If you’re looking for a motel or hotel base for your visit to Redwood National Park along the northern coast of California, look into Arcata, CA, located just north of Eureka on Highway 101.
You’ve probably heard of Arcata through media coverage of its Kinetic Sculpture event–a wild race between human-powered amphibious all-terrain works of art, held every Memorial weekend to the appreciative whoops and hollers of the tourists and townsfolk alike. Other special events include the Godwit Days bird watching festival, and Arcata Bay Oyster Festival. You should Google these, because in this article we’re going to focus on what you can do in this environmentally savvy and wonderfully eccentric town, not just during special events, but at almost any time of the year.
In case you feel “eccentric” may be too strong a word, let me ask you how many small town newspapers call themselves, as does The Arcata Eye, “The Mildly Objectionable Weekly Newspaper”?
The almost-anytime list of things to do in Arcata
Like many coastal towns in Northern California, Arcata offers gorgeous natural beauty with its redwood forests, sandy beaches, and rugged coastline, and unique to Arcata, the Humboldt Bay. What makes Arcata unusual is its dedicated environmental culture, making it one of the most involved and vocal communities on the west coast, and one of the “greenest” cities in the U.S. You can enjoy some of this culture, along with traditional northern California outdoor activities, in even just one day.
Arcata Plaza, 9th and G
The Arcata Plaza is the center of Arcata life, full of people all year round, and surrounded by coffee shops, restaurants, and live music venues. Unlike most town squares, the Plaza sports a controversial statue of President William McKinley, which, in liberal Arcata, someone is always trying to convince the city to pull down.
Farmers Market on the Plaza
On Saturday mornings from mid-April to mid-November, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., perhaps the largest mostly organic farmers market in the nation sets up on the Plaza, often with live entertainment. More than 100 local farms participate at some point during the season.
Humboldt State University, LK Wood Blvd., north of 14th
Humboldt State University sits among redwoods and palms and dominates the town in its position above the bay.
Humboldt State students enter with the highest ACT and SAT scores in the Cal State system. Many major or minor in studies related to the natural world, such as environmental science, resource engineering, forestry, watershed management, fire ecology, fisheries biology, rangeland resource sciences, wildlife, and oceanography.
The bookstore at the University Center has great souvenirs, including a large selection of Humboldt State psychedelic t-shirts, remindful of old hippie days.
Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, south end G Street
It’s not often that we recommend a visit to a sewage disposal center, but that’s the main function of the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the most innovative wastewater treatment facilities in the world. This marsh, or wetland system, is known in the scientific community around the world, and has won many awards, including the Innovations in Government award from the Ford Foundation/Harvard University Kennedy School.
The Arcata Marsh is popular among cyclists, joggers, trail walkers, students of the facility, tourists, and birdwatchers. Visited by over 250 species of birds a year, many of which are migratory, the marsh hosts bird watching tours very Saturday morning.
Arcata City Council meetings, City Hall, 736 F Street
In 1996, Arcata became the first city in the U.S. to elect a Green Party majority. In 2007, the “Greens” regained a majority on the city council.
Even without Republican and Libertarian participation, the Arcata City Council meetings are often lively, and sometimes fun. And there’s plenty of input from the audience.
Attending a town meeting may be an unusual tourist outing, but in Arcata, it’s inspiring because the residents care so much about their town and environment. For a list of some of the most interesting meetings, see BidonTravel’s comments on Arcata (link below). And call 707-822-5953 to confirm meeting dates and times.
One of the best-known city government groups is the Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and Peace Committee. Because the city believes that “all radioactive material has a high potential for use as a weapon,” they have resolved not to purchase goods or services from companies involved in any part of the nuclear weapons cycle.
Arcata Community Forest, east end 14th Street
Arcata Community Forest is one of the few municipally owned forests in the nation. It was certified as sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in 1998 and is a model for sustained yield forestry.
Arcata operates its forest by selective cutting (not clear cutting), which aims to preserve the natural setting. However, the logging of any redwood trees remains controversial in Arcata. (Residents of Arcata have played a major part in saving the Headwaters Forest from logging.)
The Community Forest serves as a wildlife habitat, as a source of education in sustainable timber harvesting, and, with many hikers and mountain bikers on its trails, as an all-season, outdoor fitness center.
The Arcata Eye
Our favorite local publication is the weekly Arcata Eye–a quintessential small-town muckraking newspaper. Buy The Eye, rather than accessing it online, to get a list of events, from bird watching expeditions to live music performances. (It’s easiest to buy a paper at the Arcata Eye office in Suite 5 at 791 Eighth Street on the south side of the Plaza.)
Humboldt Crabs baseball, 9th and F
Humboldt County residents love their oldest continuously operating semi-pro baseball team in the country, and games are frequently sold out. The atmosphere is typical Americana with its fevered enthusiasm–but also tobacco-free!
Humboldt County claims more artists per capita than anywhere else in California. The second Friday of each month, fine arts and live music can be enjoyed at more than 40 locations around town. But no matter when you are there, there are always live bands playing, dances, and art shows.
Our favorite restaurants are Golden Harvest Cafe and the Oriental Buffet. We also love the friendly service and free Wi-Fi at Mosgo’s Coffee House. For details, see link below. For a review of our personal favorite, Golden Harvest Cafe, see link below. Casual and student-friendly, this restaurant lets you know in its slogan that it aims to please everyone: “Herbivore, Carnivore, We’ve Got What You’re Looking For!”
Arcata residents have created a unique and vital town that can capture your attention in activities that range from kick-back relaxing to learning about a bit of history in the making.
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