One of the best things about the absolute enormity of California is that despite its enduring popularity and wide tourist appeal, you can still revel in under-the-radar vibes. For cannabis enthusiasts, the trifecta of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties in NorCal — collectively known as the Emerald Triangle – have developed a holy-grail sort of reputation for their combination of massive marijuana production, homey atmosphere and gorgeous natural wonders.
While it seems perpetually on the verge of blowing up, the Emerald Triangle is still in “if you know, you know” territory. And as Emerald Triangle neighbors with a production facility just south of Mendocino in Santa Rosa, we’re ready to put you firmly in the know.
What To Know
As Weedmaps points out, the holy trinity of, well, Trinity, Mendocino and Humboldt collectively produces more cannabis than any other place in America. In Mendocino County, for instance, CNBC estimates that about two-thirds of the local economy comes from cannabis, while over 20% of those living in Humboldt make a living that involves cultivation. The region is home to about a quarter of a million people, many of whom also work in a cannabis industry that spans about 20,000 cultivators, spread throughout a collection of small cities, farms and tiny agriculture-focused villages.
The triangle really started to turn green in the late 1960s following San Francisco’s iconic Summer of Love, when war-protesting, music-loving counterculturalists cemented cannabis culture in the region. But the Emerald Triangle isn’t just known for growing weed — it’s known for growing great weed. That’s because the same Mediterranean microclimate that fosters excellent grapes in wine country also makes the area particularly ideal for growing cannabis plants. Some of the most famous Emerald Triangle-born strains include Desert Diesel and Black Water.
What To Do
While you’re in the Emerald Triangle, there’s nothing wrong with partaking in wine tasting tours of the product Northern California is most known for in the mainstream, but we know you’re here for the canna-culture. In addition to your choice of farm tours that’ll put you in touch with the source of your favorite strains, the natural beauty of the region pairs perfectly with clear-minded highs:
- Redwood National Park is absolutely unmissable in the Emerald Triangle area. Known for the tallest trees on the planet, Redwood is also home to hiking, water sports, camping and driving trails across woodlands, rivers, prairies and 40 miles of rugged coastline.
- Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens combines meticulous conservation with hikes, walking trails, workshops and even the occasional yoga session. The 47 acres of the “Garden by the Sea” houses more than 125 species of rhododendrons alone, with more fragrant, bounteous plants than you can count blossoming among canyons, bluffs and striking pine forests.
- Lake Shasta Caverns national natural landmark offers a less-seen slice of the natural world, with a Lake Shasta cruise that leads to gorgeous seaside mountain views and then segues into a tour of otherworldly cave formations at 900 feet above the lake.
- Emerald Farm Tours helps put it all in perspective, offering a choice of daylong farmside “weed walks” or all-inclusive weekend-and-wine getaways that cover tours of farmland in all three counties and explore a mix of nature hikes and educational peeks behind the “Green Curtain.”
And depending on the season, as USA Today recommends, you might be able to catch the Mendocino Music Festival in July, the Boonville Beer Festival in spring, the Humboldt and Trinity county fairs in August, or the many cannabis-culture celebrations of the winter Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa.
Where To Stay
Between the hikes, the rafting, the climbing, the weed sampling and the wine tasting, you’re going to need a place to rest your head. The region’s numerous national and state park lands offer plenty of regular old camping, but the Emerald Triangle also plays host to some next-level lodging experiences:
- Scotia Lodge, a 100-year-old lodge right at the entrance to the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt, was reimagined and reopened in 2021 as a cannabis-friendly boutique hotel featuring 22 gorgeous mid century-meets-rustic-style rooms and the Main + Mill kitchen and bar.
- MacCallum House on the Mendocino side also positions itself as a cannabis-friendly boutique hotel, complete with safe smoking spaces and sister storefronts that sell and deliver locally grown flower to its collection of suites, cottages and even a luxuriously repurposed barn lodge.
- Inn of the Lost Coast in Shelter Cove is your spot if majestic Pacific coastline views are the priority. From the back door of your brand-new suite on the isolated beach, you can practically step right onto the southern trailhead of the 20-mile Lost Coast Trail.
For a middle ground between uber-stylish boutique and old-school camping, Sol Spirit Retreats provides bell tents, private bath houses and locally sourced meals for glamping experiences in all three Emerald Triangle counties.
Where To Eat
Across these three NorCal counties in the best foodie state in the Union (fight us, New Yorkers), you won’t be wanting for dining options. But just in case you experience choice paralysis, start with these surefire recs:
- Trillium in the town of Mendocino aims to reinvent the romantic dining experience with your choice of locally sourced, organic ingredients among serene views of Big River Bay and local flower gardens, or packed in a luxury picnic box to go. The menu is California cuisine through and through, with Mediterranean flair and a touch of Asian infusion.
- The Wildflower Cafe & Bakery caters to vegetarians and more casual moments. This Arcata staple has been serving up plant-based dishes since 1987. In addition to vegan fare and highlights like wildflower Florentine and Cajun seitan, you’ll find espresso and local beer and wine options.
- Slice of Humboldt Pie doesn’t just coast on the clever name, and it doesn’t settle for its widely renowned sweet pies, which range from lemon raspberry to banana cream with chocolate ganache. Savory, fresh-made hand pies — like mushroom and kale or pulled pork and green chile varieties — make for the ideal post-adventure comfort food.
- Humboldt Chocolates, because everyone loves locally made chocolate (this all-natural chocolatier’s been serving the area for 25 years), because you deserve it, and because few things pair so perfectly with weed.
And don’t forget to pair that food with your favorite Mistifi pen, from bright sativa strains to leveling THC-CBD blends, to awaken the taste buds and bring the views to new heights. At Mistifi, we love the region so much, we opened up an award-winning lab just over in Sonoma County – pop in to a local dispensary like Mercy Wellness in Santa Rosa to grab a fresh pen.
Dan Ketchum is an LA-based freelance lifestyle, fashion, health and food writer with more than a decade of experience. He’s been fortunate enough to collaborate and publish with companies such as FOCL, Vitagenne, Livestrong, Reign Together, Out East Rosé, SFGate, The Seattle Times and more.
Weedmaps – What Is the Emerald Triangle?
CNBC – California’s Emerald Triangle: Small Towns, Big Money
National Park Service – Redwood
USA Today – Festivals in the Emerald Triangle
LA Weekly – Mistifi Explains One of the Best New Vapes on the Market