Humboldt County- Thanks to a lot of major media attention, Humboldt County is primarily known for being the "heartland of high-grade cannabis production" in the United States. This perception of this isolated corner of Northern California seems to dominate people's thinking worldwide, but this is only half the story. It can't be denied that cannabis is a huge part of the economy here and is a way of life for many people. However, I would like to showcase some of the incredible natural beauty that this area has to offer. I call Humboldt County home, and it is important to me to showcase it in a more positive and diverse way.
Located about 6 hours north of the San Francisco Bay area (by car) on interstate 101, Humboldt County is quite isolated. We are also about an 8 hour drive from Portland, Oregon, and travel in and out of the county can be quite difficult. This is because landslides can cause the closure of route 1o1 for extended periods of time, making car travel impossible. We also have one of the foggiest airports in the US, and this location has even been used for special tactical military training due to this fact! Half the time flights are delayed and often redirected to Redding (3 hours inland).
All of these factors (and several others) help to maintain Humboldt's unique atmosphere, and those who stay here long enough tend to want to remain. One of the first things a visitor will see when entering the county from the south are the miles and miles of giant and ancient coast redwoods. These trees are truly remarkable, and route 101 winds it ways for 30 miles or so on the famous "Avenue of The Giants.
The coast redwoods grow from central California to the Oregon border, but Humboldt County has some of the oldest, tallest, and widest trees. Redwood National Park is located north of the college town of Arcata, and is a truly spectacular place. There is a timeless and silent feeling in these ancient redwood groves, and one must be amongst the ancient and fragrant trees to truly appreciate their majesty.
A map showing the location of Humboldt County in California and the US
The coastline here is outstandingly beautiful. The raw power of the mighty Pacific ocean is on
Driving from the famous Victorian village of Ferndale to the small town of Honeydew takes you through the "Lost Coast," California's only undeveloped stretch of coastline. The terrain here is so incredibly rough, that a proper highway could not be built. This is perhaps the most isolated of all Humboldt County, and is a place where there are many more cows on beaches than people! The small town of Petrolia is located here, and it is a fascinating study of a community that keeps holding on, despite its isolation and having been almost completely destroyed in a 1992 earthquake.
Beaches here are cold. The average water temperatures are in the 50's, there are sharks, and fog and killer waves can come at anytime. These aren't the beaches you would spread a blanket and suntan on- rather, they are perfect for donning a sweatshirt, examining incredible tidepools, and collecting beautiful agates. The temperature on the coast rarely rises above the 60's year round, so it is good to prepare for this. Inland, it can rise into the 100's in the summer, snow in the winter, and is a much different environment. Here, you can visit the bigfoot mecca of Willow Creek. Much of the town was created around a bigfoot theme, and there is a museum and a handful of restaurants paying tribute to that particular myth and legend.
Eureka is the largest city here (population 30,000) and features an interesting mix of amazing Victorian architecture, liberal attitudes, a devotion to the arts, and an interest in community. Arcata is home to Humboldt State University, and is perhaps the most left-wing town in the United States. Arcata has been a traditional haven for hippies, and this can be clearly seen on the famous Arcata plaza and around town.
People enjoy the abundance of food from the sea, fields, and forests, and the local farmer's markets include some incredibly fresh and delicious foods. A laid-back attitude predominates, and I will say that I have never lived in a place where you can feel such a tangible lack of judgement. Any lifestyle seems pretty acceptable, and there are certainly MANY ecclectic people here.
I would recommend a trip "behind the redwood curtain" for just about anyone. If you are interested in magnificent natural beauty, an accepting attitude about life, great food, music, and art, and rich Victorian-era history, then I can't recommend Humboldt County enough. You might decide to stay (or not-that is a common reaction, too!) it takes a "special" type of person to live here, and honestly, I question the isolation on a daily basis- but the natural beauty and open attitudes of the people keep me here. Viva la Humboldt!