The magnitude-5.2 temblor struck at 8:03 p.m., centered about 11 miles southeast of the town of Willow Creek in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Willow Creek is about 320 miles north of San Francisco.
The quake originated about 11 miles below the surface on an unmapped fault, said David Oppenheimer, a USGS seismologist based in Menlo Park.
Because of its depth, few aftershocks were felt, scientists said. About three were recorded, with the largest measuring a magnitude 2.4, the USGS reported.
The quake was widely felt within about an 80-mile radius, as far north as the Oregon state line and as far south as Mendocino County, according to citizen reports posted on the USGS Web site.
Mary Daher, owner of the Bigfoot Motel in Willow Creek, said the quake lasted 10 seconds or less.
"It was pretty quick and it was pretty strong," Daher said. "It wasn't like one of those rolling earthquakes. It was just a jolt."
She said she and her guests headed outside quickly but she was not aware of any damage. One guest said the quake sent his soda sliding across a table.
The town of 1,800 sits on Highway 299, the main conduit between Redding and Arcata, home of Humboldt State University. It has long been a draw for college students escaping the coastal fog to sunbathe along the nearby Trinity River.
The quirky hamlet, surrounded by thick forests, also markets itself as California's "Bigfoot capital" and displays numerous wood carvings of the mythical creature.
The last significant earthquake in the region was on April 25, 1992, when a magnitude 7.2 temblor struck on the Humboldt County coast near Petrolia, triggering a minor tsunami, according to the USGS.
No tsunami warning was issued for the quake Tuesday night.