A visitors guide to Trinidad, CA

A visitors guide to Trinidad, CA

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  1. Trinidad, California is one of this state’s best-kept secrets. In all of my travels, I have never been to an area more beautiful than Trinidad and its environs—and I was fortunate enough to have lived there for eight years. When I lived there, if someone published an article encouraging people to visit Trinidad, I might have arranged an “accident” for said individual. As I no longer live there—and those that do have no way to find me—the thought of crowds descending on the little town bothers me a whole lot less.


     The Spaniards initially found Trinidad Bay in the sixteenth century, although many people already lived there, namely the Yurok Indians that settled the area long before anyone declared it a "discovery". Fortunately for the locals, the Spaniards were too busy chasing after the Portuguese ship that had absconded with their last bag of Doritos and sailed past the port without slowing.


     It took over two hundred years for the Spaniards to find the place again. This time, the captains Heceta and Bodega (anyone familiar with the Hitchcock classic, The Birds, might recognize one of these names), who had plenty of Doritos because they sneakily hid them from the troublesome Portuguese, took the opportunity to land, give the place a name and continue their quest to find mermaids, unicorns and leprechauns. They dubbed the bay La Santisima Trinidad (the Holy Trinity), which over time contracted to simply Trinidad.


    Trinidad began as a port to supply suckers panning for gold in the Salmon, Klamath and Trinity rivers; a lucrative business until what little gold remained in the rivers found its way into the miner’s pockets. Once the gold ran dry, some entrepreneur finally noticed the many ancient, towering trees all around the area and decided to cut them all down, converting the bay into the sole exporter of lumber for the area. Understandably, they ran out of trees to cut as well in time. Amazingly and in direct contradiction to the gloomy predictions of environmentalists who claim that clear-cutting redwoods creates barren expanses, a new crop of redwoods sprang up from the detritus of the trees converted into houses and decks and now Trinidad is lush with second- and third-growth redwoods.


     Of course, to save the town from economical ruin once the trees mysteriously disappeared, a new industry had to evolve. Around this time, someone noticed that whales tended to swim fairly near the shore around Trinidad and a reasonable question sprang from every greedy pair of lips: can’t we make money off them? Of course they could, and the whaling industry rushed into Trinidad to fill the economic void. During this time, fishermen too lazy or too disgusted by the practice settled on hauling in smaller prizes, such as lingcod, salmon and Dungeness crabs. Then, in the 1970’s, when environmentalists and others appalled by the practice of whaling heard the Stills and Nash song Wind on the Water for the thirtieth time and finally decided to mobilize against the industry, whaling was banned. Stubborn to the end, the Trinidad fleets were the last in California to abandon whaling.


     Forced to subside solely on fishing for salmon, lingcod and Dungeness crabs, the economy of Trinidad took a shot to the pocketbook. When the fisheries started to suffer from overfishing, the economy worsened even more. So some local hotshot looked around and wondered, "What else does Trinidad have to offer the world?"


    About then, he or she apparently noticed for the first time that the town, the bay, the local beach and the entire area was stunningly beautiful. The next thing you know, locals started grooming their properties into campgrounds and trailer parks. Many took the next step—and a good one at that—and built several small cabins on their lots to rent out to visitors, and the local tourism industry was born.


     In the past fifteen or so years, bed & breakfasts have sprung up in many locations north of the town, mostly on Patrick’s Point Drive, which, incidentally, is about the prettiest road upon which I have ever driven (and I had the opportunity to drive that road several times a day for eight years when I lived there; in all that time the drive never lost its appeal). The residents of Trinidad have repeatedly voted down proposals to build large motels or hotels in or around the city, opting instead to restrict visitors to the cabins, campsites and bed & breakfast inns. As a result, Trinidad maintains its rural, rustic appeal.


     Points of interest within the city include the pier and lighthouse, both overlooking one of the most picturesque bays in California dotted with stone mounds locally known as "stacks."


     Trinidad Head, visible over much of the town and from miles away along the coast, dominates the skyline. This is the home of the local Coast Guard station, so, unfortunately for you, the military gets the best views available. A trail rings the head, and this is a worthwhile hike that will provide the next best views than those enjoyed by those stationed atop the mound.


     Trinidad State Beach is accessed via a sloped trail through a small lush ravine carved by one of the areas many tiny brooks, or by the trail circumnavigating Trinidad Head. Near the pier is a large parking area so those too lazy to walk the trails down to the beach can get a more level approach.


     For those with a hankering for seafood, especially those who don’t mind doing there own cooking, Katy’s Smokehouse is locally famous for its smoked salmon and is a great place to pick up crabs for surprisingly little money. But do yourself a favor: the guy behind the counter (who has been behind that counter for about 120 years) is not the most patient of men, so it’s best to go into the small seafood store with a good idea of what you plan to buy.


     The locals are an interesting, eclectic mix, ranging from ultra-liberal hippies to tobacco-chewing loggers and fishermen who lean so far to the right they have rubber bumpers sewn into the dextral side of their clothing. Yet raised voices are a rarity in the town. Despite their many differences, the people of Trinidad live together peacefully and with acceptance. Crime is so uncommon that petty thefts are big news for months on end. In fact, for most city folk, Trinidad could be considered a bore, which makes it the perfect getaway for those seeking escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.


     Another thing working in Trinidad’s favor—for both visitors and the locals—is that it is home to Larrupin Café, which is, in my opinion, the finest restaurant in the entire county.  The place is open only on certain days and only for dinner, so be sure to make a reservation.  You won’t regret it.


     My main advice for those who choose Trinidad as their vacation goal is to bring a raincoat, or at least an umbrella, regardless of the season (including in summertime). While fog is the primary precipitation in the area (I recall years where the fog ruled the coast for 200 days out of the year), it rains a lot. What do you think keeps the place so blindingly green?

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