Anyone who has driven the 101 up California’s northern coast knows how dramatic the scenery around small, artsy Eureka, is. But between the towering redwoods on one side and plunging ocean cliffs on the other, there are dozens of kid-sized microhabitats ripe for little ones’ exploration.
“There are abalone coves, tidal pools, waterfalls, and a unique pygmy forest,” says Tina Buell, a a family travel expert and writer for Trekaroo.com and single mom who regularly takes her three-year-old son Cash on adventures in the area. There are nearly a dozen state beaches, reserves, and parks that offer everything from skin diving to surfing. Jughandle State Reserve, a 769-acre park with a self-guided nature trail featuring the “Ecological Staircase,” a natural terrace formed by glacial, sea, is one of the most popular; likewise with, Devil’s Punch Bowl, a collapsed sea cave in Russian Gulch State Park.
In addition to a robust community of visual artists, the town hosts two big music festivals—the Redwood Coast Jazz Festival and Blues by the Bay—each year. Eureka is also home to so many Victorian-era homes and businesses that the town itself has historic landmark status.
The downside of all this is that homes don't come cheap; Eureka real estate tops out as the priciest on our list, with a two-bedroom home setting you back about $275,000. Expect to pay aroud $1,000 for a similar rental.