Don’t be a fool. Do the cool. Season, that is. Late winter and early spring delight the hale, hungry and healthy who harken to Humboldt’s call of the mild. For those seeking birds by land, whales by water and forests by bathing (read on, forest bathing is a thing), we have the guides to take you. Afterward, fuel up with oysters on the Avenue or SpongeBob’s favorite milkshakes. Then land on the dance floor or watch aerial artists dance suspended from the ceiling. No doubt all that moving and eating about will make you pine for a rock solid relaxation stop, which you can take at the neighborhood spa with hot stone massages. And about those children — they need to exercise their minds and bodies. So march them to the Eureka library for story time and drop them off at open gym happy hours, which, as you may notice, gives parents an evening free. Now go forth and gratify.

click to enlarge Paddling along the Humboldt coast. - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • Paddling along the Humboldt coast.

Outdoorsy Type

Birds of all feathers flock to Humboldt County, in particular Humboldt Bay, the second largest such body of water in the state. Our bay serves as the permanent or migratory habitat for some 2 million birds each year. Super fly venues to give the avian experience a lift include the Aleutian Geese Flyoff, when thousands of cackling honkers take off in the morning from the Humboldt Bay Wildlife Refuge, where the gates will open 30 minutes before dawn every weekend in March for viewing. Then there’s the Godwit Days bird fest in Arcata (April 15-21), especially the Big Day, when birders often spot more than 100 species. If you can’t make either event, join a free tour hosted by the Redwood Region Audubon Society at the Arcata Marsh each Saturday at 8:30 a.m. For a more personalized adventure on the wing, take a private excursion with the aptly named Rob Fowler (707-616-9841,, a professional wildlife biologist and birder extraordinaire, or ornithologist Ken Burton (707-499-1146,, another local high in the Audubon pecking order.

Whether Humboldt Bay or beyond, local waters beckon those seeking paddle adventures from easy to extreme. Pacific Outfitters, a deluxe outdoor gear shop, organizes trips from its Eureka storefront. Bring snacks, a change of clothes and sunscreen, and show up early to do the paperwork. The staff provides the rest: kayaks, gear, shuttle, instruction, guide, fun. Among the options: Humboldt Bay (history, seals, birds and islands), the Mad River Slough (birds, views and dunes), Big Lagoon (largest on the Redwood Coast) and Trinidad Bay (coastal waters with seals, porpoises, micro-islands and occasional whales). For those seeking other aqua-quests, ask about trips with kayak fishing options and stand-up paddle boards. Prices start at $70 per person and last three hours or so.

Sunbathing is so out. Cancer. Leather skin. Crowded beaches. Who needs it? Now that it’s 2020, try a different kind of natural cleansing: forest bathing, or shinrin yoku, a relaxation practice started in Japan and perfected in the redwoods. No need to bring the tub or robe, just your eyes, hands and nose as you methodically and mindfully breathe and amble your way through one of the world’s greatest forests, the mighty old growth groves of Redwood National and State Parks. “It’s a lot more than a slow nature hike,” said Justin Legge, a guide certified in shinrin yoku. “These techniques have been shown scientifically to provide a lot of benefits, both physically and mentally.” Legge and his calming cohorts at Redwood Adventures offer half-day and full-day tours.

click to enlarge Burgers, fries and shakes at Toni's. - ZACH LATHOURIS.
  • Zach Lathouris.
  • Burgers, fries and shakes at Toni's.


The Avenue of the Giants has become the boulevard of the bivalves, thanks to the Redwood Palace, a family-friendly restaurant in Miranda, which opened in 2018 and features Humboldt Bay oysters on the half shell. Try them with spicy mango mignonette. Or stick to the terrestrial menu with the popular cheese and charcuterie boards, sprinkled with goodies like Humboldt Fog, brie, Manchego, fresh fruit, caper apples, fig jam, Marcona almonds, sopresatta, proscuitto and smoked duck breast. For a full meal, mix and match soup, salad, shrimp, wings, sliders, pasta, lamb and ribs. There are tater tots and mac and cheese for the kids (or whoever), and local wine, beer, cider and kombucha for the adults, all enjoyed on beautiful redwood slab tables or the vintage bar. Open 3 to 9 p.m., closed Sundays and Mondays.

Toni’s 24-hour Restaurant, located at the end of a short access road off in north Arcata, has welcomed the tired and hungry masses and turned them into caffeinated and contented customers 24/7 since 1976. The round-the-clock comfort food station, said to be the inspiration for the beloved Chum Bucket of SpongeBob lore, serves classic American breakfasts, burgers, fries, onion rings, and homemade cakes and pastries made fresh on site daily. (Try the Dutch cherry pie.) Loyal patrons include local fishermen on the pre-dawn shift, long-haul truckers taking a U.S. Highway 101 respite and dessert firsters who consider Toni’s extensive list of milkshakes the single most important category on the menu.

click to enlarge Carl Schneider of Carl's Car World. - ZACH LATHOURIS
  • Zach Lathouris
  • Carl Schneider of Carl's Car World.

Art Lovers

Art appreciators at galleries and museums tend to suffer from kinetic deficits. Stop. Stare. Shuffle. Stop. Stare. Shuffle. Not so at the Morris Graves Museum of Art at 2 p.m. on the second Sundays of most months, when Eureka’s cultural flagship institution hosts an Afternoon of Dance. On Feb. 9, Debbie Weist, owner and instructor of Dance with Debbie, will give slow dancing lessons for all levels. On March 15, the Irish Academy of Dance studio will bring beginners to champions of all ages to perform traditional reels, slip jigs, treble reels and ceili dancing. Afternoon with Dance performances are included with general admission ($5, $2 students, seniors and military, free for children under 18).

Carl Schneider remembers what started it all: a 1946 Buick Convertible, blue with maroon leather interior, the most beautiful thing in the world, purring into his parents driveway in 1945. That glimpse started a lifelong obsession with auto memorabilia piled so high he finally moved it into a storefront in Old Town Eureka, dubbed Carl’s Car World, which he has opened to the public. Much of it is for sale at prices ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. The exhibits include rare vintage race posters, miniature replica cars, “ghost machines” — automobiles that the retired Plymouth and Volkswagen dealer created and then pitched to Plymouth — and race trophies, such as one earned by Arcata legend Lou Brero more than 60 years ago while driving a Curtis Cadillac. James Dean, the favorite to win that event, died on the way to the race. The showroom is open by appointment but, starting in early 2020, it’ll also be open 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. (admission $15, $10 kids, veterans and seniors).

For an elevated art encounter, try Synapsis, an experimental performance collective that features silk aerialists dangling about one of the oldest, tallest ceilings in Eureka. Founded in 2004 and led by Eureka City Councilmember Leslie Castellano, the Old Town space is a hub of kinetic surreality many days of the week. Besides the high-in-the-interior-sky artists using silks, trapezes, hammocks and ropes, contemporary dancers, acrobats and physical theater practitioners give earth-bound performances, too. With advance notice and experience, visitors can take advantage of weekly classes and open aerial gym times. For a top treat, stop by during their Arts Alive presentations, the first Saturday evening of each month.

click to enlarge The colorful children's section. - SAM LEISHMAN
  • Sam Leishman
  • The colorful children's section.

With the Kids

Walk in the Humboldt County Library, aka the Eureka Main Library, take a hard right and soon one may unleash one’s brood in wing with cushy puzzle chairs, pizza made of felt, computers with brightly colored keyboards, homemade planets dangling from the ceiling, wooden doll houses and smiling wood bear statues. And books, of course. Lots of them, with a friendly children’s librarian usually on hand to help find the perfect one. From out of town? No worries. The express card is a temporary one that visitors can use to check out several items at a time. Check the monthly calendars for story hours for children of all ages. No registration or library card required. Have a teen or two? There’s a separate room stacked with YA just for their use near the circulation desk. Added 2020 bonus: The Clara May Berry Park next to the library just reopened after a complete renovation that includes new playground equipment. The main library is open Tuesday through Saturday.

Little ones flipping out in the hotel room? Channel their revolutionary antics at Flips For Kids Gymnastic Center, which puts a positive spin on the fight against gravity. Located in Eureka’s Myrtletown, or the Myrtlewood District, as some call it, Flips offers drop-in activities — free play, games, light snacks — from 6 to 9 p.m. for kids ages 3 1/2 to 14 on Friday and Saturday nights ($15 for students and $18 for non-students). Call ahead to reserve your kid’s spot. To burn that tot energy in the daytime, Flips welcomes grownups and their little walkers up to age 3 1/2 to sample their Parents & Me class, held most weekday mornings at various times, for a one-time drop-in fee of $12. Check the website for details.

For similar kicks a bit farther south, Bow2Toe in Fortuna hosts similar drop-off Friday night open gyms from 6 to 9 p.m. The cost is $10 per child and ages 4-12 are welcome. Owner and instructor Jayme Totten prides herself on helping future cheerleaders and athletes improve their tumbling skills, flexibility and strength. She must know what she’s doing because her shelves overflow with trophies from regional and national competitions earned by teams she’s guided. Check the Facebook page or call to confirm available dates.

click to enlarge Essential Elements Spa & Sauna - ANDA AMBROSINI
  • Anda Ambrosini
  • Essential Elements Spa & Sauna

Not Strictly for Tourists

Do you like hot baths, hot tubs and traditional Swedish massage? Of course you do, explorer of the Northern California coast in the cool season. In which case, we suggest you treat yourself to a rock solid indulgence: a hot stone massage. The temperature of the stones is safe for a masseuse to hold in hand and rub on your skin, letting the heat penetrate deep into tense tissue, promoting more relaxation and making the muscles easier to work with. While seemingly a modern Euro-luxury, hot stone massage is an ancient practice.

Early Egyptians did it, as have Ayurvedic Indians following the system of holistic healing and Native Americans, who also use hot stones in sweat lodge ceremonies for physical and spiritual cleansing. Hot stone massage enthusiasts rave about muscle relaxation, improved circulation, pain relief, stress reduction and increased joint range of motion. The stones are small enough to fit in the palm and smooth to the touch. The practitioner warms up with regular massage and then works in the stones in the hands while massaging. Many spa clients prefer hot stone to the traditional massage.

To get rocking, consider one of the following Humboldt venues that come highly recommended, should you need a break from your vacation. The Spa at Personal Choice has rejuvenated Eurekans since 1983. Located on the ground floor of the historic Vance Hotel, a minty-colored Old Town landmark with a view of Humboldt Bay and Woodley Island, it offers many pampering services and pairs massages using heated, smooth, polished basalt lava stones with indulgent add-ons like hot stone pedicure, aromatherapy stone facial and spa manicure. Best of all is the Vichy shower treatment in which a line of six shower heads rain down relaxing hydro-goodness on a tabled client (or clients — couples welcome). “The Vichy shower is our favorite amenity,” said a spa staffer, gushing about the bonus hand-held pulsating water jet. Should you add the Vichy? Mais oui.

In McKinleyville, a few miles north of Arcata, Essential Elements Spa & Sauna offers an expected oasis along a suburban main street. It also offers an infrared sauna, “rain shower,” small yoga classes and complimentary workshop on essential oils. “From the moment I walked in, I was in heaven,” gushed one client.

In Trinidad, a few miles farther north, Trinidad Massage & Day Spa features hot stones, other massage services, like Swedish, Thai, deep tissue and prenatal, and more pampering perks such as facials, body wraps, scrubs and manicures. The practitioners work out of two locations, a studio and cottage, both in the heart of the fishing village, with excellent views of Trinidad Bay. Call or email for an appointment. Out-of-towners appreciate the quick turnarounds, as the spa can often accommodate same-day service.
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About The Author

Richard Stenger

Richard Stenger

Richard Stenger is media relations manager for the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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