library groupie by taking your kids to a different library for storytime every day, Tuesday through Saturday.
Not Strictly for Tourists
You're new to town. You're entertaining out-of-town guests. You're just here for the holidays. Whatever you're doing here, it's time to act like a tourist. Buy something with Bigfoot on it. Drive everywhere — very slowly. Take pictures of every Victorian building and tall tree you see. And of course, go on some tours. Independence is overrated.
Humboldt Beer Tours (www.humboldtbeertours.com) explores the wide array of craft beer around our county. Hop in a van operated by your designated driver and begin your journey though local beerworks. Participants learn brewing basics and the long history of craft beer here in Humboldt County. Each tour stops at three great breweries for complimentary tastings, lunch and the company of a Cicerone Certified Beer Server. Tours depart twice a day, because it's always beer o'clock somewhere.
Creep through the eerie streets of Eureka's Old Town with Haunted History Ghost Tours. Learn about Eureka's bawdy past as a Victorian seaport and its haunted present. Locals and visitors will love learning what really happened in Opera Alley and the creepy, tragic stories behind all those Victorian storefronts. Tours last two hours and depart from Old Town Coffee and Chocolates. Get a coffee to take along — and maybe bring a flask. And a rosary. Call (707) 672-5012 to reserve a tour.
See Humboldt's scenic beauty from a different perspective by hunting your own dinner. Pacific Outfitters (www.pacificoutfitters.com) leads guided hunts over 100 acres of private land with guides who have decades of waterfowl calling experience. Hunters track Aleutian geese, Pacific black brant and other waterfowl in all-day hunts. Tours are kept to four hunters per trip, and guides set up decoys and do the calling for the group. Each hunter can shoot his or her limit. If you're a first-time hunter, Pacific Outfitters also offers the Hunter Education courses you'll need to purchase your license for the season.