Peek behind the “redwood curtain” on a road trip to California’s wild north west, where the rest of the world simply drops away.
Road tripping in Humboldt County is an epic adventure through what was just ranked the second most beautiful county in the entire U.S.A. Just four hours north of SF, it’s closer than Tahoe or Santa Barbara, and much more dynamic, offering both a kaleidoscope of outdoor activities as well as a hip urban scene. First, refer to this map of Humboldt County, then hit the road!
After crossing the Mendocino County line, the first town of any size is Garberville—the perfect base for exploring Southern Humboldt. To begin your journey, stock up on local organic snacks at Chautaqua Natural Foods, before heading to King Range Books for a great selection of guidebooks and maps of the area. If time allows and the spirit of adventure calls, do the Lost Coast Scenic Drive, which cuts from Garberville over to the wild beaches of the Lost Coast itself—a coastline far too rugged to allow Highway 1 to continue north past Mendocino. An alternate route to Northern Humboldt, Lost Coast Drive will eventually bring you back to Highway 101 just south of the Humboldt Bay after passing through the Victorian village of Ferndale. // Chautaqua Natural Foods: chautauquanaturalfoods.com, King Range Books: 901 Redwood Dr (Garberville); facebook.com/KingRangeBooks
Soon after leaving Garberville, you'll start seeing signs for the Avenue of the Giants. Get on it. This scenic byway (you'll wind right through grove after grove of massive ancient Redwood trees) runs parallel to the highway and only adds about 30 minutes to the trip. At the Humboldt Redwoods State Park’s Burlington Campground Visitor Center take a break from driving and check out the interpretive displays or catch a ranger-led talk around the campfire. The park also offers miles of trails, both hook-up and primitive camping, and summertime swimming fun in the Eel River. // humboldtredwoods.org/burlington
Since Highway 101 cuts right through the heart of Eureka, the largest town and county seat of Humboldt County, most people’s first impression is gas stations, fast food joints, and car dealerships. But hang a left in downtown Eureka to check out its surprisingly charming waterfront old town, complete with a sunny boardwalk along Humboldt Bay. Humboldt Bay produces about 70 percent of California’s oysters, so treat yourself to a dozen or two at Café Waterfront or the chic new Taste of Humboldt. Eureka is also a great place to spend the night on your road trip. Check into one of the many Victorian inns such as the Eagle House in old town, which has plenty of restaurants and nightlife within walking distance. On the first Saturday of every month, Old Town really pops with street music, open galleries and wine tastings for Arts Alive – an event worth planning a trip up around. // Café Waterfront: 102 F St (Eureka),cafewaterfronteureka.com; Taste of Humboldt: 205 G St (Eureka), taste-local.com; Eagle House: 139 2nd St (Eureka), eaglehouseinn.com; Arts Alive: eurekamainstreet.org
One of the largest protected bodies of water on the West Coast, the Humboldt Bay offers a chance get out of the car and onto the water. If you're feeling active, rent a kayak, canoe, or stand up paddle board from the Humboldt Aquatic Center on Eureka’s waterfront and explore some sloughs and islands. Or you could just cruise the bay, cocktail in hand, aboard the historic Madaket, which docks right at the foot of C St. on the Eureka Boardwalk and hosts the smallest licensed bar in the state of California. The Humboldt Bay Visitors Center offers personalized oyster tours of the bay, allowing you to harvest the shellfish yourself and feast on your catch back at their tasting room. // Humboldt Aquatic Center: 1 Harpst St, (Arcata), humboldt.edu; Madaket, humboldtbaymaritimemuseum.com; Humboldt Bay Visitors Center, humboldtbaytourismcenter.com
Home of Humboldt State University and just six miles north of Eureka, Arcata bursts with the kind of energy only found in college towns. Come on Saturday morning to browse the endless offerings at California’s oldest farmers market and then stick around town to hike the community forest or wander through the bay-front wetlands wildlife sanctuary, created by an innovative waste water treatment program designed by the university. A row of bars along Arcata’s central plaza stay busy most nights of the week, but for something a bit more classy head around the corner to Jambalaya, where live local bands and DJed dance parties are what’s on the agenda nightly. // Jambalaya: 915 H St, (Arcata), jambalayaarcata.com
Just after Arcata, you'll come to a junction with Highway 299, which cuts across the mountainous wilderness between Highway 101 and Highway 5 at Redding. This is one of the most awe-inspiring drives in the world. The highway tightly follows the emerald green Trinity River and brings you close to the jagged peaks of the Trinity Alps – the highest points on the California coastal mountain range. Stop in Willow Creek to check out the Bigfoot Museum and camp out right on the water at Tish Tang, a picture perfect bend in the Trinity River made for swimming that is located on the Hoopa Reservation, the largest Native American reservation in the state. // Bigfoot Museum, 38949 CA-299 (Willow Creek), bigfootcountry.net; Tish Tang: hoopaforestry.com
Just north of Arcata, Highway 101 starts running right along the coastline, providing numerous opportunities to stop and revel in the glory of raw Pacific splendor. Be sure to pause for at least a minute in Trinidad, where even Humboldt County residents come on their days off to marvel at the natural beauty of the area. Take a hike up Trinidad Head for dramatic sunsets from a vantage point or head over to Trinidad State Park to enjoy the semi-privacy of sheltered cove beaches. More beaches lie just south of town, including the clothing-optional Baker Beach and the surfer’s hangout of Luffenholtz Beach County Park. // Luffenholtz Beach County Park, redwoods.info
Like a pilgrim finally reaching Mecca, the final stop on your Humboldt County road trip is Nature’s Cathedral. Redwood National Park hosts miles of trails winding through pristine stands of ancient trees that often lead to lookouts over high coastal bluffs. While the Fern Canyon Trail is the most popular in the park (its vegetation-covered walls were featured in Jurassic Park) try the Redwood Creek Trail for a winning combo of old growth forest that follows the sapphire-hued waters of a designated wild and scenic river. Camping is available throughout the park, check in at the Prairie Creek Visitor’s Center for maps and more info. // Prairie Creek Visitors Center, nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/visitorcenters