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Redding: A Northern California Getaway

A Central Valley town rekindles a love affair with its river.

Redding bicyclists ride the River Trail
Photo credit
Photo: Sean Arbabi
Photo caption
Bicyclists on the River Trail get a ride with a view.

Last September in Redding, Calif., on a Saturday when the warmth of the sun was tempered by a touch of fall, 2,000 music fans gathered in a shady park for the Blues by the River Festival. Whether lounging on the grass or getting up to dance, the crowd cheered each act that took the stage. But the biggest star of the day didn't sing or play a single note; it remained silent except for an occasional gurgle.

Just two hours south of the Oregon border, this stretch of the Sacramento River, which winds right through Redding, has finally assumed an important role. "As a city, we literally turned our backs to the river for a long time," says Doni Greenberg, a columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight. "But now we're recognizing it for the recreational gem it is."

The river, of course, existed long before Redding was established in 1872 as a rail terminus. For the next hundred years, private landowners controlled some of the access to it. But over the past three decades, the city has joined with other government and private partners to slowly acquire riverside parcels and create a nationally recognized system of trails and parks.

The 2004 debut of the Sundial Bridge, the steel-and-glass pedestrian span designed by acclaimed Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, signaled that the river was open for play. Located in Turtle Bay Exploration Park less than a mile from the historic downtown, the bridge serves as a gateway to the Sacramento River Trail, a paved path that meanders for nearly 10 miles. Shaded by oaks and cottonwoods, the trail is popular with joggers, cyclists, and in-line skaters. Take a stroll and you might spot deer, turtles, beavers, otters, and even mountain lions.

The new Sculpture Park at City Hall has more than a dozen major works, including a two-story-tall fly fisherman. With 127 shade trees, the 2.5-acre site is perfect for picnics. 777 Cypress Ave., (530) 225-4512.

The trail winds through Turtle Bay, an urban oasis in the heart of Redding. Spreading across 300 acres, the park is home to the McConnell Arboretum & Gardens, which includes a wealth of plants native to Mediterranean climates and an irresistible children's play sculpture and fountain, both decorated with boldly colored ceramic mosaics. At the park's kid-friendly Paul Bunyan's Forest Camp, visitors can check out old logging tools or watch the resident golden eagle being fed. Among the showstoppers at the Turtle Bay Museum, where interactive displays focus on the history and ecology of the region, is an 18-foot-tall conical house of incense cedar made by local Wintu Indians.

In Caldwell Park, about one mile upriver, fish-viewing windows let you peek at salmon and the fat rainbow trout that have made Redding a destination for anglers. And standing on or near the Sundial Bridge in September and October, you'll often see salmon spawning after an arduous journey back from the ocean.

On the east side of the city, Lema Ranch and Churn Creek trails loop for eight paved, flat miles and offer spectacular views of Mount Shasta, Lassen Peak, and the Trinity Alps. To the northwest the Sacramento River Rail Trail, a lure for mountain bikers and hikers, runs along an old railroad right-of-way. And Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, about eight miles west of town, boasts a new 1.7-mile trail leading to Whiskeytown Falls, a 220-foot cascading beauty. Although the falls were marked on old maps and known to a few residents, the park staff saw them for the first time only recently.

Desire cheesecake, New York style? Take your craving to Cheesecakes Unlimited, 1344 Market St., (530) 244-6670, or 1080 E. Cypress Ave., 224-1775.

If the great indoors beckons, attend a concert or dance performance at Redding's Cascade Theatre, a gloriously restored 1935 art deco venue in the old downtown. For dining try Sinclair's, where the cuisine of a different Mediterranean country is featured each month.

Visitors to Redding will be delighted to learn that the Sundial Bridge isn't the city's only structure by a world-class architect. Just west of downtown stands the Pilgrim Congregational Church, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1958. In the same spirit that has seen the city open its river to all, the members of this church welcome anyone who wants to experience one more place of remarkable beauty.

This article was first published in September 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.