A summary of useful information about Humboldt County: its geography, climate, population, economy, and culture.
Humboldt County is situated on the NW California coast. From north to south it measures about 100 miles "as the crow flies," although I've never actually seen a crow fly it. The coastline "bump" that is visible on a California map as the western most spot on the continental United States is in the southern portion Humboldt County. The county's terrain is mostly mountainous except for the area surrounding Humboldt Bay. Several rivers make their way from the mountains to the sea, the most prominent being the Eel river which empties into the Pacific about 12 miles south of Eureka, the Mad river which flows into the ocean about 10 miles north of Eureka between Arcata and McKinleyville, and the Klamath River which ends at the sea about 50 miles north of Eureka. Wide valleys straddle the Eel and the Mad Rivers near the coast providing good pasture and bottoms land.
County population is about 130,000. Approximately half of these people live in the communities of Fortuna, Eureka, Arcata, and McKinleyville which surround the Humboldt bay region, and are strung along a 30 mile length of Highway 101. Fortuna (pop. 11,000) is at the southern end of this string. 18 miles north along the shoreline of Humboldt Bay is Eureka (30,000). At the northern end of Humboldt Bay another 7 miles north, is Arcata (15,000), and about 5 miles north from there is the unincorporated town of McKinleyville (12,000?)
The climate is often described as "temperate." This means it doesn't get extremely hot or cold. A more realistic description would be cool and moist. During the Winter months, the weather is pretty similar in all parts of the county except that it tends to rain more in certain inland areas and night time low temperatures are colder (around 32) than coastal areas during clear weather. Average annual rainfall around the Humboldt Bay area is about 38", and Winter highs average 53-57 degrees.
During the Summer months the climate shows greater variations, determined primarily by distance from the coast. Eureka, Arcata, and McKinleyville will average highs in the 65 - 70 degree range. Fortuna, Freshwater and other communities a few miles inland will often reach the mid 70's, and places like Willow Creek and Garberville, further inland with mountains between them and the coast, will typically be in the mid 80's to 90's, occasionally hitting 100.
Someone moving from another part of California will typically feel he or she is making a trade off: cleaner air, a more scenic environment, and a more relaxed, friendly lifestyle, in exchange for more rain and cooler temperatures.
Historically, timber and fishing have been the dominant economic forces. If you've ever had a redwood fence or picnic table it probably came from Humboldt County. These industries have been in decline over the past several years however, and the region has not experienced the economic and population growth so typical of most other parts of the state. This has been a mixed blessing. Much of the appeal of Humboldt County life is its relatively stable, unspoiled, semi-rural, small town flavor. In some ways its like America in the 1950's.
On the other hand, there is shortage of high paying jobs, economic diversity, and high tech industries to fuel prosperity and growth. By way of illustration, there is no teacher shortage. It makes for a relatively high quality educational system because schools can hire the best, but it also means that jobs with that level of pay and benefits are not abundant. UPS and Post Office jobs are also more challenging to obtain than in the larger metropolitan areas.
There are signs of future growth on the horizon. The Humboldt Bay harbor entrance is being deepened to accommodate larger ships. Pro growth sentiment is increasing among civic and local government officials. Emerging information and high tech industries are more suited to the north coast than older industries more affected by product transportation costs. Finally, the steady population growth of California continues to extend into its more rural areas as a matter of course.