Get an early start around 8 a.m. if you can! Heading north on highway 101 from Fort Bragg, California we hug the dramatic Pacific coastline and pull over a few times to marvel at the crashing waves. About 10 miles north of Fort Bragg is Ten Mile Beach, which during low tide is a great place to hike around.
A day long drive up the coast
Mendocino county coastline
A few miles more and we pass Pacific Star Winery on the left, a great spot for enjoying a wine tasting or just to take your binoculars and look for migrating whales. It was a bit early for a wine tasting, but we went on another day and saw gray whales in the distance.
Wine Tasting at Pacific Star Winery
We follow Highway 1 a bit longer and turn northwest towards Leggett, the home of the Chandelier Tree, a drive-through Redwood, a classic tourist stop. For $5 a carload, you can experience the thrill of driving THROUGH a grand old Redwood tree. The tree above seems healthy and unaffected, but it does seem rather awful to imagine someone hollowing out a living tree for our amusement, but indeed they did.
Drive-through Redwood tree
So, we slowly drove through and the path (of course!) leads right to the gift shop parking lot. Here is where I teach our international visitors a new word for their American vocabulary: “Tacky”. There are goofy hats, toys, souvenirs galore including candy Squirrel droppings, Big Foot postcards, even a fake Raccoon skin cap complete with the tail!
Move over Davy Crockett!
Back to Leggett, we head north up highway 101 toward the Avenue of the Giants. Just south of Garberville, look for the Benbow Inn, a beautiful old resort which sponsors an afternoon tea, should you be back by here later in the afternoon. Near Phillipsville, look for the signs for the Avenue of the Giants; which was the old highway before they rerouted highway 101 away from the Big Trees. There are several groves of giant Redwoods along this 31 mile stretch so pull over and point your camera UP. While you´re at it, just try to hug a tree – all five of us could barely cover the front of the trunk, fingertip to fingertip.
In Myers Flat there is another drive-through tree, look for the signs. Signs touting the Amazing Eternal Treehouse peaked our interest, so Redcrest was out next stop. Tucked behind a dinky café on the left was a little parking lot in front of the tree. It was just a tree that had been hollowed out at its base! The tree had managed to survive and you can walk down a few steps and stand in the center of the trunk base. I don´t think this was the kind of tree house we had all imagined, but it was a nice stop to stretch our legs!
Just another few miles and you´ll find the Immortal Tree, 33 feet in girth! Hug this big boy…
Exiting the Avenue of the Giants, we head further north on highway 101 towards Fortuna. About 4 miles south of Fortuna on the left side of the road is another great stop – Chapman´s Rock & Gem Shop and museum. The museum itself is really outstanding (free) – with gorgeous redwood and rock carvings, jewelry and other area memorabilia. Don´t miss it!
A rock for your finger
Just past Fortuna, we head west to the Victorian village of Ferndale. The setting for several Hollywood movies through the years including The Majestic with Jim Carrey, this little town is a wonderful place to eat, browse and shop. This town is so cute you just want to pinch it!
A walk down Main street isn´t complete without stopping at the Golden Gait Mercantile, full of reasonably priced gadgets and goodies from years past. If you have a hankering for a cowboy hat, classic candies, regional sweets and savories – here´s the place. They also have the displays done to resemble an old time mercantile, the packaging all a part of the charm. Upstairs, they have whole glassed-in rooms with the real deal – shop displays set up with turn-of-the-century goods including a Millinery shop, a Grocery, a Hardware store and more. There are also some good values up there in antique furniture to be had, including board games from days past.
Another great shop is the Blacksmith Shop – (www.ferndaleblacksmith.com
) which is a unique gallery of hand-forged delights including sculptures, lighting, furniture and anything else you can imagine.
If you have time, stop in Loleta – a tiny town on the way back towards Eureka. There is little to do in town but one thing – CHEESE. The Loleta Cheese factory is the only place in town to go – samples of a wondrous selection of cheeses await you! www.loletacheese.com
Mike´s Garlic Fries – Eureka, CA
North again on Highway 101 towards Eureka now, we pass an unlikely stop, but if you have the munchies, STOP at Mike´s Garlic Fries. It´s a little divey, but it´s been in business since the 1940´s . The Garlic Fries and chocolate malts are to-die-for. However, suffice it to say that the whole carload should indulge because of the lingering fragrance! The inside is worth a peek also as the owners are die-hard Republicans and proudly post classic Republican paraphernalia on the walls, including a Palin-McCain calendar front and center.
Drive by the Carson mansion, (M and Second street) probably one of the most elaborate and notable examples of Victorian architecture in these parts. The neighborhood surrounding it also has more homes to admire – most now B&B´s or owned by businesses or groups.
Carson Mansion – Eureka, CA
If you still have some walking in you, a trip to the Clarke historical museum in the old downtown district features displays from the Victorian period and a great Native American wing with collections of baskets, stoneware and other regalia. It is open until 5 p.m. daily. www.clarkemuseum.org
One final stop for us was the American Indian Art & Gift shop, downtown Eureka at 241 F Street. They have the real deal – jewelry, gifts, paintings, baskets and other goodies made by the area Natives. www.americanindianonline.com
If you have any time left, stop for a nightcap at the Benbow Inn before heading south back down the coast. www.benbowinn.com
Here are a few good guides for activities, maps, attractions and events –
So there you have it – a taste of Humboldt county and the Big Trees!
Just a Taste of Humboldt County, California!