Humboldt County, California Travel Guide
Humboldt County Summary
- Stunning coastal views
- Home to nearly half of the primary Coast Redwoods forests
- Popular activities include fishing, rafting, and kayaking
- Dining and lodging are generally inexpensive
- A spattering of cultural sights, such as historic lighthouses and museums
- Quaint towns feature colorful Victorian buildings and local shops
- A thriving beer and marijuana scene
- Some areas are very remote, making getting around difficult
- Extremely limited upscale and luxury hotel options
- Large homeless populations can be found in some cities and towns
What It's Like
Spanning over 100 miles of the Californian coast, Humboldt County is about a four- to six-hour drive north of San Francisco, depending on where in the county you're located. It's comprised of several cities and quaint towns, but the area is largely rural and most visitors come here to take in the stunning natural beauty -- namely, the iconic Redwoods; after all, Humboldt County is home to nearly half of the primary Coast Redwoods forests. So it's not surprising that most activities in the area are centered around outdoor pursuits. Visitors can hike and drive through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, as well as go on ventures such as fishing, rafting, and kayaking. The county has also developed a reputation for top-notch breweries, and a thriving marijuana business.
Beginning north and working their way south on Highway 101, visitors can check out tiny towns such as Orick, which has a population under 400 but conveniently sits along the Redwood National and States Park; it does have a motel, but most who start here choose to camp. Less than 30 minutes south there's Trinidad, which also has some lovely coastal and beach state parks, as well as a couple historic lighthouses and a museum. But most who are making the southbound trek won't start farther north than Eureka.
Popularized by the Gold Rush (hence its name), Eureka is a quiet spot these days. Some complain about the large homeless community, and it sits right off of relatively desolate roads lined by fast-food chains and strip malls. However, it does have a nice zoo (the Sequoia Park Zoo), and the city's Old Town is a hidden gem, defined by beautiful Victorian buildings that now house shops and restaurants. Travelers can find the similar town of Ferndale About half an hour south, where there are Victorian shops lining Main Street with confectioners, blacksmiths, and artists at work.
But, as previously mentioned, the county's real draws are the staggering coastal views and the towering Redwoods -- and visitors get the best view of them as they make their way from Eureka down to Garberville (an hour's drive) because, on this route, they'll drive through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, known for the Avenue of the Giants and the Shrine Drive-Thru tree. Be careful on this route, as many drivers pull over to the side of the road for photo ops, and wildlife, such as deer, is also prevalent.
As with many towns in Humboldt County, there's not much to see in Garberville -- although there is a cute inn with a nice restaurant that has hosted the likes of Cher and Prince of Jordan. Visitors stopping over here are often either camping nearby or making their way down to Mendocino County to take in more of the epic coastal views along Highway 101.
Where to Stay
Many visitors to Humboldt County, at least in the warmer months, are either setting up tents in the state parks or camping out of RVs. But each town along Highway 101 has a small inn or two; you won't find luxury accommodations here, but from Trinidad down to Garberville you can stay in inexpensive lodges and bed-and-breakfasts, some of which have legitimate charm.
If you do opt for hotel stays over camping during your trip, Eureka, Trinidad, Ferndale, and Garberville make for good stops along the way and all have a handful of properties. Arcata and Fortuna also have hotels, but more budget chain hotels such as Motel 8 and Howard Johnson.