Snoopin’ Around With the Hound Dog in Humboldt County

by Don Priest

Yes, summer is almost here!  And as the temperature rises, so do thoughts of escaping the heat.  For many Valley Folk, the 1st place they head for solace is the Central Coast.  But there is another coast, a little further away, that offers some unique experiences to go along with the cooler temps, and that would be Humboldt County on the north coast of California.

Bare in mind it’s more than a weekend trip. To make it all the way to Eureka by car is a good 8 hours.  More if you want to take in a few sights along the way – of which there are plenty to choose from.

The most direct route from Fresno is to head straight up Good Ole’ 99 to Stockton, take the Highway 4 interchange West to Interstate 5, then North again all the way to Williams and the junction of Highway 20 West. Best to do this all in one fell swoop as there’s not much to see till you get off I-5. Then the terrain gets a bit more scenic as you meander on the two-lane through some rolling hills and into Clear Lake – a good place for the 1st pit stop. But you’ll have to do some searching to find interesting food and beverage, as there aren’t many options along that highway.  Gas stations are plentiful, though.

From Clear Lake, Hwy 20 continues to snake through the hills and past Lake Mendocino until it connects with 101 a little North of Ukiah.  From there it’s a pleasant 4-hour sojourn north through forests and across rivers to Eureka. Beautiful ride! Just turn on your favorite traveling music and enjoy! Again, there are plenty of places to stop and things to see along the way if you’re so inclined.

For the limited-stop driver, the little town of Garberville seems perfectly situated to heed nature’s call.  And for those seeking something more unique in their roadside attractions, especially after 7 hours of driving, “The Blue Moon Lounge” located on the main drag through town fits the bill. Cool, dark and well stocked with locals playing pinball, it’s the epitome of a small town watering hole – even on a Sunday afternoon. The sign above the bar encourages you to drink beer “because your friends aren’t really that interesting.” Food for thought as you drive the final hour to Eureka.

OK, You’re There, Then What?

Humboldt County offers a wide variety of accommodations designed to fit any budget. You can stay in a hotel, a motel, a condo, a cabin, rent a house or camp on the beach. Do your Google search to find what fits your needs. (This writer stayed with friends so those concerns were mute.)

Aside from breathing the clean, cool air, and checking out the gorgeous coastline, what to do? Here’s a list of inexpensive, mini adventures that should satisfy the needs of the “road less traveled” type of explorer.

Like Cheese? Then make the short drive south from Eureka to Loleta and check out the “Loleta Cheese Factory,” where the term “Artisan” takes on a whole new meaning. A family-run business, these cheese “craftsmen” blend unique ingredients into small batches of distinctive cheeses with colorful titles like “Mo Betta Chedda” and “Caraway Jack.” There’s also a snack bar where they’ll make you a grilled sandwich out of anything, as long as it’s cheese, which you can then enjoy on the equally finely crafted garden patio.

And then there’s Ferndale. Yes, it is a tourist town full of “crafty” little shops selling “cute” little gifts. But there’s also a couple of not-so-mainstream establishments with interesting stories to tell, like “The Blacksmith Shop.” Run by Joe Koches, who’s been blacksmithing for over 40 years and has the scars to prove it, the place is full of tools, cutlery, wine racks, almost anything you can think of, crafted from metal by members of the California Blacksmith Association. There’s also a gallery a couple doors down the street containing some beautiful metal sculptures. But if you go, be prepared to spend some time. Joe likes to talk.

In the music world, the difference between the sacred and the secular has long been debated. The Ferndale Music Company has found a way to balance the two by taking up residence in “The Old Steeple,” an 115-year-old former Methodist Church. The refurbished rectory side of the building contains the music store and teaching facilities, offering lessons on a variety of string instruments, drums, and piano.  The church itself has been transformed into a beautiful 225-seat performance venue that manages to maintain the rich architecture and stained glass appeal of the original. Of course, the hard pews have been replaced with comfy chairs and a professional sound system has been installed, making this a unique place to enjoy a concert.  Again, be prepared to spend some time as there are lots to see and talk about.

Eating and Drinking, the Basics of Life: 

Dining out was limited on this trip as staying with friends meant most meals were enjoyed at home. However, there were a couple of fun dining experiences that can be recommended.

Ready for a hearty breakfast? Then navigate your way out to King Salmon Slough and find “Gill’s By The Sea,” a local place where servings are sized for fishermen home from the sea – or on their way out. And a hardy lunch can be had, probably not on the same day as a Gill’s breakfast, at “Gallagher’s Irish Pub” in Old Town Eureka. Specialties of the house: Corned Beef & Cabbage, Bangers and Mash, and Shepard’s Pie, what else?

And then there’s the drinking. As Ben Franklin said, “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.” So Humboldt County does its best to keep beer drinkers smiling with a plethora of pubs, taverns, and breweries. On the small side, there’s the legendary “Boathouse Bar & Grill” in Field’s Landing, a dive bar that can be extremely entertaining when the locals come in for Happy Hour. For a more mainstream experience try the “Lost Coast Brew Pub” in Eureka and sample the many varieties of beer from that brewery. You can also take a tour of their new brewing site on the southern edge of town. Very interesting. For another local experience, venture up the road a piece to McKinleyville and try the “Six Rivers Brewery,” where the folks are warm, the beer is cold, and everything comes with a story. Great fun!

So the next time the Central Valley heat is getting unbearable and you’ve got some time on your hands, consider a road trip north to Humboldt County. It won’t be boring. Well, once you get off 99 that is.

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