Editor Mike Busch describes one of his very favorite West Coast flying get-aways, the historic, leisurely, quaint turn-of-the century Victorian seaport town of Eureka in Northern California. Located on beautiful Humboldt Bay right in the middle of Giant Redwood country, this well-kept secret offers something for everyone. Mike even shares his personal snapshot collection.
April 10, 1997
Eureka has become one of my favorite spots to get away and decompress.
Situated on the northern California coast, just slightly more than 200
nautical miles north-northwest of San Francisco, Eureka is one of those
special places that's easy to reach by light plane but a long hard drive
for the wingless masses. During the summertime, when everything from Monterey
to Mendocino to Tahoe is overrun by Bay Area refugees, Eureka remains quiet
was founded in 1850, and became a thriving seaport for loggers, gold miners,
and fishermen. Today, with a population of about 30,000 (or 80,000 if you
include Arcata and other towns within a 20-mile radius), the town has retained
much of the splendid architecture, delightful ambience and leisurely pace
of the Victorian Era. With its natural harbor at the south end of beautiful
Humboldt Bay (with Arcata 8 miles away at the north end of the bay) and
right in the middle of California's most spectacular giant redwood forests,
the Eureka economy is still based largely on lumber, fishing, and...to
a lesser extent...tourism. But it's definitely not the kind of place that
strikes you as "touristy."
The weather in Eureka is cool all year around. The mean temperature
is 49°F in the winter, 59°F in the summer. It rains a lot in the
winter — those 350-foot redwoods need enormous amounts of water — and
has lots of fog in the summer. If your idea of heaven is baking in the
hot sun, this isn't your place. But both my wife and I love cool weather,
and Eureka is just our cup of tea — especially in the summer when it's
hot everywhere else.
Flying Into Eureka
hardest part about flying into Eureka may be deciding which airport to
use, because Eureka has three: Arcata-Eureka [ACV], Murray Field [EKA],
and Eureka Muni [O33].
Arcata-Eureka is the "big airport" with a 6,000-foot lighted
runway, ILS and VOR approaches, and scheduled commuter airline service.
Because the weather on the northern California coast is often IFR (rain
or fog, depending on the season), ACV is frequently the airport of choice
with its 200-and-1/2 ILS minimums. It doesn't have a tower, but it does
have a 24-hour Flight Service Station that provides local airport advisory
no FBO, but 100LL and Jet A are available from the Airport Management (707-839-5401).
If fuel is essential, it might be worth a phone call; one time at ACV,
I taxied to the fuel island and learned that they were out of avgas and
the next tankerload wasn't due for almost a week! In fairness, they almost
always do have fuel. Parking is five bucks a night, on the honor system.
Oddly enough, the airport isn't located in either Arcata or Eureka,
but in McKinleyville — 12 miles north of Eureka and 4 miles north of Arcata.
We usually rent a car from the Avis, Hertz or National counters in the
terminal because Eureka is a town in which a car is a major asset. But
there's also a convenient "Airporter" van service (707-442-9266)
that will take you to Eureka if you don't care to rent a car.
If the weather is VFR, treat yourself to Murray Field. (Actually, there's
a VOR approach off the Fortuna VOR with minimums of 900 and 1-1/4, but
I wouldn't bet on making it in less-than-VFR conditions.)
less than 2 miles northeast of downtown Eureka and right on the main drag
(US 101), Murray Field seems right out of the 1940s with its delightful
old wooden arch-roof main hangar. It has a 3,000-foot lighted runway and
a small FBO called Northern Air (707-443-3197) that sells 100LL during
daylight hours. They'll call you a cab for the short ride into town, or
they can arrange for an Enterprise rent-a-car if you phone ahead. Parking
at EKA is also five bucks a night.
Eureka Muni — also known as "Samoa Airport," O33 — is located
on the Samoa peninsula, which is the barrier that protects Eureka's harbor.
It has a 2,700-foot unlighted runway. I haven't landed there yet, but I'm
told by friends that have that it features a restored navy blimp station
that has been converted into a unique bed & breakfast inn. The rooms
are furnished with authentic antiques from the early 1940s, and even the
old radio room, dorm, and mess hall have been preserved, all lined with
pictures of it's past history. Sounds neat! But be aware that O33 has no
FBO, fuel, or maintenance.
Finding a place to stay in Eureka is seldom a problem. There are something
like 20 hotels and motels plus 16 bed-and-breakfasts in Eureka proper,
plus a couple of dozen more options in neighboring towns. It's really a
matter of deciding what you're looking for.
biggest hotel in Eureka is the sprawling Red Lion Inn (707-445-0844) with
178 rooms and prices around $100 a night. If you'd like to spend less,
try Best Western Thunderbird Inn (707-443-2234), Carson House Inn (707-443-1601),
Downtowner Motel (707-443-5061), Holiday Inn Express (707-442-3261), Ramada
Limited (707-443-2206), or Super 8 (707-443-3193), just to name a few.
For something fancier (and pricier), I suggest the Eureka Inn, a 105-room
hotel in a 1922 Tudor Revival structure, with an excellent restaurant.
Or for something really special, book into one of several lovely Victorian
bed-and-breakfasts: The Carter House Inn or Hotel Carter (both at 707-444-8067),
Eagle House (707-444-3344), "An Elegant Victorian Mansion" (707-444-3144),
and Upstairs at the Waterfront (707-443-9190) are some of my favorites.
The B&Bs typically have only a few rooms, so advance reservations are
There are so many wonderful restaurants in Eureka that it's impossible
to try them all unless you're a local, and even then it'd be tough. I love
fresh seafood, and Eureka is a seafood-lovers paradise. A couple of my
favorite places are historic Lazio's Restaurant (707-443-9717) and the
elegant Sea Grill (707-443-7187). There are at least a half-dozen other
top-notch seafood restaurants in town.
you may not want seafood every night, try the Rib Room (707-442-6441) in
the Eureka Inn — wonderful food in an elegant setting. Or if you feel
like taking a drive, the Benbow Inn (707-923-2124) is 20 miles south in
Garberville, but the exceptional menu and atmosphere is well worth it.
For something really unique and different, drive over the bridge to
the Samoa Penninsula and have lunch or dinner at the famous Samoa Cookhouse.
It's the last surviving lumber camp style cookhouse in the West, operated
by Louisiana-Pacific just as it was during the the heyday of the lumber
industry. Food is served family-style at long oil-cloth-covered tables,
which you share with perfect strangers who quickly become friends. Lots
of good, simple, classic American food, very reasonable prices, and a one-of-a-kind
atmosphere. Bring a hearty appetite, and please leave your axe at the door.
of the great treats of being in Eureka is seeing all the magnificent Victorian
homes and mansions.
It's obligatory to begin with the Carson Mansion, the most spectacular
and most photographed Victorian in Eureka, built by pioneer lumber magnate
William Carson in 1886. Unfortunately, it's now a private club and closed
to the public, so you can't go inside. But the outside is absolutely breathtaking.
across the street is the smaller but very lovely "Pink Lady"
built for Milton Carson in 1889, now an art museum. Around the corner from
the Pink Lady is Victorian Row, featuring a collection of smaller but beautiful
Victorian homes that are kept in superb condition.
There are literally dozens of Victorians throughout Eureka. Pick up
a "Victorian driving tour map" at your hotel and plan to spend
an hour driving around and taking photographs.
you haven't had your fill of Victorians yet, take a drive to the Village
of Ferndale, about 20 miles south of Eureka. Founded by Danes in 1854,
Ferndale is literally wall-to-wall Victorian homes and stores, many of
them more than 100 years old. Definitely worth seeing, but a shade too
touristy for my taste.
While you're driving south of Eureka, make a point of stopping at the
tiny dairy farming town of Loleta. There, you'll find a shop called the
Loleta Cheese Factory that offers a delightful variety of unique cheeses.
Plan on spending 30 minutes tasting, then buy a few bricks and take them
back to your hotel. Add some fresh-baked bread or pastries from the Eureka
Baking Company and perhaps a bottle of local wine, and you have a fantastic
You'll also want to take the opportunity to explore Arcata, 8 miles
north of Eureka at the other end of Humboldt Bay. Eureka is a college town
(home of Humboldt State University) and has a lovely downtown area called
McKinley Square with some wonderful old buildings.
trip to Eureka would be complete without at least one or two visits to
the giant redwood forests. The coastal redwoods grow to heights over 350
feet, the tallest living things on this planet. With incredibly tough bark
about a foot thick, these ancient monarchs almost indestructible and live
to be very old, usually 500 to 700 years. The oldest redwood is known to
have lived 2,200 years.
Redwood National Park is about 40 miles north of Eureka on US 101, and
is a gorgeous redwood forest that includes the world's tallest trees. I
suggest packing a picnic lunch (remember that cheese, bread, and wine we
bought?) and enjoying it in the forest under a canopy of 300-foot trees.
It's truly an awe-inspiring experience.
Or drive 30 miles south of Eureka to Redwood State Park and the "Avenue
of the Giants" where you'll find 51,000 acres of redwood forest. Follow
the signs to Founders Grove, which includes the 346-foot tall Founders
Tree and the fallen Dyerville Giant, the tallest tree in the park.
of redwoods, make a point of stopping by Fort Humboldt on the south side
of Eureka, right across from the big Bayshore Mall. Once headquarters of
Ulysses S. Grant, it is now home of a marvelous logging museum that shows
how lumbermen tackled the giant redwoods in the days when equipment was
powered by horses and steam. Well worth a visit, and also a nice place
to have a picnic.
Plan on spending some time shopping while in Eureka.
the south end of town, you'll find the huge Bayshore Mall with its four
major department stores, 80 specialty shops, 10-restaurant food court,
and multi-screen movie theater. It's a fully-enclosed mall, which is nice
if the weather is rainy. Eureka also has a big Costco discount store.
My favorite place to shop, though, is Old Town. This is an area of a
few square blocks down near the waterfront where you'll find an eclectic
collection of specialty shops, art galleries, antique stores, and restaurants.
Many of the buildings are historic landmarks. All the while, you can watch
the boats going by. It's quite lovely.
of boats, be sure to drive across the bridge to Woodley Island and its
picturesque marina, home to an active commercial fishing fleet as well
as a wide variety of pleasure craft. Great views of harbor seals and an
egret rookery. You can rent sailboats and motorboats. You can also arrange
for day-cruises of Humboldt Bay or sportfishing trips.
There's lots more to see and do in Eureka — golf courses, tennis courts,
jet boat tours and whitewater rafting on the Klamath river, some great
jazz festivals — but my fingers are tired. Try a four-day flying getaway
to Eureka ... you'll want to come back, I guarantee it.