Follow the SpongeBob Trail on the Redwood Coast

Stephen Hillenburg, creator of the hit Nickelodeon animated series SpongeBob SquarePants, died on November 26. He was 57. Hillenburg, a Humboldt State University graduate and  former marine biology teacher, died of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, at his home in Southern California.

Just months ago, Hillenburg ('84, marine science major, art minor) and his wife Karen created the Stephen Hillenburg Marine Science Research Award Endowment at HSU with a $135,000 gift to provide grant awards for student research projects in marine biology, oceanography, and marine fisheries.

To honor Hillenburg and his Humboldt heritage, which had a huge impact on the show, we encourage visitors to follow his fun-filled footsteps through the county. Kids of all ages will enjoy a sensational aquatic adventure. *

First stop, the Telonicher Marine Laboratory (570 Ewing St, Trinidad 826-3671, requested $1 donation) managed by Humboldt State University, where Hillenburg studied marine biology and art. The facility, perched on a cliff overlooking Trinidad State Beach, houses aquariums teeming with odd local sea life, such as a monkeyface eel, a bashful octopus, camouflaged eelgrass fish, florescent jellyfish, and one of the world’s fastest starfish. After examining a giant whale skull nearby, the grand finale awaits outside where young hands can plunk their digits over the squishy bodies of starfish, sea cucumbers and sea anemones in several open touch tanks.

What about sponges like Bob? Alas, such gentle souls don’t last long in the aquaria jungles, where voracious shrimp turn them into dishes du jour. But go five miles north to Patrick’s (not named for Bob’s co-star) Point State Park (4150 Patrick’s Point Drive, Trinidad, 677-3570, $8 day-use fee per vehicle, , and judicious exploration of its tide pools at low tide, in particular, those around Palmer’s Point Beach at the south end of the park, reveal bonanzas of hermit crabs, fish, mollusks, sea stars and occasional sponges. For the more ambitious, stop in the visitor center to request a “Get in the Zone” brochure to identify the tide pool creatures or a Redwood EdVenture Quest map to earn a badge on a park scavenger hunt.

Naturally, the pursuit of Poriferans may prod the appetite, best satisfied by a visit to Stars Hamburgers (1535 G St, Arcata, 826-1379 or 2009 Harrison Ave, Eureka, 445-2061, which serve up grass-fed beef burgers with toppings like guacamole, bacon and blue cheese; veggie patties, Cajun fries, onion rings, chocolate malts, and of course fish & chips.  The place may seem familiar. It is said to have inspired the Krusty Crab Café, SpongeBob’s long suffering employer. Hungry for more SpongeBob fare? Try Toni's 24 Hour Truck Stop (1901 Heindon Road, Arcata, 822-0091), thought to be the muse for the show’s Chum Bucket restaurant.

*Excerpted from the Spring 2017 issue of the Humboldt Insider.