Discover the Best Things to Do in Garberville, California

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Immerse yourself in the legendary California redwoods and explore the hidden gems of Garberville. Uncover unique experiences in this remote corner of Humboldt County.

We needed a respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life, so we happily agreed when a friend invited us to visit her in Garberville. It’s a unique sanctuary in a remote southern corner of Humboldt County where the legendary California redwoods thrive. It’s a part of California that many visitors never get to but should at least once in their lifetime.

Man staring up at massive redwood tree

Man is dwarfed by the massive redwood trees in Garberville. Photo courtesy of Visit Redwoods

Garberville, situated along the rocky shoreline of the serene Eel River, is a gateway to the magnificent coastal redwoods of Humboldt County. The nearby Richardson Grove State Park, Avenue of the Giants, and Benbow Lake State Recreation Area offer many opportunities to reconnect with nature. The world’s tallest trees, a humbling sight, are a testament to the region’s natural beauty. Whether fishing, kayaking, birding, hiking, or simply exploring and relaxing, there’s something for every nature lover here.

Big Tree at Avenue of the Giants

The Big Tree sign at Avenue of the Giants shows the dimensions of this massive redwood tree. Photo courtesy of Visit Redwoods

With anxious anticipation, we packed our car and headed north to Redwoods Country. With unsurpassed natural beauty and a glorious climate, Southern Humboldt is a delight for visitors and residents alike. Garberville, nearby Redway, and Benbow are well-serviced by places to eat, stay, and fuel while exploring all the area has to offer.

Richardson Grove State Park

We crossed the threshold into Southern Humboldt and drove north on Highway 101 from Mendocino. The air changed, thickening with the scent of damp earth and pine needles. In our first encounter with old-growth redwoods, we are about to meet the forest elders.

Richardson Grove has long been a popular state park. Bisected by the South Fork of the Eel River, the park features a walk-through tree, the ninth tallest redwood known, and a fallen tree ring study project. We found campsites and cabins for rent, along with nine miles of hiking trails carpeted by soft pine needles and flanked by colossal redwoods on each side. We discovered an inviting family picnic area, a 1930s-era lodge that houses the Visitor’s Center, and a nature store. Our visit to this tranquil park was a delightful introduction to Southern Humboldt County.

Richardson Grove State Park

Richardson Grove State Park. Photo by Brian Baer, courtesy of CA State Parks

Stay Among the Redwoods

After a rewarding afternoon of trekking through Richardson Grove, we headed north to Redway, where we rented an Airbnb called My Humboldt Abode. It’s built amid a redwood grove alongside the Eel River, offering a perfect launchpad for outdoor activities.

Guests can rent a large two-bedroom, two-bath Craftsman-style house or a cozy studio apartment. Both offer fully equipped kitchens and ample space. The constant shade of ancient redwoods provides a serene atmosphere, where paths from either place lead to views of the river and the rocky beach along the river’s edge. In addition to her rentals, our hostess, Samantha, offers massage, reiki, and spa treatments to create a place for slowing down and soaking up the energy that abounds here. A longtime resident, Samantha also knows the best things to do in Garberville and the surrounding area.

a house in the woods

My Humboldt Abode. Photo by Grant Johnson

For dinner, Samantha suggested a trip to The Lost Frenchman for what is the “best wood-fired pizza” in the region. But before we headed off, she invited us to a screened-in gazebo alongside the river. There, we tasted some wine that Samantha and her neighbor had made. As we sat there, we listened to tales about the history of Southern Humboldt County and the back-to-the-land movement that began in the 1960s. It was a time when many young urban dwellers left city life to live a freer lifestyle. Now, the children of that generation continue to honor its spirit.

Pathway leads to a gazebo in the woods.

A pathway leads to a gazebo in the woods at My Humboldt Abode. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

The Eel River

One of the most striking features of Southern Humboldt County is the Eel River. The South Fork skirts the edge of the town of Redway and flowed right past our Airbnb. During the summer, this tributary is a slow-moving stream that provides several natural pools and safe swimming holes.

The river access at our rental was a short walk to a large, rocky beach where the river curves smoothly around the face of a giant cliffside. This tranquil shoreline site is ideal for floating peacefully down the river or wading into the clear, refreshing water. Locals know the best swimming hole in the region is right here.

Our retreat on the South Fork of the Eel River is for outdoor lovers. It’s for folks who’d rather be in the heart of the forest, the sort who crave the sound of nature, the off-the-beaten-path kind of people.

Eel River

A view of the Eel River in the summertime. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Avenue of the Giants

We rose early the next day and headed to the Avenue of the Giants. When we entered this magical forest, we realized it offers more than just the majesty of towering redwoods. A 31-mile route along the South Fork of the Eel River meanders through several small hamlets. It also provides a glimpse of Humboldt County’s history and a chance to experience local culture at roadhouses and country stores.

Of course, we had to find the famous “drive-through tree” and hope some kind stranger would take a picture of us. But the Avenue of the Giants also features hiking trails where visitors can view spectacular old-growth redwood habitats or swim in the Eel River.

Shrine drive thru tree at Avenue of the Giants

Shrine Drive Thru Tree in Avenue of the Giants. Photo courtesy of Visit Redwoods

After an invigorating hike and a river dip, we returned to our rental, where Samantha arranged a gourmet four-course dinner among the redwoods provided by Tastebuds Catering. It allowed us to dine with locals and learn more about the rich history of Southern Humboldt.

Sanctuary Forest Hike

The next day, we explored Sanctuary Forest, a land and water trust whose mission is to conserve the Mattole River Watershed for wildlife habitat. It’s also a place to view wildflowers and hike across the creeks, which have been brought back to life due to this watershed restoration.

A pond in the Sanctuary Forest

A holding pond in the Sanctuary Forest helps restore the watershed. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Winetasting in Garberville

We never considered Garberville a place for wine tasting, but two long-time wineries are nearby. Given the climate and the back-to-the-land movement that started in the 1960s, it makes sense that someone would also be growing grapes and making wine.

After our trek through the Sanctuary Forest, we headed to Briceland Vineyards, where we met owners Andrew and Rosie Morris. Andrew’s parents founded the winery in 1985. When it was time for his parents to retire, Andrew and Rosie returned to Garberville to take over their legacy.

Andrew shared stories about the winery’s beginning and its nearly 40 years of experience with past vintages and favorite vineyards. Briceland wines are expressive of site, vintage, and the owner/winemaker’s hand-made small-lot winemaking style.

Similarly, in the tiny town of Whitethorn, we tasted the wines of Whitethorn Winery, made by winemaker Tasha McCorkle McKee. She sources some grapes from the westernmost vineyard in North America, right here in Humboldt County.

Briceland Vineyards in Garberville

Tasting wine at Briceland Vineyards in Garberville. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Benbow Historic Inn

We were excited to move on to the next leg of our journey with a stay at the Benbow Historic Inn. The hotel is in the heart of the Southern Humboldt County Redwoods Forest, near Garberville. It upholds its Tudor-designed charm with 65 spacious, luxurious guest rooms, an acclaimed restaurant, and a historic bar. Antique furniture, fine prints, and a decanter of complimentary cream sherry grace each guest room.

Historic Benbow Inn

The Benbow Historic Inn looks out on a terrace and the Eel River. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

The spacious, welcoming dining room overlooks the grounds and the Eel River below. The restaurant offers a fresh take on traditional American cuisine.

Appetizer at Benbow Inn Restaurant

An appetizer of rosemary focaccia bread, burrata cheese, prosciutto, fig compote, and balsamic reduction at Benbow Restaurant. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

The hotel opened to the public in 1926 and soon became a popular stop along the newly completed Redwood Highway. Known as a destination that offered seclusion, elegant hospitality, upscale lodging, and outdoor recreation, the inn attracted Hollywood’s elite in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.

And it’s not just celebrities that frequented the Benbow. The hotel has a history of hosting several unwanted guests. Visitors and hotel staff have witnessed spirits and mysterious happenings over the years. Samantha, who worked at the hotel, saw the paranormal over many years and took us on a tour of the spookiest part of the hotel. While we walked through the hallways, Samantha shared her unexplained encounters. We could almost feel someone watching us and couldn’t wait to get back downstairs to a part of the hotel that isn’t known for being haunted.

But don’t worry—if you can’t arrange a personal tour, the hotel sells a book of ghost stories.

The Benbow Historic Inn is still one of the best places to stay in the Garberville area. It creates a space of timeless grace where relaxation goes beyond linens, hospitality beyond bubbly, and satisfaction beyond cuisine, turning visiting moments into delightful memories. Even today, visitors from around the world still frequent the hotel to unplug and unwind, learn about its rich history, or even engage in ghost hunting.

The Great Room at Benbow Inn

Inside the Great Room at Benbow Historic Inn. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Julia Morgan Redwood Grove Estate and Gardens

Julia Morgan is best known for her work on Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. However, this prolific architect also designed more than 700 buildings throughout California, including a gorgeous Redwood Grove Estate on the other side of the historic bridge from the Benbow Historic Inn.

Historic Bridge

The historic bridge across from Benbow Inn leads to the Julia Morgan Estate. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

In 1926, as the inn opened and Garberville began attracting tourists, San Francisco hotel heiress Margaret Stewart commissioned Julia Morgan to build the estate. As an investor in the Benbow Inn, Stewart was able to negotiate a piece of the family’s property to build her estate. The “Redwood Grove” is a classic example of Morgan’s trademark Craftsman style, inspired by the late 19th century Arts and Crafts movement. The three residences feature gabled roofs, solid wooden beams, and elegant stonework. More minor details, such as rosettes, leaves, and wallpaper featuring birds, bring nature into each house.

Our tour guide, Tanya Musgrave, co-owner of the estate, conducted our tour. As we visited the house above the garage, then the guest cottage, and finally the stunning main house, Musgrave described Julia Morgan’s background as a pioneering female architect, the history of the estate and its renovation, and the intricate details throughout the property that add to its character and personality.

Towering redwoods surround the estate on one side, and it overlooks the sparkling Eel River on the other. The estate boasts a year-round cutting garden, lush landscaping, a koi pond, and bright, colorful flowers planted throughout the grounds. Tours are available by reservation Friday through Monday for $20 per person.

Julia Morgan Estate at Garberville

The estate designed by Julia Morgan is available to tour. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Benbow Lake State Recreation Area

We wanted to see the sparkling Eel River again, so we packed a picnic lunch and headed to Benbow Lake State Recreation Area on our way out of Garberville. The park features hiking, camping, a large day-use picnic area, and salmon and steelhead fishing.

Benbow State Recreation Area

Benbow State Recreation Area. Photo by Brian Baer, courtesy of CA State Parks

Places to Eat in Garberville

Woodrose Café

The Woodrose Café serves organic, locally grown, natural food. It serves breakfast, lunch, and a large choice of dishes. The café’s cheery exterior practically invites customers inside.

Eel River Café

The Eel River Café’s interior resembles a classic diner, with red leather seats and a black and white checkerboard floor. It serves American cuisine for breakfast and lunch.

Benbow Inn Restaurant

The Benbow Inn’s acclaimed restaurant is a favorite with locals and guests. The menu features seasonal fare from Humboldt County’s land and sea. The restaurant includes a warm, inviting dining room, a terrace patio, and a historic bar. Breakfast and dinner are available.

Inside the Benbow Inn historic bar

Enjoy a drink at the 1920s historic bar in the Benbow Inn. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Articles Related to Visiting Northern California

Discovery in Garberville

Southern Humboldt County is all about discovery and journey through a rural, mountainous area blessed with clean air, a warm, sunny climate, towering redwoods, lush state parks, a wilderness area, and a rugged coastline. More dramatically, a river runs through it.

Richardson Grove State Park in Garberville

Richardson Grove State Park. Photo by Brian Baer

We found many things to do in Garberville, including camping, hiking, golf, horseback riding, biking, swimming, rafting, kayaking, fishing, and even wine tasting, all within a 15-minute drive. Coupled with Redway to the north and Benbow to the south, these towns have accommodations, great food, boutique shopping, and all the necessities of a comfortable vacation destination. We can’t wait to return!

We invite you to explore Wander With Wonder to learn about more of our favorite things to do in Northern California. Have you explored the California redwoods? In the comments below, we would love to hear about your favorite places to explore.

Written by Pam and Gary Baker

Pam and Gary Baker are freelance food, wine, and travel writers based in Northern California. They have been published in regional, national, and international publications including WineTraveler, Porthole Cruise, Upscale Living, Northwest Travel and Life, and Washington Tasting Room. Pam is the former editor of Sacramento Lifestyle Magazine and writes a wine column for Food Wine Travel Magazine.

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