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The fresh scent of redwood trees washes over you the second you cruise into Humboldt County. A light fog and shroud of mystery encompass everything around you, and once you catch glimpses of Humboldt Bay, the excitement of new adventures settles in.
Nestled in the northern end of the state, Eureka, California, is unlike anywhere else on earth. The smog of big cities and droves of people melt away in this wooded oasis, where all seems well with the world and nature is held above all else. Slacklining, wilderness hiking, and tree-hugging are often seen as legitimate pastimes, and it’s always a good idea to take a drive to the beach when you’re in Eureka.
Indeed, there are endless things to do in Humboldt County if you dare to look; from taking photos of redwood groves and splashing around on the coast, to wandering around the nearby towns of Arcata, Ferndale, and Loleta, you’ll never tire of sightseeing. The North Coast is considered an explorer’s paradise for a reason, and you’ll likely see many others enjoying the day whenever you leave your lodging. To help you make the most of your getaway, here are the best things to do in Eureka.
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When driving from the Shasta Cascade region, the forested scenery doesn’t come as a surprise the way it does when coming from the San Francisco Bay Area—tall buildings are replaced by towering trees, and endless crowds are traded for open space—but there’s still a palpable change in the air that lets you know when you’ve arrived in Eureka. The clean air reminds you of summer days spent in over-chlorinated pools, the feeling of utter relaxation starts to settle into your bones, and the silly problems that occupied your mind are swept away by breathtaking views.
The scenery truly starts to hit you when you arrive in Blue Lake; curtains of trees line the road—which appears to solely belong to you—and you begin to feel both infinite and infinitesimal at the same time. From Redding, the last stretch takes you from Arcata to Eureka, highlighting a few of the best towns in the region and allowing you to discover their true charm for yourself.
As you meander the streets of Eureka, it’s easy to feel like you’ve stepped into another universe. Victorian houses and storefronts line the walkways, forests sprawl out to meet sandy beaches, and an eclectic group of people can be seen in all areas of the town.
Before heading out to see what makes this community so special, drop off your luggage and settle in at the stunning Carter House Inns. Tucked away near Humboldt Bay Harbor and Eureka’s historic Carson Mansion, this collection of elegant accommodations has an unusual story. Based on design plans found at a thrift store in Eureka and modeled after the Murphy House—which stood in S.F. until the 1906 earthquake and fire—the Carter House’s façade may look familiar if you’ve spent time studying the history of San Francisco.
Today, the quaint bed and breakfast preserves the essence of the Bay Area’s architectural history, offering five rooms along with several other amenities in the surrounding buildings—including the award-winning Restaurant 301, located across the street at the Hotel Carter.
Once you’ve become acquainted with the inn and freshened up for dinner, it’s time to head over to Old Town Eureka, situated a stone’s throw away. Old Town is the heart of Eureka and is home to many of the town’s best shops and eateries. After walking down Second Street for about half a mile, you’ll stumble upon Oberon Grill, a fantastic spot to grab a bite. Order a bowl of the New England clam chowder to start, or for something a bit lighter, go with the pear and pecan salad featuring Cypress Grove Chèvre and apple cider vinaigrette. Continue on with the savory shrimp scampi for a delectable combination of garlic, butter, and capers.
Then, venture over to Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate to sample some of the best chocolate California has to offer. Treat yourself to a chocolate fudge pop to take advantage of pleasant weather, or get a chocolate bar or two to enjoy back in your room—either way, you won’t regret it. After such an eventful day, the hours have flown by and the time has come to return to the inn for a restful night’s sleep.
With the morning sun shining upon you, there’s no better time to check out the shops and unique architecture that typifies Eureka’s city limits. A leisurely stroll takes you back through Old Town to the doorstep of Humboldt Bay Coffee Company, where organic, small-batch coffee awaits. Stock up on pounds of beans for later, and expand your collection of coffee brewing equipment before taking off to check out the local art galleries and the Carson Mansion.
Order food to-go from Brick & Fire Bistro, and indulge your senses as you have a picnic at the nearby Fort Humboldt State Historic Park. Opt for the unctuous wild-mushroom cobbler and the red and bleu salad for a delicious mixture of arugula, organic roasted red baby beets, clementines, gorgonzola, and pomegranate-herb vinaigrette. Then, watch your world get turned upside down as you savor the hot pastrami sandwich; grilled caraway sourdough, fermented garlic sauerkraut, Gruyère, sun-dried tomato aioli, and spicy horseradish meld together for heavenly bites.
Satisfied by the sights of nature and the flavors of wood-fired favorites, it’s time to explore Sequoia Park Zoo, one of the best zoos in the state and the oldest zoo in California. You’ll feel like a kid again when you see the otters, red pandas, alpacas, cotton-top tamarins, and endangered Chacoan peccaries. It’s easy to lose track of time while making friends with the animals, so take your time and enjoy the weather as you explore the world without leaving Eureka.
Another day seems to have come and gone all too quickly, with the slow pace of life up north taking hold and allowing you to truly appreciate every moment. As the sun goes down and the sky begins to change colors, your stomach indicates it’s time for dinner. Make your way back to Old Town to savor a luxurious meal at Humboldt Bay Provisions.
Start with the house-made ceviche starring wild-caught Pacific shrimp and corn, then move on to the cheeses from California’s oldest family-owned cheese company: Rumiano Cheese. Add on some green olives and smoked tofu to get a real taste of Humboldt County—but don’t leave without ordering some fresh oysters and a glass of kombucha.
After spending a wonderful couple of days in Eureka, it’s time to head to Ferndale for some additional North Coast adventures before making your way home.
Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…
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