Eureka has become one of my favorite spots to get away and decompress.Situated on the northern California coast, just slightly more than 200nautical miles north-northwest of San Francisco, Eureka is one of thosespecial places that’s easy to reach by light plane but a long hard drivefor the wingless masses. During the summertime, when everything from Montereyto Mendocino to Tahoe is overrun by Bay Area refugees, Eureka remains quietand delightful.
Eurekawas 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 youinclude Arcata and other towns within a 20-mile radius), the town has retainedmuch of the splendid architecture, delightful ambience and leisurely paceof the Victorian Era. With its natural harbor at the south end of beautifulHumboldt Bay (with Arcata 8 miles away at the north end of the bay) andright in the middle of California’s most spectacular giant redwood forests,the Eureka economy is still based largely on lumber, fishing, and…toa lesser extent…tourism. But it’s definitely not the kind of place thatstrikes you as "touristy."
The weather in Eureka is cool all year around. The mean temperatureis 49°F in the winter, 59°F in the summer. It rains a lot in thewinter — those 350-foot redwoods need enormous amounts of water — andhas lots of fog in the summer. If your idea of heaven is baking in thehot 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’shot everywhere else.
Flying Into Eureka
Thehardest part about flying into Eureka may be deciding which airport touse, 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 lightedrunway, ILS and VOR approaches, and scheduled commuter airline service.Because the weather on the northern California coast is often IFR (rainor fog, depending on the season), ACV is frequently the airport of choicewith its 200-and-1/2 ILS minimums. It doesn’t have a tower, but it doeshave a 24-hour Flight Service Station that provides local airport advisoryservice.
There’sno 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 andthe next tankerload wasn’t due for almost a week! In fairness, they almostalways 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 theterminal because Eureka is a town in which a car is a major asset. Butthere’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’sa VOR approach off the Fortuna VOR with minimums of 900 and 1-1/4, butI wouldn’t bet on making it in less-than-VFR conditions.)
Locatedless 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 delightfulold wooden arch-roof main hangar. It has a 3,000-foot lighted runway anda small FBO called Northern Air (707-443-3197) that sells 100LL duringdaylight hours. They’ll call you a cab for the short ride into town, orthey can arrange for an Enterprise rent-a-car if you phone ahead. Parkingat EKA is also five bucks a night.
Eureka Muni — also known as "Samoa Airport," O33 — is locatedon 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’mtold by friends that have that it features a restored navy blimp stationthat has been converted into a unique bed & breakfast inn. The roomsare furnished with authentic antiques from the early 1940s, and even theold radio room, dorm, and mess hall have been preserved, all lined withpictures of it’s past history. Sounds neat! But be aware that O33 has noFBO, fuel, or maintenance.
Finding a place to stay in Eureka is seldom a problem. There are somethinglike 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 amatter of deciding what you’re looking for.
Thebiggest hotel in Eureka is the sprawling Red Lion Inn (707-445-0844) with178 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), RamadaLimited (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-roomhotel in a 1922 Tudor Revival structure, with an excellent restaurant.Or for something really special, book into one of several lovely Victorianbed-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 areessential.
There are so many wonderful restaurants in Eureka that it’s impossibleto try them all unless you’re a local, and even then it’d be tough. I lovefresh seafood, and Eureka is a seafood-lovers paradise. A couple of myfavorite places are historic Lazio’s Restaurant (707-443-9717) and theelegant Sea Grill (707-443-7187). There are at least a half-dozen othertop-notch seafood restaurants in town.
Sinceyou may not want seafood every night, try the Rib Room (707-442-6441) inthe Eureka Inn — wonderful food in an elegant setting. Or if you feellike taking a drive, the Benbow Inn (707-923-2124) is 20 miles south inGarberville, but the exceptional menu and atmosphere is well worth it.
For something really unique and different, drive over the bridge tothe Samoa Penninsula and have lunch or dinner at the famous Samoa Cookhouse.It’s the last surviving lumber camp style cookhouse in the West, operatedby Louisiana-Pacific just as it was during the the heyday of the lumberindustry. Food is served family-style at long oil-cloth-covered tables,which you share with perfect strangers who quickly become friends. Lotsof good, simple, classic American food, very reasonable prices, and a one-of-a-kindatmosphere. Bring a hearty appetite, and please leave your axe at the door.
Oneof the great treats of being in Eureka is seeing all the magnificent Victorianhomes and mansions.
It’s obligatory to begin with the Carson Mansion, the most spectacularand most photographed Victorian in Eureka, built by pioneer lumber magnateWilliam Carson in 1886. Unfortunately, it’s now a private club and closedto the public, so you can’t go inside. But the outside is absolutely breathtaking.
Rightacross the street is the smaller but very lovely "Pink Lady"built for Milton Carson in 1889, now an art museum. Around the corner fromthe Pink Lady is Victorian Row, featuring a collection of smaller but beautifulVictorian homes that are kept in superb condition.
There are literally dozens of Victorians throughout Eureka. Pick upa "Victorian driving tour map" at your hotel and plan to spendan hour driving around and taking photographs.
Ifyou haven’t had your fill of Victorians yet, take a drive to the Villageof Ferndale, about 20 miles south of Eureka. Founded by Danes in 1854,Ferndale is literally wall-to-wall Victorian homes and stores, many ofthem more than 100 years old. Definitely worth seeing, but a shade tootouristy for my taste.
While you’re driving south of Eureka, make a point of stopping at thetiny dairy farming town of Loleta. There, you’ll find a shop called theLoleta Cheese Factory that offers a delightful variety of unique cheeses.Plan on spending 30 minutes tasting, then buy a few bricks and take themback to your hotel. Add some fresh-baked bread or pastries from the EurekaBaking Company and perhaps a bottle of local wine, and you have a fantasticpicnic lunch.
You’ll also want to take the opportunity to explore Arcata, 8 milesnorth 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 calledMcKinley Square with some wonderful old buildings.
Notrip to Eureka would be complete without at least one or two visits tothe giant redwood forests. The coastal redwoods grow to heights over 350feet, the tallest living things on this planet. With incredibly tough barkabout a foot thick, these ancient monarchs almost indestructible and liveto be very old, usually 500 to 700 years. The oldest redwood is known tohave lived 2,200 years.
Redwood National Park is about 40 miles north of Eureka on US 101, andis a gorgeous redwood forest that includes the world’s tallest trees. Isuggest packing a picnic lunch (remember that cheese, bread, and wine webought?) 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 "Avenueof the Giants" where you’ll find 51,000 acres of redwood forest. Followthe signs to Founders Grove, which includes the 346-foot tall FoundersTree and the fallen Dyerville Giant, the tallest tree in the park.
Speakingof redwoods, make a point of stopping by Fort Humboldt on the south sideof Eureka, right across from the big Bayshore Mall. Once headquarters ofUlysses S. Grant, it is now home of a marvelous logging museum that showshow lumbermen tackled the giant redwoods in the days when equipment waspowered by horses and steam. Well worth a visit, and also a nice placeto have a picnic.
Plan on spending some time shopping while in Eureka.
Atthe south end of town, you’ll find the huge Bayshore Mall with its fourmajor department stores, 80 specialty shops, 10-restaurant food court,and multi-screen movie theater. It’s a fully-enclosed mall, which is niceif 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 afew square blocks down near the waterfront where you’ll find an eclecticcollection of specialty shops, art galleries, antique stores, and restaurants.Many of the buildings are historic landmarks. All the while, you can watchthe boats going by. It’s quite lovely.
Speakingof boats, be sure to drive across the bridge to Woodley Island and itspicturesque marina, home to an active commercial fishing fleet as wellas a wide variety of pleasure craft. Great views of harbor seals and anegret rookery. You can rent sailboats and motorboats. You can also arrangefor 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 greatjazz festivals — but my fingers are tired. Try a four-day flying getawayto Eureka … you’ll want to come back, I guarantee it.