California boasts some of the best ecological wonders in the country, whether thriving coastal wetlands, dramatic peaks, or lush forests. This weeklong itinerary offers an unforgettable combination of water and winter sports, local brews, and wildlife encounters, from the coastal preserves and Victorian villages of Humboldt County to historic mining towns and eclectic cultural enclaves of Gold Country. You’ll feel lightyears away from big city life without sacrificing its many perks and pleasures.
Unless you’re looking to hit the slopes of Mount Shasta, late spring or early summer should make the most of this itinerary. While multiple regional airlines do fly out of Redding, the international hubs of Sacramento, Oakland, and San Francisco are all within a few hours’ drive of each of these destinations, however remote they might seem.
ItineraryPLAN YOUR TRIP
Day 1A Little Bit of Everything
The landmark, still in operation after 152 years, offers unparalleled views of the Pacific, namely the neighboring Point Arena-Stornetta section of the California Coastal National Monument. Continuing north past Elk, the Jug Handle Creek Nature Center is a nonprofit organization devoted to helping nature lovers explore and protect its precious, mystical pygmy forest.
Hardly ten minutes north, the historic town of Fort Bragg, a military garrison which predates the Civil War, now boasts some of the best breweries on the coast in North Coast and The New Museum. For a particularly enchanting beachside stroll, check out Glass Beach, where the namesake refuse has been slowly transformed by the Pacific tides, smoothing the glass into the colorful, glassy sands you see there today. As the sun sets, cruise back to the hotel to see what all the hype’s about Chef Michael Kammerer’s stunning, ocean-foraged tasting menu, where sustainable and hyperlocal flavors converge, helping you truly taste the place.
Day 2Welcome to Humboldt Bay
Nearby on the College of the Redwoods campus, the Humboldt Botanical Garden offers even more opportunities to observe native plant life up close, with ten distinctive gardens plus an interactive labyrinth to be navigated with one’s bare feet rooted directly in the grass. After getting up close and personal with the Bay and its many creatures, drop by Eel River Brewing Company in nearby Fortuna and taste the beers of the first certified organic brewery in the country.
From there, cruise down to Ferndale to explore its perfectly preserved, 19th-century “Butterfat Palaces” built off of its once-thriving dairy industry. End the evening with a hearty skillet of baked beans and a side of cornbread at The Boardroom. Then check into the Victorian Inn, whose distinguished, romantic suites should prove particularly cozy for a perfect night’s sleep.
Day 3Reaching New Heights
For another perspective of the so-called “Avenue of Giants”, Humboats offers half-day guided kayak tours along the lazy Redwood River under the cover of its 1,000-year-old trees, a trip that’s well-suited for beginners, yet memorable enough for the most advanced paddlers. Your trip will conclude at Woodley Island Marina, where you can visit the Table Bluff Lighthouse, mingle about the local fishermen, and look out upon nearby Tuluwat Island. The island has been gradually restored to the Wiyot people, its original inhabitants, and visitors are welcome to participate in their annual Candlelight Vigil held each February.
Back on the mainland, be sure to devote a few hours to visit the rustic, expressive shops on the waterfront. You can schedule a tour of Lost Coast Brewery, shoot some oysters at Humboldt Bay Provisions, then get some shuteye at the charming Inn at 2nd & C, a site that’s been hosting weary travelers since 1888.
Day 4Taking Flight in Arcata
Get a dose of nature and history with a visit to Fort Humboldt Historical State Park where you can learn more about the Wiyot, along with the Hoopa and Yurok of this region, and the remote military post where a young Ulysses S. Grant was once stationed. Or immerse yourself in the environment by harvesting razor clams at Clam Beach County Park.
One of the state’s best sites for birdwatching, the Arcata Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary hosts well over three hundred different species who fly over its brackish waters, with ample walking trails, weekly tours, and a helpful interpretive center. Springtime visitors will have an especially immersive experience if their trip aligns with Godwit Days, a festival held each April which celebrates migratory birds of all feathers, named specifically for the species who has been known to journey nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand every year.
Follow up such educational experiences by hoisting a glass at Humboldt Regeneration Brewery and Farm in nearby McKinleyville, the only site of its kind in California to grow 100 percent of the grains which make up its beers. Alternatively, Redwood Curtain Brewing has a host of tasty microbrews available within a minute’s walk from the marsh, while Salt Fish House pairs sustainable seafood with inventive cocktails for a lively dinner in this bright, modern (and typically packed) space.
Before turning in for the night, be sure to check out what’s on at the Arcata Theatre Lounge, which features a full bar, lively live acts, and an eclectic selection of foreign and independent films, including their ever-popular Sci-Fi Night on Wednesdays.
Day 5Wood, Water, and Stone
Once you’ve checked into Redding’s Gaia Hotel and Spa, consider a visit to Lake Shasta Caverns, the newest National Natural Landmark in the state. Tours of the caverns begin with a catamaran ride across the lake, followed by a bus ride through the scenic hillside before visitors descend into the caverns.
You could spend several days on Shasta Lake. the largest reservoir in California, whether you prefer fishing or simply whiling away the day on a rented houseboat. Seemingly infinite day trips also await beyond its shores, from hiking and skiing on Mount Shasta—less than an hour north of the lake—or venturing a few minutes further east to Burney Falls, which Teddy Roosevelt is said to have called “the eighth wonder of the world.” Whatever you end up doing, be sure to spend the sunset back on the lake, where you and your loved ones can indulge in a buffet-style dinner cruise before returning to Redding.
Day 6Exploring California’s Fertile Valleys
Today, Chico’s biggest claim to fame just might be Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, pioneers as one of the earliest proponents of the microbrew movement. Stop by for a tour, a tasting, and a wood-fired pizza made from fresh brewer’s yeast. Or enjoy the bounty of Butte County through the Sierra Oro FarmTrail, visiting the region’s best farmers and wineries throughout the region to taste everything from cheese and wine to fresh produce. Finally, end your evening by checking into Chico’s Diamond Hotel, located a gem’s throw from Bidwell Mansion and a block from 5th Street Steakhouse, which has been broiling their steaks in downtown Chico for more than two decades.
Day 7Striking Gold
Hirschman’s Trail, suits the needs of history and nature lovers alike, with the chance to encounter a wide variety of wildlife in and around its tranquil pond, surrounded by the dramatic cliffs originally formed by hydraulic blasting by those in search of gold. The largest such mine in the state can be found amid the expanse of pine trees in Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, a 3,000-acre park that also includes a once-thriving mining town now all but turned to dust and ready to explore.
Thankfully, Nevada City is anything but a ghost town, supporting a thriving community of artists and eco-conscious boutiques from Broad Street all the way to its sister city, Grass Valley, located less than a ten minute drive southwest. While in Nevada City, be sure to grab a pizza, a beer, and a slice of pie at Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. Then catch a concert at the Nevada Theater, the oldest continually operated venue on the west coast, followed by drinks at the Golden Gate Saloon. Cap off your trip back in time in the ultimate embrace of comfort with a stay at the National Exchange Hotel, a newly renovated Victorian treasure and a Nevada City icon since 1856.