sun porches

Petrolia, California

Petrolia is a small unincorporated town located in Humboldt County, California with an estimated population of 300-500 people. It is located in the Mattole Valley, also known as the Lost Coast region for its proximity to the Lost Coast Wilderness area, one of the largest wilderness areas and the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the continental United States. The Lost Coast is named because of its position on the rocky, treacherous coastline and King Range of mountains that isolate this area from mainland California and continue to leave the area almost completely undeveloped.


Travel magazines have called this area "too lovely to be believed, perhaps too beautiful to last" It has been recognized as the top "still wild" place in California.

The Mattole River flows through Petrolia and is one of only a handful of undammed rivers left in the country. Petrolia is five miles (8 km) from the Pacific Ocean, where there is located the start of a section of beach protected by the King Range National Conservation Area and Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, and the Punta Gorda lighthouse. The Mattole River is home to a variety of California wildlife, including otters, Roosevelt elk, black-tailed deer, steelhead trout, more than 250 bird species, and an endangered salmon that was the subject of Totem Salmon, a book about the community's attempts over two decades to preserve the Mattole salmon. It is also one of the few remaining areas with virgin old-growth stands of Douglas fir.

The ZIP Code is 95558. The community is inside area code 707.


The town was originally named Petrolia, because it was the site of the first oil well drilled in California. The oil was very fine and ultimately dried up. It was originally settled by the Mattole or Pacific Coast Athapaskan Indians , who arrived to the Pacific Coast late in the first millennium from what is now Canada.

With the appearance of Western settlers in 1849, including gold rush settlers and miners, the Mattole culture quickly died out. The last remaining descendants of the Mattole live today in Bear River on the Rohnerville Rancheria, but there are no remaining native speakers of the Mattole language. There are estimated to be more than 80 archeological sites of significance in the Lost Coast area.


Petrolia has a small downtown area with a local general store with delicatessen, groceries and selection of movies available for rental. It also has a post office, a single pump gas station and volunteer fire department. Petrolia has its own elementary school, the Mattole Elementary School. The school bell is the original bell from the 1862 Mattole School. There are also two community centers, the Mattole Valley Community Center, originally a structure from 1862 located near the downtown, that hosts community cabaret and gatherings, and the Mattole Grange, an indoor and outdoor gathering area approximately five miles south of Petrolia that hosts a monthly pancake breakfast and farmers' market. There is only one restaurant currently open in Petrolia, the Yellow Rose. There are also a community garden, various community clubs, and a medical clinic, Evergreen Clinic.

There are only two roads that lead into Petrolia, one from the north from Ferndale, California and one from the south from Honeydew, California, leading through scenic redwood forests that were the site for the filming of Jurassic Park. Both are very windy, steep and sometimes unpaved roads that pass large tracts of scenic overlooks and wilderness areas. They are popular as mountain biking and motorcycling routes for visitors to the area, and have been characterized by the New York Times as leading to "an almost comically steep drop to the sea". The road from Petrolia to Ferndale follows the ocean and has unbroken vistas of rocky ocean coastline and beach. Petrolia is also surrounded by large tracts of original homestead ranches and farms. Downtown Petrolia is also home to the only Bed and Breakfast in the area, called The Lost Inn, which has one deluxe master suite with two private glassed-in sun porches and a private yard and garden.


Petrolia is home to a number of writers and artists, including Alex Cockburn, a liberal journalist and founder of Counterpunch, Freeman House, an environmental author, Peter Hannaford, an author and political public relations specialist, and Jim Danisch, a potter and sculptor.

Petrolia also has a large population of environmental activists and hosts two environmental organizations, the Mattole Salmon Group and the Mattole Restoration Council, both of which are dedicated to preserving the local wildlife and environment.


Petrolia has a local gourmet coffee company, Gold Rush Coffee, that imports and roasts coffee in a converted barn on a hillside overlooking the ocean. There is an organic vineyard and winery in Petrolia called Lost Coast Vineyard, and Lost Coast Blueberries, an organic pick-it-yourself blueberry farm.


The Mattole Valley Historical Society holds quarterly meetings in Petrolia and conducts community walking tours, slideshows and talks about the history of the area and its founders.

In July of each year, the area hosts a music festival called "Roll on the Mattole". The event takes place at the Mattole Grange, and there is music, food and bands, sponsored by the Honeydew Firefighters. Twice a year, there is also an annual barbecue at the Mattole Grange, which attracts families from all over the area. The July 4th annual barbecue features an enormous barbecue pit of local beef and baked beans cooked in a vintage pot so large that they must be stirred with a canoe paddle. There are horse races in September, cycling tours in May-September, including a cycling/hiking tour of the Redwoods and the Tour of the Unknown Coast, and in October of each year. There is a race called the "Rye and Tide" where participants combine bicycling and running from the Yellow Rose in downtown Petrolia down Lighthouse Road to the ocean. There are also festivals and other community events throughout the year near the Mattole, including Reggae on the River in Piercy, California; the Mad River Festival in Blue Lake, California; and the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale, California. Besides the Yellow Rose, the closest restaurants to Petrolia are located in Ferndale and Eureka, approximately from Petrolia.

The area is liberal in political culture. Because of its isolation, the Mattole Valley has also cultivated a reputation for independence and self-sustainence, including a network of local resources, the maintenance of its own emergency help line (an alternative to 911), and even its own currency, the petol. A survey conducted in recent years determined that half of the community is located "off the grid" and relies on solar or alternative forms of power, or none at all. The George Lindley Bridge in Petrolia was named after a county supervisor of the 1950s who was a longtime foreman of the county road crew in the Mattole. Mr. Lindley was a big believer in local government, and his favorite expression was reputed to be "Mattole Against the World!"

Geography and climate

Petrolia is located on the Mendocino Triple Junction, where three fault lines meet. It is thus at the center of frequent earthquake activity. The last large earthquake to affect the area was a 7.1 earthquake in 1992 which resulted in a fire that destroyed the Petrolia General Store. The store was rebuilt in a more modern architectural style than the 100 year old landmark that it replaced. Two remaining landmarks in Petrolia are a small wooden church, and the Petrolia Pioneer Cemetery, which has the graves of original residents of Petrolia dating from November 1857.

The weather in Petrolia is temperate and has the Mediterranean climate of much of northern California. The town itself is located in a banana belt that is sheltered from the fog that reaches Eureka and some of the northern towns, such as Arcata and McKinleyville. As a result, the summers are dry and sunny, typically in the 70oF's with temperatures occasionally reaching as high as the 90oF's. Winters are rainy from November through April, with temperatures typically in the 50F's and occasionally falling to the high 30oF's or low 40oF's at night. Honeydew, which is located only south of Petrolia, has a less temperate climate and its summers and winters are more extreme, with one of the highest amounts of winter rainfall.

The Mattole area is popular with visitors, particularly the Lost Coast beaches, which feature tide pools, pristine beaches and relatively deserted hiking trails. At certain times of year, migrating gray whales can be seen from shore, as well as colonies of harbor seals and sea lions. Local residents use the Mattole River for swimming, rafting, canoeing, kayaking and catch and release fly fishing.


In the state legislature Petrolia is located in the 2nd Senate District, represented by Democrat Pat Wiggins, and in the 1st Assembly District, represented by Democrat Patty Berg. Federally, Petrolia is located in California's 1st congressional district, which has a Cook PVI of D +10 and is represented by Democrat Mike Thompson.


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