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Those accustomed to bright city lights may hesitate when considering remote, rural Humboldt. Just look at the map – it's waaaay up there, behind the Redwood Curtain.

What's there to do, besides stack wood and gather compost? It's true you can't do half a million things at 3 a.m. here – more like a half dozen. But no matter. You might not even make it past midnight in Humboldt, wiped out from all there is to experience during the day.

What follows is our humble attempt at a Humboldt must-do list – things that any first-timer, or alum returning after too many years away, should check out. Full credit is due to an impromptu discussion on the HSU Alumni Association's Facebook page, where alumni reminisced about their favorite Humboldt memories.

Arcata Farmers' Market

In 1979, a handful of farmers decided to sell their fruits and vegetables directly to consumers. A gravel lot at Seventh and F streets was big enough. But not for long.

With demand for fresh, organic vegetables burgeoning, the market soon moved to the more capacious Plaza, and an institution was born. Three decades later, the Arcata Farmers' Market has evolved into a full-blown weekly festival. On Saturdays from April through November, 50 to 60 farmers head to Arcata from as far as Willow Creek and Weott.

Squeals of children mingle with the sound of whatever band might be performing – zydeco, Celtic, reggae or otherwise – next to the food vendors at the Plaza's center. The market continues to evolve, with homegrown beef, lamb and rabbit meat available this year. Learn More

Beach Bonfires

Graduation, summer solstice, New Year's Eve – any celebration seems more grand by the light of a wind-whipped driftwood pyre.

North Coast beaches are often dotted by bonfires. Clam Beach in McKinleyville is usually lit up on weekend nights, but others are also fire-friendly, from Luffenholtz beach in Trinidad to Mad River Beach in Arcata.

Officialdom largely tolerates the phenomenon, though any conversation about beach bonfires invariably moves on to concern and cautions.

"I think they're wonderful," says Arcata Fire Chief John McFarland. "But when they make them as big as this room and then walk away, we have a nightmare." He describes having to bring bulldozers and other firefighting equipment to remote beaches, and urges bonfire-bugs not to burn driftwood that's connected to larger heaps of washed-up fuel.

Also high on the no-no list are plovers and pallets. Western snowy plovers nest from March through September on some beaches, and their habitat is protected. Shipping pallets are the bane of beachgoers for the nails they leave behind.

Arts Alive!

In 2005, Eureka was named one of the "100 Best Art Towns in America," because it's home to so many painters, potters, sculptors, woodworkers, fiber artists, musicians and more.

The sheer preponderance of artists in Humboldt County means that almost every town here in Humboldt has a monthly arts walk these days. But none compares, either in participation or sheer je ne sais quoi, to Eureka's Arts Alive!

On the first Saturday of each month, artists and aficionados swarm the streets of Old Town once ruled by waterfront roughnecks and roustabouts. Warm light and laughter float out of galleries and shops. Fragments of conversation mix in the air with the wafting tunes of street musicians.

Call it art power. Artist Sharon Letts does. "That's what happens," she says. "Artists add an aesthetic sense to any space they are in. We visualize a space transformed, and then transform it using just what is at hand. Artists are a resourceful bunch to be sure."

Redwood Research & Rapture

Redwood trees are Humboldt's icons. The world's tallest trees are everything from economic fuel to political symbols, spiritual touchstones and, for HSU Professor Steve Sillett, subjects of scientific study.

Stretching from Big Sur to southern Oregon, coast redwoods have been marketed, measured, photographed and argued about for decades. But there's still a lot to learn about Sequoia Sempervirens.

Sillett, who holds HSU's Kenneth L. Fisher Chair in Redwood Forest Ecology, was featured in a National Geographic cover story last October with his fresh scientific insights into redwood crowns. His visits into the elusive canopy revealed treetops bustling with critters and plants.

Sillett has measured the world's tallest redwood at 379.1 feet, and the oldest tree appears to be 1,850 years old. Now, he is set to launch new studies on the volume of redwood trees and how climate change may be affecting them.

For many, the sense of timelessness and spiritual solace that redwoods offer is enough. Those wishing for a taste of redwood magic can visit the same parks in which Sillett works – Redwood National Park, Humboldt Redwoods State Park and even the Arcata Community Forest right next door to Humboldt State.


Capping a string of gorgeous seaside settings along the Humboldt Coast is Trinidad. Clinging to the rocky coastline, the town of 300 homes looks out on Trinidad Harbor, dotted with seabirds, fishing boats and kayaks. The pier extends out into the bay, over which looms Trinidad Head and bluffs lined with trails. Beaches to the north and south are also a big draw.

You could charter a boat ride on the harbor, go tide-pooling on Indian beach or climb the steps to Memorial Lighthouse. Or, you could meander the trails of Elk Head to gaze at dolphins and humpback whales passing by.

"The ocean is the big thing," says City Councilmember and HSU alum Julie Fulkerson. Other Fulkerson favorites include visiting the ancient Yurok Village of Tsurai and sampling wines at Moonstone Crossing's new tasting room.

In addition, HSU's Telonicher Marine Laboratory conducts oceanographic and biological research in town. It maintains invertebrates for study, conducts dives and operates the Coral Sea, the university's oceangoing research vessel berthed in Eureka. The lab offers tours, too.

Kayak Kulture

Sometimes it seems that every other vehicle in Arcata is equipped with a fully loaded kayak. It's not clear when kayaking became The Thing To Do, but it is. The appeal is multifold: Kayaking is high exertion but low impact, you can make it as easy or as hard as you want, and it takes you directly into Humboldt's most stunning scenery.

Sea kayaking is Helen Wilson's passion, and as president of Explore North Coast, her enthusiasm is contagious.

She says a good starting point for the neophyte is Trinidad Harbor. "It's a gentle place to launch. Open ocean, but very protected." The sea life is stunning too, with tidepool denizens such as starfish and anemones emerging at low tide.

She says Hookton Slough on the south end of Humboldt Bay is good for a leisurely trek and for sighting migrating geese. And Big Lagoon to the north offers an ocean-like setting with warm, calm water and a sandy bottom. "It's perfect for skill development, exercise or just playing," Wilson says.

There are many more paddle-perfect spots. For those who want a lesson or two, check with HSU's Center Activities.

Take Me to the River

Humboldt County's creeks, streams and rivers are the bioregion's bloodstream, linking forests to ocean. They also connect outdoors-folk to recreation, and every curve seems to be someone's favorite place for swimming, kayaking or just lounging on a hot summer day.

Rivers range from the mighty to the minuscule, each with its own personality. The Klamath, Eel, Trinity and Mad are the big-league rivers. Smaller waterways include the Van Duzen, Mattole, Salmon, Elk, Bear and Little rivers.

Few know Humboldt's rivers as well as Smokey Pittman. An HSU-trained geomorphologist, Pittman came to Humboldt State in 1990 to get his master's degree and never left. He is drawn to the waterways for his work and pleasure. "We have tons of rivers that exist in their natural state," he says.

Still, some rivers require repair. Margaret Lang, a professor of environmental resources engineering at HSU, performs restoration projects throughout the region with the help of her students. Computer-optimized culverts restore salmonid access, helping to reinstate free flows for the fish.

Becoming Ecotopia?

The two jewels in Arcata's environmental crown are the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, and Arcata Community Forest. Both have earned international recognition.

The Marsh is a symbol of wise ecological planning. In the 1970s, solving the area's sewage problem looked like it might mean building a huge sewage treatment plant on nearby Samoa Peninsula. That would have been expensive, energy-intensive and doomed to obsolescence.

What followed was an epic tale of town, gown, science and politics.

HSU Professor George Allen had conducted a fish project near Arcata's garbage dump on the bay. He, with Professor Robert Gearheart and with help from the City of Arcata, pitched the concept of natural wastewater treatment through a series of ponds. Years of coalition-building and politics later, the trash heap was converted to restored wetlands and christened as the Arcata Marsh and Wildife Sanctuary. Today it's an eco-tourism destination offering recreation, birding and weekly tours. It serves as a research subject for students and host to the annual Godwit Days Spring Migration Bird Festival.

Up the hill lies Arcata's other world-renowned environmental achievement, the Arcata Community Forest. Walking its trails amid towering redwoods, the only sign that it is a second- and third-growth forest is the occasional shed-sized old growth 'goosepen" stump. Stripped of timber in the 1800s, the regrown forest was dedicated in 1955 and now fills 793 acres.

Along with other city-owned forests, the Arcata Community Forest was certified sustainable in 1998 by the Forest Stewardship Council. Only a fraction of its growth is harvested, and proceeds pay for everything from habitat restoration to trail construction, making the forest a favorite destination. It's also now part of PG&E's ClimateSmart program, locking up carbon via reduced logging. And it's a living laboratory for Humboldt State students as well.

Victorian Ferndale

Just try to describe Ferndale without using the q-word. While technically possible, there's no avoiding the fact that it is simply quaint.

The village, at the edge of the foothills near the Eel River, was settled in the 1800s and remains a snapshot of when dairy was king. Victorian homes, known as "Butterfat Palaces," are scattered on ranchland dotted with barns.

Seemingly frozen in time, the entire town is a California Historical Landmark (No. 883). Major films like "Outbreak" and "The Majestic" were shot here – but Ferndale is more than just pretty pictures. Made for strolling, Main Street's shops and galleries allow visitors to chat with a blacksmith or buy retro notions usually seen only in old magazines. Stroll into the Ferndale Cemetery, then around to Russ Park, the city-owned wilderness park and bird lover's mecca. For another dose of quaintness, stop by the office of the 131-year-old Ferndale Enterprise on Main Street and pick up its free Souvenir Edition.

Fern Canyon

Where other attractions offer super-sized sights, Fern Canyon in Redwood National Park steals your breath away with simplicity and subtlety. Tons of it.

Over the eons, unassuming Home Creek carved out a unique canyon with a near-level floor and vertical walls up to 80 feet high. As the creek burbles below, dewdrops drip down walls lined with ferns and mosses.

If it seems like a lost world, it is – officially. Fern Canyon was a location used in the Hollywood blockbuster "Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World."

The 3/4-mile meander is accessible from both ends. The 10-mile James Irvine Trail offers an easy hike, though some prefer the 6-mile drive to adjacent Gold Bluffs Beach, which features handicapped-accessible camping in Roosevelt Elk habitat.

Kinetic Sculpture Race

Every Memorial Day Weekend, thousands flock to Arcata's town square plaza for the launch of the Kinetic Grand Championship. When Saturday's noon siren screams, dozens of human-powered contraptions set off on a three-day, 41-mile trek to Ferndale, traversing paved roads, beaches and Humboldt Bay's choppy waters.

The competition is friendly, if grueling, and the stakes are high. Along with awards for engineering, pageantry and (it being a race) time, participants may be recognized for being the first to break down, finishing second-to-last or general mediocrity.

Humboldt's version, now one of several similar events across the country, is the original. It has spawned a fiendishly clever fusion of art and engineering. The pedal-powered sculptures must roll overland and navigate open water, all while maintaining maximum fancifulness.

After completing this year's Ruby Anniversary race marking 40 years, veteran kinetic sculptor Ken Beidelman and partner Robert Thoman were busy breaking down their award-winning Hippypotamus into buckets of parts. Underneath Hippypotamus' psychedelic skin were the complex mechanics that translate leg-power into forward propulsion. Yet no plans exist. The frame geometry and transmission linkages in his sculptures are mapped out in Beidelman's head. "Don't talk about it," Beidelman says. "Do it!"

HSU Campus

Ready to come back to campus for a visit, or show it off to someone else? You can cheer on your favorite teams at the Redwood Bowl, check out the new buildings on campus or see one of the many world-class performances at the Van Duzer Theatre. HSU also offers drop-in tours year-round. Custom tours and even class visits are available too. Visit Humboldt State. End Story

But Wait, There's More

Redwood Burl

Lignotuber tissue, also known as redwood burl, accumulates at the base of some redwood trees. It hosts buds that will sprout after a big-enough fire. Most people see it not on trees, but in the form of furniture, bowls and in sculptures from elegant to kitschy and beyond at the many gift shops and roadside stands along the 101.

Bike Races

At first it might seem strange that a place as hilly as Humboldt hosts so many bicycle enthusiasts, but as it turns out, that's exactly why – the terrain makes people-powered transportation such an involving experience. Billed as "California's Toughest Century," the Tour of the Unknown Coast takes riders through some of Humboldt's most stunning scenery every May. In Arcata, Team Bigfoot hosts rides and races ranging from in-town (the Downtown Criterium, in August) to outlying areas (the Stomach Churn, in December).

The Arcata Noon Siren

You hear it anywhere near Arcata right at noon. For maximum brain-rattling effect, stand near the Arcata Ball Park at Ninth and F streets. The siren was once used to alert firefighters, who now respond via pagers and cell phones. It replaced an air horn, which replaced a steam whistle, the successor to the original bell, still on display outside Arcata Fire's main downtown station. It's been deactivated at times, but always restored by popular demand.

Humboldt County Fair

Every August since 1896, Ferndale's County Fairgrounds has been home to the Humboldt County Fair. Its website says it all: "Live and satellite horse racing, mule racing, sheep dog trials, carnival rides and games, death-defying stunts, live entertainment, competitive and interesting exhibits, plenty of livestock events, great fair-time foods, special programs and the old-fashioned fun of a county-wide 'family' reunion."

Truckers Parade

Billed as "one of the greatest shows on wheels," the KEKA Truckers Christmas Parade has lit up roads around Eureka for more than 25 years. Every December, trucks festooned with Christmas lights trek in a slow-speed loop around Eureka. Ferndale hosts its own version, the Lighted Tractor Parade, in rain or moonlight. Some say rain only enhances the experience, with glimmering reflections of the passing spectacle.

Banana Slugs

Humboldt's most glamorous detritivore, the Banana Slug, is actually three species: Ariolimax californicus, Ariolimax columbianus and Ariolimax dolichophallus. Better known to area raccoons as dinner, the plucky pulmonate gastropods sport retractable tentacles and have become a Humboldt icon. To meet a banana slug, just walk in the nearest redwood forest or look for an exasperated vegetable gardener (identifiable by the sloshing bowl of beer in hands, the favored local method of eradication).

Aleutian Geese

The Aleutian Goose population was estimated at only 750 in the 1970s. But thanks to focused wildlife management, Humboldt's skies are again all a-cackle with tens of thousands of the migratory waterfowl every January through April. HSU graduate student and alum Dominic Bachman can take some credit; he conducted path-breaking work on how to attract Aleutian geese to local public land. Observe the goose grandeur at the Arcata Marsh or at the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Loleta, Calif.

Oyster Calling

The sight of people screwing up their faces and making their version of a bivalve siren song is not to be missed. Hosted by Dave Silverbrand, the Arcata Bay Oyster Festival's Oyster Calling Contest is one of the more popular and bizarre events in town. Slurp an oyster while you behold the contest, and if it suddenly wriggles away, we may already have a winner.

Drum Circles

On any given weekend night in Arcata, chances are good that you'll hear the strains of a drum circle. And after certain fairs and festivals, drum circles find full flower. They're just what they sound like – multiple pickup percussionists pounding out a trancelike beat on hand drums. And they aren't just for bongos any more. Auditions are nonexistent, so bring your djembe, doumbek or conga, maybe even a didgeridoo or bagpipes (it wouldn't be the first time), and join in.