Arcata is the western gateway to the beautiful Trinity Scenic Byway on Highway 299 connecting Hwy 101 and Interstate 5. Arcata is also centrally located to many other major attractions in Humboldt County. The centerpiece of the community is the Plaza. With its lawns, flowerbeds and statue of President McKinley, it is the social and commercial center of Arcata. Delightful shops, boutiques and restaurants line the Plaza, and it's the venue for numerous events including farmers markets, the Kinetic Sculpture Race, Pastels on the Plaza and the North Country Fair. Of particular note is the beautifully restored Jacoby's Storehouse, a California Historic Landmark. Radiating from the Plaza are commercial streets full of unexpected shopping and dining treasures.
The Plaza's central green space recalls the New England common or the squares of the South, where people pastured livestock in early years, gathered for social events, picnics, parades or simply conversation and a little sun on a summer day. The town also contains many restored Victorian homes.
With the exception of the Jacoby's Storehouse Building, which incorporates the original storehouse of the 1850s on the ground floor, none of the original architecture remains. Fire and the passage of time have not been kind to the Plaza; however, most of the buildings were built before the turn-of-the-century and, except for three buildings of the 1950s, the remainder were built by 1915, the Hotel Arcata being the last. The Minor Theatre, constructed in 1914, is claimed to be the oldest movie theater still in operation in the United States.
Across the northern stretch of Humboldt Bay from Eureka, the colorful buildings of Arcata are clearly visible. The two cities are only minutes apart by highway, but are distinct in character. Originally named Union, Arcata's beginnings go back to the Gold Rush when she was a shipping and supply center for the miners on the Trinity River. The docks are long gone, but Arcata retains (and celebrates) a sense of her uniqueness. The Arcata Bay Oyster Festival is the most well-attended downtown event. The Bay produces 70% of all fresh oysters consumed in California.
The city's stewardship of the Community and Jacoby Creek Forests continues to serve as a model, both nationally and internationally, for managed redwood/mixed conifer forests that provide resource protection, revenue generation, and opportunities for public enjoyment.
Two must-see stops while in Arcata are the HSU Natural History Museum and the Arcata Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary that offers quiet trails and superb bird watching. The world-famous Marsh gives a unique view of an efficient, low-tech wastewater reclamation system as well as acres of mixed wildlife habitat.
A few miles inland from Arcata along Highway 299, the picturesque town of Blue Lake sits on the banks of the Mad River. Originally a company town, Blue Lake is a charming community known for its warmer summers, and is home to Dell'Arte, the internationally renowned theatre and training center that gives performances throughout the year. There is a museum, an indoor roller rink, and two miles south of town the Mad River Fish Hatchery, where you can observe the rearing of salmon and steelhead.
Established in 1913 and the northern-most campus of the California State University system, HSU has recently received recognition of its education value in many national publications. The campus offers some of the most scenic views of Arcata and the Bay. HSU attractions include many outstanding cultural events, art exhibits, sports events and a library with excellent local historical resources.
The history of Arcata dates back to December of 1849, a group of Trinity River miners found Humboldt Bay through an overland route and settled there in the spring of 1850. The settlement was originally named, "Union." Members of the Union Company laid out the Plaza and surrounding blocks in April of 1850. The native inhabitants, people of Algonquian stock known as Wiyot, were soon displaced in the rush to settle the new supply center and point of entry for the interior gold mining regions on the Klamath, Trinity and Salmon Rivers. By 1855, a deep-water wharf was constructed and the first railroad in California connected the Bay with the depot at the southwest corner of the Plaza. When the settlement was incorporated in 1858, the town was renamed "Arcata".
Although gold prompted Arcata's settlement, it was the area's timber resources that sustained its development. Virgin redwood forests, which covered alluvial flats and coastal ridges, soon felt the assault of the woodsman's axe and saw. Logging giant redwoods required new skills and equipment for cuttings, moving and milling, which resulted in a locally unique economy, labor force and social structure.
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