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Arcata, California, USA

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Arcata, California

Arcata, California, in the USA is a small town on the coast about 260 miles north of San Francisco. It is a somewhat remarkable town given that:

  • It's a small town in California
  • The people are generally pleasant and good-natured
  • Pedestrians are not an endangered species
  • It is the home of Humboldt State University, the oldest California State University
  • It is located near many national and state parks
  • It has its own hippie population
  • There's an odd rumour going about that it is the centre of pot-subculture

Arcata's Fall-Spring population is about 16,000, dropping to about 8,000 in the summer. Like many of the surrounding towns it's a lumber town, born of the giant redwood trees that grow abundantly there (but not as abundantly as they used to, given that there are a lot of people who like to chop them down so that they can build freeways1).

Due to the increasing lack of trees for cutting, Arcata is fortunate to have the student population to support the local economy. As with many small college towns, the general atmosphere is liberal conservatism, or conservative liberalism (whichever you prefer). The prevailing feelings are 'big business is bad, support local organisations, organic food is good, hemp is great, recycle,' and all that good stuff.

Surfing and Hiking

This area of California, known locally as the North Coast, is the center of many national and state parks. There's lots of public beaches, and good surfing in the winter (you'll need a wetsuit at least 3mm thick, though). I recommend College Cove in nearby Trinidad, Moonstone Beach and Camel Rock for surfing. They can get a bit crowded, as these are the favoured local spots, but most surfers here are generally cool about it. If camping and hiking is more your thing, then Patrick's Point (a national park to the north) is highly recommended. You could stay a week, and still not have explored it all. Some of the most beautiful and astonishing vistas can be taken in here.

If you're feeling a bit more ambitious in the hiking department, try the Trinity Alps to the north. This is a favourite location for the local Backpackers. Don't worry about running into people though - the Trinity Alps have enough trails to keep your trip from becoming too social.


On the restaurant scene, my personal favourite in Arcata is a mid-priced Japanese place called Tomo's - best sushi I've ever had, and the teriyaki chicken also comes highly recommended. The restaurant is located on Arcata's pleasantly quaint town square in the Arcata Hotel.

If you're looking for someplace a little more ritzy, on the opposite side of the square is Abruzzi, an Italian place. It's pretty good, but I think you're paying for the atmosphere more than the food. There is also a large selection of little local diners and cafes, many of which will give you a good idea of Arcata's true flavour. There you can find 'California Cuisine' without too much of the usual pomposity. If it's pizza you're after, then two places instantly spring to mind2:

  • Smug's, a tiny blink-and-you'll-miss-it type place next to the Arcata movie theatre
  • Celestino's

You can't go wrong with either of these places. Whole pies or by-the-slice - great stuff at a reasonable price.


Speaking of reasonable prices, this being California, not much is reasonably priced. If you're driving, expect to pay insane amounts for gas. To give you an idea, the current price is $1.65 a gallon (it's gotten a bit better recently).


If you're planing on staying at a motel, I recommend one of the many clustered around Guintoli Lane, north of the University.

Farmers' Market

Every Saturday morning, starting at 8am is a farmers' market, which is well worth visiting if you've never been. Organic produce, honey, flowers, and various arts and crafts are sold. Sometimes local musicians play, or a dance troupe performs. This will give you the true flavour of the town.


If you're looking for a good night spot, give up now and choose a new destination. You're not going to find it here!

In nearby Eureka, there's a place called Club West, but I've never thought it very good. They do have good shows sometimes, though. Also, the University has a lot of performers coming through its host organization Centre Arts. The only nightly attraction actually in Arcata, though, is Café Tomo, which also has a variety of good local musicians - everything from Arcata's brand of funk-blues-hillbilly-fusion to jazz combos to the University's Calypso ensemble (which is a sight to be seen!) and belly dancers. Café Tomo (an extension of the aforementioned Japanese restaurant) is open to 21-and-overs, however.

1Even when they grow on the traditional Sacred Space of Native Americans. This actually happened once, and went to the Supreme Court. Sandra Day-O'Connor's majority opinion basically said, 'Well, it's not religious persecution as such - we're not saying you can't worship the universe the way you see fit and have been doing since time immemorial. So what if we want to build a road through your cathedral? Move it or something.'2...and being a college student, the author knows the pizza places!

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