AAA Magazines

Can a vacation in Humboldt County help a family disconnect from tech?

Chheda Family Devan and his father, Mitul, check the girth of a tree (or maybe they're hugging it?) in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. | Photo by By Tanvi Chheda

Strolling among stands of coastal redwoods in California's Humboldt Redwoods State Park with my husband and two young children, I began to sense a family connection that I hadn’t felt in a while.

Together, we inhaled the earthy smell of soil, bark, and mist. We craned our necks upward to see the crowns of the majestic trees. We hushed our voices and kept our eyes peeled for glimpses of Steller’s jays. 

Hollow Tree Trunk

Devan finds a fun hiding place in the hollow of a tree trunk. | Photo by Tanvi Chheda

You may also like: Must-see stops on the northern Oregon Coast

Suddenly, Devan, my 6-year-old son, stooped and gingerly stuck his head into a hollowed-out tree trunk.

“Anything good inside?” I asked.

“I wanted to see if there was an animal,” he replied as he retracted his head.

He was hoping for a den of black bears or maybe a family of chipmunks, he said. His 10-year-old sister, Diya, snickered, explaining that a bear, if the tree trunk was even home to one, was probably off looking for food. In that moment, as we stood in the middle of a forest, our frivolous family discussion about the whereabouts of a bear felt just right.

Had we not been in the park’s Rockefeller Forest on this Saturday morning, Devan probably would have been glued to his screen watching his favorite TV show, Lego Ninjago. And that routine is exactly what my husband, Mitul, and I were trying to escape when we packed up the kids for a road trip from Los Angeles to Oregon last July. Our goal was to give tech a time-out and reconnect with nature and with one another.

Read more: A couple’s dream RV road trip on the Oregon coast

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Like many parents, we had relaxed some screen rules during the pandemic and were slowly weaning the kids off their devices again. I had packed audiobooks and crafts for the kids, but they weren’t so easily amused, and I, myself, had to fight the urge to constantly check my phone for texts. But by the time we reached Humboldt County, a week into our trip, I felt we were all beginning to shed our tech dependency.

Tour Guide

Devan explores the redwoods with a park guide. | Photo by Tanvi Chheda

Early one morning we met Justin Legge, who offers private tours of the park’s ancient forest through Benbow Historic Inn. Considered the tallest living things on Earth, redwoods—some more than 2,000 years old—thrive on the Pacific coast between Big Sur and southern Oregon thanks to all the moisture and fog.

You may also like: Road trip: 3 wonderful days in Big Sur

Chheda Family

Thanks to ample rain , a temperate climate, and rich soil, redwoods can grow to more than 300 feet tall. | Photo by Tanvi Chheda

In Founders Grove, Justin invited Devan and Diya to touch, and even hug, the trees and climb over fallen logs. He prodded us to examine the emerald-green ferns and three-leaved redwood sorrel spread around the base of the trees like a carpet.

As we walked, Justin pointed to the lichen growing on the tree limbs and quipped: “Alice algae met Freddie fungi and they took a lichen to each other.” We all laughed, feeling at ease. Later, Justin showed us how to take vertical panoramas of the soaring redwoods and we posed for family photos.

Humboldt Forest

It's easy to get immersed in nature at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. | Photo by Tanvi Chheda

Before leaving the park, we drove on the Avenue of the Giants, which runs alongside US Highway 101 and the Eel River. No YouTube video can match the magical forest landscape that scrolled past in real time. By the end of the day, we could tell from our children’s calm demeanors that they were falling under nature’s spell. As a parent, I was feeling smug about slaying the tech monster, even for a short while.

Study after study touts the positive benefits of time spent outdoors—everything from improved physical and mental health to increased cognitive function. While growing up in the New York suburbs, my hardworking immigrant parents had little free time to take me on forest adventures, so I was especially eager for my kids to have these experiences.

Sequoia Park Zoo Red Pandas

Two curious red pandas, Sumo and Cinni, reside at Sequoia Park Zoo. | Photo by Tanvi Chheda

Towering trees aren’t the only amazing living creatures to behold in Humboldt County. At Sequoia Park Zoo in Eureka, we met the 2 resident red pandas, Sumo and Cinni. Accompanied by a zookeeper, we were allowed to enter their enclosure and assist in feeding chopped apples and grapes to the curious creatures. While watching the pandas, Diya recalled seeing a red panda on the cover of a Nat Geo Kids magazine, but this was so much better: The pandas were right in front of us.

Redwood Skywalk

The Sky Walk at the Sequoia Park Zoo gives visitors a bird's-eye view of the giant trees. | Photo by Eddy Alexander on behalf of the city of Eureka

We learned that in the Himalayas, the pandas spend most of their time in trees, so they are in their element among the redwoods. We got a chance to see the forest from a panda’s perspective on the zoo’s new Redwood Sky Walk, a series of 9 platforms and 8 bridges suspended 100 feet above the ground. Diya and Devan observed the trees’ bark, leaves, and sap drippings from each platform before scurrying across the wobbly bridges. Mitul, an avid bird-watcher, appreciated the bird’s-eye view.

“We’re up so high,” Diya squealed as she traipsed along the walkways. “I’m a little scared. But it’s fun!” 

After a couple of days of exploring forests, we were ready for a change of scenery, so we headed toward the coast and the charming beach town of Trinidad (population: around 320). Late-1800s pastel-hued Victorian-style buildings dot its pint-size downtown. On the long wooden pier, locals fish for salmon, halibut, and Dungeness crabs. 


Devan finds a tiny white shell at College Cove at Trinidad State Beach. | Photo by Tanvi Chheda

The fog cleared just as we arrived in the early afternoon to reveal a small beach with jagged rocks. At College Cove, we rolled up our pant legs and made a game of jumping over waves as they rolled in. We drew pictures in the sand using twigs and driftwood. We collected seashells, including a white grooved shell the size of a pinkie nail that Devan proclaimed was the tiniest he’d ever found. Nature entertained us for the entire afternoon. No devices needed.

College Cove

Devan hunts for shells at Trinidad State Beach. | Photo by Tanvi Chheda

As I watched Mitul play in the surf with the kids from my spot on the sand, I felt present and light. Such peace had become rare in our hurried, distraction-filled lives. In that moment, my wish for Diya and Devan was that they’d return to nature often as their lives progressed. I felt time slow. I felt wonder. Best of all, I felt connected to family again.

Tanvi Chheda is a freelance writer based in Southern California.

* * * * *

Visiting Humboldt County has information on the redwoods, beaches, hiking, towns, and more.

What to do

Get your bearings at Humboldt Redwoods State Parkabout 220 miles north of San Francisco. Start at Founders Grove, stopping to see the fallen Dyerville Giant, then make your way to the Rockefeller Forest, which has an easy 0.7-mile loop trail.

Prairie Creed Redwoods State Park sign

Signage in Prairie Creek Redwoods State park. | Photo by Tanvi Chheda

Farther north, the Redwood National and State Parks, which include Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek Redwoods state parks, account for 133,000 acres of land.

In addition to the red pandas at Sequoia Park Zoo in Eureka, you’ll find sea otters and cotton-top tamarins. Bear and coyote exhibits will open later this year. Adults, $24.95; children 3-12, $12.95 (includes the Redwood Sky Walk). For information on private animal experiences, call (707) 441-4263.

Humboldt County weather can change quickly. If clear skies appear, make a beeline for the northern cove of Trinidad State Beach.

Where to eat

Family-run Brick & Fire Bistro in Eureka, with its summer corn chowder, chopped salads, and wood-fired pizzas, was our (kids included!) favorite restaurant. 

For breakfast or lunch, order vegan French toast, falafel wraps, or stir-fry bowls at Wildflower Café & Bakery in Arcata. Find snacks and PB&J provisions at the North Coast Co-op grocery, which has locations in Eureka and Arcata.

Where to stay

Most lodgings in the area are bed-and-breakfast–style inns. Vacation-home rentals and campgrounds are other options.

In Old Town Eureka, the Carter House Inns has 33 rooms divided among 4 Victorian buildings. Rates start at $219.

The 22-room Scotia Lodge, near the northern entrance to the Avenue of the Giants, has a minimalist aesthetic and is housed in a 1923 building. Rates start at $205.

Follow us on Instagram

Follow @AAAAutoClubEnterprises for the latest on what to see and do.

Read more articles

You'll find more of the articles you love to read at AAA Insider.

Travel offers & deals

" "

Hot travel deals

Get the latest offers from AAA Travel’s preferred partners.

" "

Travel with AAA

See how we can help you plan, book, and save on your next vacation.

" "

Entertainment savings

Save big with AAA discounts on tickets to your next adventure.

" "

Travel with confidence

Purchase travel insurance with Allianz Global Assistance.

back to top icon