You can enjoy a steaming cup of coffee with plenty of local attractions here in Humboldt County. Whether you're into creatures or creature comforts, there are a number of adventures that will satisfy your interest in both. For example, after howling along with spider monkeys and gibbons, you can quench your thirst at the Eureka zoo café with tea or coffee. Bonus — free refills.

You can sprinkle fish food nuggets to giant carp before ordering a cappuccino at Pierson Building Center's garden or look for otters on the Eel River before an afternoon tea in the Benbow Inn. Then, for those really committed, repast at the Bigfoot Café in Willow Creek before launching an expedition to the most hallowed ground in Bigfootdom, the Patterson-Gimlin Bluff Creek film site. For more on these and other timely autumn trips in Humboldt, read on.

Outdoorsy Type

These classic hikes in Humboldt Redwoods State Park deliver an awe-inspiring experience. The Founder's Grove, Williams Grove and Bull Creek Loop abound with monster trees, fallen giants, goose pens and bodacious burls shaped like life-sized dinosaurs, galloping horses or gnarly old trolls. But lesser-known trails lead to pleasant natural discoveries: on Grasshopper Peak, an old pioneer settlement; in the Women's Federation Grove, a Christmas-tree like albino tree; and along the Grieg-French-Bell Loop, the most magical, lushest carpet of redwood sorrel underneath the redwood canopy. How to start or end such a trek on a crisp autumn day? At the park visitor center, where one can see the one-log RV that America's best bird imitator drove across the nation, swap stories with volunteers that have lived in the forest almost as long the redwoods, or perk up with a self-serve coffee — a few coins requested — kept warm on the porch for guests like you.

Once upon a time a police car parked near Standish-Hickey State Park kept motorists in check, until they realized that the cruiser was out of commission and its occupant was a stuffed alien rather than a CHP officer. Still, the Peg House, whose thoughtful motto is "Don't never stop," keeps other odd traditions alive on its rambling grounds, like showcasing an old long yellow school bus jacked up on big monster wheels. Don't let the kitsch keep you from sampling the kitchen. The Peg House has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best North Mendocino lunch stops with organic sandwiches, goodies and coffees. Pick up some provisions and make your way across U.S. Highway 101 to Standish-Hickey for a pleasant picnic, choosing from a variety of backdrops such as an Eel River beach, a Redwood glen or an old outdoor amphitheater, where you and the kids can star in your own production after your repast, with only birds, banana slugs and, perhaps, Bigfoot in the audience.

Speaking of which, this fall, marvel at fine seasonal foliage in eastern Humboldt along the Bigfoot Scenic Highway. Starting in Blue Lake, head east and up on State Route 299, where deciduous trees peppering the coastal range ignite into bright yellows, sharply contrasting the evergreens nearby. In Willow Creek, after a stop at Bigfoot Books, the Bigfoot Café or Bigfoot Rafting, which offers kayak rentals for the Trinity River year round (a rarity in California), head north on State Route 96, also part of the BSH, to see more turning leaves. Still with us, intrepid reader? Then go all out. Celebrate the 60th anniversary of the most famous bipedal beast in modern history, the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot, which, in October 1968, lumbered across a clearing in Six Rivers National Forest, all the while being filmed. For directions, tips and, just maybe, with proper notice, cajoling and compensation, a personally guided trip to the hallowed hominoid site, contact the Squatchers at

click to enlarge House-made pasteries, quiche, a cappucino and a fresh-squeezed mimosa from Cafe Brio. - CHUCK JOHNSON
  • Chuck Johnson
  • House-made pasteries, quiche, a cappucino and a fresh-squeezed mimosa from Cafe Brio.


Those accustomed to a quick cup of Joe might wonder for a second why the coffee at Café Brio occasionally takes longer than a New York minute. Waver not. The pour over coffee, brewed individually for each cup, is exceptional and dependable. Do you doctor up your drink with moo juice? You don't need to with this stuff. The nosh available to accompany said beverage lives up to expectations, whether a lemon square, pastries with embedded potatoes or fresh eggs with house-made organic toast and jam. Speaking of which, Brio breads merit their own paeans au pain — that's French, not an ouchie — illustrated by the speed with which Brio loaves (French, Italian, you name it) disappear from grocery shelves throughout the county. Fortunately, the flagship café has deep-baked reserves.

Should one need a jolt of caffeine but be unable to decide on the exact liquid specs, the best course of action is the North Coast Co-Op, either in Old Town or near the Arcata Plaza. The two organic markets sport self-serve coffee corners with amazing varieties of Humboldt coffees to suit any taste. Top off your cup with an equally impressive selection of accompaniments, whether dairy, soy, spice, sugar or honey. Next to said coffee corners, fresh baked goods, many of the sugary persuasion, made from the finest ingredients, of course, best to make one's decadences as healthy as possible, should seal the deal.

Because Coffee? What kind of name is that for a coffee shop (300 F St., Eureka, 407-0541)? Why is a stuffed goose staring at me through sunglasses, and why are fancy earrings dangling from animal skulls on the walls? And, the matter at hand, why does it take 10 minutes to get a slice of quiche? But ... then it arrives — large, warm and absolutely tasty. Hint of lemon. Makes one order the same thing the next day. No microwaves here, just an old-school oven. It makes a difference in the taste and the clock ticks are soon forgotten. Looking around, one sees others committed to the same slo-mo-cha movement. Pickup games of chess, college students cramming, grownups having deep conservations that would make Parisian intellectuals proud. If you have a few moments, or hours, this corner café's plush sofas and chairs beckon your inner lounge lizard. And about that name. Order a caffeinated brew, wait a few minutes longer than the McDonald's drive-thru, then find out why you woke up this morning, why you stopped here and why you feel so good about delaying instant gratification for the pour over. Why? Because Coffee.

click to enlarge Dave Van Patten embellishes the shanty. - ALEXANDER WOODARD
  • Alexander Woodard
  • Dave Van Patten embellishes the shanty.

Art Lovers

Holly Yashi, a national jewelry manufacturer, makes its home in Arcata's hip Creamery District, so naturally it serves up free espresso to those browsing its gift shop or design studio. That perk is on the house. Holly Yashi's award-winning works are handmade in small batches. Many of the earrings, necklaces and bracelets feature niobium, formerly named columbium, a rare metal that bursts into brilliant shocks of colors with a crafty electrical trick. On the floor, you might bump into co-founders Holly Hosterman and Paul Lubitz, who is known to dress as Santa Claus around the holidays. That reminds us — besides Holly Yashi goods, the shop stocks hundreds of preciously pretty items, including home, décor, cards, books and gifts from other Humboldt artisans. Free guided tours Monday-Friday mornings and afternoons. Reservations suggested.

Eureka, named one of the best small arts towns in America by illustrious author John Villani, has somehow managed to become even more artsy this year. The historic seaport, shedding its stodgy Victorian facade in favor of bright contemporary colors, sports dozens of newly minted masterpieces in the Old Town and downtown districts, thanks to a months-long art extravaganza thrown by the city, civic groups, businesses and artists. Utility boxes, adorned with everything from flying cat pizza slices to lumbering Bigfoots, were the first to undergo the makeovers. Next up were commercial district buildings, their walls giving up their monochromatic modalities for muralistic multicolorisms. Opera Alley (between Second and Third streets), with its cafes and shops, features many of them, such as the homage to singer Nina Kristopherson on the Speakeasy Tavern by Blake Reagan, an Old Town fixture who, when not beautifying canvases and bricks, runs the Burning Man coffee shop every year.

This art, on the other hand, is trash! And that's good. The 23rd annual Junque Arte Exhibition, littering the Morris Graves Museum until Dec. 3, features select works made from materials that are 100 percent reclaimed, reused, recovered, secondhand or salvaged. Who's serving as judge and jury of the exhibition? Dan McCauley of Dan's Custom Metals, a tinkerer, welder and metal fabricator for 20 years who specializes in found object metal sculptures. Housed in a beautifully restored Carnegie Library, the museum, is open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 5 PM. Admission is $5, $2 for seniors and children get in free. And everyone else enters free on first Saturdays, including the evenings, when the monthly Arts Alive! community arts walk transforms the Morris Graves and much of Eureka into a lively street fair.

click to enlarge The One-Log House, just off of U.S. Highway 101. - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • The One-Log House, just off of U.S. Highway 101.

With the Kids

Feeling like a potted plant with the fam? No better antidote than the Pierson Building Center. (Look for the Big Hammer from the highway). Stop at the counter, ask for a cup of fish food and enter a paradise for pipsqueaks, who can visit a pond with giant koi (thus the food), search for hidden ceramic dinosaurs and alligators, pet lazy store cats, explore hot houses with cacti and succulents, and — not that we recommend this at all, for the clerks' sake — stick their hands in bubbling water fountains. To pay for this guilty pleasure, parents should purchase a few plants — maybe one of the zillions of ornaments in the holiday shop — or stop in next door at the Pierson Building Center and splurge on the mini-outlet of Ramone's Coffee, one of Humboldt's finest purveyors of fresh java and baked treats.

Near the southern border of the county, on the east side of U.S. Highway 101, a recommended stop for carloads entering or exiting Humboldt is the One Log House, which features a kitchen, two beds and dining and living areas carved into the interior of a single redwood trunk. Admission to the historic roadside attraction is only a buck, leaving plenty of cash to drop in the adjoining gift and tea shop. Maybe an espresso or popular mementos like banana slug magnets, mini-Bigfoots made from redwood, shot glasses or some shirts and caps? If you have a few more minutes and haven't sated your souvenir fix, the Grandfather Tree next door offers more amusements. The first marvel is in the parking lot, where the crumpled carcass of an automobile and a fallen redwood limb on top demonstrates the raw power of mass and velocity. The second wonder is old Grandpa himself, an aging old growth giant 24 feet in diameter.

On the surface, Trinidad seems like a sleepy, beautiful fishing village that juts over a rocky protrusion into the Pacific, offering scenery and serenity. But underneath, it's wild tot territory, replete with many stops to wear out the wee ones with natural and historic wonders. First, Indian and Trinidad beaches and watery environs showcase sea stacks, sea stars, hermit crabs, hermit fishermen and cameos from resident sea lions and migrating whales. Second, the Humboldt State University Marine Biology Lab (570 Ewing St., Trinidad, 826-3671) lets the public take self-guided tours of its aquarium and tidal touch tanks. Whether looking for the reclusive octopus, counting the jellyfish, finding trumpet fish that look like eel grass or poking — gently of course — at sea cucumbers, anemones or urchins, whose pokey quills creepily track any digit that dares to brush against them, the kids will love it. Ratchet up the experience at the city playground, ratchet it down at the city library for story time (open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, 380 Janis Court, Trinidad, 677-0227). We like the one that invites dogs and kids. Or keep it on an even keel at the Beachcomber Café (363 Trinity St., Trinidad, 677-0106), an eco-groovy coffee shop with a toy-laden room dedicated to toddlers. Bring your own mug for bonus points.

click to enlarge Afternoon tea in front of the fireplace. Courtesy of Benbow Historical Inn.
  • Afternoon tea in front of the fireplace. Courtesy of Benbow Historical Inn.

Not Strictly for Tourists

Sequoia Park Zoo, the oldest zoo in California and the largest north of San Francisco, delights two-legged young and old from Eureka and nearby towns. But non-locals, too, appreciate the fun-sized menagerie. Surrounded by 60 acres of redwood forest, it houses, among other animals, river otters, bush dogs, bald eagles, spider monkeys, white-handed gibbons, red pandas, pink flamingos and, in their new outdoor home, cotton-topped tamarins, the cutest pocket-sized monkeys ever. Less known but equally impressive is the revamped zoo café, which serves staples like burgers and fries, as well as healthier fare such as turkey wraps and Cobb salads. For an afternoon pickup, their espresso is dependable. Two side notes: No admission required for the café. And, if heading directly into the heart of the Sequoia Park forest, one can call the café ahead for pickup (442-8000).

The Benbow Historic Inn, renowned for almost a century for catering to the elite — to wit, Clarke Gable, Herbert Hoover, Cher — also does tidy business with locals and others looking for more casual amenities. Happy hours at the pub, recently revamped by noted bar architects Wallace & Hinze, might include ball caps along with the polo shirts. The inn's sister property, the Benbow KOA Resort, delights kids with a mini-train and splash park, and a round of golf is as likely to include clubs as soccer balls. Three insider tips to entice you even more: Affordable off-season specials, English tea and fresh scones in the afternoons and, for night owls, sky lovers and photographers, full moons in the autumn months that rise in dramatic fashion over a narrow crook in the Benbow Valley.

When on the Lost Coast, step back in time in a de facto living history museum of the original back-to-the-landers, Whitethorn Construction, the one-stop shop for Southern Humboldt's independent agrarian businesspersons. Besides essentials to get through growing, fire and drought seasons — generators, fire retardants and water tanks — Whitethorn stocks slabs of top-grade California hardwoods, such as tan oak, Douglas fir and madrone, themselves things of natural beauty worth marveling at when browsing the aisles. They reflect the woodworking passion of owner Bob McKee, who, back in the day, palled around with beatnik legends Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder. Today, the longtime lumberyard has become a kind of community center where residents chat over coffee and sandwiches at Caffe Dolce in the main building. "It's kind of like Cheers, a place where everyone knows your name," one local explains.

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Richard Stenger

Richard Stenger

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

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