just some of sights on scenic 101
Getting there is half the fun, they say, and one great example of that is the
trip to or from Humboldt County and its largest city, Eureka. The home of some
of California's most scenic wilderness, Humboldt
County can be reached by going north on Highway 101 through a redwood forests,
lush rolling hills and historic towns that each beckon the traveler to spend
just a little more time along the way exploring.
We found that the coastal village of Mendocino, on Highway 1, is a great
starting point, and well worth a night or two in one of the charming inns that
take advantage of the area's natural beauty. Perched on a bluff overlooking the
churning Pacific Ocean, Mendocino is so picturesque it was used as a stand-in
for Cabot's Cove, the fictional New England fishing village in the television
show Murder She Wrote. Fine restaurants and eclectic shops are found in some of
the town's historic buildings. Artisans can't resist the town and many have
wound up living there and opening local art galleries because of its unsurpassed
Fort Bragg is a little more typical California beach town which you'll find
along Highway 1, just a few miles north from Mendocino. From there take Highway
20 east and you're in for a slow but scenic drive on a curvy road through the
coastal mountains. In an hour or so you arrive at Willits, a frontier town with
a colorful history and a picture-perfect setting among the rolling hills just
east of the coastal mountains.
If you just want to pop over to Willits and leave the driving to a railroad
engineer, you can take the famous "Skunk Train" from Fort Bragg to Willits. It's
the same redwood forests you would see driving Highway 20, but there's just
something a little more adventurous about riding the rails in a historic steam
While in Willits, be sure to stop by the Mendocino County Museum, which puts
everything in historical perspective. It has one of the finest collections of
Pomo and Yuki baskets in the world. And it has an antique steam logging
equipment display that actually works.
The scenery north from
Willits on Highway 101 alternates between rolling hills and sections that almost
look like mountain passes — along the way visitors are taken through a number of
fascinating small towns such as Benbow and Garbersville. Next comes the Avenue
of the Giants, a 32-mile scenic diversion off 101 that we decided was well worth
the extra time.
The Avenue of the Giants is a chance to get close to the Giant Redwoods and
we enjoyed stopping at several marked groves along the way where you can get out
of the car and take mini-hikes along well-marked trails through the trees. The
Avenue of the Giants was originally built as a stagecoach and wagon road in the
1880s and it now parallels Highway 101. It's not far out of the way at all —
just a little slower because it's a two-lane highway instead of the four-lane
101. These magnificent trees were preserved as part of the 52,000-acre Humboldt
Redwoods State Park.
Just a few miles up the road from the Avenue of the Giants, we saw the signs
for the Victorian Village of Ferndale, a town we had heard about. While it's a
couple of miles off Highway 101, Ferndale is well worth the extra time. The
countryside surrounding Ferndale is dairy country and a pleasant excursion on
its own. But when we arrived at Ferndale, it was immediately apparent why it is
a popular stop with tourists.
Most of the buildings in Ferndale were built in the Victorian era of the late
1800's. All throughout town we came across ornate homes known as "Butterfat
Palaces" because they had been the homes of successful dairymen. Adding to the
town's uniqueness, Scandinavian, Swiss-Italian and Portuguese immigrants moved
to the area, making it a "melting pot" of cultures. Today that heritage is
celebrated with special events like the Portuguese Holy Ghost Celebration and
the Scandinavian Mid-Summer Festival.
Ferndale visitors will find not only Victorian architecture but also a wide
variety of specialty shops, arts and antique stores as well as several hotels
and bed-and-breakfast inns.
Back on Highway 101 we drove north just a few miles farther and noticed the
sign for Loleta, which brought to mind another side trip we had heard about.
Only a couple of minutes off Highway 101 is the tiny town of Loleta which is
home to the Loleta Cheese Factory. You don't come here for Victorian
architecture, shopping or anything
other than a unique experience in a store that is not quite like any other.
We dropped in on a quiet weekday morning but even then there were several
other visitors making their way through the 34 varieties of cheese offered by
the Loleta Cheese Factory. The store cuts small pieces of almost every type of
cheese so that you can sample the many ways in which this company varies the
taste of its cheeses.
But it's not just about the tasting — it's about learning how cheese is made.
You might even get owner Bob Laffranchi to take you on a personal tour. Whether
it's Bob or his staff, someone will drop everything they are doing to explain
how cheese is made while you watch the process through a window that looks into
the actual cheese factory.
According to the experts at the Loleta Cheese Factory, the bountiful pastures
of Humboldt County play an important role in the quality, flavor and natural
goodness of the cheese. It's just like similar locations in Europe where the
cheese is world-famous. At the Loleta Cheese Factory each vat of cheese is
worked by hand and carefully monitored for quality. Among the variations of
cheese available are smoked salmon cheddar, jalapeno cheddar, garlic jalapeno
jack, havarti with herbs and spice, garden jack and hickory smoked jack. Also
available at the Cheese Factory are gourmet spreads and sauces and
flavor-infused oils and vinegars.
Just up ahead on Highway 101 is your destination, Eureka, the largest city in
Humboldt County and yet another city in this part of the state known for an
abundance of Victorian architure. From here there is plenty to explore in all
directions, including many more of the Giant Redwoods that add so much to this
region's natural beauty. Just remember: if getting there is half the fun, the
other half is waiting for you in Humboldt County.
AT A GLANCE
This excursion through Mendocino and Humboldt counties begins about 140 miles
north of San Francisco.
WHAT: The big draws are Mendocino and Eureka, the beginning and end of
this particular journey, but the towns, forests and sights along the way are
well worth spending some time traveling between the two destinations.
WHEN: Anytime, although you'll want to dress warm and be prepared for
rain during the rainy season from November through March.
WHY: The scenery between Mendocino and Eureka is some of the most
spectacular in California. The towns along the way are both charming and
HOW: For more information on Mendocino County, please phone 866-466-3636
or visit www.gomendo.com. For more
information on Eureka and Humboldt County, phone 800-346-3482 or visit
www.redwoodvisitor.com. If you are
going to Redwoods National Park, you may want to consider staying in one of
several new cabins that have been built within the park boundaries and close to
many hiking trails. Located on 40 acres that once was the location of a sawmill,
Redwood Adventures cabins are the newest vacation rentals in the park. Phone
866-733-9637 or visit
Photos: Giant Redwood is one of many in the Avenue of Giants; Ferndale
Victorian architecture; visitors can watch cheese being made at Loleta Cheese
Factory; the "one-log home" is one of many interesting sights along this part of
Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway
(Editor's note: CaliforniaWeekend.com is California's leading source of information on getaway travel in the Golden State. Visit the site often to find the latest getaway specials, a comprehensive list of resorts and lodgings and to use the Getaway Machine travel calculator to match up your needs and preferences with exactly the right lodgings and location.)
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