Eureka and Crescent City belong in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, respectively, the northernmost two coastal counties in California. I used to look at them on the road atlas during family vacations up to Oregon, and I would wonder what it was like to live in a beach town over 100 miles away from the nearest big city. What did this place look like? What type of people lived there? Why has my family not visited this part of the state before?
Determined to solve this mystery, a couple years ago I drove from Grants Pass, Ore., to San Francisco on the 101… no, I-5 the whole way. My guess was that I would see something similar to Marin: liberal, ecologically aware hamlets filled with upscale stores, redwood trees and hybrid cars – but with, like, less people.
Well, there are certainly a lot of redwoods and not a lot of people, but Del Norte sure ain’t Marin. It’s not even Mendocino. In fact, hardly anything in these parts is particularly accommodating or tourist friendly. In Crescent City, the chief attraction besides Battery Point Lighthouse is a bizarre quasi-theme park called Ocean World. Despite being on the water, there’s not a single decent seafood joint to be found. The people on the street are white as snow and look like they can’t wait to go home and stick their heads in an oven. I don’t even need to mention that one of the top three issues being debated by those running for city council this year is meth. Sheesh, the tsunami was 42 years ago and this city is still recovering.
The problem, I reasoned, must stem from the fact that Eureka, the hub of the far north coast, wasn’t big and bustling enough to have any rich yuppies that needed their own version of Half Moon Bay. It turns out I was right because I found Eureka to be almost as depressing as Crescent City – and they never even had a tsunami. Ever since the environmentalist movement shut down the logging industry in Northern California, Eureka has had to rely on the hope that a tourist would be brave enough one day to make the 250-mile journey north from San Francisco – or 166 miles from Grants Pass – to come look at Victorian-era houses and lots of tall trees. I’m not surprised that most people don’t, because Eureka is butt-ugly. They don’t even try to look gentrified. The city of Arcata to the north is prettier, but seemingly half the population is homeless and lives in the nearby Arcata Community Forest.
How fascinating is it that in a state filled with billionaires and the fifth largest economy in the world, there are regions stretching for hundreds of miles that have been in steady decline for 40 years? Coastal regions, mind you, not stretches of volcanic desert plain like in Modoc. It’s a shame because this whole area is gorgeous. I mean ridiculously gorgeous. In fact, the coastline in between Crescent City and Eureka is as pretty as Big Sur. If you don’t believe me, go look at my Facebook picture, I’m Del Norte-ifying it for the week. It’s simply amazing to me that this region is so lonely, so abandoned, so unnoticed in a state with 40 million people.
Well, almost unnoticed. I know that people here are making money. I know that people flock to Humboldt State University in Arcata every year from all over the country. Why? Because Humboldt and Del Norte have some of the most prime growing conditions on Earth for everyone’s favorite lady, the divine Miss Mary Jay-Jay. And not just in small amounts… it’s as big of a cash crop as the lettuce and spinach in the Salinas Valley.
Therefore, here’s my three-point plan to save the far north coast: legalize marijuana, make it rain less… and then legalize marijuana.
Bam! Problem solved. The police department can finally afford to have more than four officers on duty at once in Arcata and not worry about a federal raid. In the meantime, check this place out over summer vacation. Crescent City is depressing, but it’s the one beach community where I guarantee you’d be able to find a campsite during Memorial Day.
Daily Nexus columnist C.K. Hickey was disappointed when he discovered that Ocean World [[ok]] bares no resemblance to Kevin Costner’s “Water World” – actually, maybe he was a little relieved.