You’re Humboldt or You’re Not — Seriously.
It’s something to consider before moving behind the “Redwood Curtain.” Humboldt is a beautiful place to live with lots of amazing aspects, but it is definitely not for everyone. Weigh these pros and cons before you set down roots.
Arts, Culture and Nightlife
To say this is an artsy community is an understatement. Every month, both Arcata and Eureka host a free “Arts Alive” event where local arts and musicians gather downtown to entertain the public. The shops stay open late, displaying a variety of artwork and offering snacks and refreshments in return for donations to support this community. There are several local theaters, where you can find local productions of famous plays or even locally written and produced pieces at theaters like the Dell’Arte International and Arcata Playhouse. Want to make your own art and craft projects? There’s room for that too. From HeartBead off the Arcata Plaza to Eureka’s new Arts and Drafts bar, the options for creative expression are endless. Through much of the year, there are so many community celebrations and events you have to choose which you can fit into your schedule. Notable events throughout the summer months include, but are certainly not limited to, the famous Kinetic Sculpture Race, the Oyster Festival, the North County Fair. There are many local talented musicians, and you can catch live music shows almost any night of the week. With HSU’s CenterArts close by, there are a variety of opportunities to enjoy the bigger names in entertainment, such as The Blue Man Group, Postmodern Jukebox, Joan Baez, or lectures from leaders like Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo Movement.
Nightlife, in general, is minimal. Many of the shops close by 6 p. m. and restaurants close by about 8pm, with slightly later hours on the weekends. Often, bars are the only options for evening outings. If you’re looking for a poppin’ club every night, you will be sorely let down. The silver lining here is that when events do happen, you’ll be more motivated to attend!
“While you can still get to San Francisco relatively easily for the opera and such, we have some fantastic regional theater here that you won’t find anywhere else!” Pat Bitton, Eureka resident
“We make our own fun in Humboldt. Not being near the metro-area cultural attractions means much of our entertainment is DIY. There are summer weekends with six festivals to choose from. Add the high number of artists, musicians and a revolving supply of clubs, house shows, theaters, galleries and open mics… the fun is there. And if you don’t like what’s out there? Find like-minded fans and create YOUR own scene.” David Reed, native Eureka resident
There are jobs in Humboldt County, it can just be difficult to find them—which is why you’re here! Workforce Weekend’s goal is to connect employers with the right employees, making network connections so that, should a job become available down the road. Once you do find a job, there is often an opportunity to have more meaningful work when the businesses and organizations are small and ripe for new ideas. You may have opportunites to try things you wouldn’t have the opportunity to try in a bigger city. Our incomes are lower (see “Cons”) but we have lots of living wage jobs — even if the wage is lower than you might expect someplace else. If you’re interested in starting your own business, there are resources and support. We absolutely support making your own opportunities in Humboldt.
The median household income in Humboldt County is $42,000 ; about $25,000 less than the California median. Unfortunately, while some things like home prices are less expensive, Humboldt does not see a much lower cost of living than other communities in California. This also affects the ability for Humboldt to recruit and retain professionals like doctors, judges, contractors. When we do find professionals who are willing to come up, they often have a spouse or significant other who also has to find their role in the community. If they don’t find work, or find a meaningful connection in the community, that often means we lose those professionals we were able to recruit. Until we can strengthen the economic base to address our income disparity, we’ll consider the lower wage the tax for living in one of the most beautiful places in the country. Choosing to live here means comparing your salary to your expenses, not another community, or you’ll never be satisfied.
“You don’t choose Humboldt, Humboldt chooses you. You have to leave a lot of your expectations behind and adapt to living here. But the payoff is summed up in what an old timer once told me: ‘This is the place where people come to be who they are supposed to be.’” Randy Weaver, Eureka resident
Healthy, Organic and Homegrown
With year-round farmers’ markets and locally-grown produce in the grocery stores, Humboldt’s emphasis on organic, healthy, and locally-grown food is perfect for the health-conscious. Most restaurants in the area serve high-quality, local foods — a win-win for the entire community. Food manufacturing is one of the bigger industries in Humboldt, which means you can find local versions of everything from locally cured meats to organic Thai sauce, to gluten-free baked goods. Furthermore, there are a plethora of options for working out, from countless yoga studios to boxing and MMA facilities along with CrossFit and other general sports complexes. And let’s not forget the many trails for walking, running, biking, and hiking without even needing to leave town—and extraordinary walks, bikes, and hikes just a few miles outside of town.
Because there is such an emphasis on locality, the “Mom and Pop” style restaurants mean a lack of major chains — especially in Arcata. Eureka and McKinleyville do have the basic (Starbucks, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, etc.), but they definitely take a backseat to the locally-own, niche restaurants. (Although it looks like there’s an In & Out and KFC in the near future in Eureka). Also, locally produced and organic food, both in stores and in restaurants, tends to be more expensive.
I love all of the local options for healthy and delicious food. It’s so easy to live a healthy lifestyle here. My boyfriend loves catching fish from the ocean. We can bike to the farmers market and get fresh produce. Many of the grocery stores have lots of local produce and products. -Allie Heemstra, Arcata resident
Many of our homes are remodeled Victorians, which means you might find a really cool spot—think bay windows and high ceilings, with aesthetically interesting neighborhoods. Definitely not the cookie-cutter landscape you’ll find in SoCal. And while rent seems to be getting more and more expensive across the western seaboard, Eureka (and surrounding areas) remains relatively affordable. Currently, there’s a good number of houses on the market, making it more of a buyer’s market. Additionally, all of the local communities are working hard to create more infill, meaning more new apartments will be built to address the rental needs of singles and couples.
If you’re renting, housing is scarce. Last year, one property manager received 10,000 applicants for 1,000 properties. Those quirky and beautiful Victorians are not always very well maintained. There are few choices for newly constructed housing and a lot of apartments see quite a bit of turnover and little upkeep. Furthermore, if you’re bringing a dog, you will have fewer options available to you: while the community is very dog-friendly, most landlords are not.
“You have to be willing to hunt for the right house, but there are a lot of hidden gems in Humboldt County. Each community and neighborhood has different features. Within the stretch of a few miles, you can be surrounded by forest, right in the middle of downtown, or close enough to the ocean that you can hear it at night. My advice? Figure out what’s most important to you, and be patient. You can definitely find a good home here in Humboldt.” - Allie Heemstra, Arcata Resident
The “Humboldt” Reputation
If you would like to have easy access to high-quality cannabis, you are in the right place. Many of the local growers have been here for generations and produce high-quality products for a variety of purposes. With the legalization of recreational cannabis, our community is no different than any other city in California, except we have access to the farms that have been honing their skills for decades, providing a quality product. But, just because we’re the home to such a great product doesn’t mean you’re obligated to use it. Believe it or not, there are many Humboldtians who simply never interact with the product.
Whether it’s years of a permissive culture developed from the underground nature of the cannabis industry, tough economic conditions, or reckless overprescriptions of pain medications, Humboldt is in the midst of a staggering drug crisis, including opioids and meth. The result is increased property crime, needle litter and individuals who are homeless and suffering from substance abuse on our streets. Eureka, the county seat, is home many services as well as the jail, so much of the activity centered in that area. Eureka is like a big city in a rural community—with big city problems and rural community resources to address them.
It’s beautiful—like, Lonely Planet’s #1 Travel Destination beautiful. From the Redwood forest groves to a myriad of coastal coves, Humboldt County has no shortage of natural beauty. The Audubon Society meets every Saturday at the Arcata Marsh for bird walks, you can spot purple and orange starfish in Trinidad at low-tide, and the forest is crawling with banana slugs and other critters among the mossy trees. One only has to look around to witness the daily beauty, from colorful sunrise to foggy sunset. The weather is mild all year long, hovering in the 50s and 60s. If you want to experience more extreme weather, a short drive inland offers you 90+ degree weather in the summer (a good time to hit the river!), beautiful fall leaves and snow in the winter. Through Humboldt State University’s Center Activities, you can join local advedntures or rent equipment to get the most from our area.
It is often wet, rainy, and overcast, especially between the months of October to April. If you like cool and damp, you’ll love it here. If you are prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) after long periods of grey, you could struggle. The weather is also the perfect breeding ground for mold, so you have to stay on top of it. Some people claim “you’ll never see the sun in Humboldt,” but that’s definitely a myth. After a few weeks of rain, however, you start to believe it. At least there’s coffee. Each community features several locations to sit with a warm cup of (usually) locally roasted coffee for warming up.
“You have to give it time. Focus on the beauty around you and treat the land as a person you want to be friends with. Sounds woo woo but its true.” Dawn Watkins, Ferndale resident
“When the rest of the country is freezing or burning hot, we enjoy an incredibly temperate climate,” Bob Morse, Eureka resident
“After some time, the rhythm of coastal weather feels right. Mild, sunny, breezy springs; foggy mid-summer (June Gloom thru Fog-ust) and then the magical, warm weather of fall. Winter is why it’s so green here, it can be wet, but at least it’s never that cold. If July fog gets you down, summer is just a 30 minute drive away,” David Reed, native Eureka resident
Location/Long Distance Transportation
The Redwoods to our east and the Pacific to our west—we are surrounded by some of the most stunning beauty nature has to offer. We are also situated right on Highway 101, with a gorgeous coastal drive heading in both directions, and a drive along the Trinity River heading East to Redding. We have an airport, currently with flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles, with new flights to Denver coming soon. You can catch a Greyhound or Amtrak bus, but you need to travel part way on a train during some leg of your trip to travel on Amtrak.
We are isolated! It is not easy to get in and out of Humboldt County (a pro, perhaps, if you’re trying to get as far away from your family as you can!) Airplane tickets are limited and pricey. One weekend rarely provides enough time for getting out of the County for a weekend away. Weather or natural disasters can be harder on us. There are times each year when getting in and out of the County is limited because of highway closures from mudslides, car wrecks or other reasons. Big storms almost mean a loss of power in parts of the County. If you’re in town, it’s usually a pretty fast turn around to get it back on, but if you’re in the rural areas, you can be on your own for a few days. We occasionally lose internet service because of limited broadband redundancy, but that’s improving all the time.
“It’s pretty isolated—a long (but beautiful) car ride to bigger places, or an expensive plane ride. It’s full of art, crafts and crafters, unique shops and destinations, and great food and drink,” Harriet Watson, McKinleyville resident.
We do have several hospitals in the area, in Arcata, Eureka, Fortuna, and Southern Humboldt. We are working on ways to recruit and retain more medical professionals and have three things happening that will support that. First, we have a pathway in High School that demonstrates the career options in the medical field with medical training to support it. A new residency program partnership between St. Joseph’s Hospital and Open Door Community Health will bring in new Family Practice Doctors and Nurse Practitioners who will, hopefully, decide to stay. And, finally, after losing the Nursing program over a decade ago, Humboldt State is looking to renew it, which should provide access to new medical care professionals.
Family practice doctors are hard to find. If you don’t have a doctor (or if you haven’t visited your doctor in a few years), you could easily find yourself without one when you need it most. If you have a need for specialists, they’re hard to come by locally and require overnight visits to the City. You will have a similar struggle with dentists.
“We might not look it, but we’re still a very rural area. Keep that in mind if Health Care is important to your needs,” Josh Mohland, Arcata resident
“My daughter and I had difficulty establishing ourselves with a doctor. We still have not found a dentist. Either they don’t accept new patients or they don’t accept our insurance; it’s frustrating,” David Gordon, new Eureka resident
In Humboldt, you’re going to be free of judgement—to love who you love, to dress how you dress, to truly be who you are. There are no “Joneses” being kept up with here. It has a very small-town feel, where you’ll likely be on first-name-basis with your neighbors and grocery store checkers and casual “hellos” from strangers on the street are a norm. You can make a phone call and talk directly to elected officials, business owners and others who may be out of reach in a larger community. There is a strong entrepreneurship culture in Humboldt, so if you’re looking to start a business, you will find mentors ready to help in any way they can. “Coop-etition” is a common phrase used here for businesses supporting each other, even if they’re in the same industry. If you want to make a difference in your community, you can do that here. It is a land with eight Native American Tribes, rich with history and culture. Eureka City Schools even offers a World Language Pathway program teaching three years of the native Yurok language.
While people are generally accepting of who you are as a person, they’re very resistant to change. Coming in with a fresh and new idea that you learned from somewhere else? You might get hit with, “things just don’t work that way in Humboldt.” It can take time for Humboldt to accept when that “the times are changing.” Furthermore, because the county is so small, there is a lot of familiarity among groups that makes them seem difficult to break into. It can come off as cliquey, which just comes with the territory when living in a small, tight-knit community. Small town politics can be brutal. There’s a level of connection with the place that makes local decisions personal and passions run high. Humboldt is not known for its cultural diversity. We’re seeing increasing diversity, but still, have a demographic makeup with fewer than 20% people of color.
“Living here is hope for a wonderful future. No entitlements for anything other than the joy of rolling up your sleeves and digging in to help build a clean, respectful, self reliant community. We do it Together!” Deborah Claesgens, Eureka resident
“It’s a place that provides great rewards to proactive individuals. I truly believe if you can envision something and have some of the practical skills to get there, Humboldt communities are full of possibility. Not everything cool has been done already, and this place is a gem for people who are ‘doers’! It’s also not polished, bland suburbia, which I love!” Natalie Arroyo, Eureka resident
If you have a car, no problem! You will rarely be stuck in agitating traffic and, unless you’re on campus at HSU, parking is relatively pain-free. (And, for the most part, fee-free) If you like to bike to work, Humboldt is big into the “Share the Roads” movement, and there is a partial running/biking trail connecting Arcata to Eureka running parallel to the 101 (to complete the connection in a few short years). Bikes are available for rent in both Eureka and Arcata. Free Jackpasses are given to HSU students, so the busses are generally used, but not overly full. There are a growing number of Ubers and Lyfts to complement the limited taxi service.
If you don’t have a vehicle, it could be difficult to get around—especially if you’re not a fan of biking in a rainy downpour. Humboldt County does have public transit routes, but they stop rather infrequently and are limited on Saturdays and closed altogether on Sundays. Public transit doesn’t go to every community, so passengers mostly have to stick to the main corridor. There are taxicab services, but it is rather expensive and can have long waits. For driving, the roads are often in terrible condition, and if you get to the rural areas, it’s likely you’ll be driving on dirt roads. There’s no freeway bypass to Eureka, so you always have to drive through it to get to the other side which can be slow and frustrating.
“Everything is within a 15 minute or less drive. The roads aren’t that great but nowhere near a bad as New Orleans. And I can always find parking within easy walking distance of my destination.” David Gordon, new Eureka resident
There’s a culture in Humboldt that supports shop local. We have boutique stores as well as locally made and crafted goods including food, jewelry, furniture etc. that allow you to really get to know the product and the people who make them. Changing your shopping mindset might mean purchasing more quality items rather approaching shopping as retail therapy. It also makes a great excuse to take a road trip to the City for larger shopping adventures.
If you like big malls and brand name retail stores, Humboldt’s lack of anchor shopping stores will not meet your standards. The Bayshore Mall in Eureka includes a Kohl’s, Walmart, Sears, Bed Bath & Beyond, Ross and TJ Maxx as their anchor stores. Online shopping is an option if you can’t find what you need. We have great locally owned hardware and lumber stores, but lack discounted places like Home Depot or Lowe’s options.
Another “pro” in the literal sense would be Arcata’s semi-pro baseball team the Arcata Crabs — the oldest continually-operated summer collegiate baseball team in America. During the summer months, the team plays several nights a week at the Arcata Ball Park, just off the plaza, accompanied by their band, The Crab Grass Band, who entertains before, during, and after the game. Eureka also has a newer baseball team, the Humboldt B-52s, which plays at the park at Redwood Acres and features the Bomber Burger at the snack shack made with two grilled cheese sandwiches as the buns! Humboldt County is home to Humboldt Roller Derby, a member of the Women’s Flat Derby Association, the international governing body for the sport. HRD travels and brings in teams to play from all over, spurring loud cheers for awesome athleticism among women. They skate at Redwood Acres Fairgrounds, where you can also see stock car racing, motocross. There’s also car racing at the Samoa Drag Strip. Humboldt is home to running clubs, rowing programs and disc golf courses, as well as regular golf courses, for the community. There are youth football programs, basketball, rowing, roller derby surfing, soccer, cheerleading, gymnastics, golf, various forms of Marshall Arts and even fencing. You can attend a basketball game at HSU or a football game at College of the Redwoods. If you’re athletic and you want to get involved in a sport, even just to watch it, you can probably find a place to do it.
If you’re participating in youth sports, expect to travel A LOT. The leagues don’t tend to stay too close to home, so overnight trips are often necessary. And, after finally losing the funding, HSU is concluding its final football season. There are no large professional sports stadiums. “Local” teams are generally in the Bay Area and require a road trip.