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California’s North Coast

Photo by Michele Bigley

California’s North Coast Itineraries

California’s Kitschy North Coast

California’s North Coast for 48 Hours

California’s North Coast for Families

Where redwoods and oceans meet

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California’s North Coast is California’s most beautiful region. Hands down. One time in your life (or many, if you are as smitten with redwoods as Northern Californians), you have to stand in the shadow of a city of redwood trees that dwarf people, cars, even buildings, to understand the magic that these forests evoke. Nowhere else will you see the symbiotic relationship of trees and ocean, moss and mulch, ferns and fog, mountains and sea.

In terms of culture, the North Coast might feel sleepy, with little open on Sundays or late in the evenings. However the more time spent in Eureka, or sister town Arcata, proves a worthy addition to any itinerary. Between funky festivals, great outdoorsy shops, a solid food scene and a thriving close-knit community, most find the North Coast tugs the heart strings upon departure.


California’s North Coast: Southern Humboldt County

The region is divided into four. Starting with SoHum (Southern Humboldt County), where the famed Avenue of the Giants weaves through Humboldt Redwood State Park. Most people camp here and visit the one-shop towns of Garberville, Redway, Phillipsville, Miranda, and Myers Flat for food and gas. From here you also have access to the mostly unexplored Lost Coast and the town of Shelter Cove.


California’s North Coast: Northern Humboldt county

As the redwood trees begin to part pass the ailing lumber towns of Scotia and Fortuna. To the west is the touristy Victorian village of Ferndale, and to the east, Bigfoot Country.

NoHum (northern Humboldt) twin towns of Eureka and Arcata could not be more different. Eureka is the conservative lumber town, holding on to its roots. Explore an Old Town filled with galleries, cafés and music venues, bearded lumberjacks, gun shops, and mullets.

Arcata is the black sheep of the whole North Coast. A funky college town, complete with artists, hippies, and educators. There are more dreadlocks here than mullets, more pot smoke than gun shops, and more organic food than fast food.

Farther north is the beach village of Trinidad and the magical Redwood State and National Park.


Del Norte County

Once you arrive in Del Norte County, you can feel a shift. Indian reservations and RV parks outnumber hotels and houses. This area is home to some of the most beautiful and unexplored redwood parks, rivers, and beaches in the whole state.

Tourists won’t find much in the towns of Orick, Klamath, and Crescent City. If you make it all the way up here (and you should), camp along the Smith River to feel like a true explorer.


When To Go

There is never a bad time to visit the redwoods. These trees delight in rain or shine. That being said, crowds flock to the region during school holidays, festivals, long weekends and in summer. Since the weather is downright chilly year round (those trees need to survive somehow), it might be wise to visit when the rhododendrons are in bloom (April), or in Fall when you have a better chance for some sunshine on the beaches.

How Much Time To Spend

Like most places, the North Coast gets better the longer you stay. A week would allow you to explore Eureka and Arcata, Redwoods State and National Park, the beaches, Bigfoot’s stomping grounds and the far north.

If you are low on time, you can get a healthy taste of the region over a weekend.

High and Low Season

As with most of Northern California, the North Coast high season is in summer. However, the best weather comes in autumn, allowing for sunny days and reasonably priced hotels.

Weather and Climate

Redwoods need cool fog to thrive, meaning that along the coast, travelers should expect that chilly blanket to shade most of the day. Temperatures rarely rise above the mid-sixties Fahrenheit, with the highest average temperature in August being a blustery 65. Though it doesn’t snow along the coast, in winter, it can be downright cold and rainy.

Events and Holidays

National Holidays include:

January (1st):  New Year’s Day
January (third Monday):  Martin Luther King Day
February (third Monday):  Washington’s Birthday
May (last Monday):  Memorial Day
July (4th):  Independence Day
September (first Monday):  Labor Day
October (second Monday):  Columbus Day (aka Native American Day)
November (11th):  Veteran’s Day
November (fourth Thursday):  Thanksgiving Day
December (25th):  Christmas

Other fun events:
February:
Clam Beach Run, Trinidad
Craw Crawl Fest, Eureka

March:
Redwood Coast Music Festival, Eureka
Aleutian Goose Fly-Off, Loleta

April:
Godwit Days Birding Festival, Arcata

May:
Kinetic Sculpture Race, Arcata to Eureka to Ferndale
Tour of the Unknown Coast, Ferndale
Avenue of the Giants Maraton, Weott

June:
Arcata Oyster Festival
Open Studios, Countywide
Mad River Festival, Blue Lake

July:
Mad River Festival, Blue Lake
Fortuna Rodeo Week, Fortuna

August:
Humboldt County Fair, Ferndale
Hops in Humboldt, Fortuna

September:
Bigfoot Days, Willow Creek
North County Fair, Arcata

October:
Pastels on the Plaza, Arcata
Apple Harvest Festival, Fortuna

November:
Blue Ox Millworks Craftsman’s Days, Eureka

December:
Truckers Christmas Convoy, Eureka
Lighted Tractor Parade, Ferndale

Time Zone

California is located in the Pacific time zone.

To check the local time in California, click here.

Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (early March, on a Sunday morning at 2AM). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (late October or early November on a Sunday morning at 2AM), clocks shift back one hour to standard time. The entire U.S. (except most of Arizona) participates in this ritual of ‘springing forward’ and ‘falling back.’

What To Pack and Wear

Seems most everyone along the North Coast owns a Patagonia jacket, an insulated beanie, some hiking boots and hearty jeans. You’ll be out of place in your newest Prada, that’s for sure. The vibe is all flannel: Think logger chic meets hippie.

Bring plenty of layers and a wetsuit if you want to get in the sea.

What it Costs

While there are no haute resorts strung along this remote coast, hotels, especially on weekends, can be downright expensive. Many of the Eureka’s budget motels might feel a bit shabby for most, while the more reputable chains deliver consistent clean accommodations.

Drawing on its farm to table sensibilities, much of the food in the region might feel a touch overpriced. However, by shopping at local markets and camping, it’s fairly easy to experience the region without spending much dough.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $US.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

Eat
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’€™s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’€™s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their €”friend” or subscribe to their e-mailings.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘€˜em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.

Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transportation, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Download the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. Memberships cost about $7 a month; rentals are about $8-10 per hour; gas and insurance are included.

Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

Money Saving Tip: Costco, because of its behemoth size and price negotiating power, offers great low prices for most major car rental companies. Yes, you need to purchase an annual Costco membership first, but it more than pays for itself with what you’ll save with a typical week’s car rental (i.e. searches turn up a mid-size car through Costco for $225 and a comparable car through another aggregator for $325.)

Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day. By the way, when renting in California, there are no additional driver fees by law.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to (or within) the U.S. goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation –€” About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical –€” Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.

Trip Interruption –€” For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay – Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage –€” Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’€™s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’€™ll probably want some coverage ‘just in case’€ … no matter what.

Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework – check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

If you have pre-existing health conditions –€” Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance –€” If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’€™s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “€œshared space”€ lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.

Exchange Rates and Currency

U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans have an understandably tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.

Coins in wide circulation include pennies (1 cent), nickels (5 cents), dimes (10 cents), quarters (25 cents). The 50 cent and dollar coins are seen occasionally.

Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so plan to have $20s or smaller bills in hand.

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

ATMs

If you get money from an ATM machine, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, U.S. banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash back”€ when paying for your goods —€” this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.

Credit Cards

Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout the U.S.

Don’€™t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. This goes for U.S. residents traveling out of state. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’€™t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’€™ll have easy access.

Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’€™t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any U.S. travel experience, whether urban or rural. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but other costs should also be taken in to consideration. General guidelines include:

Restaurants:

For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In many states, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.

To complicate matters, many restaurants in the major metropolitan areas — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco —€” are moving to a no-tipping model in which service is included. The verdict isn’t yet in on whether this new model will stick, so be sure you understand the tipping policy at each restaurant you visit.

Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included. But at least it will be itemized in plain sight on the bill.

Hotels:

Most bell staff receive $1-$2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5-$10.

Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2-$3 per day and about $5 per day in higher end properties.

At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets, or simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Current etiquette calls for $10-$20 per person, per day for concierge help. Car valet staff expect $1-$2 for delivering you your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually see 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.

Other costs:

Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Transportation

The North Coast is a large swath of Northern California, bigger than some US states. Between the wet weather and the windy roads, getting around takes time. Unless you plan to cycle through the region, you’ll definitely want a car at your disposal.

Getting There

Greyhound has one daily bus between Arcata/Eureka and San Francisco. The bus heads south in the early AM and heads north in the afternoon.

Amtrak has a bus from the Martinez station, but it’s only for transfers to and from the train.

The small Eureka/Arcata Airport offers air service from San Francisco on United Express. Pen Air delivers weekly flights from Portland and Redding.

If you are driving, take US 101 from San Francisco due north. From the east, cut through CA 299 to arrive in Arcata. From Oregon, travel south on US 101. For general driving info, click here.

Getting Around

Unfortunately, you’ll kick yourself if you don’t have a car here. Though you can access some of the natural attractions by bus, the best way to get into them is by car—often on seriously winding roads. Everything requires a trek. From Leggett to Garberville it is about 20 miles, but it takes about a half hour to drive it. Eureka is about 70 miles from there and Arcata is another 10 miles to the north. The Redwood State and National Park is about 45 minutes north of town. Crescent City is 77 miles from Arcata.

If you don’t have a car, Redwood Transit System (RTS) offers service throughout Humboldt County.

Avis and National car rental agencies serve the region.

Transportation Hubs

Eureka, Arcata and Crescent City are the largest transportation hubs in the region.

Background

Often written off as too remote for travelers, the northwestern shoulder of California lays claim to some of the most beautiful landscape on the planet. Imagine far reaching redwood trees, shrouded in thick ghostly fog and a rich carpet of ferns, nestling up to the rugged Pacific Ocean and you begin to draw a picture of the world the way the Native American Wiyots must have first glimpsed it.

However, as with most areas of California, the idyllic landscape has not been reserved for the original settlers, rather in the 17- and 1800s, explorers from as far as Spain battled it for this mystical land. After a series of colorful wars between the native people and the American settlers, Humboldt County (namely the region around Eureka) became a bustling lumber community (you can guess which gang won those wars). And while logging used to be the primary draw for the economy up here, today the locals rely on tourism and marijuana crops for their cash flow. Strangely, you wouldn’t know tourism was big business from the lack of cushy resorts in these parts. On the flip side, the redwood coast forces visitors to unplug and settle into modest accommodations so that they can spend their days in awe of the magic of nature.

History

First settled by Native American Indians, explorers from Spain battled it out for rights to claim this landscape. Before long a thriving lumber community grew bursting the economy until the 1900s. Today the locals rely on tourism and marijuana crops for their cash flow. Strangely, you wouldn’t know tourism was big business from the lack of cushy resorts in these parts.

Farther north in Del Norte County, a third of the population is under the poverty line. Much of this poverty can be attributed to the ailing lumber companies and the 1964 tsunami: A 20.78-foot wave destroyed 289 Crescent City buildings and killed 11 people.

Culture

Quirky, tough, loving, and brainy are all adjectives to describe North Coast residents. Culturally the renegade vibe spices up the community, while the hippies and artists gather around the Arcata square to hit the peace pipe.

Cuisine

Most of Northern California preaches the farm to table movement. The best restaurants are in Eureka and Arcata, though there are a couple notables scattered in small towns around the county.

And while the North Coast has its share of foodie-favored restaurants, the hype up here is about beer. The microbrew scene in Humboldt County changed the face of hops in the USA. Be sure to make some time to sample the brews inspired by the redwoods.

Recommended Reading

Many writers have been inspired by the North Coast. Here is a list of some of our faves.

Jack London traveled from Marin County to Humboldt County in horse-drawn carriage, stopping at points of interest along the way, making them Redwood Empire’s first bona fide tourists.

Thomas Pynchon stayed in Humboldt/Arcata for awhile, and wrote VINELAND about the culture of extreme Northern California.

Raymond Carver lived off and on in Arcata, as a student and later as a writer/lecturer. A troubled alcoholic, his last drink was at the Jambalaya’s on the Arcata Plaza.

Thomas Merton, the mystic monk, a popular figure in the 1960s and 1970s,  wrote a short book, his last, during a retreat on the Lost Coast, where he dreamed of someday placing a monastery.

Amy Stewart, the New York Times best-selling author, lives in Eureka. She wrote Flower Confidential, Wicked Plants and now Wicked Bugs. She and her husband Scott, a fine books and book binding expert, run a popular antiquarian bookstore in Old Town Eureka.

Also worth a peek are the following:
Julia Butterfly Hill’s memoir of living in a redwood tree, LEGACY OF LUNA.
EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGE, Lori Dengler, Amya Miller
REDWOODS, Justin Chin (a great kids’ book)

Other authors to look out for include Jerry Rodhe, Richard Preston, and Emily Brady.

Art

Cool weather, magnificent nature, and isolation is a perfect recipe for plentiful art. The art community of the North Coast is thriving. The region is even winning awards as 100 Best Small Art Towns (Eureka boasts the highest number of artists per capita than anywhere in California!

Check out the following Art Walks:
Trinidad First Friday May-Oct
Fortuna First Friday
Eureka’s Arts Alive!, first Saturday of the month.
Arcata Art Walk, second Fridays
Rio Dell Art Walk,
second Saturdays
McKinleyville Art Walk, third Friday
Garberville Art Walk, first Fridays

There are dozens of galleries throughout the region. The most influential destination for art lovers is the Morris Graves Museum of Art. For more information, click here.

There is also a thriving theater scene in the North Coast. Check out the lineup at Arcata Playhouse, Dell’Arte, Eureka Theater, Ferndale Rep, North Coast Rep or the Redwood Curtain. For detailed info, click here.

Movies

Scores of films have been shot in these wild lands. Here is a brief list of the most notable.

E.T
Star Wars, Return of the Jedi
Last of the Mohicans (1936)
The Lost World
The Majestic

For a downloadable map, click here.

Music

When you arrive in town, pick up a North Coast Journal or Humboldt Music to check what’s happening at local event venues. Here is a list of venues worth checking out.

HSU Center Arts books world class musical acts.

Speakeasy, a neo Victorian hipster bar in Opera Alley in Old Town, showcases a jazz trio.

Pearl Lounge has techno DJs.

Old Steeple, in Ferndale, is getting hype for its great bands they are booking.

Mateel Community Center in Redway, the birthplace of Reggae on the River, still is going strong with major hippy musical acts.

Riverwood Inn in Phillipsville, the last old school roadhouse on the original Hwy 101/Avenue of the Giants, still books surprisingly good acts from many different genres.

Soundtrack for a Road Trip

Looking for tunes to accompany your road trip, check out this NorCal Spotify playlist.

Websites and Maps

The Humboldt County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau offers a wealth of insight about the region, including great interactive maps.

Other websites of note include the following:
Del Norte Chamber
Redwoods National and State Parks
North Coast Journal

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