The Avenue of the Giants
From Fort Bragg, Hwy. 1 continues north along the shoreline for about 30 miles before turning inland to Leggett and the Redwood Highway (U.S. 101), which runs north to Garberville. Six miles beyond Garberville, the Avenue of the Giants (Hwy. 254) begins around Phillipsville. The Avenue of the Giants is one of the most spectacular routes in the West, cutting along the Eel River through the 51,000-acre Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It roughly parallels U.S. 101, with about a half-dozen interchanges between the two roads, in case you don't want to drive the entire thing. The avenue ends just south of Scotia; from here, it's only about 10 miles to the turnoff to Ferndale, about 5 miles west of U.S. 101.
For more information or a detailed map of the area, go to the Humboldt Redwoods State Park Visitor Center in Weott (tel. 707/946-2263; www.humboldtredwoods.org), in the center of the Avenue of the Giants.
The village of Ferndale, beyond the Avenue of the Giants and west of U.S. 101, is a National Historic Landmark because of its Victorian homes and storefronts, including a smithy and saddlery. About 5 miles inland from the coast and close to the redwood belt, Ferndale is one of the best-preserved Victorian hamlets in Northern California. Despite its unbearably cute shops, it is nonetheless a vital part of the Northern Coastal tourist circuit.
What's less known about this small town is that it has a number of artists in residence. It's also home to one of California's oddest happenings, the World Championship Great Arcata to Ferndale Cross-Country Kinetic Sculpture Race (www.kineticuniverse.com), which draws more than 10,000 spectators every Memorial Day weekend. For 38 miles, over land, sand, mud, and water, participants race in whimsically designed, handmade, people-powered vehicles that have to be seen to be believed -- dragons, Christmas trees, flying saucers, and pyramids, to mention but a few. Awards range from Best Art to Best Engineering to Best Bribe. And as the grand prizes are worth about $15, inspired madness is the only incentive. Stop at the museum at 780 Main St. if you want to see a few past race entries, but bear in mind it's nothing like seeing these contrivances in glorious action.