The apartment that my husband Barry and I were checking out in Old Town, Eureka, had no lease. It came with a partial view of the bay, a light-filled second floor, and even a garage — rare in this part of town. “There’s no risk,” I said. “Let’s just rent it for a while, until we figure out our next steps.”
Ha! Twenty-two years later, to our surprise, we’re still there. Humboldt County is not for everyone, and in fact, for a long time, I wasn’t sure it was for me. For one thing, we’re international travelers whose families live nowhere near and it’s not that easy of a place to leave. Our local airport was built during the war to train pilots to land in fog and weather still causes delays and cancellations. Plus, moving to a remote, rural place from the Bay Area with far less money, political clout, and amenities than we were used to came as a shock.
Yet, I consider Humboldt County one of California’s best-kept secrets — a beautiful area where we live part of the year and a complete contrast to our other home in Guanajuato, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in central Mexico.
Here are 11 reasons why I enjoy living here:
1. Humboldt Bay
Barry and I live in historic Old Town, a 2-minute walk from the bay. Twice a week, I carry my lightweight paddleboard down to the nearest dock. Within 30 seconds, I find myself in a different world of wharves, docks, sloughs, pilings, jetties, bridges, a decommissioned pulp mill, and two islands I can circumnavigate. Sometimes I accompany Barry in his kayak, sometimes I explore alone. For me, paddling is not just a sport, it’s a meditation.
Ours is a working bay, with scullers, fishermen, crabbers, oyster farmers, kayakers, sailboats — you name it. There’s always something to explore. Visitors can rent kayaks and paddleboards, and take classes at the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center.
The weather here is halfway between the Bay Area’s Mediterranean climate and the chilly, rainy Pacific Northwest. We get a lot of overcast, but that’s fine with me. I’m the opposite of the seasonal-affective-disorder folks — too much sun is hard on my eyes and leaves me a little depressed. Temperatures here are moderate year-round, ranging from the 40s to the 70s (Fahrenheit). Best of all, we’re not vulnerable to the climate issues that exist elsewhere in the state, like extreme heat, wildfires, and smoke.
3. A Strong Sense Of Community And Culture
A friend who had to move to a dry climate for health reasons said what he would miss most was the “spirit of the community” here. And it’s true. Local people are very impassioned — committed to different things but all committed to something.
Although the population of Humboldt County is less than 140,000, the community has all the offerings you’d find in a large urban environment, just in smaller doses: salsa dancing, jazz, meditation, cooking classes, a theater, farmers markets, arts and crafts fairs, hiking groups, and so on. Cal Poly, one of the state’s four STEM universities, is located in the town of Arcata, 7 miles north of Eureka. The national organization known as OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), affiliated with the university, offers classes on everything from archeology to yoga. Speaking of which, yoga is hugely popular. On the internet, I found 20 yoga studios in the county, not counting classes offered through local gyms.
4. Ocean Beaches
Humboldt has more coastline than any other county in California. From Trinidad — the artist’s seaside village to the north — down to the Victorian village of Ferndale, you’re never far from the ocean. Beaches vary greatly, from those with rock formations and cliffs in Trinidad; to Baker’s, a clothing-optional beach also in Trinidad; to Ma-le’l Dunes, named a National Natural Landmark in 2021 and one of the most biologically diverse dune communities on the West Coast. The closest beach to us, Samoa, is only an 8-minute drive away. I love not only the beaches but the nearby coastal forests, marshes, plant life, and dunes.
5. Walkability And Lack Of Traffic And Congestion
When I lived in the Bay Area, driving was a daily part of life, but very stressful; here, I get in the car once a week. None of my friends live more than 20 minutes away. Even if your home is in one of the more rural areas, nothing is very far away, and there’s less of the congestion or traffic back-ups you find in California’s cities and suburbs. When Barry and I leave town on a van trip, we’re out of the Eureka city limits within 10 minutes.
6. Historic Architecture
Eureka, an old Victorian seaport, is dotted with historic houses, as are Arcata and the village of Ferndale — 20 miles south of Eureka. The most famous building, by far, in our county is Eureka’s Carson Mansion, right out of a Hitchcock movie. My favorite neighborhood, however, for historic architecture is Hillsdale Street with its row of old Victorians that parallels, on a smaller scale, the Painted Ladies found in San Francisco.
7. Meandering Bayside Pedestrian Paths
I love walking the Eureka Waterfront Trail, which stretches 6.5 miles along the shore of Humboldt Bay and offers views of the bay and sea life. It’s part of the Humboldt Bay Trail, which, when completed in 2024, will be a paved bicycle/pedestrian path connecting Eureka and Arcata. The Humboldt Bay Trail, in turn, is one section of the multi-county Great Redwood Trail — a visionary 320-mile, rail-to-trail project to connect San Francisco and Humboldt Bays. Another paved trail heading south is the Hikshari’ Trail, which offers views of the water, coastal willows, salt marshes, and sand dunes.
8. Natural Beauty In Every Direction
Eureka is surrounded by national and state parks: to the north, Redwood National and State Parks; to the south, Humboldt Redwoods State Park; and to the east, many wilderness areas for hiking and backpacking. To live less than an hour from some of the oldest trees on the planet is a joy. I also love the easy access to southern Oregon, as I described here, and Mendocino County to the south.
While house prices and other costs have risen, as they have everywhere, Humboldt County is still an affordable place to live. Our low-cost apartment in Eureka allows us also to enjoy our life in Mexico. If we had moved to Ashland or Portland, as I once wanted to, life wouldn’t be as economical and our bicultural lifestyle might not be possible.
10. Lack Of Materialism And Obsession With Success
Residents of Humboldt County don’t prioritize wealth, achievement, and success in the same way that I experienced when we lived in Palo Alto. Although Barry and I earned sufficient incomes there to meet our needs, it never felt like enough, and I often was anxious because my colleagues and friends made more than I did. Materialism and competition exist here, of course, but nothing like what I experienced in the Bay Area.
11. Grocery Outlet And WinCo
Food is basic, right? So I’ll end with describing where I shop. I love the unpretentious, friendly ambiance of my two favorite downmarket stores. In 10 minutes, I can walk to the discount supermarket Grocery Outlet, where I buy produce, bread, dairy, snacks, tofu, wine, and other name-brand products at a third less than standard supermarkets. Employee-owned WinCo has even more of a selection. And for those with more upscale tastes, plenty of other options exist.
Humboldt County, like the rest of California, has its share of problems, of course. But the beauty of this pocket of the state is that it’s quirky and offbeat. It’s not everyone’s idea of “home,” but it’s definitely worth a visit. Who knows? You may end up staying longer than you expect. Many do!