For years, heading up to the remote Humboldt County in Northern California was a trip in itself. With United’s new direct service from LAX, the luscious pastures of green grass and the tallest trees in the world are now a quick, picturesque two-hour flight from California’s major airport hub. Grab a window seat to catch stunning aerial views of the untouched coast as you venture up to the lower half of the Pacific Northwest. Separating the Redwoods and the Lost Coast is an abundance of farms strung together by small coastal towns, making this a perfect weekend of nature, history, and classic Americana charm.
Catch the first flight in the morning from LAX to Arcata-Eureka Airport and head right for the reason you came here: the trees. You cannot head up to Humboldt County and not spend some time amongst the almighty display of Mother Nature. The fresh air, Pacific Ocean, and various shades of green on the horizon will intoxicate even the most city inclined person to lace up their sneakers and willingly immerse themselves into the forest.For one, trees are everywhere. Secondly, this area houses the tallest trees in the world and they also happen to be centuries old. These trees first started growing before your great-great-great-grandma was even born. This year marks the 50th anniversary of government protection for this World Heritage Site. If you are not spending at least a night in the Redwood National and State Parks, then dedicate at least a whole day to hiking the trails and checking out some of its natural highlights, such as Trillium Falls, Fern Canyon, or the protected miles of coastline.
To get the full experience, hop on a Nature Walk with a ranger (we highly recommend one with Greg Litten) and learn all about the fight for this forest. Educate yourself on the difference between the original old-growth and the second growth forest, which was planted incorrectly in the 1970s due to a rush to reforest the barren, logged land and is currently unhealthy. The park may feel endless when you’re inside, but remember that 96% of the original coastal redwoods in the larger area were logged. What once was two million acres of old growth coastal redwoods is now a little over 100,000 acres spread across California and Oregon. The area is still paying the price for decades of over-logging, but efforts to now correctly re-grow the redwoods are underway so that the trees will grow to be just as tall and wide as the healthy old growth. While you walk amongst the surviving trees, keep in mind the fight to keep this forest alive. Beauty is in every direction in this lush, prehistoric forest of old growth redwoods, and we are lucky that people fight to protect it. Bonus: if you’re lucky, you might spot a banana slug or wild elk roaming around too.
After trekking in the beauty that is the redwoods, your stomach will surely be rumbling. Make the journey south about 45 miles to arrive at Eureka, California, the principal city of Humboldt County. Keep up the relaxed atmosphere of the day by dining at Lost Coast Brewery & Café. Sip their award-winning beer and feast on some classic pub grub amongst the kooky decorations and laid back vibe. The place is outfitted with locals on a Friday night—everyone from college students grabbing a drink after class to families celebrating a birthday– you will quickly feel like this is your own hometown hangout too.
Make sure to get enough energy for days ahead by heading to breakfast at the Samoa Cookhouse in Samoa, just across the bay bridge from Eureka. As the last all-you-can-eat, logger camp-style restaurant on the West Coast, get prepared to eat family-style just like the lumberjacks used to. Serving three meals a day with a set menu and the same endless portion sizes as back in the day, no one walks away hungry. The walls are covered with pictures of local loggers and giant rusted saws, so it easy to imagine what this same meal would have felt to those men after long days of arduous labor. Once stuffed, head over to the attached Historic Logging Museum to learn more about how the loggers lived and the cooks who provided them sustenance.
Next, stroll through the Old Town District of Eureka to recover from your hearty breakfast. Set aside foggy Humboldt Bay and filled with Victorian architecture, this downtown district is meant to be explored on foot. Peruse the local shops, used bookstores, and endless galleries to get a feel for the local, artistically-inclined community. Stop by the Eureka Co-Op and grab a hand-crafted sandwich to-go to add an afternoon picnic on the beach to your adventures. If you crave even more small town Americana with a bit of personality and history mixed in, then make your way over to neighboring Ferndale. With fewer than 2,000 residents and historic Victorian homes and storefronts, this teeny town is a gateway to the county’s sprawling, lush farms and California’s Lost Coast.
With sandwich and camera in hand, begin the venture down to the 25 miles of undeveloped coastline that is the Lost Coast. Only accessible by foot, it is well known among backpackers as a dreamy three-day hike, but there are many short trails that will lead visitors down to the coast for a quick afternoon jaunt on the deserted shoreline. If a short excursion is ideal then head over to Fleener Creek in the Lost Coast Headlands. The small path there leads you down a hillside meadow with stunning views of the rocky Pacific coast, grandiose hills of dark green trees, and the vibrant pastures of a few local farms. The beach is serene with no trace of human existence for miles. There are few places left in the world that remain as untouched as Humboldt County, and the thought of its tranquil beauty will be sure to keep you calm all through your flight home.
Head on over to The Sea Grill in Eureka for a treat on your final night away. As with most of the buildings in the area, the restaurant is in an alluring Victorian and offers elegant seating with delectable seafood. Sourcing from the local bay, it is a local favorite for the taste is fresh with a gourmet finish. Try the Mahi-Mahi served with a macadamia nut sauce or the Sea Grill Fettuccine–its Alfredo sauce is so creamy it’s almost too good to be true.
With just a morning to spare due to limited direct flight times, head on over for a breakfast at Los Bagels, a café serving up a blend of Jewish and Mexican tastes. Try Izzy’s Guac ’n Lox for a taste of the culinary mash-up. Make it quick though so you have time to stop by Dick Taylor Chocolate to fix your inevitable bored-on-the-plane-sweet-tooth craving. Delectable dark chocolate is made directly from the raw cocoa beans in-house at this charming little shop. If time permits, stop in for a tour of their chocolate making process and make sure to grab a few bars to take home as gifts as you head to the airport.
WHERE TO STAY
A stay in one of the four campgrounds within Redwood National and State Park is the best way to fully experience the beauty of this land eternally caught in political, economic, and environmental conflict. Despite seemingly endless boundaries at this National Park (due to its cohabitation with three State Parks), campsites fill up fast, so make sure to plan ahead if you intend to sleep under the tallest trees in the world. At just $35 a night, camping is the most affordable option for the area and in our opinion, the most magical. Add to the adventure by moving across the parks and switching campsites each night to get the full lay of the land and learn about the areas that are trying to be regrown after years of excess logging and unhealthy regrowths.
If sleeping outdoors is not your ideal weekend, head over to nearby Eureka, CA for a night or two at The Inn at 2nd & C. The historic 23-room renovated Victorian building sits by the famed waterfront of Humboldt Bay and is in the Old Town District of Eureka. The rooms are filled with antique furniture and cute sitting areas overlooking the bay or historic downtown. The property is easily the most charming place in town with each floor fitted with a sitting room filled with books and a fireplace. This place will feel like staying at a rich grandma’s old mansion but with warming hospitality to match. After days on your feet walking around town or hiking among the redwoods, this place feels like home–albeit from a century ago.
Fly directly from Los Angeles on United to Arcata-Eureka Airport, located just 20 minutes north of Eureka and 30 minutes south of the Redwood National and State Parks. Another option is driving the five or six hours north from San Francisco, the closest major city.
WHEN TO GO
Sunny days make for great weather while exploring the woods and coast, so try to make it up during the span of late spring to early fall. For this reason, August is the busiest month for tourists to visit, so take care to avoid that if you wish to escape crowds.