Margaret Atwood wrote, "In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt." Spring in Humboldt County gives you plenty of opportunities to do just that. The air is warm(ish) and everything is green and lush. The daylight hours are dramatically longer, so you can explore all day and still have time to catch the sunset from the beach (or the bar).
The perfect bike ride in Trinidad feels like a ride on the edge of the world. This route takes you through the scenic fishing village's neighborhoods, watersheds and coastline. Park at Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse, take the obligatory panoramic photo and head north on Trinity Street, which becomes Stagecoach Road as you leave town. This fun, curving route is narrow, so stay alert and share the road. You'll pass through College Cove and dip in and out of Mill Creek before joining up with Patrick's Point Drive. The wider road continues past Trinidad's fanciest bed and breakfasts, offers peekaboo views of the Pacific and neatly deposits you at the main entrance to Patrick's Point State Park. Park admission is free for hikers and bikers, so coast in and explore. Bikers need to stick to the paved roads within the park, but you can lock up your bike against the gate by Lookout Rock if you want to hike and beachcomb. Don't forget to ride down to Palmer Point before you head south back to town.
If that 11-mile loop is enough for you, treat yourself to ice cream (or a mashed potato cone) at Lighthouse Grill. If you're craving more coastline, stay on Patrick's Point Drive as it winds through town and becomes Scenic Drive. You'll hug the cliffs and share this rough road with surfers and beachgoers all the way to Moonstone Beach. Soak your feet in the ocean shallows here for as long as your heart desires before heading back whence you came.
The 5-mile Elk River Trail in Headwaters Forest Reserve is a popular destination, but the majority of its users only enjoy part of the trail. The first mile is level and paved, making it easily accessible to bikers, skaters and children. The next 2 miles are unpaved and have a very small elevation gain. You can stick to these first sections of trail and have an easy, breezy day in the park — bring a picnic lunch, meander through the interpretive displays and poke along the South Fork of the Eel River.
Or you can ante up and commit to the full 11-mile loop. You'll be glad (and proud) you did. After leaving those tricycles and dog-walkers behind, you'll be enveloped by the cool quiet of the forest's canopy. After a short, fairly steep climb, you enter a loop trail through a beautiful old growth grove and you'll feel the redwood magic. Well done.
Some visitors to our redwoods only view them through their windshields. They roll through the Avenue of the Giants, pulling over to snap selfies and buy Bigfoot keychains. We prefer to actually leave the road and get up close and personal with our towering tree buddies. Doing so doesn't always require a big commitment — the Homestead and Big Tree Loop in Humboldt Redwoods State Park delivers maximum bang for minimum hiking buck. It even includes a scenic drive for those committed to the trees/dashboard experience.
From U.S. Highway 101 South, take exit 663 and then follow Bull Flats Road along the Eel River. Take a right on the Mattole Road and stay on this gorgeous stretch of road for about 3 miles until you reach the Big Tree parking lot. The Big Tree trail, as its name suggests, leads hikers through a grand, dense old growth grove along the creek. It crosses Mattole Road (which is noticeably quieter in the spring than the summer) and follows the creek to Albee Creek Campground. (If you'd like to stay the night, may we recommend site #25?) Take the lush, quiet Homestead Trail (which is open to horses as well as hikers) back to the Big Tree area to complete the 2.4-mile loop. Lovely.
As winter turns to spring, it's time to remember the old complaint, "Stop calling Stardough's for the sun report!" Instead, get your butt over to Blue Lake and check the weather at this favorite café yourself (448 Railroad Ave). Best-case scenario: It's as lovely as you'd hoped and you enjoy a stroll on the levee or a hang on the beach. Worst case: It's overcast but you're in sweet little Blue Lake! Either way, treat yourself to a Stardough's breakfast (yum, warm baked goods). Or if your perfect trip started a little later, sample wood-fired pizza or tri-tip. Whatever your food selection, we once again urge you to sit outside in the garden to soak up whatever weather and Blue Lake cuteness you can.
King Salmon is a funky place — kind of an old fishing guy's Venice, where greying beach houses back into the canals that run between the streets. Tucked into one of those canals, Sammy's BBQ and Catering (1125 King Salmon Ave., Eureka) serves up Polynesian-style barbecue in generous, delicious portions. The family-run cafe is no frills, and the menu is deceptively simple. Pick a meat and two sides (the Kalua pork and pineapple coleslaw are killer — but do what you will) for $10. Take a seat on the waterfront deck. Dig in. Die of foodie happiness.
Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate's (4 West Fourth St., Eureka) Dustin Taylor and Adam Dick source fair trade cacao from around the world and transform it into elegant, delicious chocolate in their small factory in Eureka. Twice a week (Thursday and Saturday), they invite the public to view their process by opening up their factory for 45 minute tours. Each tour is followed by a tasting hosted by one of the chocolate makers, including the opportunity to sample made-to-order drinking chocolate. In addition to their chocolate making, Dick and Taylor are woodworkers whose design aesthetic and skills are evident in every detail of the factory's beautifully handcrafted interior. Private tours (including field trips and romantic tours for two) are available by request. Since tours are in a working factory, children ages 6 and up are preferred. Book your tour online, call 798-6010 or email email@example.com.
The Goudi'ni Native American Arts Gallery, located on Humboldt State University's campus in the Behavioral & Social Science Building, is devoted to celebrating contemporary and traditional Native American artists. Shows at the gallery change every month, and each is designed to strengthen connections between the university, art fans and local indigenous communities. Visits to the Goudi'ni gallery are stirring, due to the visual richness of the exhibits in the glass-walled space as well as the traditional knowledge and history that shape each artist's work. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday and admission is free.
The Creamery District (1251 Ninth St.) is a vibrant, eclectic art and commerce community centered around the historic Creamery Building in Arcata. The once ramshackle building itself is a local landmark, with its 80-foot-high tower (now a vacation rental and studio space), roof decks, and enormous multi-paned windows. The Creamery Building houses the Arcata Playhouse, a dance and martial arts studio, and several other craft businesses. Start your visit to the district here, but then wander the surrounding blocks to find public art, studio spaces and architectural salvage. (A basic map of the area is available at www.creamerydistrict.org, but it's no substitute for self-guided touring.) The district hosts an open air Art Market on the last Saturday of each month from April through November, featuring live music performances and handmade treats.
The streets of the Victorian Village of Ferndale are a work of art themselves (the town is regularly noted as one of America's Prettiest Painted Places, whatever that means), and at their center is the Ferndale Art and Cultural Center. Open every day from 10 am-5 pm, the gallery features 21 local artists whose work is informed by the agrarian setting without being predictable. Visitors are as likely to see silky turned-wood vessels as needlepoint and watercolor portraits of farm animals. The featured artists also work in the gallery, making each visit an opportunity to appreciate the works and peer into the minds and creative process of the artists who create them.
With the Kids
With spring comes longer days, and with longer days comes later bedtimes. Parents all over Humboldt are propelled outdoors by the drive to embrace the sun and light and to run their kids like dog until bedtime. Fortunately, there are many spots to accomplish these twin goals.
McKinleyville's Hiller Park is directly on the Hammond Trail, but is often overshadowed by its sandy neighbors to the North and South (Clam Beach and Mad River Beach). The Hammond Trail itself is a fantastic, kid-friendly trip. The wide, paved trail is ideal for bikes and safe for those towing trailers or leading a pack of tots on scooters and trikes. Hiller Park's playground is trailside and has play structures suitable for toddlers and big kids. 1.5 miles of trail loop through the park's meadows and woods, making them ideal for kid-led adventures (long hikes, short distances). Motivated pint-sized explorers will delight in following the trails further into the Mad River Bluffs, which feature several overlooks of the river and ocean. Bonus points if you spot harbor seals napping in the sand.
Fresh Freeze (3023 F St., Eureka) is a 1950s-style diner serving up classic burgers and fries in the walkable shopping district of Henderson Center. It's been in operation since 1951, when it was a drive-in with car-hop service. Kids (and adults) can order ice cream delicacies from a separate walk-up window, check out the vintage toy cars and decor in the diner and then tool around the neighborhood. We love the thick shakes, made with real ice cream.
The Fortuna Depot Museum (3 Park St.) is housed in a historic train station, restored to its former glory and conveniently deposited next to a large playground and ball fields. Many of the museum's educational displays on local history are child-friendly and invite visitors to get hands on with local artifacts like a vintage typewriter, stereoscope and vintage costumes. A perennial favorite with children is Caboose #11, where kids can play conductor by learning different train whistle signals and operating the brake wheel. The Depot is open Thursday through Sunday from noon-4:30, and will extend hours to Monday-Sunday beginning in June.
The Fisheries Exhibit (Main and Sixth streets) in Scotia is the largest freshwater aquarium on the North Coast, and is open every weekday from 8 am-4:30 pm (open on Saturdays during the summer). The outdoor portion of the exhibit is open-air with several tanks designed to recreate a natural stream environment — including simulated rocks, logs, ferns and waterfalls. The tanks are stocked with salmon and steelhead trout at different stages of development.
Take the Scotia exit from U.S. Highway 101, Follow Main Street through town to the Inn, museum and shopping center. The fishery is past the main part of town; look for the visitor parking area.
Not Strictly for Tourists
Most people do not think of farms as tourist destinations. But here in Humboldt, we love our community supported agriculture something fierce. An authentic travel experience in our region is not complete without at least one visit to our farmers markets to see what the region's growers have to offer. The Arcata Farmers Market is open year round (Saturday morning at the Arcata Plaza), and is the perfect place to welcome spring.
But why stop there? Journey to the source and visit Trinity River Farm (2449 State Route 96) along the Trinity River. The drive up State Route 299 to Willow Creek is a bucket-list-worthy road trip in and of itself. The farm's roadside farm stand opens for the season on April 1 and sells farm grown produce, plants and locally made jams, jellies and sauces. Call farmer Tom O'Gorman at (530) 629-3200 in advance of your visit if you would like a tour of the place.
Wine tasting in Humboldt can be intimidating — we have a diverse array of vineyards and wineries scattered across an area the size of New Jersey. The Humboldt Wine Association can help you plan a multi-winery visit that crisscrosses the region. Or you can plan your own walking/tasting tour by visiting the tasting rooms of Moonstone Crossing (529 Trinity St.) and Bergeron Winery (359 Main St.) in Trinidad. Moonstone Crossing specializes in rich, full-bodied reds, and handcrafts all of its wines in small quantities using traditional techniques. You can taste for yourself in the art-filled tasting room Wednesday-Sunday (call 845-5492 for specific tasting hours or to make an appointment). Only a few blocks away, Bergeron Winery offers tastings of its wines in a sunlit room with views of the redwoods. The Monk Red Cabernet Sauvignon just won a medal in the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Call for an appointment at 677-5177.
Check the 90-day calendar in the back of this magazine, and if the Eureka Symphony has a performance scheduled, go. Some 50 local musicians with serious chops play in this 25-year-old ensemble. And you get to experience their music in the plush surrounds of the stately Arkley Center for the Performing Arts (412 G St., Eureka). Family-friendly music talks at which kids can check out instruments up close precede most performances.
And if the theater is dark, classical music aficionados can get a fix at Cornucopia (425 Snug Alley, Eureka), a carefully curated classical music CD shop — when's the last time you saw one of those? Owner Dorine Liesz carries on the shop started by the late Leon Berliner, a Holocaust survivor and classical music lover who envisioned the shop as a cultural hub. Peruse, ask questions and let the music wash over you.