This lively seaport town, the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, has a split personality charm: a sense of history in the handsomely restored, Victorian era Old Town district, a still working seaport where crusty fishing boats chug in and out of a protected harbour, logging trucks rumbling through town, and an eco conscious college vibe thanks to Humboldt State, in the nearby town of Arcata. Hundreds of ornate 19th-century homes, such as the Carson Mansion, a paragon of Queen Anne architecture now housing a private club at the end of Second Street, reflect the prosperity of Eureka’s formative years, when timber was king. The entire city is a state historic landmark, a captivating mix of nature and culture with a small town feel.
Start your visit on the waterfront, where a pretty esplanade provides nice views of the harbour and adjacent Humboldt Bay. Visit the small maritime museum, then board the MV Madaket, a snug ferry that has been plying the bay since 1910, for a 75-minute guided cruise. In adjacent Old Town, make a beeline for the outstanding Eureka Visitors Center, where you can sample local wines, beers and oysters, ask for tips on nearby galleries, gift shops and restaurants, and book guided tours and adventures.
Continue south along the wild coast, plenty of turnouts for photos, to Mendocino, one of California’s most romantic hamlets.