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The Great Outdoors in Redding, California

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Cycling along the Sacramento River near Redding.
Photo Brian E. Clark.

By Brian E. Clark

When I lived in San Francisco, I drove past Redding on Interstate 5 numerous times on my way to kayak whitewater rivers north and south of the Oregon border, cycle around Crater Lake, attend plays at the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and ski at the Whistler/Blackcomb Resort in British Columbia.

I never gave Redding – which is 70 miles south of Mount Shasta, 47 miles east Lassen Volcanic National Park and 120 miles south of the Oregon border – much thought.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I paid a three-day visit to what locals say is the Golden State’s sunniest city – thanks to its 300 days of sunshine a year.  I found a vibrant, historic downtown with a lively food scene, as well as a community focused on the outdoors with more than 200 miles of bike trails, nearby caverns to explore and sailing and kayaking options on the Whiskeytown Reservoir.

There are also cool things to discover in the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, a 300-acre, kid-friendly wildlife center and museum that’s home to 64 different species of animals, including butterflies, porcupines, owls, and foxes.

The park is just a stone’s throw from Redding’s impressive Sundial Bridge, which was designed by Spanish architect and sculptor Santiago Calatrava, who has created numerous other stunning structures around the globe.

The bridge leads to the McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, which has 200-plus acres of native and non-native trees and plants, a winding, mile-long walking trail on the Sacramento River, a nursery and a children’s mosaic garden.

And because I caught a hefty, sea-run steelhead trout in the Sacramento River (see photo to prove my boast), no story on Redding would be complete without mentioning the excellent fly fishing opportunities minutes from the city center.

In some ways, Redding reminds me a bit of the recreation Mecca that is Bend, Oregon, thanks to nearby skiing, rivers and other outdoor attributes. But Redding is considerably hotter in the summer. Its average high temperature in July is 101, while Bend’s is a cooler 82.

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Sundial Bridge. Photo Brian E. Clark.

My lodging for this visit was the Sheraton Hotel at the Sundial Bridge, literally just steps from the Turtle Bay Exploration Park and the McConnell Arboretum.  The hotel is also home to the Mosaic Restaurant (https://www.mosaicredding.com/), which often has live music and feels as if it is part of the park.

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Breakfast at the Evergreen Cafe. Photo Brian E. Clark.

For my first morning, I dined at the Evergreen Coffee Shop on Pine Street and enjoyed organic whole-wheat waffles, a fruit smoothie and some Feast coffee.

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Andrew Hoodenpyle. Photo Brian E. Clark.

I met up not long after breakfast with guide Andrew Hoodenpyle from The Fly Shop (theflyshop.com) in Redding, which Forbes has called one of the country’s Top Ten fly fishing communities because of the blue-ribbon rainbow trout and steelhead that thrive on the cold water being released from the Shasta dam.

I’d fished before on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State and in the Driftless Area of western Wisconsin, but it had been a few years. So it took awhile for me to get my fly casting technique back. An hour into the trip, I hooked my first fish.  But it got away.  The same thing happened on a second strike.

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The author and his steelhead. Photo Andrew Hoodenpyle.

But the third time was a charm and the steelhead I landed was a beaut.  It fought hard and we posed briefly for a photo before I released the fish back into the stream.

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Lunch at Carnegie’s Restaurant. Photo Brian E. Clark.

Around noon – after a, ahem, hard morning of angling – I dined at the eclectic Carnegie’s Restaurant on Oregon Street and had a tasty cashew chicken salad that I washed down with iced tea.  Then I met up with Blake Fisher of VIVA Downtown, a non-profit group dedicated to enhancing the cultural, social and economic development of the city’s core.

Redding was incorporated in 1887, but its Native American history goes back thousands of years and before the arrival of Europeans, the Wintu people had more than 200 villages in the region. Many died when exposed to European diseases and others were killed in conflicts with ranchers and miners.

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The restored Cascade Theater/ Photo Brian E. Clark.

Fisher showed us a number of buildings that had been restored, but my favorite was the Cascade Theater on Market Street. Built in 1935 as a movie palace and vaudeville stage, it is a magnificent example of Art Deco architecture, complete with gold- and silver-gilded walls, period chandeliers, ornate plasterwork, a grand neon facade and marquee and beautiful murals.

Like many downtown theaters of its era, the Cascade struggled to survive during the 1990s with the rise of shopping mall-based multiplex cinemas. In 1997, the Cascade ceased operating and its doors were boarded up.

Thanks to a $750,000 grant from the McConnell Foundation and donations from others, the theater was restored and reopened in 2004 as a nonprofit performing arts center with state-of-the-art sound, lighting and theater technology. The Cascade now hosts a wide range of arts and cultural events, including concerts, dance, stage and film presentations.

Later that afternoon, I boarded a pontoon boat that took me across Lake Shasta to explore the eponymous Lake Shasta Caverns on the McCloud River arm of the reservoir.  The limestone caves, which were formed starting 200 million years ago, are filled with stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones and soda straws. The Discovery Room, one of eight chambers in the cave system, has all of these geologic formations.

For dinner, I stopped in at the Moonstone Bistro on Placer St. and gobbled up a yummy Big Salad made with little gem lettuce, a hardboiled egg, radish, kalamata olive, red onion, avocado, Mexican cotija cheese, black pepper drizzle and grilled chicken for protein.

The next morning, I dined at the Theory Coffee Shop on California Street and had a delicious slice of banana chocolate bread, a croissant, orange juice and some a mocha coffee.

That fueled me for one the best parts of my Redding sojourn: a cycling through town and then out along the Sacramento River.

I met up with Anne Thomas of the Shasta Bike Depot and Redding Bike Share program and we pedaled out of town through groves of tall trees and eventually crossed the river on bridge before returning to Redding.  Even though the terrain was relatively flat, we rode pedal-assist E-bikes, so the tour was a breeze.

Thomas said the city’s new downtown Bike Depot serves not only as a social hub, but a practical locale for long-term cycle parking, E-bike sharing, repair services, a bike-friendly cafe, youth programs and guided tours.

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Sai;boats at the Redding Yacht Club. Photo Brian E. Clark.

Because I love sailing and have done trips on Lake Superior and down the Dalmation Coast of Croatia and Montenegro, I couldn’t pass up the chance to go out for a short tour of the Whiskeytown Lake with Mike Strahle of the Redding Yacht Club on a 19-foot Hobie Cat.

Though Strahle was injured in a skiing accident decades ago that left him a quadriplegic, he’s excelled as a disabled sailor and competed at the para-Olympic level around the globe. With Strahle secured to the boat in his wheelchair and handling the tiller, another crewman and I managed the sails while we enjoyed a few hours on the water and learned about Strahle’s adventures.

For dinner that evening, I had sushi at the RAW Restaurant on Hilltop Drive, which has a focus on Asian cuisine, but also serves hearty American fare like ribeye or prime rib, cornbread, house made chili and roasted red potatoes.

On my last morning, before I headed back to the Bay Area, I dined at the Mosaic and then walked around the lovely McConnell Arboretum to soak up some of Redding’s delightful flower one more time.

For more information on visiting Redding, see visitredding.com.


Brian E. Clark
Brian E. Clark1

Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis.  A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.

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