The Insider's Guide to Eureka, California

The county seat of Humboldt County, California, the historic seaport of Eureka is a natural base for exploring the ancient forests, crystal clear rivers and rugged Pacific coast of what was recently ranked the second most naturally beautiful county in the USA in a federal study.

But Eureka is more than just a place to just crash for the night, the elegant Victorian mini-city has a handful of attractions itself, including its own old-growth Redwood forest, fun on the Humboldt Bay and a hip little dining and nightlife scene.

Explore Old Town Eureka
Eureka Books in Old Town Eureka
Photo: Ocean Malandra

A well-preserved chunk of stunning Victorian masterpieces and brick-lined alleyways that fronts the Humboldt Bay along its new boardwalk, Old Town Eureka is surprisingly urban feeling and exudes a strong artistic vibe - something on full display during the monthly first Saturday Arts Alive.

Start the day at Old Town Coffee and Chocolates, where locals sip cups of freshly roasted joe on the sidewalk tables and local art adorns the walls. For lunch head to Cafe Nooner, where Humboldt Bay oysters find their way into New Orleans style Po'Boys or check out the freshly caught seafood specials at Cafe Waterfront.

Don't forget to browse the selection at Eureka Books before heading to the Sirens Song for local musical talent over Humboldt craft beers. For sophisticated cocktails backed by live jazz duck into Opera Alley and check out the SpeakEasy.

Art aficionados should head over to the elegant Morris Graves Museum of Art, which is housed in a former Carnegie Library, while history buffs will find their fill of Native American lore and Gold Rush era artifacts at the Clarke Historical Museum. Architecture lovers will go nuts over Eureka's many Victorian treasures but the crown jewel is the Carson Mansion, an 18-room castle poised over the edge of the bay like a princess.

Visit the Giant Redwoods of Sequoia Park
Ancient Redwoods and fall colors in Sequoia Park
Photo: Ocean Malandra

While Humboldt County is home to both Redwood National Park and Humboldt Redwoods State Park, each one about an hour drive north and south respectively from Eureka, you can also wander among the tallest trees on earth right within city limits.

Sequoia Park is a nice 75-acre swath of old growth redwoods located on the south side of town, complete with walking trails, a central duck pond and even a small zoo where you can learn more about the local ecosystem and visit exotic animals like the red panda.

Get Out on the Humboldt Bay
The Humboldt Bay at Sunset from the Eureka Boardwalk
Photo: Ocean Malandra

The largest protected body of water on the west coast of the United States between San Francisco and the Puget Sound, the Humboldt Bay is backed by emerald green forests, is teeming with harbor seals and is home to several verdant islands that serve as bird sanctuaries.

Active types should rent a kayak or small sailboat down at the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center and explore the bay independently while those who prefer to do their adventuring with a cocktail in hand can enjoy the daily sunset cruises on board the historic Madaket, docked right on the boardwalk and home to the smallest licensed bar in the state of California.

Author's bio: Ocean Malandra divides his time between Northern California and South America. A widely published travel writer and journalist, he can be followed at @OceanMalandra.