If I’m being totally honest, the order of events of our remaining few days in Arcata are a little blurry to me as I sit and try to recall them. I was really, really stoned the whole time I was in Arcata. Rather than try, and likely fail, to form a coherent narrative, I’ll just try to convey a bit of the heart and soul of Arcata, and why it’s one of my favorite places on earth.
Arcata is a small college town in Humboldt County, in far north California. It sits on Humboldt Bay, nestled into the vast redwood forest of the region. Though it snows everywhere near Arcata, it almost never snows in Arcata. There is beach, river, mountains, and redwood forest to explore in the immediate area, making it nearly perfect for outdoor adventuring. It is kind of rainy and cold for 9 months a year, but this keeps everything lush and green all the time, even during the 3 months of summer when rain is relatively rare. During our stay, it never got above 80 degrees, or below 50. The sun was out for nearly all of every day. I think it rained once. Summer here is perfect, in my opinion. Mosquitoes weren’t a problem, as has been true for all of the California Coast.
The town is home to Humboldt State University, a school of 7000 students in a town of 17000. This should give you an indication of how overwhelmingly young the town is, in terms of the age of the population. The university campus is surrounded on three sides by Redwood Park and the Arcata Community Forest. I don’t know too much about it academically, but walking around I can tell you they have a Department of Appropriate Technology, and appear to be a very sustainability minded university. Perhaps more telling than that is the glowing review of literally every student we interacted with, which was a fuckton. We were in Arcata while school was coming back into session. All four of our hosts were students. Kobe was majoring in music, Fiona in English, and I think Chelsea and Erika were majoring in Art. Aside from our hosts, probably half of the people we talked to around town were students of the university. They were all extremely excited that school was back in session, and seemed genuinely interested in their classes and happy to be attending school. This was really shocking to observe after my own experience of dehumanization and systemic apathy with the University of Texas.
Now, I’ve mentioned that it rains quite a bit here, which makes it pretty ideal for agriculture. A large chunk of the remaining population of the town is involved either in the growing of organic food, or organic marijuana. In fact, one in six houses in Arcata is producing Marijuana, not to mention much larger outdoor farms both on private land, and hidden in the seemingly endless woods. The climate and soil here produce incredible produce, no matter what kind. How this plays out in town dynamics is that even this tiny town has four local organic grocery stores, but only one conventional food store, a lonely Safeway. The glut of weed in the town means prices are extremely low. In fact, if all you need is personal amounts, you’re unlikely to ever have to buy any. In our experience, attempting to buy weed just results in being smoked out heavily, or even just handed nugs. Weed is so cheap here, it’s not really worth it to bother selling small amounts. Everyone can get you a pound, but god help you if you want a gram. In Austin, an 8th of high quality bud goes for about $60, less if you’ve got a good friend. Even paying the out-of-towner price, we paid $25/8th for some of the best weed I’ve ever smoked.
The remaining economic activity in the town is based around supporting the students and farmers, including an impressively large number of coffee shops, yoga studios, and restaurants. My personal favorite Arcata establishment: Don’s Donuts, a 24-hour purveyor of donuts, pizza, coffee, ice cream, sodas and sandwiches. It’s a stoner munching paradise. There should be a Don’s in every town in America. Or at least all the ones I’m in. The pizza here is excellent, and you owe yourself a buttermilk doughnut.
All this sort of sets the scene for Arcata, but the real story is the people. It’s a town of larger than life characters, of young outdoorsy stoners, where travel and generosity are virtues. Everybody makes eye contact with you and smiles. More than once a total stranger would pull out a bowl and offer it to me while walking down the street. More than once I would pay it forward. The number of people we encountered going by a pseudonym easily matched or outnumbered those who identify with their given names.
Kobe was from a small town in Colorado. Our first day there, his bong got broken, but was replaced with superior one the next day. As a man with great personal attachment to his bong, naming the new pipe was a high priority. The bong was a clear tube with blue and red accents. Kobe was very into the music of Shpongle. Thus, the Star Shpongled Bong. During our stay, he lent me his copy of “DMT: Spirit Molecule”, which was an incredibly interesting assessment of a psychedelic drug that has had deep and lasting effects in my own life. He was passionate about music, smoking weed, and chilling with people. Kobe was always up to go to party’s, even when the rest of us were too stoned and lazy. When he wasn’t in the living room fogging up the place with us, music from his keyboard could be heard pouring from his room.
We probably spent the most time with Fiona while we were in Arcata this time. This beautiful brunette from San Francisco is into writing, drinking tea, traveling, cooking and tending the fahr[fire]. We spent countless hours smoking weed and making magic in the kitchen with Fiona, and she was definitely a highlight of the trip. One night we made spaghetti with Italian sausage and bacon, and another night there was carrot ginger soup and crostini. Over the summer Fiona had traveled to China with our previous host Kristen, and had abundant stories to share from the experience. It’s unfortunate we live in different cities, or we would definitely be closer friends.
Gecko was not a student, but rather involved the other reason young people flock to the region: the weed trade. Late summer sees hundreds of hippies arriving in Humboldt County, looking for work during the busy trim season as the biggest weed harvest of the year comes in. We ran into Gecko multiple times around town, and he always had a fat disc of delicious full melt hash to smoke with us. Silent Bob, Kevin Smith’s cameo character in all of his films, is a living breathing person here, who is known around town. The fuzzy line between reality and fiction is extra blurry in Arcata.
Of particular interest to me, dreadlocks are probably the single most popular hair style in the town. It’s a bit of a stoner mecca, so this isn’t particularly surprising, but it still lends a unique chill atmosphere to the place. If you go for a walk in redwood park you are pretty much guaranteed to end up smoking weed with strangers, or as they’re known here, new friends. In just the week we were in Arcata it already got to the point that we couldn’t go to the grocery store without getting distracted by running into multiple people we knew there.
Basically, this is the ultimate stoner vacation spot. Nothing here is particularly more expensive than anywhere else in California, but weed is ridiculously cheap and the quality is amazing. The town is full of young, attractive, friendly stoners who are always down to smoke a bowl and walk through the woods. It has a Don’s Donuts. Need I go on? If you are a stoner, this is where your next summer vacation should be.