The morning fog is cool, a gentle breeze blowing in from the Pacific as I get into my car. Highway 101 is just a street here, reminiscent of an earlier, simpler time when major highways were lined with businesses in small towns like this rather than bypassed by interstates. Just south of town, it turns back into a divided highway again. The town quickly fades in my rear view mirror, replaced by serene mountains, the fog only accentuating the greenery. I take a final glimpse at Humboldt Bay and sigh. I was only coming to Eureka to see redwoods, the huge trees of myth. And I did, but I found so much more in this Northern California slice of heaven.
I thought Eureka was just a town. Yes, it’s the westernmost city in the continental US with more than 25,000 residents. Yes, it’s located on Humboldt Bay, making for beautiful cool coastal days and nights. And yes, it’s conveniently located about halfway between Redwood National Park to the north and Humboldt Redwoods State Park to the south, two of the best places to see the giant coastal redwoods. But Eureka itself as a destination? It wasn’t even remotely on my radar. I was just here for the trees.
Redwoods were far from my mind, though, as the calm waters of Humboldt Bay glided by. My perch in the back (stern) of the Madaket was a perfect spot to observe Eureka’s waterfront and the myriad of seabirds and sailboats out on a beautiful crisp evening. The Madaket has been offering hour-long sailings for decades, taking locals and visitors around the sheltered waterway upon which Eureka was built. I sipped a tropical cocktail, the irony not lost on me as the winds from the movement of the boat made me a bit chilly. But a drink here is part of the fun; the Madaket hosts the smallest licensed bar by square footage in California.
Humboldt Bay is more than just a beautiful body of water. It provides more than 70% of California’s oysters, an abundance of other seafood, and a natural sheltered harbor that was the center of the lumber industry for nearly a century. It is connected to the Pacific by only a narrow channel, and was missed by early explorers due to that and the fog that seems ever-present. Had it been “discovered” earlier, perhaps Eureka would be a more major city and port.
As the cruise continued back to the dock just off Eureka’s downtown, I found myself grateful that Eureka isn’t larger and busier. An experience like this would be impossible. A final face full of salty breeze and a last sip of my drink made for lasting memories and smiles. And I was only here for the trees.
Trees were certainly not on my mind an hour later when I settled in at Phatsy Klines for some of those famous Humboldt Bay oysters and a dinner of chickpea cakes and quail egg shooters. (The shooter works as follows: take a sip of high quality sake, slurp down the egg with a smoky soy mixed in, and finish with the rest of the sake. It blows my mind that every other restaurant isn’t doing this.) Oh, and the creme brulee of the day, a cardamom perfection that just cried out for seconds.
Just a couple short blocks off the waterfront, this incredibly hip eatery and drinkery is built into the Eagle House, a restored hotel that I will have to stay at next time I am in town. Seating goes into the huge indoor atrium, and my table there was perfectly positioned to appreciate the thoughtful and quirky decor. But even that was outdone by the food.
And Phatsy Kline’s is only one of a huge number of well-rated and amazing looking casual but gourmet restaurants in Eureka. For a different spin, try Brick and Fire. Located in a residential neighborhood with some of Eureka’s famous Victorian homes, this cool pub was home to a great pizza and something new: mushroom cobbler. Get it. Thank me.
And to think I was only here for the redwoods. Fortunately, Eureka offers its own take on that experience, as well.
The walkway was about 80 feet up, swaying slightly, though always feeling stable under my feet. I looked over the edge, down on Eureka’s Sequoia Park and Sequoia Park Zoo, California’s oldest zoo to remain in a single location. Underneath me, I saw construction of a new exhibit, one that will house coyotes and bears, and I couldn’t help but wish it had been open when I was here. This is the view that only the birds and trees have… and those lucky enough to experience Sequoia Park Zoo’s new Redwood Sky Walk, a series of bridges taking visitors up to 100 feet in the canopy of Eureka’s own grove of the beauties.
The walkway is fully ADA-accessible – except for a few swinging bridges clearly marked – and offers a completely unique way to experience the majesty of redwoods. It’s a short, but meaningful, stroll through the canopy. Combined with the small, cute zoo, it is a perfect family activity for those wishing to do more than stand at the base of a redwood giant in one of the national or state parks.
The smell of the trees and the breeze filled my nostrils as I closed my eyes to the splotches of sunlight seeping through. It’s a lucky person indeed to be here in a moment like this!
I came to Eureka because I wanted to see the giant redwoods located outside the city. This was just a place to sleep, a convenient dot on a map, and nothing else. I was wrong. While my experiences seeing the beautiful trees was everything I hoped for, it was Eureka itself that surprised me, offering me a set of incredible activities that I feel only scratched the surface of what the area can offer.
As the town fades behind me and the highway opens up, I sigh. Eureka may be quickly disappearing in my rear view mirror, but the amazing time I had here will stay with me forever.
Thank you to Leigh Pierre-Oetker at the Sequoia Park Zoo Foundation for the welcome and tour. And a huge thank you to Julie Benbow at the Humboldt County Visitors Bureau for your hospitality, itinerary, and friendship. You made this trip so amazing for me!
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