Like most of the towns in Humboldt County, the city of Eureka got its start as a rough and tumble logging town, full of bars, brothels and card rooms patronized by hundreds of loggers and sailors.
Visitors who imagine the days of old might be surprised to find the sophisticated but friendly small city that Eureka is today. With a population of approximately 27,000, Eureka is the cultural, political, and economic hub of Humboldt County. Logging is still a principle part of the local economy, but Eureka also seriously caters to travelers as well as to an increasingly diversified local population.
- Carson Mansion – Victorian mansion formerly owned by lumber baron William Carson, 2nd and M streets.
- Clarke Memorial Museum – extensive Indian basket display, pioneer relics, historic displays, corner of 3rd and E streets, (707) 443-1947.
- Fort Humboldt – State Historical Park, headquarters of Ulysses S. Grant in 1853, Native American museum, logging museum, bay views, picnicking, 3431 Fort St., (707) 445-6567.
- Humboldt Cultural Center and Morris Graves Museum of Art – renovated Carnegie Library houses a permanent art collection, local and traveling art shows. Humboldt Arts Council, 7th and F streets, (707) 442-0278.
- Maritime Museum – historic photographs of local shipwrecks, marine relics, 423 1st St., operators of harbor tours aboard the Madaket ferry boat, (707) 444-9440.
- Old Town – Eureka’s historic section of town with Victorian architecture, shops, galleries, restaurants, waterfront, 2nd and 3rd streets between C and M streets.
- Sequoia Park, Garden, and Zoo – Playground, benches, gazebo, garden, duck pond, trails, live animal displays, petting zoo, 3400 Broadway, 442-6552.
- Woodley Island Marina – fishing boats, city views, birdwatching, dining, take Route 235 (Samoa Bridge) west from Hwy 101.
- Eureka-Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau– 1034 2nd St., Eureka, (707) 443-5097.
- Eureka Chamber of Commerce – 2112 Broadway, Eureka, California 95501, (707) 442-3738.
Proud of its history, the city has hundreds of beautifully restored houses and commercial buildings such as those in the Old Town area. Eureka also has hotels, inns, restaurants, and galleries that could challenge those in cities four times its size. Rivers, ocean, mountains, and forest are all within a half-hour drive – usually less.
There is so much to do in Eureka that it’s worth taking a few days to explore. A good first stop is the Chamber of Commerce office at 2112 Broadway (Hwy. 101) where dozens of brochures and pamphlets on the area’s attractions are available. The next thing to do is get off busy Highway 101 and into the quiet neighborhoods. A turn toward Humboldt Bay off the highway (4th or 5th Street in the heart of Eureka,) between C and M streets will bring the visitor to Eureka’s Old Town district.
A handsome addition to Eureka is the Humboldt County Library, located behind the Carson Mansion on Third Street, overlooking Humboldt Bay.
The luxurious Humboldt Room with its redwood walls, arches, shelving, and windows is the showpiece of the library. It offers spectacular views of the bay as well as a wealth of information on the history of Humboldt County. Dedicated volunteers contributed materials, time, and expertise and local organizations and businesses donated more than $150,000 to preserve this collection of works in an impressive setting.
A former Carnegie Library building at 7th and F streets has been renovated and now houses the Humboldt Cultural Center and Morris Graves Museum of Art. The handsome building has permanent and rotating exhibits, a photo gallery and a sculpture garden.
Woodley Island Marina
Moving out of Old Town, a short hop onto the Samoa Bridge leads to the Woodley Island Marina. The marina was dedicated in 1981 and has berths for 350 vessels. It is probably the best spot to view the waterfront and some of the local fishing fleet. The Cafe Marina has outdoor tables so food and view can be enjoyed simultaneously when weather permits. A sculpture by local artist Dick Crane stands at the end of the marina in memory of fishermen who have been lost at sea. At the far end of the Samoa Bridge, a left turn will take the visitor to the Samoa Cookhouse, a lumber-camp restaurant that still serves its meals in the hearty fashion of yesteryear. The restaurant also houses a logging museum.
On the return trip to Eureka look for the egrets that nest in the cypress trees on the islands in the bay. The marshes, bay, and sea provide abundant habitat for hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife.
Another way to see this wildlife, as well as other sights, is aboard the Madaket, a tour boat that offers several daily excursions on the bay. The Madaket is the oldest operating passenger ship on the Pacific Coast. It also has the smallest licensed bar in the state. The Madaket docks at the foot of C Street and is operated by the Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum which is located at 423 1st Street, across from the Waterfront Café.
Clarke Memorial Museum
Other museums in Eureka include the Clarke Memorial Museum, which is full of historical displays and has one of the finest collections of Native American basketry in the country, and Fort Humboldt, which is home to a Native American museum, a logging museum and several buildings from the old fort.
Also on the south end of town on Highway 101 is the Bayshore Mall. The mall has dozens of retail stores, restaurants, movie theatres, and a video arcade.
College of the Redwoods
Farther south on Highway 101, about eight miles, travelers can visit the picturesque campus of College of the Redwoods, one of California’s 107 Community Colleges. CR, as it is known to locals, has a student body of approximately 5,000 – 6,000. It offers courses for students who wish to complete the first two years of a baccalaureate degree and those who plan to transfer to a four-year institution such as Humboldt State University. Visitors are welcome all year on the main campus, which features a botanical garden, picnic area, marked nature trails, and a small lake, public outdoor tennis courts, and a library.
Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Just south of CR, visitors can take the Hookton Road exit off Highway 101 to reach the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge offers bird and wildlife viewing and two hiking trails open during daylight hours.
Sequoia Park on the south side of town (Harris to W Street) is a pleasant place to laze on the lawn or see a redwood grove up close. It is also the home of the Sequoia Park Zoo, a favorite way for locals to while away an afternoon. Although small, the zoo has some fine displays and offers an intimate look at the resident animals.
Visitors who wish to view excellent examples of Victorian architecture can pick up a brochure at the Chamber of Commerce office that describes a self-guided tour. The chamber also has information about guided tours of Eureka and the surrounding area.
Nightlife can be enjoyed at the many local nightclubs, bars, and pubs in Eureka. There are several excellent theatre groups in the area as well as many movie theatres. Live music can be enjoyed most weekends and some weekdays at Club West on Fifth and G streets, The Eureka Inn on Seventh and F streets at or The Vista on Commercial Street as well as at other locations.
Eureka is also home to friendly, relaxed people who are usually more than glad to help visitors enjoy their stay in the city.
Historic Old Town Eureka California
Old Town is a tribute to Eureka’s respect for its roots and historic past. In the l950s and 1960s, the fine old 19th century commercial buildings and Victorian houses of this several-block stretch near the waterfront were showing age and neglect. There was a movement among some city leaders in the late 1960s to replace the whole neighborhood with an elevated freeway, which would separate the city proper from its waterfront while removing an alleged eyesore and keeping visitors close to downtown.
Happily, there were people and organizations in Eureka and other parts of California who had a strong sense of history and an appreciation for the structures that made up the shabby waterfront skid row community. They launched the Century III project which secured low-interest loans from the federal government to restore this oldest part of town to its original state, with a few embellishments to boot. Well, it’s not quite as it was originally: there are no livery stables in this new incarnation, no ship-fitters or sawmills. It can be said, however, that it is again home to at least one saloon.
First, Second (Two Street to older locals) and, to a lesser extent, Third Street make up the heart of the Old Town section. It is a mix of shops, restaurants, small businesses, galleries, and nightclubs. Some of the best restaurants in town are in Old Town. They include Tomaso’s, the Sea Grill, Kyoto, Cafe Waterfront, Roy’s, Mazzotti’s, The Vista, Celestino’s In Old Town, Hurricane Kate’s, Avalon and the Carter House.
The Humboldt Bay Coffee Company, Los Bagels, Ramone’s Bakery, the Eureka Baking Company and Has Beans are all great places to gather for coffee, baked goods, and conversation. Chocolate lovers will want to stop at Sjaak’s Chocolates on the Gazebo to experience hand-crafted candies or visit Bon Bonaire on F Street for a tasty treat in an old-fashioned ice cream parlor complete with marble floor and hairpin chairs.
Easily the most famous structure in Old Town is the Carson Mansion, which rises above Old Town at the head of 2nd Street. The elaborately ornamented Victorian was built in the 1880s for lumber baron William Carson and is an incredible mixture of towers, turrets, gables, and gewgaws. Although it can be enjoyed from the outside, it is now a private club and is not open to the public. Across the street from the Carson Mansion stands another large Victorian structure. Affectionately called “The Pink Lady,” it was also built for the Carson family. Directly behind the Carson Mansion is the new Humboldt County Library.
Another architectural attraction is the Carter House Inn on the corner of 3rd and L streets. This beautiful Victorian is actually a re-creation finished in 1982 from 1884 blueprints of a San Francisco mansion that was destroyed in the earthquake of 1906. The Hotel Carter across the street is a more recent addition to Old Town, built by the owners of the Carter House.
The brick crosswalks, iron benches, and planters bright with flowers make Second Street the heart of Old Town, but there are things to see on side streets, too. The Clarke Memorial Museum, located in a columned former bank building at 3rd and E streets, has an extensive collection of baskets and dance regalia of the Yurok, Hupa, and Karuk tribes. These were the indigenous peoples who lived in redwood and cedar plank houses and hunted the forests, mudflats, and ocean waters of Humboldt Bay before the loggers and gold seekers arrived.
Other contemporary Native American art and jewelry can be seen at the American Indian Art and Gift Shop at 241 F Street as well as at the Indian-West Emporium at 326 2nd Street.
The Romano Gabriel sculpture garden can be viewed at 2nd and D streets across from Imperial Square. Gabriel was a local folk artist whose work used to enliven his house and yard in Eureka. His work was collected and moved to its present location after his death.
Those who love art openings will enjoy the Humboldt Arts Council’s First Saturday Arts Alive! when Eureka galleries, many of which are in Old Town, coordinate gallery openings on the first Saturday of each month. Several Old Town shops keep later hours for these events, and the result is a lively mix of artists, art lovers, and shoppers.
Recently, the Humboldt Arts Council spearheaded the restoration of Eureka’s Carnegie Library into the Humboldt Cultural Center and Morris Graves Museum of Art. Only a few blocks from Old Town, it is located at 7th and F streets. In 1999 the splendid building underwent renovation and improvements, and now houses the Humboldt Art Council’s permanent art collection and provides exhibit space for Northcoast artisans.
The major summer event in Old Town is the Annual Old Town Fourth of July Celebration, in its 26th observance this year. It is a grand and glorious, busy and crowded old-fashioned full-on day of fun and spectacle. There is music, food booths, craft booths, railroad trips to Arcata, boat rides, demonstrations of Coast Guard rescue operations, street magicians and jugglers, special sales at most of Old Town’s stores, and – at dusk – the beginning of a spectacular fireworks display over the bay.
The restoration of Old Town is an ongoing process. As time goes on the city of Eureka is reclaiming more of the waterfront and opening it to the public. Near the Carson Mansion where abandoned old wharves once stood there is now a fledgling park and pavilion and a waterfront drive that runs for nearly a quarter of a mile to a boat launching ramp.
Several years ago the city completed the Adorni Recreation Center near 2nd and L streets. The handsome building is used for public functions as well as providing basketball courts, aerobics classes, and a weight room.
Those who would like to explore the bay by kayak or sailboat can do so at Hum-Boats, a rental facility at the foot of F street. A public dock and boat ramp are available to launch your private craft under the Samoa Bridge, just west of the Adorni Center.