Humboldt County’s Lost Coast is a hidden gem.
How can something be lost when it can be found on a map? In the case of the Lost Coast in California’s Humboldt County, the region gets its name from a rapid depopulation that took place in the 1930s after oil ran dry. ut the name is also an apt moniker, given that the towering trees and lack of development and tourism make it all feel utterly undiscovered–it’s one of the only sections of the California coastline that can’t be accessed by Highway 1. Here are some of the top mysteries to explore during a trip through the Lost Coast and neighboring spots in Humboldt County.
As a trail of only .25 miles, no claims can be made about getting a workout on this hike, but it’s the views that make this trip worthwhile. Step into high canyon walls decorated with ancient ferns, waterfalls of moisture cascading through their leaves in tiny streams to the rocky creek below, and you’ll see at once what the planet was like before humans came onto the scene. (That’s probably why it was used as a location during a T-Rex chase scene in the second Jurassic Park.)
INSIDER TIPThe trail begins after an eight-mile drive a very bumpy, sandy, sometimes flooded road, so bring a 4×4 vehicle. Also the trail itself is entirely through a creek, so dress prepared to wade.
Since 1926, this elegant estate has been the centerpiece of Garberville, California, and today it maintains that legacy with eye-catching architecture, old-school service, and a dining room to die for. Even after recent renovations, the hotel retains the sense of stepping back in time, with historically designed rooms that don’t skimp on comfort. Once a favorite haunt for celebrities, this unique Humboldt County institution still makes all their guests feel like they’re famous.
INSIDER TIPThe Benbow Inn has many repeat guests, so it’s advisable to book in advance, including dinner reservations.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
The Lost Coast Ranch
Drive around the twisty, cumbersome roads west of Highway 101 and the hillside Lost Coast Ranch will seem to materialize out of the forest. This is a destination without easy access, but the beautiful ocean backdrop and grand Victorian architecture are worth the drive. It’s one of those great Los Coast secrets that seems to only exist in whispers, yet those who are in the know get to have all the fun.
INSIDER TIPBeautiful to behold, it’s often booked for private events–check ahead of time to see if you can visit.
The Victorian Village of Ferndale
Much of the Lost Coast sights seem lost in time due to overall lack of development, but the town of Ferndale takes this to the next level. Between endless farmland, the Eel River, and impenetrable forest sits the perfectly preserved Ferndale, with Victorian buildings lining just a few short streets that don’t appear to have changed much since the early 20th century, though they operate as any modern commercial area would. It’s considered “the gateway to the Lost Coast” and makes for a great starting or stopping point during your adventure. Try to time it so you can stop for a meal or ice cream, and take a few minutes to explore the quaint town.
INSIDER TIPThe town looks like a movie set piece, which is why it’s had appearances in movies like ‘Outbreak’, ‘The Majestic’, and ‘Joe Dirt.’
Shelter Cove’s Black Sands Beach
When people think of the California coast they don’t realize that it’s not all golden sands and surf stops, which makes the gorgeous black sand beaches of the Lost Cove even more striking. Black Sands Beach is found in the small town of Shelter Cove, a sleepy seaside village with lots of hidden secrets. This beach is a pretty major one, especially since it’s too far from the main traffic flow to garner any crowds.
INSIDER TIPIt may be a beach in California, but Humboldt County is a chilly place. Bring a jacket!
Book a Hotel
It’s not on the coast, and not necessarily lost (though the turnoff to it comes quickly when driving north), but Confusion Hill is undoubtedly a treasure of the region. This roadside stop is delightfully charming, with hand drawn signs and a series of attractions that have you questioning your faith in gravity. It’s quaint, uncomplicated, and for a quick stop at $10, says a lot about the location it’s in.
INSIDER TIPHours and attractions vary seasonally—summer is best.
Inn of the Lost Coast
Nestled on a hill above Shelter Cove is a lovely place to stay known as the Inn of the Lost Coast, a comfortable place from which to explore everything the Lost Coast has to offer. Watch whales directly from your suite here, or get help finding the best black sand beaches. One of the best perks is that it’s just north of the Shelter Cove airfield, so a car isn’t required.
INSIDER TIPIf you do drive, give yourself a good amount of time to get out there, as the road has lots of potholes and there’s a lot to see along the way.
Julia Morgan’s Historic Estate Tour
Architect Julia Morgan is a legend throughout California, most known for designing Hearst Castle, but also credited with constructing seismically-sound buildings following the devastating 1906 earthquake–on top of being the first female architect in the state. She built this Humboldt County estate in 1926, and for $20, guests can tour the house and the surrounding gardens, both of which show off the beauty of the region.
INSIDER TIPReservations are required.
Look for Bigfoot in Willow Creek
Rumor has it that Humboldt County is a hotbed of Bigfoot activity, and therefore a great place to try and spot this elusive mystery creature. The China Flat Museum not only educates on the history of Eastern Humboldt County, but its Bigfoot Exhibit has artifacts related to everyone’s favorite bumbling monster. Explore the area around the museum for a chance to see him yourself.
INSIDER TIPKeep a camera ready just in case!
Lost Coast Brewery
A more well-known Lost Coast secret is the high quality of its brewery sharing the same name. The craft alehouse offers free tours of their facility, plus a restaurant that offers the perfect pairings to complement their beer.
INSIDER TIPThe tour is kid-friendly and lasts less than an hour.
The Town of Petrolia
California’s first oil well was drilled into this little part of the Lost Coast’s redwoods, and the aptly-named town of Petrolia was born. Nestled deep in the forest, this isolated town can only be reached by a treacherous coastal road, which explains why pulling in to Petrolia feels like stepping back in time. Artists, off-the-gridders, and growers are among those who constitute this small town, making up one of the most unique cultures in the state.
INSIDER TIPBe prepared for a long, bumpy drive and locals who aren’t stoked on tourists.