Artist population: More than 1,000
Take a trial run: The Carter House Inns are hung with local art. From $185; carterhouse.com
“Some places, you say you’re an artist, and people smile and say, ‘Right—now what do you really do?’ ” says Matt Beard. “But in Eureka, it’s a respectable living.” Beard has shown his luminescent surf-inspired paintings up and down the California coast.
But his home is the often fog-bound Victorian seaport of Eureka, where there are said to be more artists per capita than anywhere else in the state. Many mingle with their patrons on the first Saturday of every month, when about 80 galleries, museums, theaters, and cafes in Eureka’s Old Town stay open late for Arts Alive, a popular en-masse art browse.
While walking around town, you’ll see murals, many of them the work of local Duane Flatmo, who also competes in spring’s Kinetic Grand Championship, a 3-day, 42-mile sculpture-on-wheels race. Or you might bump into Linda Wise, a garbage-company manager by day who turns others’ refuse into critically acclaimed junk-metal sculptures by night. She was the winner of last spring’s juried exhibition at the Morris Graves Museum of Art. “I don’t think you can walk a block,” says Graves curator Jemima Harr, “without encountering something related to the arts.”
Runners-up: Santa Fe; Victoria, B.C.; Pa‘ia, Maui, HI