Should voters legalize recreational marijuana this November, California's so-called Emerald Triangle — Trinity, Humboldt, and Mendocino counties — stands to become a luxury destination for weed lovers, the Napa Valley of pot. So this could be your last chance to experience the region's raw beauty and weird hippie-outlaw vibe before it changes forever.
- San Francisco
Day 1: From San Francisco, Highway 101 takes you two hours north, through Sonoma County wine country to the scruffy town of Ukiah. Head west on Comptche-Ukiah Road to your destination for the night: Orr Hot Springs, an old hippie hideout and lodge. Like all the drives on this trip, it's both gorgeous and spooky, especially when you consider that deep inside these lush woods are dozens of hidden pot plantations.
Day 2: Head 65 miles west to Mendocino, then north on Highway 1 through the Lost Coast, the most remote and isolated place on the West Coast. For a glimpse of the region's future, stop in Redway, 80 miles north, to visit Trim Scene Solutions, purveyors of weed-cultivating equipment and smoking paraphernalia. "Eight of 10 people here have some association with cannabis," says manager Jason Mohamed. "It's really an outlaw culture." Follow the shop's Facebook feed if you want to catch its next marijuana farmers market, where growers set up tables to hawk their wares. Later, feast on local wild salmon at the Moonstone Grill before bedding down at the upscale Lost Whale Inn, both in the tiny fishing town of Trinidad, 90 miles north on Highway 1.
Day 3: Arcata is a case study in what happens when a town's primary industry is confined to the shadows: dazed drifters, hemp clothing, and head shops, and a suspiciously large number of law offices. To see the illicit world for yourself, book a marijuana farm tour with Humboldt Cannabis Tours. Then, before you hop on Route 299, back to Interstate 5 and civilization, make a quick detour north to Redwood National Park, home to 350-foot trees that are the tallest living things on Earth. Park rangers won't say where the biggest ones are. But sometimes mystery is half the appeal.