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Eureka | Visit California


Nature and culture merge in an art-fueled Victorian seaport

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The lively seaport town of Eureka—the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon—has split-personality charm. There’s a sense of history in the handsomely restored Victorian-era Old Town district, along with a still-working seaport where crusty fishing boats chug in and out of a protected harbor, and logging trucks that rumble through town. Eureka also has an eco-conscious college vibe, thanks to Humboldt State, in the nearby town of Arcata.

Hundreds of ornate 19th-century homes reflect the prosperity of Eureka’s formative years, when lumber was king. One example: the Carson Mansion, a paragon of elaborate Queen Anne architecture now housing a private club at the end of Second Street. The entire city is a state historic landmark, a captivating mix of nature and culture with a small-town feel.

Start your visit along the waterfront, where a pretty esplanade provides nice views of the harbor and adjacent Humboldt Bay. Check out the small maritime museum, then board the MV Madaket, a snug ferryboat plying the bay since 1910, for a one-hour guided cruise. In adjacent Old Town, beeline to the outstanding Eureka Visitors Center, where you can sample local wines, beers, and local oysters; ask for tips on nearby galleries, gift shops, and eateries; and book guided tours and adventures. Kids love the Discovery Museum, where hands-on exhibits explore art, technology, and science, and the free Kinetic Museum & HQ is a fun look back on the more than half-century history of the local Kinetic Grand Championship sculpture race. Five blocks east from there you’ll find the Morris Graves Museum of Art. Housed in the gorgeously appointed former Carnegie Free Library that was the first free library in the state, the museum features exhibitions from artists both local and from around the world. 

To get a closer look at one of the town’s defining industries in action, take a drive across the bridge to Woodley Island, home of the biggest working marina in the area. Pay a visit to The Fisherman statue at the far western tip of the island, then stop in for a meal at Café Marina, where you can watch the boats come in with their catches of salmon, crab, and tuna while you dine on the same.

The city is also home to Sequoia Park Zoo, the oldest—and one of the smallest—zoos in the state. With animal residents that are on the smaller side—red pandas, river otters, and gibbons, to name just a few—the zoo is perfect for young children, and can be fully experienced in an hour or two (you can view a map of the zoo here). Don’t miss the Redwood Sky Walk, a network of suspended bridges connecting a stand of redwood trees within and outside the zoo’s border slated to open June 4. While most of the Skywalk is about 60 feet above ground, one bridge is 100 feet from the forest floor, which is roughly a third of the way up the 250-foot-tall redwoods.

Before visiting, be sure to check out the town’s busy events calendar—annual celebrations include the Eureka Street Art Festival every summer, the late-summer performing arts Fringe Festival, and the spring Salt & Fog Fish Fest culinary bash.

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