Photography by Visit Ferndale
When it comes to planning a summer vacation, what do you prefer: the beach, the mountains, adventurous hikes, or an escape to a quaint, old-fashioned hamlet? It turns out you don’t have to choose from these itineraries—a charming West Coast town offers all this and more.
Ferndale, California, is one of the best-kept secrets in the country. Tucked away between woods and water along the legendary Redwood Coast and located approximately 120 miles from Oregon, this town of around 1,400 people weaves a tapestry of the past with present-day sensibilities, making it a perfect summer travel destination.
Its Butter Beginnings
Ferndale was originally settled in 1852 by Willard Allard and brothers Seth Louis Shaw and Stephen W. Shaw. The trio built a single cabin on a five-acre expanse of unsettled land near the Eel River that had been home to, among other vegetation, six-foot ferns (hence the name Ferndale). Two years later, Seth built the Shaw House, a much larger house that today serves as an inn.
Because of its prime pastoral location near the river, Ferndale quickly became known for its agriculture, especially dairy. By the 1890s, the town had eleven creameries, many of which were pioneers in their industry, resulting in the town’s original nickname, the Cream City. As a result of this dairy boom, Ferndale flourished in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Nature at Its Finest
Today, the same rolling hills that made Ferndale a dairy dynasty only add to the bucolic feel of the town, but they’re only part of the amazing outdoor experience to be had here. For hikers, there may not be a better adventure anywhere in the country, thanks to its location along the Redwood Coast. Whether you travel twenty miles south to Humboldt Redwoods State Park or an hour north to Redwood National and State Parks, you’ll get to experience the state’s famous giant Redwood trees firsthand. In town, a visit to Russ Park is a must. This 110-acre nature preserve boasts a forest of Sitka spruce—a tree even rarer than a redwood—as well as miles of hiking trails and dozens of bird species. Hike to the trail top, and you’ll get a majestic bird’s-eye view of the Victorian village below.
Are you more of a beach person? Ferndale has you covered with its access to the Lost Coast mere minutes away. Drive five miles west on Centerville Road (perhaps taking a tour of nineteenth-century Fern Cottage en route), and you’ll reach Centerville Beach County Park, which offers access to an isolated, undisturbed beach and scores of wildlife. One mile south of Centerville Beach is Lost Coast Headlands, a 463-acre area featuring beaches, mountainsides, creeks, ponds, and even more wildlife. You can easily spend all day exploring the coastal life between these destinations.
Where Americana Lives
Of course, the primary attraction of Ferndale is the town itself, which is not only a California Historical Landmark but also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The place is so charming, it’s been the setting for several movie shoots.
There are a plethora of things to do and see on Main Street, starting with gazing at the original Victorian architecture that lines the street. Examples of these ornate “Butterfat Palaces,” which earned their moniker because they were built off the success of the dairy rush, can be seen in the town’s businesses, venues, and places to stay. Some notable examples in the Main Street area include the Gingerbread Mansion Inn and the Victorian Inn—both opulent places to stay that immerse you in the Ferndale vibe—as well as the original Shaw House.
As far as attractions, there’s something for everyone in Ferndale. You’ll find dozens of stores to peruse along Main Street, from art to music to food to apparel. The most noteworthy places to visit are the Blacksmith Shop, where you’ll find the largest collection of blacksmith work in the country, and Golden Gate Mercantile, a genuine, old-fashioned general store.
Once you’ve finished browsing the town’s local businesses, you should explore its remarkable history. For example, the aforementioned Fern Cottage is a rarity: generations of the same family have continued to live in the house since the 1870s. You can learn more about Ferndale’s history at the Ferndale Museum, which exhibits original farming machinery, Victorian display rooms, and even America’s oldest seismograph. Take a trip over Fernbridge, and you’ll be crossing the longest operational poured-concrete bridge in the world. And, as strange as it sounds, your trip won’t be complete unless you stop by the graveyard. With its original nineteenth-century headstones, picturesque hillside location, and pastoral views, the Ferndale Cemetery is one of the town’s most popular attractions.
A Town for All Seasons
A summertime trip to Ferndale is ideal thanks to its location near the coast and the average high temperatures barely touching 70 degrees all season long. Among its popular summertime events is the Humboldt County Fair, one of California’s oldest fairs, which celebrated its 125th year in 2021. Here you can enjoy carnival rides, arts and crafts, exhibits, and more at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds.
However, Ferndale is a wonderful town to visit all year round. For example, in spring you can wait at the finish line of America’s oldest kinetic sculpture race, and in autumn you can unwind at the Lost Coast Beer and Bocce Festival and take in Ferndale Concours on Main, a classic car competition. If you trek here during the holiday season, you’ll feel like you’re experiencing a
true Victorian holiday—businesses and homes throughout the town are adorned with lights and other holiday splendor, as is the tallest living Christmas tree in the country.
Whether you come for the quaint architecture, ample acres of forest, pristine miles of coastline, or the opportunity to enjoy the authentically laid-back, nostalgic vibe, you’re guaranteed to have a memorable time in historic Ferndale.
For more info, go to visitferndale.com