Cannabis legalization brought some dramatic changes to Northern California’s famous Humboldt County. Producers here have grown world-class marijuana for decades in what’s known as the Emerald Triangle — a three-county area north of Napa that’s one of the largest and most renowned cannabis-growing regions in the country. Recreational legalization in California in 2016 allowed cultivators to finally practice their craft publicly and claim some time in the spotlight.
And much like what Napa is to wine drinkers, Humboldt County is emerging as the ultimate destination for lovers of the mighty green bud.
Recently, the Southern Humboldt (SoHum) Visitor’s Bureau renamed the region America’s Cannabis Heartland. Plans to give legacy farms and micro-regions appellations of origin designations similar to those for wine are already in the works. A cannabis-themed museum and a Cannabis Trail that’ll connect historic marijuana sights from the San Francisco Bay to Humboldt are also in planning stages.
Up in Northern Humboldt (NoHum), a strong marijuana affinity has existed for decades, encouraged by the environmentally conscious vibe at Humboldt State University. The university has a cannabis research center, and hopes to play a major role in developing the area’s cannabis-focused economy. For visitors, the contrast of rural cannabis cultivation regions and hip urban centers make Humboldt County a real-deal area to experience authentic cannabis culture.
Located about 300 miles from the Bay Area, Humboldt County has always been just a bit too far for a simple weekend escape for city folk. The area feels isolated from the rest of the world, yet Humboldt has created its own down-to-earth, friendly, and progressive lifestyle where local food, art, music, and community gatherings are central to life. The area is also a natural paradise of epic proportions, with rugged coastlines, primordial forests, and crystalline rivers always just minutes away — all of it made even more mind-blowing with Mary Jane hiking boots on.
Here’s what to add to your itinerary on a trip to the center of cannabis culture in California.
1. Visit a cannabis farm
Humboldt’s cannabis cultivation dates back to the early 1970s when back-to-the-land types moved to the area looking for ways to become self-sustainable and live off the land. Growing cannabis became one of the best ways to fund early attempts at organic gardening and community living, and SoHum in particular became home to several important early growing regions. Legacy growers in SoHum still garden using organic and other natural methods, making the stunningly beautiful area the best place in the world to visit a small and sustainably managed cannabis farm.
See these farms through Humboldt Cannabis Tours, which is run by long-time cannabis aficionado and Humboldt resident Matt Kurth. These tours pick you up from your hotel and take you to one of Humboldt’s historic cannabis farms, like award-winning second generation Huckleberry Hill Farms, where the farmers themselves will teach you about everything from strains to soil conditions. Kurth runs these tours out of Eureka’s historic Old Town area. Transportation is in a 10-passenger minivan, and there are usually stops at a local dispensary so you can stock up on goodies on the way.
2. Shop for canna-fashion
Stock up on hemp fashion, smoking accessories, and a wide range of books and other educational materials at The Hemp Connection in Garberville in SoHum. The oldest hemp clothing store in the country, this is a true countercultural landmark that continues to serve as a community gathering point for Humboldt County. In Eureka, the Humboldt Republic hand prints fresh street gear and hats based on local artist designs ,while Arcata’s Solutions Clothing Store offers hemp, bamboo, and organic cotton clothing as well as other sustainably minded products.
3. Stay at a bud and breakfast or glamp among the plants
Get even closer to the popular herb by staying at a bud and breakfast or camping at a cannabis farm. Riverbar Pharms is a full-service, cannabis-friendly bed and breakfast housed in a historic Victorian farm. Besides offering guests luxury services like CBD infused massages, the business also has its own small cannabis garden where guests can learn about growing marijuana for personal use. At Sol Spirit Farm, visitors get a glamping-style tent set up on a working cannabis farm that includes catered, farm-raised meals and personal tours of the farm itself. For something a bit more rustic, rent a tent in the cannabis garden of Five Sisters Farms, located just off highway 101.
4. Hit up a festival
With a yearly calendar attuned to cannabis cultivation, it’s no surprise that Humboldt’s largest festivals occur around harvest time in the fall. Check out SoHum’s Feast of Flowers Cannabis Cup in October for full exposure to the area’s best farm offerings. The Mattole Community Center was started by old school ganja growers and has been the social center of SoHum for over 40 years. It puts on a range of festivals and events throughout the year including the Reggae on the River Festival and the Summer Arts Fair. In July, the Northern Nights festival takes over a magical section of the emerald green Eel River’s banks for a three-day weekend and features nationally known bands as well as a designated cannabis consumption area.
The year-round Saturday farmers market on the Arcata plaza is always a festive time, with live local bands playing and everything from hula hooping to face painting happening on the grass. Eureka’s monthly Art’s Alive, which takes place on the first Saturday of the month in the historic waterfront Old Town, is a local affair that shows off the talent of Humboldt County – much of it cannabis inspired. The annual Kinetic Sculpture Race, a Humboldt tradition since 1969, involves pedal-powered amphibious creations racing their way across forest and bay, and is quite a spectacle whether under the influence or not.
5. Go weed tasting
Humboldt’s outdoor grown cannabis is known as quite simply the best on Earth. Swing by the Country Club dispensary in Redway for an impressive showcase of SoHum’s top small farm offerings. Up in the Humboldt Bay area, the Humboldt Patient Resource Center (HPRC) is one of the original compassionate care dispensaries in California and stocks chemical-free bud in both the Arcata and Eureka locations. The latter has an on-site wellness center called “The Connection” where free tai chi, yoga, herbal medicine, and other health programs are offered to the public on a daily basis.
On-site consumption is new to Humboldt County, and there are plans to open everything from Amsterdam-style cafes in Eureka’s Old Town to “green” farmers markets. Papa and Barkley Social, the headquarters of the Humboldt-based cannabis producer by the same name, is a consumption lounge housed in a former Kmart (a sign of things to come for Humboldt’s economy). The swanky lounge allows smoking in comfy sofa booths in a garden-like setting with on-site spa and restaurant services. Down in SoHum, the Cookies Tree Lounge is housed in a massive 2,000-year-old redwood tree trunk. It not only offers a cozy consumption space, but is also pioneering a new series of “gangier” (the cannabis equivalent to a sommelier for wine) educational courses.
6. Relax on the beach
Humboldt County is home to the longest stretch of wilderness coastline on the West Coast of the contiguous US: the Lost Coast. Backed by verdant green mountains and lined with black sand beaches, there are few places in the world that call for weed-assisted adventuring the way the Lost Coast does. Just north of Humboldt Bay, the Trinidad State Park area is a dramatic coastal wonderland of hidden cove beaches — many of them apt for nude sunbathing — where relaxing the day away with a cannabis-friendly picnic is also a good idea.
For something a bit more civilized, check out the Humboldt Bay Social club, a beachfront restaurant cafe just outside of Eureka on the Samoa Peninsula with outside fire pit seating and cabins for overnight stays. Further up the coast, camping is allowed on the towering rock formations that overlook the raging Pacific at Patrick’s Point State Park, where you can also explore a recreation of a native Yurok village and botanical garden before hunting for semi-precious stones on Agate beach.
7. Get blazed in the Redwoods
The mighty redwoods of northern California are the largest trees on Earth and are often compared to natural cathedrals. They’re also, of course, one of the most amazing places on the planet to enjoy while high as a kite. Both Redwood National Park in NoHum, where Jurassic Park and Return of the Jedi were filmed, and Humboldt Redwoods State Park in SoHum host otherworldly old growth forests crisscrossed with miles of hiking trails. The Fern Canyon Trail in RNP is especially recommended. You can also simply light up and explore the second-growth Arcata Community Forest, located right behind Humboldt State University, or visit the new Redwood SkyWalk in Eureka, where elevated trail systems take you into the high canopy of a grove of primary-growth ancient redwoods.