Mist floats through primeval forest. Gargantuan trees soar into the sky. Carpets of green ferns wave in the breeze. It’s little wonder that George Lucas chose California’s redwood country to play a galaxy far, far away. In Humboldt County’s string of national and state parks, explorers find stratospheric coast redwoods—the world’s tallest living things—plus some notable eateries serving delicious fare that’s decidedly more down-to-earth.
The 32-mile Avenue of the Giants quickly immerses motorists in the dense, ancient forests of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Memorable highlights include ghostly albino redwoods that survive only by entwining their roots with healthy trees; a visitor center that features the Travel Log, a conservationist’s 1917 motor home with a chassis carved from a redwood trunk; and Founders’ Grove, where downed trees offer a much more up-close perspective than their upright peers.
Eel River Cafe is everything its retro neon sign suggests: cozy booths, personable wait staff, and lumberjack-size dishes made from scratch. During the week, the specials board fills with Mexican dishes such as fried eggs smothered in a chocolaty mole sauce with a side of warm homemade tortillas.
The varied landscape of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park encompasses pristine beaches, distinctive redwood stands, and grassy meadows frequented by Roosevelt elk. Bring galoshes to splash deep into Fern Canyon, a gently sloping streambed bordered by 50-foot-high walls of rare ferns and lush green moss.
Baskets of plump fish and chips top most tables at the Lighthouse Grill, a spiffy seafood shack in seaside Trinidad. But don’t miss the signature waffle cone stuffed with mashed potatoes and piled giddily high with bacon, brisket, gravy, and cheese.
Visitors are unlikely to catch a glimpse of one of the world’s tallest trees, Hyperion, whose location in Redwood National Park is classified info. But not-so-secret Trillium Falls Trail is no mere consolation prize. Hikers who walk the 2.5-mile loop through of immense old-growth redwoods to see its namesake, a scenic cascade down moss-covered boulders, will see why the park merits its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
At Mad River Brewing in the picturesque old logging town of Blue Lake, burgers made from local grass-fed beef pair well with the cheekily titled Humboldt Brownie, a hearty brown ale brewed with cocoa nibs.