Welcome to the time of year when spring winds give way to gentler coastal breezes, inland temperatures soar and the long, long days stir even the most reticent souls toward exploration.
The Outdoorsy Type
Let's start with something simple and so obvious that you might not realize how nearby majesty awaits: Trinidad Head. The rocky promontory rises to a height of 380 feet, allowing hikers to gaze out over the open ocean from high above or glance back and admire the dramatic seastacks, daring surfers and bobbing fishing boats. Birding enthusiasts, take note: Green and Flatiron Rocks host one of California's largest colonies of Common murres — up to 60,000 birds nesting each spring and summer. Along the 1.25-mile trail, you'll come across a cross left over from when a 1775 Spanish expedition claimed the land for Spain — now a popular wedding spot. You'll also see the Trinidad Head Lighthouse, operating since 1871.
Another easily accessible spot of beauty is the sweep of Mad River beaches right off the bridge in Blue Lake. Park on Hatchery Road and choose either side for your lazy afternoon pleasure. The west side of the bridge has a deeper channel for swimming, but sandy beaches stretch both ways. Bring a juicy paperback or, if you're more ambitions, goggles and a snorkel to check out the fish. In addition to basking or bathing, the area boasts a levee trail along the river.
Off the beaten path lies a rare Humboldt beach where one can cavort in a bikini, shorts or, on the south side of College Cove, nothing at all. The cove consists of two sheltered beaches with glittering waterfalls, Instagrammable views and gentle streams. The north side is the most visited and is accessible via a steep half-mile trail that drops down 120 feet. The parking area has picnic tables, but you'll want to take your sandwiches to the beach. If you need a restroom, however, the porta-potties at the top are as formal as it gets. Two important precautions: Do not leave valuables in your car as the lot is isolated, and be sure and check the tides before heading out. College Cove should be visited during the ebbing or low tide.
Sure, Humboldt's brimming with California cuisine, but sometimes a person longs for a traditional greasy spoon breakfast. Miranda's Avenue Café obliges with massive omelets stuffed with standards and smothered in the house special "green pork salsa." The only concession to modernization is in the offering of gluten-free pizza on the lunch menu — otherwise, this tucked away café with patio seating is strictly old-fashioned comfort food. Work up your appetite exploring the old-growth redwoods, then dive in.
In 1997, after more than a decade at the renowned Benbow Inn, chef Thomas Allen started his own catering company, which led to Amillia's Gourmet to Go (443 Melville Road, Garberville). It's just what it sounds like: a place to get excellent breakfasts and lunches to sustain you throughout the day. Fuel up before a hike with a breakfast burrito or breakfast croissant, pack up a New York steak or tofu-and-tahini sandwich for lunch by the river. The options are limited, but the quality is exceptional. Recently the business expanded to offer weekend dinners — cinnamon pork loin and Mediterranean linguini being two local favorites — at Amillia's, A Destination in Dining downstairs in the same building.
Arcata institution Folie Deuce (1551 G St., Arcata) has long been the go-to spot for celebration dinners. Odds are someone in the warm and tasteful dining area is having a birthday, anniversary or some other commemorative moment. But even if the date itself is not notable, the French-Mediterranean cuisine and extensive wine list always make the occasion special. More reason to rejoice — Folie Deuce is now open for lunch. The daytime focus is focaccia laden with marvelous combinations: salami, brie and apricot jam; local duck egg, bacon, brie and avocado; and duck confit, gruyere, caramelized onion and apple. Prefer a breadless feast? The chef will place the fillings on a green salad for you. You can't go wrong.
The Lost Coast is the least developed stretch of coastline in all of California. Always described as "remote and rugged," the Lost Coast is home to the King Range Wilderness Area, three tectonic plates and an artist named John McAbery. McAbery's studio — and home — sits south of Petrolia and is fashioned from driftwood he assembled himself. There's no electricity. But while modern conveniences may be lacking, inspiration overflows. McAbery's fluid, elegant pieces — hand carved from naturally fallen native Bay Laurel wood — reflect the natural beauty he's surrounded by. As McAbery says, "The coast is alive, full of magic, music and motion. Some of that is bound to show up in my work." To view his sculptures, visit www.johnmcaberywoodsculptures.com.
J. DeSoto Reclaimed Woodworks lies on the other end of the design spectrum, all geometric patterns and sharp angles that meet where nostalgia and modernization collide. Rectangles encase triangles, bold color expands a previously flat surface. The imagery is stark, but the materials are warm and speak eloquently to how DeSoto has turned what has previously been discarded into beauty, both functional — tables and frames — and purely pleasurable. See his work permanently installed at Richard's Goat (401 I St., Arcata) and Humboldt Juice Works (933 I St., Arcata), on display at Jitterbean (900 G St., Arcata) during July and August, and at www.jdesoto.com.
Anna Amezcua's art does that thing that the best art does — yokes the viewer into the present moment, all but its intricate beauty falling aside. Washes of color adorn canvases several feet in size. Some suggest softness, an invitation, a delicacy, with light, nearly translucent colors. In others, the shapes are ragged, the colors more physically present, like a vivid dream slipping away upon waking. Amezcua's paintings are abstract; the emotion they evoke is intense. You'll want to stare for a while. Visit her studio (208 C St., Eureka) during first Saturday Arts Alive or schedule an appointment via www.annaamezcua.com.
With the Kids
Sometimes you just want to set them down and let them run free in the sunshine. Consider Moonstone Beach, just south of Trinidad, Humboldt's most family-friendly chunk of sand — not only does the expansive beach offer plenty of room for even the most feisty child to recover from a long car ride, but Little River winds out to meet the Pacific and makes for gentle waterplay. Adventurous children can scramble up the rocks that jut skyward — and a waterfall lies around the corner to the north, accessible at low tide. Even more exploratory opportunities exist in the form of tidepools and sea caves. You can also rent surfboards and wetsuits at Salty's (332 Main St., Trinidad). In any case, you'll want to pack a picnic and stay awhile.
Visiting Humboldt for a week or more? Wondering how to keep tweens and teens entertained? Humboldt State University's Center Activities offers a plethora of youth camps including sailing, surfing, climbing, hiking, backpacking, multi-venture and a comprehensive aquatics experience for children ages 6 to 17. Individualized instruction is an essential part of the camps and why the participant-to-instructor ratio is kept low at six-to-one. Camps take place at various locations around Humboldt County. No previous experience is needed. Call (707) 826-3357 for more information and to sign up.
Looking at images of whitewater rafting might make you think being on the river is all adrenaline and risk — and Six Rivers Rafting (41212 State Route 299, Willow Creek) certainly does offer those trips — but families seeking to see the heart of Humboldt from a calmer vantage point have options, too. Particularly the Lower Trinity Scenic Trip, which follows the river through deep canyons, magical swimming holes and only the occasional rapid. Many people fall in love with the Trinity River on this run according to the folks at Six Rivers Rafting. You could be one of those people.
Not Strictly for Tourists
Like most places in America, Humboldt's population embodies a wide range of political, cultural and social experiences. We can be fierce debaters. But there's one place where differences are set aside and mutual fandom rules the hours: the Arcata Ball Park (888 F St., Arcata). It's home to the oldest continuously-operated summer collegiate, wood-bat baseball team in the country, the Humboldt Crabs. You'll need to know a few things: 1) the third-base-side bleachers are calmer than the first-base-side, which is next to the beer booth; 2) the heckling is best on the first-base-side, upper bleachers; 3) kids can run around in the grass off left field, but foul balls are a risk; 4) speaking of foul balls, locals never park within a block of the ball field — you shouldn't either; 5) there's a brass band some nights; 6) even people who don't care about baseball love the Crabs.
Oh, the Madaket! Beloved by locals and visitors alike, the 47.5-foot ship is the last remaining of a seven-vessel fleet that once transported families and workers around Humboldt Bay. Now she serves as a Humboldt Bay Harbor cruise flag boat, providing eco-tours, historical tours, oyster shucking tours and the ever-popular cocktail cruise, plus the occasional venture out during a full moon. The Madaket is the oldest passenger carrying vessel in continuous service in the United States and boasts the smallest licensed bar in California. Book your tours at (707) 445-1910. The Madaket departs from the foot of C Street in Eureka.
From the outside, the Arcata Theater Lounge (1036 G St., Arcata) looks like just another fashionably retro movie house with a fancy marquee, but inside, instead of boring rows of seats, the venue has tiered table-and-chair seating. You can get popcorn, sure – or you can order up dinner from a menu that includes burgers, samosas, pizzas and salads. The usual movie theater drink offerings are there — and so is a full bar with local beers on tap. If all that isn't enough to entice you, architecture fans will delight in the glorious combination of Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture. Wednesday is Sci-Fi Night, featuring some of the oddest B movies ever made. The other nights vary between live music, films and variety shows.