A Ferndale weekend offers Victorian charms, modern delights

FERNDALE — Wind your way up Highway 101 to Humboldt County, and you’ll find plenty to explore in this uncrowded corner of the Golden State — giant redwoods, sandy beaches, hiking trails. But in the midst of an unending pandemic and unrelenting headlines, the Victorian village of Ferndale offers an escape to a different time.

Who could resist that?

You’ve likely seen Ferndale before — on the silver screen, at least. More than a dozen movies, including 2001’s “The Majestic,” have been filmed here. With its colorful, lovingly restored Victorian buildings, cozy small-town charm and rich history, the town is straight out of central casting.

The historic downtown in the Victorian Village of Ferndale is on the National Register of Historic Places. (Getty Images)

Ever since Danish dairy farmers began arriving here in the 1870s, butter has been this region’s, well, bread and butter. By 1890, farmers had formed 11 cooperative creameries and were shipping their premium products to San Francisco and beyond, sealing Ferndale’s reputation so thoroughly, it was known as “Cream City” — and Ferndale’s extravagant Victorians were dubbed “Butterfat Palaces.”

Those colorful Queen Annes, Italianate and Stick/Eastlake homes still line the streets of the historic downtown district, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. The Victorians are still so cherished by the town, even their paint colors — sage , curry, kimono violet, oakmoss — have to be approved by the city council.

Beautifully restored Victorians line the streets of Ferndale.  (Jackie Burrell/Bay Area News Group)
Beautifully restored Victorians line the streets of Ferndale. (Jackie Burrell/Bay Area News Group)

On a recent rain-spattered May weekend, we made our way north four hours from the Bay Area, crossed the century-old Fernbridge and stepped through a time portal that delivered both historic charm and modern day delights.

Several Victorians have been transformed into historic inns, so you can slumber in period-appropriate quarters at the Shaw House Inn, for example, which was built in 1854, the Victorian Inn (1890) or the Gingerbread Mansion (1895). Or go for a relative youngster, an Airbnb on the second floor of the lovingly restored Gazebo Building (1898) on Main Street, which once housed the Burrill Candy Co. We Burrells (no relation, although we, too, like sweets) got a kick out of the confectioner’s slogan: “If a girl likes a fellow, it’s her business. If a fellow likes a girl, it’s his business her. If a fellow likes a girl, and the girl likes ice cream sodas, it’s our business.”

Burrill Candy is long gone, of course, but there’s a more modern sweet shop, Sweetness & Light, just across the street. They don’t do ice cream sodas, but if a fellow likes a girl, and the girl likes handmade salted caramels, you’re in luck.

Co-owner Matt Toste learned to make chocolate here when he was in high school. Five years later, he bought the place, and he and his wife his, Tami, have been making caramels, toffee, bonbons and marshmallow-filled Moo Bars ever since, using butter and cream from local Humboldt Creamery. If you happen by on a weekend and find a “closed” sign on the door, don’t fret. There’s a stash of Moo Bars at the nearby Golden Gait Mercantile, too.

Ferndale's Golden Gait Mercantile stocks everything from retro candy to local chocolates, toys, totes and picnic blankets.  (Jackie Burrell/Bay Area News Group)
Ferndale’s Golden Gait Mercantile stocks everything from retro candy to toys, totes and picnic blankets.

It’s entirely possible to spend a whole afternoon browsing the 50-year-old Mercantile. Julie and John Kreitzer, who bought the store in 2014, have filled its two floors with old-fashioned candies, locally-made chocolates and pretty much anything else you might need, from kitchenware and picnic blankets to toys, totes and hats. Upstairs, museum-style exhibits offer a glimpse of late 19th-century life at an old general store and a milliner’s, where fashionable Ferndale residents might have shopped for hats and ribbons long ago.

The village holds more charms, too, including the Farmer’s Daughter, a rustic-chic shop that stocks kitchenware, home decor and cookbooks, as well as a cooler case filled with cheeses, butter and cream from local creameries.

The food scene here offers tasty temptations, too, with eateries that include the no-fuss No Brand Burger Stand and Mexican-centric Tuya’s and The Boardroom, a fantastic wine bar and charcuterie spot that opened this year on Main Street. Co-owners Jason Baxter and Sonny Simonian call The Boardroom a “tasting room” for their Ryan Creek Root Cellar charcuterie, smoked meats and fermented foods.

A Mighty Meat charcuterie board at Ferndale's Boardroom includes summer sausage, artisanal salami, Canadian bacon and pepperoni, all housemade.  (Jackie Burrell/Bay Area News Group)
A charcuterie board at Ferndale’s Boardroom

We’d been walking, exploring and dodging raindrops all day, so we figured we’d get a glass of wine and share an appetizer, then go get dinner. Two hours later, we were still there, lingering over a charcuterie board that included pickled veggies, sliced ​​baguettes and housemade meats — aged salami, summer sausage, delicate Canadian bacon and a pepperoni that made us question what we’ve been eating on pizza all these years. The board lineup includes a cheese version, a board with smoked duck and a vegan option with marinated mushrooms, smoked tofu and more.

Walking off all those tasty bites afterward, we stopped to peek at Ferndale’s newest park next to Shaw House. Hadley Gardens is set to open its ornate gates– designed by local blacksmith Monica Coyne — to the public on June 18. The former vacant lot has been transformed by Julian Berg Designs into a beautiful interpretive garden filled with native plants and flowers, winding paths, intriguing art pieces — including a photovoltaic Smart Flower — and a refurbished giant dollhouse that Willis Hadley, the gardens’ namesake, had displayed on Main Street for years.

It’s a Victorian, of course.


If You Go

How to get there: If you’re flying, United offers nonstop flights from SFO to Arcata-Eureka Airport, 35 miles north of Ferndale. If you’re road tripping it, Ferndale lies five miles off Highway 101, roughly 260 miles north of San Francisco. (If your car gets 30 miles to the gallon, the round trip drive will cost about $120.)

Where to stay: Find the Gingerbread Mansion at 400 Berding St.; https://gingerbread-mansion.com. The Shaw House Inn is at 703 Main St.; https://shawhouse.com. The Victorian Inn is at 400 Ocean Ave.; https://victorianvillageinn.com.

Sweetness & Light: Open from 11 am to 5 pm weekdays and noon to 4 pm the first Saturday of the month at 554 Main St. Order sweets online at www.sweetnessandlight.com.

Golden Gate Mercantile: Open daily at 421 Main St. Browse the online shop at https://goldengaitmercantile.com.

Farmer’s Daughter: Open daily at 358 Main St.; www.instagram.com/farmersdaughterferndale.

The Boardroom Ferndale: Open Thursday-Saturday at 406 Main St.; https://boardroomeureka.com

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