Visit Arcata on the Northern California Coast

Arcata Visitors Guide

Many diverse elements have contributed to the mix that is Arcata, California. Founded in 1850 as Union Town, Arcata originally served as a depot and base camp for the goldfields in the Trinity Alps to the east and lumber camps all around. Humboldt County‘s Arcata has always been a lumber town and throughout much of this century was dotted with mills large and small.

Things to Do in Arcata, CA – Arcata Attractions

  • Arcata Ballpark – home of the semipro team, the Humboldt Crabs. Baseball most nights during summer, F and 8th streets.
  • Arcata Community Forest and Redwood Park – a 575-acre forest with trails, redwoods, playground, picnicking, east on 14th to Redwood Park Dr.
  • Arcata Festivals – Oyster Festival, Fourth of July Celebration, North Country Fair, Pastels On The Plaza, Bebop and Brew, Godwit Days, Farmer’s Markets, and more.
  • Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary – birdwatching, walking, and jogging trails, bay views, foot of I St, Marsh Interpretive Center, 600 South G St. , (707) 826-2359.
  • Arcata Plaza – the center of town, surrounded by shops, restaurants, Hotel Arcata, and Jacoby’s Storehouse.
  • Arcata Skatepark – free skate park, open to the public during daylight hours, safety equipment required, Sunset and J streets, (707) 822-7091.
  • Humboldt State University – the campus has art exhibits, cultural events, HSU Library, views of Arcata,14th and L.K. Wood, (707) 826-3011.
  • Victorian Walking Tour – 15 Victorian homes in quiet Arcata neighborhoods, brochure at Arcata Chamber of Commerce.
  • Arcata Chamber of Commerce – 1635 Heindon Road, Arcata, California 95521, (707) 822-3619.

At present, lumber plays a lesser role and Arcata has an economy that includes tourism, education, manufacturing, a healthy retail base, and various service industries. The resident population is an intriguing combination of students, senior citizens, artists, and all manner of working folk.

The Arcata Plaza

Arcata Plaza
Arcata Plaza

Arcata has a true center, the plaza, around which the community turns. Once home to grazing cows and pack animals, the plaza serves as the central focus of commercial and festive activities.

In 1850 when the Union Company laid out the town of Union, now Arcata, it had the foresight to designate block 167 as a park or common area. It is possible that some of the hardy types who were on the Northcoast after a headlong rush to the goldfields remembered the commons of their New England homes or the squares of sleepy Southern towns. Whatever the reason, this precious block, now the Arcata Plaza, was saved for posterity.

Not that it was treated all that reverently at first. Early arrivals camped on the square in tents, huts or whatever shelter they could contrive while making arrangements to get to the diggings on the Klamath, Trinity or Salmon River. Some people who settled on one of the properties in town offered by the Union Company thought that the open space in the middle was a dandy spot to graze their cows and goats.

A bandstand in the center of the plaza was completed in 1901 and citizens planted rose bushes and boxwood around the rich, green lawn in the following years, as well as the first palm trees. The bandstand has since been replaced with a statue of William McKinley, and local businesses have adopted the flower beds.

Today people gather on the plaza to visit, to take a lunch break or just to layout and enjoy the sun. It is a place where craft fairs, sidewalk sales, rallies, demonstrations, and just about any other kind of gathering take place. The plaza was born in a dynamic time and it remains a dynamic, people-centered place.

Historic Buildings

Several historic buildings in Arcata have been restored.

Jacoby’s Storehouse

Jacoby’s Storehouse, located on the south side of the plaza is one example. It was built by Augustus Jacoby, a prominent local merchant, who saw how quickly wooden buildings turned to tinder. In 1857 he completed his “fireproof storehouse.” Built of locally quarried stone and bricks, with decorative stonework and iron shutters, the building quickly became a source of pride to the whole community. The storehouse, designated a Historic Landmark, is one of the most beautiful restorations on the Northcoast, filled with incredible wood and glasswork executed by local artists and craftspeople.

Hotel Arcata

Across the plaza is the statuesque Hotel Arcata. The hotel was completely renovated several years ago and is a remarkable example of early hotel design. A restaurant, cocktail lounge, and retail shops are also housed in the hotel.

Attractions

Arcata has two movie theatres of note. The Minor Theatre, at 10th and H streets, is the oldest continuously-run theatre in the county. The Arcata Theatre, on G Street between 10th and 11th streets, has Art Deco design features and a large, arched seating area.

Arcata Community Forest

 Samba Parade
ta dancer in the Samba Parade

On the east side of town is Redwood Park and the Arcata Community Forest, a living museum of 600 acres of second-growth redwoods and nearly 10 miles of trails. The forest, the first city-owned forest in California, was dedicated in 1955. In the early 1980s, a comprehensive timber management plan was developed that allows the city to responsibly manage watershed, recreational uses, and wildlife habitat as well as selective timber harvesting.

For more, visit >> Humboldt County Parks Guide

Humboldt State University

Arcata is also home to one of the oldest colleges in the California State University system. Humboldt State University was founded in 1913 as a teacher’s college and was called Humboldt Normal School. Humboldt State can be seen against the backdrop of the community forest on the east side of Highway 101. The University has passed through many stages in subsequent years.

After World War II, Humboldt was known as a forestry and natural resources school. Today those programs still flourish but the school also boasts new additions such as a modern marine lab and a fisheries and wildlife building completed in May 1999. The curricula in environmental education, business, liberal and creative arts are nationally known and imitated.

Humboldt State University Natural History Museum

A highlight of Arcata is a visit to the Humboldt State University Natural History Museum located at 13th and G streets. The museum has displays of various life forms from more than 500 million years ago to the present time. The museum also houses a fossil display from the personal collection of Tom and Hilda Maloney, world-renowned fossil brokers. The museum also houses a gift shop with items geared to natural history. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Lanphere-Christensen Dune Preserve

Arcata is a wonderful place to spend a few days. It is small enough to feel cozy (the people are truly friendly to visitors) and within a short walk or drive there is a wealth of things to see and do. Drive out to Mad River Beach to see the crashing surf. Afterward, let the Friends of the Dunes guide you through the finest example of fragile sand dune flora on the West Coast at the Lanphere-Christensen Dune Preserve. Have lunch at one of Arcata’s fine restaurants, then take the walking tour of Arcata’s splendid Victorian and Greek Revival homes or a self-guided tour (brochure available at the Chamber of Commerce).

Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary

Do some leisurely birdwatching or accompany Redwood Region Audubon guides through the Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary at the south end of I street, a remarkable example of marsh restoration that demonstrates how a town can solve its solid waste problems in creative and innovative ways. The city built several ponds and marshes to naturally filter the city’s sewage from its main sewage plant. The innovative design earned the City of Arcata a $100,000 Ford Foundation grant as well as an award from the International City Managers Association.

Historic Logging Trail

historic Jacoby Storehouse
historic Jacoby Storehouse

Another fascinating and educational activity is to explore the Historic Logging Trail in the Arcata Community Forest in Redwood Park. To reach the trail follow Redwood Park Road from the intersection of 14th and Union. Follow the Nature Trail (trail no. 1) that begins at the west side of the parking lot. Redwood Park also contains a playground, picnic areas, mountain biking trails, and a community center that is available for special events.

Nightlife

Arcata has several options for those who want to enjoy some nightlife. Humboldt State University has an ongoing theatre, dance and musical performances. There are several taverns in Arcata, including Humboldt Brewery, Jambalaya, and Café Tomo which offer live music by local and traveling artists.

A great way to spend a quiet summer evening is to watch the Humboldt Crabs semi-pro baseball team at the Arcata ballpark at 8th and F streets. The Crabs are one of the top-rated teams in the country and the ballpark is small and intimate.

Events

Fourth of July also should not be missed in Arcata as the whole town comes out to celebrate with barbecues, music, food, baseball, and other old-fashioned, small-town pleasures. A fireworks display caps the day.

On Sundays, visitors can explore the Phillips House, one of the oldest houses in Arcata, from noon to 4 p.m. The house is located at 7th and Union streets.

A new California Welcome Center has opened in north Arcata that provides information on Humboldt County and beyond. Maps, brochures, dining, and lodging information and more are available. Take Hwy 101 two miles north of downtown Arcata to the Giuntoli exit. The center is on the west side of the Highway on Heindon road.