Ferndale is possibly the most picturesque small town in California. Calling it the ‘prettiest’ doesn’t give it justice. It’s not just pretty; it’s gorgeous with its small-town charm, its elegant architecture, and its natural surroundings. And if you think the town is ‘pretty’, wait until you see the drive to get there.
Ferndale is the northern gateway to California’s Lost Coast, about a three-hour drive north of San Francisco. And it is worth the drive: along rugged coast-line with towering sea-cliffs, matched with mountain ranges and the Redwoods parks. The journey is breathtaking, and one of the best-kept secrets in all of California.
If you’re travelling from Sacramento and San Francisco, Ferndale is about 270-miles north in Humboldt County. Take the time to drive along the Lost Coast Scenic Drive then take the Fernbridge/Ferndale exit. This gives you the best possible welcome to Ferndale, across the celebrated Fernbridge and then past 5-miles of lovely farmland before you arrive in Ferndale’s historic Main Street. Coming from the north, Ferndale is 100-miles south of the Oregon border.
The Humboldt County Airport is an easy 45-minutes north of Ferndale, with car rentals and shuttles available so you can still savour the picture-perfect welcome to town. No matter how you travel, allow plenty of time to soak up your surroundings.
Where to Stay In Ferndale California
While you can explore Ferndale on a day trip while starting in nearly Eureka, California, staying overnight in this quaint town is also a very good idea.
Once you arrive in Ferndale, you are totally spoiled for choice in where to stay. Ferndale is a classic small-town filled with heritage buildings that look straight from a movie set. You can easily spend an hour or two wandering up and down Main Street, with its Victorian-style buildings and well-manicured gardens. Ferndale is also known as “Cream City”, and many of these old historical homes were once called ‘Butterfat palaces’, due to the money from the butter/dairy industry. In fact, the entire town is registered as California Historical Landmark #883.
The best place to capture all of this style and charm is at The Gingerbread Mansion Inn. It is still as stunning as when it was first built in the 1890s. Located a block back from Main Stret, The Gingerbread Mansion Inn is close to everything and yet still in a world of its own. That’s if you ever want to leave. This place is the perfect ‘bed & breakfast’ in every sense of the name. There are parlours and couches and comfy spaces everywhere, especially in your own private room. Every room has a fireplace for just chilling out. It is simply lovely.
If you’ve brought an RV, head to the Humboldt County Fairgrounds RV Park & Campground. It’s within walking distance of Ferndale, with plenty of space to hook up for water and electricity. You can easily relax with the surrounding pastoral landscape and tree-covered hills. It’s a great place to park your vehicle to explore the town while still having the luxury of exploring the surrounding areas.
Where to eat in Ferndale
You won’t have to walk far to find great food in Ferndale. Mind’s Eye Manufactory and Coffee Lounge has the best coffee in town with house-made syrups for that extra touch. The organic espresso and pour-over single-origin coffee are roasted at the local Humboldt Bay Coffee Company. If coffee isn’t your thing, Mind’s Eye also offers a variety of loose-leaf teas in good ol’ fashioned teapots. The waitstaff all seem to have a magical skill in pairing your beverage with the perfect muffin or pastries. All you need to do is sit back and unwind by the fireplace with a selection of books. (They also have free Wi-Fi but … the books!) Before you leave, make sure you check out the attached workshops and art gallery. Details of current exhibits can be found on the official website here.
If you’re looking for something more substantial, Tuya’s Mexican restaurant has fused its authentic menu with a contemporary twist. The name translates from Spanish to English as “yours”, giving a warm welcome to everyone who visits. The homemade tortillas are absolutely divine with almost everything on the menu, including the El Jefe Chimichangas and the popular Fish Tacos. There are plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options, as well as an extensive bar menu to complement it.
Things to do in Ferndale: Ferndale’s History Tour
Once you have settled in, it’s time to stroll down Main Street. The Victorian Village of Ferndale is timeless; perfect for a relaxing but short getaway. It’s like stepping back in time and feeling all your worries float away.
The majority of shops in Ferndale have a real artsy atmosphere. There are plenty of antique stores, collecting history from Ferndale and Americana. One of the stand-out favourites is The Blacksmith Shop, with the finest collection of master blacksmithing in the United States. It seems so perfect to find a traditional blacksmith in a town like Ferndale. There is a beautiful display of artwork in-store, and you can also purchase from the wide selection of lamps, cutlery, candleholders, wine racks, cabinet hardware and more. Definitely a unique part of Ferndale and California history.
Next door to The Blacksmith Shop is the eclectic and fantastic Chapman’s Bookery and More. It’s a specialty store for everything to do with books. Start with something small, like a signed copy from a local author or maybe a historical biography of the town. Pick up a beautifully designed journal and capture your thoughts of Ferndale. Or maybe you would like some music books (they’re really into guitars and ukeleles right now). Chapman’s Bookery and More is like the spiritual centre of town, with whispers and secrets waiting to be discovered.
A block away from Main Street is the amazing Ferndale Museum, staffed with the friendliest and most knowledgable volunteers in the area. Not only do they know everything there is to know about Ferndale, but they are also enthusiastic to discover more! On-site is an amazing collection of memorabilia and historic documents detailing the European settlement of Ferndale. If you have a question about family history or the settlers in the area, they’ll have the answer.
Just a 10-minutes walk south of Main Street is The Old Steeple. In a past life, The Old Steeple was the former Methodist Church, with gorgeous stained windows and high ceilings. It has since been transformed into a magnificent music venue, with 225 seats and retaining those same fantastic acoustics. While the venue has changed in character, the history has been preserved. Make sure you check their calendar and catch a show during your visit.
Get up close and personal with more history with a walk through the Ferndale Cemetery. The pioneer-era historic markers are share stories of the people who have lived (and died) here over many years. It is so beautiful and peaceful, set against the breathtaking hillside overlooking the town, across the valley, and out to the ocean.
Explore the Outdoors
Before you check out the natural beauty around Ferndale, make a quick pit-stop at Ferndale Meat Company, located on Main Street. Originally built in 1903, the place was recently bought by famous restaurateur Guy Fieri. His purchase was made to support the local community and business, with the current butcher Curt Terribilini managing the store. They have a great menu of sandwiches, drinks, snacks to prepare you for some hiking in the Redwoods. For a sweet fix, stop in at Sweetness & Light, at the eastern end of Main Street. It’s the only place to pick up the (in)famous Mooo Bars: a marshmallow block with caramel and almonds, smothered in chocolate.
Now to work off the Mooo Bar, head to Russ Park on the outskirts of town (follow Bluff Street east to the gravel parking). This bird sanctuary features a closed canopy forest with four different walking trails to explore. Russ Park is a little different to surrounding forests; it is a mature Sitka Spruce forest, rather than the slightly more common Redwoods. The cool ocean air keeps the forest damp, encouraging plenty of birds, fungi, and plants to grow.
In the opposite direction, you can enjoy the ocean view from the Fleener Creek Hike. Follow Ocean Avenue west as it becomes Centerville Road. Follow along this road for about six miles until you see the sign for the Fleener Creek Overlook trailhead and parking lot. It’s about 1.3-miles of moderate switchbacks taking you down to Guthrie Creek Beach. Many visitors have seen dolphins and whales dancing along the coastline as well as a spectacular display of Californian wildflowers (depending on the time of year).
When is the Best Time to Visit Ferndale
Let’s face it: Ferndale is beautiful any time of year. It’s like the town has jumped straight out of a storybook and shines in every season. Summer temperatures are kept moderate by the microclimate created between the ocean and the forests. Fall and Spring burst with color across the landscape, matched only by the wonderful Butterfat Palaces. But Christmas in Ferndale is simply magical. Ferndale is home to America’s tallest living Christmas Tree.
The whole town comes together to celebrate the lighting of the tree, with free hot cocoa and homemade cookies afterwards, a Ferndale tradition since 1934. It’s just one of the myriad of ways Ferndale locals keep the spirit and the beauty of Ferndale alive for years to come.