Humboldt Country: Heart of the Redwood Coast

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Why Humboldt County: 

Maisie wanted to go somewhere in the northwestern US this summer. When looking at options, I discovered a $110 roundtrip deal to Eureka/Arcata on the northern coast of California. Before Avelo commenced service 18 months ago, Eureka was very difficult to reach from LA. The options were 12 hour drive or a very expensive (think $400) flight with a stop in San Francisco. 

Since Avelo does not fly to ACV every day, we went up on a Friday and back on a Monday. For lodging, we booked an AirBNB tiny home. Maisie is usually not a fan of Airbnb’s but this one was interesting enough for her to allow us to try. 

June 23, 2023: Eureka!

Maisie and I boarded our Avelo flight at the Burbank airport. The new airline is based out of Burbank and flies to less popular destinations in the western US. The flight has no frills of any kind, but it was on time. The trip to Eureka took 1 hour 20 minutes and we landed around 2pm. Despite being the middle of summer, the weather was cold and foggy. 

Boarding our flight in Burbank

At the airport, we picked up our rental car and drove to our tiny house to check in. The tiny house was in the backyard of a real house. It was a pandemic project of the owner. Despite being half the size of my New York apartment, the tiny house was two stories. The first floor had a sitting area, kitchen and bathroom. The loft had the bed. 

Once we settled in, we drove down to Eureka, the main city in the region and the westernmost city in the entire United States. Eureka (Greek for “I have found it”) is also California´s state motto and was said by miners who found gold during the 1848 Gold Rush. The city of Eureka is known for its Victorian architecture; the most famous house is the Carson Mansion, now a private club and not open to the public. 

One of Eureka´s top attractions is the Sequoia Park Zoo, the oldest zoo in California. The highlight of the zoo is not an animal, but rather a network of cable bridges known as the Redwood Skywalk. 

The zoo does have some animal exhibits including an elusive Red Panda, but I was not that impressed by their menagerie. They used to have chimpanzees and black bears, but at the moment they do not have many animals. For that reason, I felt like the $25 entry fee was not worth it.

We then drove to the town of Samoa, located across Humboldt Bay. The town is home of the iconic Samoa Cookhouse, an old logger´s canteen that opened in 1890. The plan was to eat there, but they unexpectedly announced an indefinite closure for renovations. 

Instead, we drove out to Samoa Dunes State Recreation Area and walked down the North Jetty. With the eerie sky and the constant blaring of a lighthouse, the jetty felt exceedingly eerie. I felt like a final fight in a superhero movie could have occurred here. 

Back in Old Town Eureka, we got a fresh seafood dinner at Café Waterfront. This included 6 fresh Kumamoto oysters from Humboldt Bay, which is the main oyster producing bay in California.  

After dinner, we visited a cidery and a dispensary. While I do not use marijuana or any drugs for that matter, Humboldt County was once the center of illegal marijuana production of the US – producing an estimated 70% of the nation´s crop. After legalization in the US started with Colorado in 2012, its hold on the industry has waned. Still, there are over 130 dispensaries in the county, more than in Los Angeles County. The local tourism materials mention cannabis tourism and the Cannabis Trail. 

We then drove back and went to sleep in our tiny home. 

June 24, 2023: The Tallest Trees

With two full days in the area, we decided so go north today and south tomorrow. North of Eureka is Redwoods National Park and some state parks that together create a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The state parks were created first, in the 1920´s and protect old growth forests. The National Park was created in 1968 after a National Geographic expedition discovered the tallest trees on earth. Starting in 1994, the state and national parks have been managed as a single administrative unit.

Our first stop was the Tall Trees Grove in Redwoods National Park aka the grove that led to the creation of the National Park. The grove contains Hyperion, the world´s tallest tree along with many other of the world´s tallest trees. For reference, the trees here are 50% taller than the coastal redwoods in Muir Woods. Interestingly, California contains the tallest, largest and oldest trees (all separate trees).

To protect the trees, the National Park Service limits the number of people who can visit the Tall Trees Grove. In order to visit, we had to register for a permit. The day before the trip, the Park Service emailed us a code to the access gate. 

After driving for 20 minutes downhill from the access gate, we started the hike. The hike continued downhill to reach Redwood Creek. It was here where we started to see the giants. 

That is a very tall tree

Coastal Redwoods can only grow in specific conditions. They live between 30-750 meters in elevation in lush valleys where they can get fog and water from year-round streams. The most southernly grove in near Monterey while the northernmost grove is just over the state line in Oregon. 

While I have walked amongst many other tall trees including the giant sequoias and coastal redwoods near San Francisco, nothing can compare to the height and density of the trees here, which are 50x my height. 

The trail did not visit Hyperion, which is in an off-limits location across Redwood Creek, but I knew based on the map that I saw it somewhere along the hike. In total, the trail took us 3 hours including the drive.

Next, we stopped at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, which I visited with Mike Murray on my 2013 Road Trip from LA to St. Louis. It was here where President Richard Nixon dedicated the National Park and also named the grove after the former First Lady whose efforts led to the establishment of the park. 

The old growth forest has never seen the logger´s axe and, perhaps due to the many ferns on the forest floor, feels prehistoric. This walk only took 30 minutes but was far more crowded. 

Maisie and I were still feeling energetic so we continued north to Prairie Creek State Park. This was the busiest spot we visited all day- perhaps because there is also a campground. 

We opted for a 4 mile loop along Prairie Creek. Compared to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, the redwoods here were much more dense. 

The highlight of the trail was the Big Tree, which means a lot in a grove of redwoods. The 350-foot tree is 21 feet in diameter. 

The Big Tree

The trail continued through a grove known as Cathedral Trees.

In the late afternoon, we visited the town of Trinidad, a beautiful historic seaside town. Adjacent to the town is a small mountain known as Trinidad Head that we hiked around. Maisie picked up some smoked salmon. 

For dinner, we headed to the town of Blue Lake, a historic logger´s town. The town´s highlight is the Logger Bar, a 101-year old dive bar. The ceilings are covered in chainsaws and the walls have historic photos. In one corner of the bar, we saw the lyrics to a song written about the bar. 

At 8pm, a rock band started (yes we went early) and Maisie and I played darts. Maisie had never played darts before and she is now obsessed. Anyways, the bar is epic!

June 24, 2023: More Tall Trees

Today we headed south. The main attraction south of Eureka is the Avenue of the Giants, a two-lane highway that cuts through the spectacular old growth redwoods of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. While it originally carried the US-101 designation, there is now a 4-lane freeway that bypasses the trees. 

For almost the entirety of the 31 miles, the highway is surrounded by gigantic redwoods. 

Along the way, we visited two groves. The first was the Founder´s Tree Grove, named for a particularly tall tree that itself is named for the founders of the NGO Save the Redwoods. The grove was shockingly empty, and it was special to be alone in the presence of giants. Of all the groves we visited, this one was the darkest – meaning there was the most shade. 

Nearby, we also visited the Rockefeller Grove. The grove is named for John D. Rockefeller who had lunch here with members of Save the Redwoods. He was so impressed by what that he gave the foundation the money to purchase the grove.

At the southern end of the Avenue of the Giants, we reached the Shrine Drive Thru Tree, one of just three standing trees in the world that you can a car through (the other two are also nearby). The Shrine Tree was damaged by a fire, but is still alive…barely. Driving through the tree was certainly a unique experience. 

We had now gone inland enough that the coastal fog was gone and instead it was very hot. After stopping briefly for a photo op in the town of Briceland, we headed to the town of Redway where Maisie´s friends were staying for the weekend (super random, I know!). It turns out that Maisie´s friend is dating a man whose great-grandfather purchased the land 100 years ago. Since then, his family has been vacationing here every summer. They now have two parcels of land along the Eel River. The land has multiple cabins to accommodate a large family gathering and many large redwoods. 

Epic setup in Redway

After lounging around and going for a quick canoe along the river, we drove back north to Eureka to tour the Lost Coast Brewery. Lost Coast is one of the 40 largest breweries in the US and is best known for Great White, a witbier. 

I have not seen Lost Coast beers much recently and there is a reason: the company has shifted its business model. Today, nearly 70% of the total production goes to Asia, mainly China and Korea. In fact, some of the beers have been reformulated specifically for the Asian market. 

Next, we drove to the town of Ferndale, the hometown of Guy Fieri. The town is a treasure trove of Victorian buildings- the entire main street and surrounding areas are Victorian. While we arrived a bit too late to go into anything, it was lovely to stroll around the town. 

For dinner, we returned to Eureka and had oysters served 6 ways for Pride Month. 

June 25, 2023: Humboldt State

For our final morning in the region, we drove to the town of Arcata. Arcata is the home of Cal Poly Humboldt which used to be known as Cal State Humboldt or Humboldt State. While the name change signifies an elevation of the academic offerings at the school, people are attached to the Humboldt State name. 

The campus, which looks a lot like UC Santa Cruz is located on the outskirts of town. The buildings of the main campus are forgettable. However, the campus also contains some beautiful redwood forests. The trees are nowhere as impressive as what we had seen, but its hard to complain since we are on a college campus. 

We then got crepes for lunch and headed to the airport to fly home. 

Final Thoughts:

Even if you have seen redwoods in other parts of California, Humboldt is worth the visit because the trees here really are more impressive.

The main attractions are the parks north of Eureka because they are a national park/UNESCO World Heritage Site but my favorite groves were actually south along the Avenue of the Giants.

You need at least 2 days to see everything: 1 for the National and state parks and 1 for the Avenue of the Giants, Ferndale and Eureka itself. Due to the flights, I spent 4 days and felt like I had seen everything thoroughly but at the same time did not run out of things to do.

While we ate well and the local produce such as oysters, smoked salmon, beer and Humboldt Fog cheese is of very high quality, I would not consider it a “foodie” destination. The most unique experiences were the fresh oysters in Eureka and the Logger Bar.

Avelo was great. It was punctual and the flight was short enough that you don’t need any frills.

In short, the north coast of California is a hidden gem and worthy of your visit.


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