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 student 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 cosy ferry that has been plying the bay since 1910, for a 75-minute guided cruise. In the 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.