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12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Eureka, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Aug 7, 2019

An eclectic and charming seaport town, Eureka is the largest city on the California coast north of San Francisco. Displaying its age with a historic downtown district lined with Victorian architecture, Eureka also highlights its modern culture throughout the waterfront Historic Old Town, with numerous artworks and murals. Adjacent to Humboldt Bay, this colorful downtown district is filled with fun things to do and is a great first stop when visiting the city.

Towering attractions and outdoor things to do surround Eureka, including the many ancient forests lining the world-famous Redwood Highway. With Eureka in the middle of the route, numerous national and state parks comprise the Redwood Highway's roadside attractions, including the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. For postcard ocean views from Eureka, the tiny city of Trinidad to the north offers seashore vistas not easily forgotten.

Built on a history of lumber and fishing, much of Eureka's past is experienced at places like Fort Humboldt State Historic Park and the architecturally intricate Carson Mansion—one of the most photographed houses in the country. For something to circle on the calendar, the Kinetic Grand Championship, also known as the "Triathlon of the Art World," takes place every Memorial Day Weekend in Eureka. Information and exhibits of this cherished community tradition can be found at the Kinetic Museum Eureka.

Plan your sightseeing in and around this seaside town with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Eureka, California.

1. Historic Old Town

Historic Victorian homes in Old Town Eureka

Abutting Humboldt Bay, Historic Old Town Eureka is lined with Victorian architecture dating back to the fishing and industrial days of 1850s Eureka. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Historic Old Town Eureka now features numerous local restaurants, boutique shops, and modern works of art. Alongside a mural project that adorns many storefronts of downtown Eureka, the collection of paintings found throughout Opera Alley offer hidden gems of attraction.

A fun thing to do in Historic Old Town is walk the boardwalk adjacent to Humboldt Bay, where local ice-cream shops and seaside restaurants encourage time out of the day. Numerous community celebrations take place each year in Historic Old Town, including the new Eureka Street Art Festival, which adds fresh murals to Old Town each year. For other downtown things to do in Eureka, the Morris Graves Museum and Clarke Historical Museum each offer unique insight into the community.

Official site: http://eurekamainstreet.org/

2. Redwood Highway Editor's Pick

Redwood Highway

Eureka is right on the path of the world-famous Redwood Highway, a scenic automobile tour of Northern California. Stretching from the community of Legget in Mendocino County to Crescent City and the Oregon border, this 230-mile route follows the 101 and cruises through countless redwood groves along the way. State parks, drive-through attractions, and friendly cities like Eureka line the route, offering great places to spend the night and plenty of fun things to do outside.

Starting from the southern terminus of the Redwood Highway, one of the first major stops heading north is the neck-craning Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Encompassing the largest tract of ancient redwood forests in the world, the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants runs parallel to the Redwood Highway within Humboldt Redwood, providing a slower speed limit to enjoy the grandeur. Visitors from Eureka can reach Humboldt Redwoods State Park with a very scenic 30-minute drive.

North of Eureka on the Redwood Highway, more ancient groves can be found at Redwood National and State Parks. Plenty of things to do next to the ocean include scenic stops when traveling the Redwood Highway, and directly north of Eureka, the small community of Trinidad offers big views of the ocean. Farther north, Crescent City also holds a reputation as a great home base for exploring the coast.

3. Sequoia Park Forest & Garden

Wishing well in Sequoia Park Forest & Garden

Containing 40 acres of an original redwood grove, Sequoia Forest & Garden is a treasured city space filled with family friendly things to do. Adjacent to the Sequoia Zoo, this public park encompasses a total of 67 acres, with hiking and biking trails, picnic tables and playgrounds, and an intricate garden decorated with dahlias, gazebos, and water features. The grove of redwood trees is still the central attraction and biggest reason to visit.

The adjacent Sequoia Zoo is one of the smallest accredited zoos in the country and the oldest in California. Driven by a mission to instill public wildlife appreciation, animal experiences at the zoo include a free-flight aviary with exotic birds, a barnyard filled with petting animals, and a redwood habitat with red pandas. The on-site Zoo Café offers casual fare throughout the week including burgers, salads, and wraps.

Address: 3414 W Streeet, Eureka, California

Official site: http://www.sequoiaparkzoo.net/visit/sequoia-park/

4. Carson Mansion

Carson Mansion | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

High up on a hill overlooking Humboldt Bay, the Carson Mansion is a beautiful remnant of the city's industrial past. One of the most photographed houses in the country, and a perfect example of old Victorian architecture, this 1885 mansion was built by a local lumber magnate, William Carson. Across the street from the Carson Mansion, the J. Milton Carson House, known as the Pink Lady, offers similar historic appeal and photogenic charm.

Most visits to the Carson Mansion entail appreciating and photographing the architecture from beyond the fenced property line. A membership to the non-profit and private Ingomar Club is required to tour the lavish interior of the mansion, and also provides opportunities to experience fine dining or overnight visits within the historic home. Visit the Ingomar Club website for information on how to become a member.

Address: 143 M Street, Eureka, California

Official site: https://www.ingomar.org/

5. Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Humboldt Redwoods State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Encompassing over 53,000 acres and the largest expanse of coastal redwoods in the world, Humboldt Redwoods State Park is an international destination with growing appeal. The 32-mile Avenue of the Giants tours the giant trees and popular attractions of this massive state park. Notable stops on the Avenue of the Giants include the Gould Grove Nature Trail and Founders Grove, home to the fallen 360-foot Dyersville Giant.

The Avenue of the Giants parallels much of the South Fork of the Eel River, providing numerous pullouts to enjoy the refreshing banks during the heat of the day. Over 250 campsites accommodate tents or RVs at Humboldt Redwoods, spread throughout three different campgrounds within the state park. All overnight guests at the state park have access to flushing restrooms and coin-operated showers.

Hiking, cycling, and horseback riding are other popular redwoods things to do at the state park, with over 100 miles of trail available. The 10-plus mile Johnson Camp Trail is a strenuous hike that navigates through many habitats of the park. The visitor center at the park is a good place to stop for detailed trail information and interpretive information about the stunning surrounding forest.

Address: 17119 Avenue of the Giants, Weott, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=425

6. Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Shorebird Loop Trail, Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

South of the city, Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge provides over 4,000 acres of vital natural habitat. Popular with marine and land-based mammals like sea lions, porcupines, and river otters, the refuge is particularly teeming with numerous species of migratory birds. This abundance of wildlife and natural space also makes the refuge popular with photographers, hikers, and anyone looking to step away from the city.

The Richard J. Guadagno Headquarters & Visitor Center in the Salmon Creek Unit of the refuge is the most accessible area to visit. With binoculars and field guides available to check out, as well as interpretive information about the refuge, the visitor center also features a universally accessible boardwalk and back porch that overlooks the wild landscape. The 1.7-mile Shorebird Loop Trail extends from the visitor center and features bird blinds and access to other trails in the area.

Address: 1020 Ranch Road, Loleta, California

Official site: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Humboldt_Bay/

7. Kinetic Museum Eureka

Kinetic Museum Eureka | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Highlighting the homegrown and unique Kinetic Grand Championship of Eureka, this non-profit museum is dedicated to this annual event dubbed "The Triathlon of the Art World." A three-day event spread across Memorial Day Weekend, the Kinetic Grand Championship is a 50-mile race, where entrants include fantastic and intricate pieces of movable art. Accompanied with costumes, festivities, and family friendly things to do, the Kinetic Grand Championship has grown into a 50-year cherished tradition.

On-site at the museum are several past mobile sculptures, including some of the first entrants produced by metal sculptor, Hobart Brown, originator of the event. Curators at the museum are happy to share the history of the Grand Championship and encourage anyone to make plans for Memorial Day weekend to check out the event. For those with some artistic prowess and imagination, the curators also encourage potential racers to begin training/creating for the 50-mile race.

8. Fort Humboldt State Historic Park

Fort Humboldt State Historic Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Constructed in 1853, Fort Humboldt was built high on a bluff overlooking Humboldt Bay to diffuse tensions between indigenous populations and the surge of pioneers and settlers flocking to the area. Future general of the Union Army and 18th president of the United States, Captain Ulysses S. Grant spent six months at the fort. Abandoned in 1870, the hospital building is the only remaining structure at this State Historic Park.

The museum within the historic hospital is filled with details about the life and times of this military installation, including information regarding the native people that inhabited the area for thousands of years. Further interpretive information is spread throughout the rest of the park, as well as plentiful outdoor space for family picnics and afternoon strolls. The Outdoor Logging Display at the park displays many of the turn-of-the-century tools and processes of generating redwood lumber without modern machinery.

Address: 3431 Fort Avenue, Eureka, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=665

9. Headwaters Forest Reserve

Elk River Trailhead, Headwaters Forest Reserve

Operated by the Bureau of Land Management, Headwaters Forest Reserve is a towering example of community activism and grassroots conservation. Following public demand, the state and federal government acquisitioned over 7,000 acres of this redwood forest south of Eureka, preserving many ancient groves from continuing lumber operations. Day-use only and subject to special low-impact regulations, two trails navigate the thick forest, including the Elk River Trail leading to a magnificent redwood growth loop.

Address: Palco Road 1, Fortuna, California

10. Arcata Community Forest

Arcata Community Forest | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Immediately north of Eureka, the equally historic city of Arcata contains nearly 800 acres of redwood forest within minutes of its small downtown district. A favorite spot for locals, Arcata Community Forest receives recognition as a "Model Forest" and offers a sprawling network of trails. Accessible via the developed Redwoods Park, the trails at Arcata Community Forest navigate lush surroundings and steep inclines, quickly inducing the feeling of stepping away.

Address: Park Drive, Arcata, California

11. Trinidad State Beach

Trinidad State Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

While the views of Humboldt Bay are stunning, to see coastal landscapes in Eureka, it's best to head north towards the tiny incorporated city of Trinidad. A 30-minute drive from Historic Old Town Eureka, the massive ocean features of this state beach are quickly spotted while descending the open meadow bluff. Particularly enchanting come sunset, visits during low tide offer the most beach to explore.

For more coastal appeal and things to do near the ocean in Eureka, Mad River Beach County Park is another popular place to explore. Featuring access to sand dunes, calm surf, and the banks of the Mad River, this county park is popular with boaters, anglers, and beachcombers. A large parking area slightly inland from the beach offers a wide boat ramp to access the water.

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=418

12. Lost Coast Trail

Hiking the Lost Coast Trail

Traversing a scenic California coastline so rugged that no other developments exist, the Lost Coast Trail provides a unique backpacking opportunity on a wilderness coast. The 23-mile Lost Coast Trail follows the steep shoreline created by the adjacent King Mountain Range crashing into the ocean. Lined with wildflowers, tide pools, and wildlife sightings, an average trip on the Lost Coast Trail takes three days, and backpackers need to use tide charts to ensure safe passages.

Official site: https://www.blm.gov/visit/search-details/267873/1

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