Nestled on Eureka's Coast
With a surface area of about 16,000 acres at high tide, Humboldt Bay is one of the largest estuaries in California, second only to San Francisco Bay. Despite its size and prominent location, however, it remains a largely undiscovered gem. Only those who have taken the time to turn off the main highway to explore it can appreciate its many hidden facets. Much of what we see today is a reflection of the early commercial development of the bay and the surrounding territory. Among the many exciting and often overlooked attractions Humboldt Bay offers visitors and residents alike are the carefully preserved waterfront reflecting its colorful history, a pristine environment that is the home to year-round and seasonal wildlife, and a variety of recreational opportunities.
Historic Waterfront, Old Town Eureka
Extensive historical preservation efforts by dedicated volunteers have ensured that much of the past has been lovingly retained and restored. The historic waterfront district of Old Town preserves buildings dating back to the 19th century. A stroll through the area reveals not only classic examples of past architectural styles, but innovative uses of the old structures that ensure their survival as they house today's shops, museums, restaurants and other businesses. Walking and horse-drawn carriage tours provide unique insights into the colorful past and its legacy.
Pristine Environment for Wildlife
Humboldt Bay has been preserved by the efforts of many dedicated agencies, organizations and individuals who have united to ensure that it is an inviting home or resting spot for many species of wildlife. The bay's waters are so clean that its shellfish may be eaten raw, straight from the bay.
Because Humboldt Bay is an estuary, freshwater influence from the streams and sloughs that run into it increases during the winter rainy season. Incoming tides, however, continually bring in fish and many invertebrates such as jellyfish, crabs and shrimp. Dolphins, porpoises (yes, they're different from each other), seals and sea lions follow the fish and invertebrates into the bay. The sea lions are semi-permanent residents, while the others tend to be temporary visitors.
Humboldt Bay is a major resting point along the Pacific Flyway utilized by migrating birds. More than 250 species of birds can be found here, and bird-watching is a year-round activity. Popular bird-watching areas include the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge in southern Humboldt Bay, Fay Slough Wildlife Area (FSWA) north of Eureka, Elk River Wildlife Area and PALCO Marsh in southern Eureka, the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Mad River Slough Wildlife Area west of Arcata. Interpretive centers that are the starting points for frequently-scheduled wildlife walks are located at the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge and at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary.
Sport Fishing, Clamming and Crabbing
Humboldt Bay supports over 100 species of marine and estuarine fish, including green sturgeon, coho salmon, Chinook salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout, which spawn and rear in the watershed of the tributaries that feed the bay. Green sturgeon, coho salmon, and a number of other species are protected. Anglers in Humboldt Bay usually favor California halibut, surf perch, jacksmelt, Chinook (“King”) salmon and leopard sharks. Bat rays, although not good eating fish, are popular for “catch and release.” Humboldt Bay offers numerous opportunities for fishing by boat and from shore.
Clammers find very productive habitat for a number of different species of clam including littleneck, gaper and Martha Washington. The bay is also an ideal habitat for oysters, supporting the largest commercial oyster-producing area in California. Seasonally, Dungeness and red rock crabs are caught in the bay.
Recreational fishing, clamming and crabbing are regulated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Before undertaking these activities, be sure to consult current Fish and Wildlife regulations for licensing, seasons, size limits, bag limits and legal fishing gear.
Although Humboldt Bay is a deep water port with harbor facilities including large industrial docks at Fairhaven, Samoa and Fields Landing, opportunities for recreational boating abound in it as well. Sailboats and yachts are plentiful. There are numerous launching facilities all around the bay, and marinas for berthing a wide array of pleasure craft. Woodley Island is home to Humboldt Bay Harbor District's Marina, and the City of Eureka's Public Marina at Old Town is another excellent place to moor your boat temporarily or on a year-round basis. Canoes and kayaks are also very popular, and are often used for exploring the salt marshes that ring the bay. Tours to these areas are regularly offered.