THE REVIVAL: Four hours north of San Francisco, Humboldt County is home to half the world's old-growth redwoods, so for much of its 155-year history, timber was king. With the remaining trees mostly off-limits, Eureka's economy has been in dire need of diversification these past few decades.
Counterculture roots (wayward San Fran hippies have long found refuge here) and prime real estate on Humboldt Bay, however, have helped make Eureka an emerging NoCal arts capital. Last year saw the reopening of the 1920 Sweasey Theatre, in Old Town, a historic district dotted with hundred-year-old Victorians. Small independent businesses and boutiques that had fled for the malls in the seventies, depressing downtown in the process, are moving back. Long a haven for more traditional painters, Eureka's gone mod in the past few years, with the opening of contemporary-art spaces like Accident Gallery, in an old warehouse/roller rink. A five-block boardwalk has breathed new life into the waterfront along Humboldt Bay, which still generates about two-thirds of the state's oyster harvest and is kept clean by Humboldt Baykeeper.
THE LIFE: A bridge connects Old Town Eureka to Woodley Island, which shelters an egret rookery and has a marina that rents sea kayaks. When the harvests are bountiful, crabbers sell their catch right off the boat for $4 a pound. Head south 30 minutes to Humboldt Redwoods State Park to mountain-bike or 20 minutes north to Trinidad to surf.
THE WORD ON THE STREET: EUREKA
"Great atmosphere, and you can travel from five to 30 minutes and be completely surrounded by wilderness."