A Cannabis Traveler’s Guide to Finding the Real Humboldt County

In Humboldt County, grow ops are the largest local industry and that scuzzy old guy on a park bench might be a millionaire.

Waking up at Orr Hot Springs, you’re free to stay for a leisurely morning and use the facilities until 2:00 p.m., but you’ll probably want to get on the road earlier than that. Certainly a morning puff, a soak, and a hearty breakfast are in order though.

Heading back to the 101 and then north, you’ll cross the Humboldt County line in about two hours as you’re passing through Richardson Grove—a 2,000-acre state park that straddles the highway. If it’s a hot day, consider undertaking a search for a not-so-secret swimming hole on the banks of the nearby Eel River.

Stop #1: Lunch Like a Trimmer (or Grower)

(Courtesy of Hemp Connection)

Many tourists in this part of California make a stop at the Benbow Historic Inn, but for a taste of true Humboldt County cannabis culture, head past that exit and lunch where the local cannabis pros do—in Garberville.

Trimmers lunch at Calico’s Café. Growers head to the more upscale Cecil’s New Orleans Bistro.

Last time I visited, my local connection parked his car on Main Street and immediately a bearded young man approached us. “Two pounds a day, bro,” he promised, making his hand into a scissor lest we miss his meaning. One of countless “trimmigrants” who travel to Humboldt County from around the globe every autumn seeking a chance to trim cannabis for cash, he promised a full day’s work for a full day’s pay (which sources say is about $100–150 per pound plus room and board).

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“So, do you want to eat where the trimmers eat or where the growers eat?” my friend asked me. The question delineates the clearest socio-economic distinction to be made in this county, where “grow ops” represent by far the largest local industry and that scuzzy old guy on a park bench with a ZZ Top beard might be a millionaire. I opted for lunch with trimmers at Calico’s Café, which operates at a snail’s pace but serves up tasty pasta bolognese ($15) in an extremely chill setting. If you want to break bread with the growers, head to the more upscale Cecil’s New Orleans Bistro, where a plate of pecan-encrusted catfish with garlic mash and mixed vegetables can be had for $27.

After lunch check out The Hemp Connection, “the first and oldest hemp store in the United States,” which sells hemp clothes, beauty treatments, and more, and has served as a de-facto community center and local cannabis activism hub since it opened in 2012.

Stop #2: Shelter Cove

(yourmap/iStock)

From Garberville, it’s less than an hour to the coast—specifically, to the truly stunning black sand beach at Shelter Cove. Be prepared for a windy drive full of hairpin switchbacks. Park at the public lot and hike down to an expansive protected cove with several large rock outcroppings perfect for climbing. Pro tip: Make sure you roll one up before leaving your car (to avoid being foiled by the wind), and don’t stray too close to the water—sudden rip tides are occasionally capable of pulling the unsuspecting out to sea.

Stop #3: Along the Lost Coast to Eureka

(Courtesy of Humboldt Bay Provisions)

Those with 4WD and a sense of adventure can head north on back roads along the Lost Coast.

From Shelter Cove, those with 4WD and a sense of adventure (or a decent rental car and full insurance) can head north on back roads along the Lost Coast and experience one of the most breathtaking drives in the United States. Assuming the road’s not washed out and you don’t hit a bad pothole, that route will take a little over three hours before you hit Eureka. (Alternately, get there in two hours on the 101.) On arrival, park in “old town” so you can explore the small yet well-preserved historic district that’s been Humboldt’s commercial and cultural center since 1850.

What’s there to do? Plenty. Humboldt Bay Provisions offers a curated selection of local beer, wine, cider, cheese, salmon, oysters, produce, meats, and breads in an elegant tasting room, and while they can’t sell Humboldt-grown cannabis just yet, they do promote select local cannabis brands. The interactive Kinetic Museum catches visitors up on five decades of pedal-powered race history and showcases incredible kinetic sculptures from the local Kinetic Grand Championship competition. The historic racing grounds at Samoa Drag Strip host street-legal drag races from April through September featuring classic cars, motorcycles, and electric vehicles.           

Stop #4: Hotel Arcata

(BlakeDavidTaylor/iStock)

Everybody’s baked, everybody knows you’re baked, and it’s all okay. Bottle that wonderful feeling inside.

Walking into the Hotel Arcata (a 20-minute drive north from Eureka) feels like taking a trip back in time to 1915, long before cannabis prohibition was ever implemented. The building was first opened as “Sportsman’s Headquarters,” and attracted affluent hunters to what was then a wholly remote town. A century later, everything’s still made of rich dark wood; old photographs line the walls; and standard rooms ($120 with tax) include queen beds, clawfoot tubs, and free wifi. Word to the wise: Smoking rooms are available. Get checked in, freshen up, roll a few joints for the evening, and you’re ready to head out on the town.

The hotel is located right on Arcata’s historic town plaza, so you’re at the heart of the action in this lively, cannabinoid-soaked town of 18,000, and within easy walking distance of pretty much any place to eat or go honky-tonking with the local cannabis community. Your options include:

  • The Alibi, a local institution that elevates the dank old dive bar to its highest ideal. It’s a great place to get plugged into the city’s unique vibe and meet some new local friends.
  • Arcata Theater Lounge: This old movie palace now hosts a wide variety of live shows ranging from performances by Arcata’s improv champions On the Spot to DJ sets by local EDM artists. All events are cemented by a palpable sense of community that’s the staple of this creative oasis.
  • Savage Henry Comedy, which hosts frequent shows around town including a weekly Tuesday open mic at The Jam. Anything they’re involved in will bring out local growers and trimmers alike—because everyone loves to laugh when they’re high.
  • Richard’s Goat Tavern for house-infused cocktails, fine imported teas, and Humboldt-made sweet and savory snacks in a refined but slightly raucous little bar.
  • Don’s Donuts and Deli. Remember all those joints you rolled before leaving the hotel? Well, those got smoked. And the bars are closed. And you went and hung out with the drum-circle freaks in the plaza for a bit. So now what? How about some fresh donuts served in a 24-hour shop that plays techno music and has its own laser light show running? Be prepared to wait in line behind a bunch of other late-night stoners for the one can’t-miss on this list. Everybody’s baked, everybody knows you’re baked, and it’s all okay. Bottle that wonderful feeling inside to bring back home with you when you leave.

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