Set at the edge of the second-largest enclosed bay in California, close to a national park and endowed with an attractive clutch of cultural charms, Eureka, a modest city of 26,000, deserves an admiring salute. Ranked a historic landmark for its quaint Victorian buildings, Eureka and neighboring Arcata (home to Humboldt State University) harbor both many boats and a thriving population of artists, not to mention a youthful student body. Collectively, the two communities serve as intriguing destinations in their own right but also act as gateways on to Humboldt County's natural assets.
Once a raucous lumber town, Eureka has mellowed and now the Victorian storefronts and houses, especially in Old Town, create an atmosphere more seaside resort than timber industry in feel. Once you've enjoyed a walking tour of the Eureka's historic facades, check out sights like the Sequoia Park Zoo, which takes pride in being one of the smallest institutions that has been accredited by the Association of American Zoos and Aquariums. There's also a fine little art museum in town, as well as a decent list of additional cultural sights and facilities like the Clarke Memorial Museum, Fort Humboldt State Historic Park and Blue Ox Millworks and Historic Park. Within easy driving distance is another historic landmark town, Ferndale (which hosts the Kinetic Sculpture Race each year, look it up), which sits at the northern end of the rugged Lost Coast, the latter a great place to enjoy an uncrowded, multi-day backpacking trip.
That, however, is not the only option when it comes to outdoor recreation. Kayakers and canoers can drift down one of four nearby rivers, spotting birds along the way, or paddle through the saltwater waves of the Pacific in Humboldt Lagoon. You'll find that anglers who speak of the abundant salmon and steelhead in the area aren't just telling fish stories but it's also easy enough to charter a boat for an ocean fishing expedition with halibut, snapper, and petrale sole the haul. Land-lubbers can stick to a stroll along the waterfront boardwalk for the scent of salt breezes and a glimpse of boats bobbing along out to sea.
But Eureka isn't just about water-based activity. There's also wildlife viewing at the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where those with a quick eye can spot over 400 different species of birds. For those who'd rather hit the trail, there's mileage to chose from whether you're bound on by bike or on foot; the state parks surrounding Eureka are an easy place to start. Set up camp amongst the country's tallest trees in Humboldt Redwoods State Park or on the shoreline at Clam Beach or Gold Bluff Beach. Big Lagoon County Park gives you the best of both land and shore with easy access for canoes and kayaks.
Eureka is located alongside Humboldt Bay, 270 miles north of the San Francisco Bay Area via Highway 101.