By Cheri March
Ferndale is an enchanting place to visit all year round. But with its moody coastal mist, hauntingly beautiful historic houses, and a scenic small town setting that’s been a backdrop for several Hollywood films (including a spooky cult favorite), this Victorian hamlet near the California Redwoods really shines come autumn. Add in a Main Street packed with charming shops, the best restaurants on the Redwood Coast, and a colorful arts and entertainment scene, and it’s easy to see why Ferndale is one of Northern California’s best small towns to visit in fall.
This October, celebrate the season and get into the Halloween spirit in the world-famous Victorian Village. From cozy to creepy, here are our favorite things to do on a fall trip to historic Ferndale.
1. Visit the Ferndale Cemetery
One of the top tourist attractions in Ferndale, the Historic Ferndale Cemetery is one of the most picturesque and photographed final resting places in the United States, thanks to an extraordinary location on a steep rhododendron-covered hillside and a myriad of century-old mausoleums, monuments and headstones. Wander up grassy, meandering pathways to the towering lichen-strewn trees at the top—gateway to Ferndale’s lushly forested Russ Park—for sweeping views of the Eel River and the Pacific Ocean. It’s not hard to see why the otherworldly location, often blanketed in an eerie mist, helped filmmakers choose Ferndale as the set for horror fan favorite “Salem’s Lot,” the 1979 miniseries based on Stephen King’s book of the same name.
2. Take the Salem’s Lot Tour
Fans of Salem’s Lot have a lot more to explore in Ferndale than the cemetery. As the fictional setting for the cult hit, Ferndale—with its intrinsically eerie vintage Victorians and quiet small-town America setting—helps create the haunting aura and slow-burning atmosphere that earned the two-part series mostly positive reviews and a place in horror-film fans’ hearts. Many of the Salem's Lot filming locations can easily be visited on a self-guided walking tour, including The Ferndale Enterprise and The Quarters (housed in the same building), The Old Rectory, the Conference Room of the Victorian Inn, Ferndale High School, Our Savior's Lutheran Church and the cemetery. Of course, the film’s most iconic structure, the Marsten House, no longer exists; it was actually a fantastic external façade that took 20 days to build around a smaller structure (Wikipedia). However, the original structure can still be seen perched atop a hill overlooking Ferndale. Not a fan of scary movies? Ferndale’s pedestrian-friendly streets and remarkably well-preserved Victorians (the whole town resides on the National Register of Historic Places) still warrant a walking tour. And with many homes and store windows decorated for autumn and Halloween, fall is a particularly lovely time for a stroll through this charming small town.
3. Shop Historic Main Street
Fall is the perfect time to leave behind the big box stores for quaint small town boutiques. Ferndale’s historic Main Street is chock full of unique finds and the best variety of shops on the Redwood Coast. Treat yourself to a pair of fall boots from Abraxis Shoes, a family-owned shoe and leather shop featuring premium brands like Frye and Born, pick out a cozy sweater from Ferndale Clothing Company, browse handmade jewelry at LeArt Endeavor, or try on a new pair of jeans from Girlie Girls or Farmer’s Daughter. Lose yourself in old-fashioned Americana at the Golden Gait Mercantile, one of the best authentic general stores in the United States brimming with heirloom and hard-to-find goods from hats and housewares to food and antiques, or in the Blacksmith Shop, a jaw dropping collection of the best master blacksmithing in the country and a must-see for fans of popular History Channel program “Forged in Fire.” Love vintage, shabby chic and upcycled style? You’ll find gifts, décor and more at Gathered Handmade, This Old Birdhouse, Fernale Emporium, Victoria Blaise, and Spencer’s Ferndale Vintage.
4. Admire Dias de los Muertos-inspired skeleton art
Get into the spirit of Halloween and Mexican holiday Dias de los Muertos at Redeye Laboratories, the must-see gallery of local surf artist Shawn Griggs. A legendary figure in the Humboldt County arts scene, Griggs is best known for his imagination-fueled oil paintings and illustrations depicting scenes of skeletons living and loving life—from surfing and skateboarding to partying with family and friends. The other dominant theme in his work, ocean imagery, is inspired by a lifelong love for surfing, the North Coast, and Mexico. Griggs' colorful and instantly recognizable artwork adorns t-shirts, hoodies and hats in addition to paintings and prints, and his graphic designs can also be found on many local products such as labels for Humboldt Honey Wine and globally distributed Lost Coast Brewery.
5. Get cozy in a one-of-a-kind coffeehouse
After an afternoon of shopping, swing into Mind’s Eye Manufactory & Coffee Lounge for a pick-me-up of pourover coffee, frothy latte or spiced housemade chai in an invitingly homey atmosphere. Grab a book from the shelf and sink into a comfy chair by the fireplace, where, if you’re lucky, the shop cat might curl up on your lap. Make sure to check out the traditional skin-on-frame Aleutian sea kayaks built in the attached woodworking maker space, the ever-rotating gallery of local art on the walls, and the extensive collection of animal skulls gathered by owner Marc Daniels on his boat-building treks to Alaska.
6. Enjoy a night on the town with dinner & a show
Summer is traditionally tourism season, but fall is when this small town's surprisingly big entertainment scene really picks up. Cap off a perfect day in the Victorian Village with dinner at one of Ferndale’s vibrant restaurants, serving up everything from authentic Mexican fare to creative spins on comfort classics, followed by an evening show to remember. Favorite community playhouse Ferndale Repertory Theatre opens its season with a Halloween-themed production in September. There’s still time to catch 2018’s season-opener, Young Frankenstein, followed by a family-friendly holiday show in November/December. World-class concert venue The Old Steeple kicks off its fall season of buzzworthy performers starting in September, and you’ll find live music year-round at The Victorian Inn and Hotel Ivanhoe.
7. Halloween in the Victorian Village
Get into the Halloween spirit with Ferndale’s Victorian Village Halloween, a spooktacular family-friendly evening of storytelling, book signings, music, candy, and shopping. Shops stay open late, Ferndale Elementary students serve up snacks from their pretzel cart (legendary for inspiring the career of hometown boy and Food Network Star, Guy Fieri) and Ferndale Girl Scouts and storyteller extraordinarie Paul Woodland will be spinning spooky tales at Chapman’s Bookery, where authors Matthew Brockmeyer and H R Conklin will also be signing their latest books. Commemorate kids’ costumes with a mini photo session at Sandi Petersen Photography & Pay It Forward Project, where drop-ins receive Halloween goodie bags and 3 photos/$25.
Discover more things do in Ferndale at VisitFerndale.com.
Cover and photos 1, 3, 4 & 5 by Leon Villagomez; photo 2 via Stephen King Wiki; photo 6 courtesy of Ferndale Repertory Theatre, photo 7 by Carl Neeley