After you've taken photos of Redding's Sundial Bridge from every conceivable angle, it's time to take advantage of all that Shasta Lake and the Sacramento River have to offer, from hiking to houseboating.
1) Kid-friendly fun
Parents of young children, be forewarned: If you step so much as a foot in Turtle Bay Exploration Park, be prepared to stay for hours, if not all day. The complex adjacent to the Sundial Bridge is a family-friendly compound centered on a natural and cultural history museum whose most crowd-pleasing feature is an underwater fish-viewing exhibit where kids of all ages delight in watching brownies, brookies, rainbows, stripers and other denizens of the Sacramento River swimming just inches away.
The other main component is Paul Bunyan's Forest Camp, which boasts an array of educational play equipment and exhibits, some indoors, some out. A few live animals native to the region are on display, and at the Parrot Playhouse, a walk-through aviary, visitors delight in feeding nectar to colorful lorikeets that are as likely to land on one's head as flit back to their perches.
2) Hiking, biking
If you're a cyclist or a hiker, don't even think about coming to Redding without your bike and your trail shoes. The city sits in a horseshoe of mountains at the northernmost end of the Central Valley and southernmost end of the Cascade Range, and the terrain on its outskirts is rugged, steep and laced with an extensive system of road- and mountain-bike paths, as well as hiking trails.
Many are steep and technical, but the multi-use Sacramento River National Recreation Trail, which runs about 9 paved miles along the river, is a flat and easy artery that even children can manage. It connects with a newly paved, 11-mile trail built on the grade of an old railroad track skirting Keswick Reservoir.
3) Dam tours
Shasta Lake, with a surface area of 30,000 acres, is California's largest reservoir and the jewel in the crown of Redding's recreational treasures. To understand what this vast body of water means to California, you have to learn why it exists in the first place. And to learn in a visceral way, you have to take the dam tour. Offered four times daily, the free tours take groups deep into the history and workings of one of America's most ambitious public works projects.
Shasta Dam, at 602 feet high and two-thirds of a mile long, was built between 1938 and 1945 and is the second-largest concrete dam in the United States (Grand Coulee in Washington is largest). The facts, figures and politics surrounding the project are staggering, and top-notch tour guides deliver a barrage of them as visitors take an elevator 428 feet down and walk through a portion of the 5.5 miles of tunnels and workings inside the massive structure.
Security at the dam is tight. At the visitors center, those signing in are given a list of forbidden items that includes not just pocket knives and cigarette lighters, but purses and iPods, too (a camera is OK; more than one lens is not). And no, lockers are not available.
"Ma'am," the man behind the desk deadpanned when I asked, "there's nothing to worry about. This place is crawling with guards with machine guns."
In the 1960s, a local entrepreneur launched what was basically a camper shell on pontoons to kick off a commercial houseboating industry that has flourished at Shasta Lake ever since. Today several marinas maintain fleets of boats that are rented by visitors from all over the world. With 365 miles of shoreline to explore, houseboaters can easily find a quiet cove to call their own.
The ongoing drought means water levels are unusually low this year, but business so far has not been deeply impacted. "There's plenty of water for recreation, and we're making reservations every day," says Tom Graves, manager of Shasta Marina.
Besides Shasta, two other nearby lakes -- Whiskeytown and Trinity -- are popular for summer recreation. Trinity also has houseboat rentals.
Might as well cast a line while you're out there. Shasta Lake and the three rivers flowing into it (the Sacramento, the Pit and the McCloud) support robust fisheries of bass, salmon and trout. Bass tournaments are held all winter long, and it's common to see fishermen pulling 2-foot-long rainbows out of the Sacramento River right in the middle of town. Forbes last year named Redding one of North America's Top 10 Trout-Fishing Towns; it was the only West Coast location to make the list.
Even if you're not the fisher-person type, you'll enjoy a visit to The Fly Shop, Redding's legendary source for guide service, equipment and advice.
Contact Janet Fullwood via email@example.com.