By Emma Krasov. Photography by Yuri Krasov
If it’s true that the ancient Archimedes, excited about his scientific discovery, “leapt out of his bathtub and ran naked through the streets of Syracuse exclaiming ‘Eureka!’ (‘I found it!’)” then it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to imagine a similar reaction from Humboldt County’s first time visitors. (Maybe with the exception of running around naked, but hey, this scarcely populated and densely wooded part of Northern California probably wouldn’t bat an eye if they did).
An overwhelming sense of discovery permeates our every moment here, in the cool country of majestic redwoods, windswept beaches, green fields with peacefully grazing cattle, and pastel-colored Victorians along old town streets lined with blossoming rhododendrons and apple trees.
Traveling in Humboldt County is like thirstily breathing fresh air after being cooped up for a whole year. It’s like letting in the sunshine and the promise of health and happiness after a long stretch of pandemic-induced fear and anxiety. It’s like discovering yourself being embraced, nurtured and healed by our gorgeous Mother Nature.
Our trip to the Northern California’s paradise begins in Ferndale, a picturesque little town, known for its impeccably preserved Victorian houses and storefronts, the earliest ones dating back to the 1850s. Located in the Eel River Valley, this is an ideal starting point for all kinds of explorations—from charmed leisurely walks along the Queen Anne, Italianate, Gothic Revival and Neoclassical facades to day trips to the Lost Coast beaches and state parks of giant redwoods.
Considered California’s best preserved Victorian village, historic Ferndale, built mostly by the European immigrants from England, Ireland, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Portugal in the 19th century, still carries a perceptible Old World charm with its neat little churches, superbly maintained gardens, and old gnarly trees popular with singing birds and fluffy orange cats.
The Main Street is a constant draw for multiple film crews. Quite a few Hollywood flicks feature local residents, the descendants of the original settlers, as extras, strolling down the quaint streets of their native town.
It’s also a hub for historical businesses, like Rings Pharmacy (the oldest drug store in California), The Red Front store (its brand known since 1899), Chapman’s Bookery and More (inside the ornate 1898 building), Golden Gait Mercantile old-time general store (since 1972), Sweetness & Light (since 1976), where chocolate candy is cooked in small batches the old-fashioned way, the newer (just 21 years old) Ferndale Emporium carrying unique gifts and original items produced by local artisans, and others.
We stay at the fascinatingly beautiful 1890s Victorian Inn boutique hotel on the corner of Main Street and Ocean Avenue, visible from afar with its alcove windows and intricate details of wooden trimming.
Inside, it’s a total escape into the Belle Époque interior, with mahogany-colored wood staircases, period wallpaper, furnishings, and lamp shades, a dainty tea room, and spacious guest rooms—some with fireplaces and those alcove windows overlooking the quiet intersection.
The innkeepers Lowell Daniels and Jenny Oaks provide maximum hospitality to their guests, and include a full breakfast at the inn’s VI Restaurant & Tavern, which at night turns into a popular dinner spot.
At the hotel lobby we marvel at the lavish display of precious stones and custom-made jewelry. Both Victorian Inn owners are gemologists by trade. Their long-time business, Silva’s Jewelry, was named after Lowell’s grandfather who came to America from the Azores, Portugal.
Moving on to a new adventure, we drive to the Lost Coast Headlands, and spend several hours playing at the deserted sandy beaches, strewn with flotsam and jetsam of the Pacific sea life, like Dungeness crab shells and claws, and venture onto the Fleener Creek Overlook, from where we can see red soil cliffs, hilly faraway pastures, and a steep winding trail down to the Fleener Creek Beach, a California Coastal National Monument, where there’s a cove known for its natural storage of drift logs.
We enter the port city of Eureka, and settle at the Best Western Plus Humboldt Bay Inn. The hotel owner, Chris Ambrosini, and his team don’t spare any efforts to make their guests feel cared for, even pampered. Our ample and well-appointed suite with nice wall décor overlooks a fancy tiki-themed hot tub, and a large swimming pool behind it.
Instead of driving our car to a restaurant for dinner, we ride in a hotel-provided shuttle; the limo cabin is sparkling with playful laser lights. The Old Town district, rich with history and stately Victorians, also has a walkable and photogenic waterfront plaza, from where we see in a distance the most famous, most photographed Carson Mansion, and of course we walk there, to take our own picture of the legendary structure.
Next morning, it’s time for the Sequoia Park Zoo, California’s oldest, dating back to 1907. Not huge in size, it’s oh so warm and friendly under the centuries-old redwoods! The Zoo is populated by pink flamingoes, red pandas, river otters, spider monkeys and rare animals, like Chacoan peccary and Patagonian mara, plus there is a delightful walk-through aviary with bald eagles and other species.
Even though it’s easy to spend a few hours here just enjoying the scenery and looking at animals, the main attraction now is a new forest canopy trail, Redwood Sky Walk at Sequoia Park Zoo, the longest arboreal trail in the Western United States, close to a quarter mile, and ascending up to 100 feet above the forest floor. It overlooks the wondrous Sequoia Park—about 70 acres of redwoods, springs, creeks, meadows, hidden grottos with waterfalls, and miles of paved and dirt trails.
Accessible for all, with comfortable ramps, railings, and sturdy platforms around tree trunks, the Sky Walk also features a 369-feet long “adventure leg” with suspension bridges and open mesh decking. Walking, strolling, and gently swaying high above the ground, so close to the world’s tallest trees, it’s easy to be taken by the excitement of this new discovery, to feel as if we’re floating among the mighty old-growth and second-growth trees (some reaching 250 feet), to fully understand the fashionable reference to “forest bathing—a practice of being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest.”
The Sky Walk is included with the Zoo admission, so there’s really no excuse to miss out on this amazing adventure for all ages!
Lunching at Eureka’s favorite Café Marina on Woodley Island brings along yet another discovery. Not only the seafood here is fresh and well-served, but the Humboldt Bay harbor view presents a lovely assortment of the local fishing boats, and the imposing Carson Mansion in the distance, clearly visible above the masts.
Our next stop is Samoa—a tiny town in the northern peninsula of Humboldt Bay. Here we stay at the Humboldt Bay Social Club, a very special boutique hotel designed for a relaxed, far-from-it-all retreat.
The funky little abode with only four rustic suites and a few extended-stay cabins on the beach, a brain child of Co-Founders Amy and Jon O’Connor, is a part of a larger entity, called Humboldt Social—a county-based group of cannabis and hospitality businesses with a mission “to normalize cannabis in hospitality.”
Our suite inside the Samoa Field building is decorated with reclaimed materials, vintage furnishings, the North Coast paraphernalia, and old-age tools of the lumber trade.
Mere steps from the Oyster Beach, the hotel supplies its guests with various beach gear, and encourages picnicking and outdoor grilling.
At the hospitable Lobby Bar, we get some draught beer, and a mesh bag of giant Pacific oysters to throw on the grill right outside the door. With the gentle pink light of the declining day, saline sea breeze, and wide open space all around us, we quickly find out that this is probably the most delicious treat on the shores of Humboldt Bay!
In the morning, we’re off to the major discovery of our tour—Papa & Barkley Social, which opened in Eureka just a month ago. The immersive cannabis experience hub is a product of a recent partnership between the Humboldt Social and Papa & Barkley—California’s leading cannabis wellness brand and innovative retail concept.
“At Papa & Barkley we pride ourselves on helping people improve their lives with great products made naturally from this amazing plant,” says Adam Grossman, Papa & Barkley’s Founder and Executive Chairman. “This partnership with Humboldt Social will help people understand the beauty of Humboldt County and the key role that cannabis can play in their lives.”
Aaron Sweat, CEO and Co-Founder of Humboldt Social, says he feels “proud of Humboldt and our sun-grown cannabis. We sought to celebrate local cannabis by creating a beautiful, open-feeling dispensary and pairing it with great amenities. The space, which is divided into four areas, is inviting. It’s a place where the community can gather. This is the future of cannabis as we see it.”
The brand new Papa & Barkley Social boasts a large, approximately 7,000 square feet production and manufacturing facility, and features a curated dispensary, tasting room, luxury day spa, outdoor seating area, food truck Pig + Leaf, and consumption lounge. The lobby, the cannabis wellness shop, and the outdoor patio are spacious, filled with light and potted plants. Cannabis Concierges welcome guests in, help them orient themselves, and pick and choose from the full spectrum of sensory experiences. Guests can indulge in cannabis-infused massages and beauty treatments at the day spa, enjoy spit-roasted meats and fresh salads from food truck, at the patio, or try the finest locally sourced cannabis products at the outdoor consumption lounge.
The dispensary offers a wide array of cannabis-based merchandise, like award-winning balms and tinctures, premium chocolates and gummies, and luxury skincare products. Papa & Barkley Social features a Humboldt’s own premier line of cannabis products, called Social Nature, and supports local women-led farms, like Dewpoint, Sunrise Mountain Farm and Emerald Queen Farm by carrying their product lines.
In our grand Eureka! day, we tour the Papa & Barkley Social facilities with Guy Rocourt, Co-Founder, and Chief Product Officer, and learn the history of the brand.
It all started with a son’s mission to ease his father’s debilitating back pain. “Papa & Barkley was inspired by an experience I had with my dad and my gentle pitbull, Barkley, says Grossman. “A powerful homemade pain balm I created in a Crock-Pot, turned into a line of all-natural, full-strength topical balms, oils, tinctures and capsules. We’re more than just a CBD brand; we are the leading cannabis topicals company in California.”
Comprised of scientists, researchers and designers, the company is committed to producing safe, clean, and efficacious whole plant products in THC-rich, CBD-rich, and Hemp CBD formulas, combining traditional techniques with cutting-edge research to address a variety of needs. Made with all-natural ingredients, the targeted topical formula won’t irritate sensitive skin, and will address inflammation and chronic pain. It’s non-intoxicating, so it won’t make a person feel high. Applied directly to skin it works to relieve pain and discomfort.
Besides providing a healing relief for pain sufferers, the goal of Papa & Barkley Social is to “normalize cannabis consumption by creating a hospitality experience that allows guests to enjoy high quality cannabis while partaking in traditional leisure activities the same way guests might enjoy alcoholic beverages at a hotel or day spa.”