Humboldt’s first bud & breakfast welcomes cannabis tourists
By Nora Mounce
As a prize for enduring the tedium of the long drive up U.S. Highway 101, Humboldt County visitors are treated to empty beaches and redwood groves that brush the stars. While Humboldt and cannabis have long been known synonymously, cannabis has always been a bit removed from the tourist experience. A culture unto itself, visitors staying in the bucolic Victorian town of Ferndale or bohemian Arcata have never had access to “the hill,” as locals say. Until now.
“Humboldt is one of the most beautiful places in the world,” says Desiree Senese-Robinson, owner of Riverbar Pharms, the county’s first official bud and breakfast. “There’s never traffic, there’s never crowds,” adds Senese-Robinson. “It’s incredible.”
Meeting Senese-Robinson at her newly opened Riverbar Pharms on sunny fall morning, I follow the local UPS truck down Riverbar Road off of State Route 36. Set amid a pastoral valley striped by the Van Duzen River flowing west, Riverbar Pharms is surrounded by apple trees and neighboring cows. A green-trimmed, two-story gingerbread farmhouse originally built in 1904, the property has a history of welcoming guests; it was operated as a traditional bed and breakfast for more than 10 years. After purchasing the property in 2017, Senese-Robinson’s husband, Bryan Robinson, deftly navigated licensing applications — Humboldt County passed the first cannabis land use ordinance in the state — and was successfully awarded cultivation permits. A veteran cannabis farmer from Southern Humboldt, Robinson plans on eventually growing up to 90,000 square feet of mixed-light cultivation at Riverbar. The leafy green plants and the symbolic rows of Humboldt greenhouses will be openly integrated into the surrounding landscape of the farm.
“We want to bring an upscale experience to the cannabis industry,” explains Senese-Robinson, an Orange County native and graduate of the California Culinary Academy. After marrying her husband four years ago, Senese-Robinson jumped at the opportunity to move north, bringing her love of farm-to-table cuisine, a natural flair for hospitality and the couple’s two young children. Quickly making herself at home in Humboldt, Senese-Robinson’s favorite activity is hitting the farmers market for local produce to cook up at Riverbar.
“I know people don’t want Humboldt to feel like Southern California,” says Senese-Robinson. “And I get it!” After officially opening to guests in July, Riverbar Pharms has retained Humboldt County’s unpresuming beauty and laidback style of hospitality. Entering the stately Victorian farmhouse, a comfy lounge welcomes travelers to relax with a book, a glass of wine and whatever else a cannabis-friendly tourist might enjoy. While under 2018 regulations, Riverbar Pharms cannot — and does not — sell or give any cannabis products to their guests. Instead, it regularly calls on EcoCann Dispensary in Eureka for deliveries. Travelers can peruse EcoCann’s menu online and Senese-Robinson will arrange to have their cannabis products of choice waiting on arrival — quite the upgrade from a mint on your pillow.
As a busy mom, Senese-Robinson identifies with the casual cannabis consumer — she rarely drinks but finds that on her off hours, cannabis helps relieve the stress of managing a bed and breakfast and raising two small children. She knows she’s not the only one. Riverbar Pharms offers cannabis tourists the room — literally and figuratively — to enjoy cannabis without stigma or risk. While a licensed bed and breakfast, Riverbar retains its autonomy as private property, a key legal distinction that allows guests to consume cannabis on-site. Despite many tourist operators’ desire to be cannabis friendly, California hotels and lodges cannot afford their guests the same freedoms. Leveraging this unique status, Riverbar’s long-term plans include a smoking patio, a tasting room for estate-grown flowers and renovating the barn into a cannabis-friendly venue for weddings and events. Looking at the verdant landscape, ample space and close proximity to town, it’s quite easy to imagine.
Back at the Riverbar farmhouse, all four rooms are located upstairs, accessible by an antique wooden staircase and accented with homey decor. Guests are welcome to bring their own edibles and vape in the room, but smoking is only allowed downstairs in the communal lounge and dining room. When guests are about, Senese-Robinson likes to host an Elevated Happy Hour featuring creative farm-to-shaker mocktails and appetizers enhanced with terpene aromatics — every dish is garnished with green leaves. In the morning, her guests feast on a Humboldt County farm breakfast with dishes ranging from stuffed French toast with homemade apple butter to Senese-Robinson’s savory galettes. Eventually, the farm’s own chickens and a veggie garden will round-out the farm stay experience.
A jumping off point for a new industry, the farmhouse at Riverbar Pharms is sweet landing for anyone passing through Humboldt County. But for cannabis-friendly tourists, enhancing the bucolic scenery and country hospitality with Humboldt’s world-famous flowers is a new kind of paradise.
“It’s almost a secret,” says Senese-Robinson. Almost.
Nora Mounce is a freelance writer based in Eureka.