First published in the New York Times
By Jennifer Margulis
Published: July 7, 2006
LAYING claim to being the second-sunniest city in the United States (only Yuma, Ariz., is sunnier), Redding, Calif., is hot, friendly and busy. Two hours north of Sacramento, Redding was once considered just another Podunk, notable for its highway sprawl and a sea of outlet malls. But in the last seven years the city, which has 87,000 residents, has remade itself and is becoming a destination. Redding is now home to an ultramodern $23 million bridge designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava — the Sundial, which spans the Sacramento River — and offers a 300-acre natural history park. There are also walking, cycling and hiking trails with stunning views that rival better-known spots in Northern California.
1) Don’t Fight City Hall
No matter where you start your journey, try to arrive before the close of business on Friday so you can take in what can best be described as a free art museum in the new City Hall (777 Cypress Avenue, 530-225-4512). Thanks to the recently retired city manager, Mike Warren, who started Redding’s “Art in Public Places” initiative, City Hall lines some hallway walls on all three floors with pieces by local artists and from traveling exhibitions. Included in the “American Spirit” exhibition currently on display are works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. But most surprising is a striking 1939 black-and-white photograph of three boys at a fair taken by Eudora Welty, who was a photographer before gaining fame as a writer.
2) Of Time and the River
You have to visit the Sundial Bridge, which has put Redding on the architectural tourist map since it opened in 2004. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the bridge crosses the Sacramento River and is also a working sundial. It is covered by some 1.3 million pieces of broken Spanish tile. With parents pushing strollers, couples walking hand in hand and tourists snapping photographs, this pedestrian and bicycle bridge has created a sort of town square in Redding — a place where people meet, visit, walk and enjoy the river and the views of the Cascade Mountains to the north and the Trinity Mountains to the west.
3) French Connections
You’re likely to rub shoulders with the most fashionable locals at the city’s newest and nicest restaurant, the Maritime Seafood & Grill (1600 California Street, 530-229-0700). The white walls, white tablecloths and white-clad waiters are reminiscent of Spain, but the food is French-style California cuisine. The specialties of the Korean-born and San Francisco-trained owner and chef, Morgan Song, include an asparagus appetizer ($8.50) and a Muscovy duck pâté served on crusty herbed bread ($7.50). The orange roughy on cream of spinach with an accent of butternut squash piled with wasabi caviar ($20.50) wasn’t local (it arrived that morning from Australia) but was still deliciously fresh. The chocolate fondant cake ($7.50) served with enormous antennae of edible sugar, like from some sweet alien life form, may lure you back to Redding sooner than you plan.
4) Local Beer, Local Music
After dinner walk down to Billy Bombay’s (1730 California Street, 530-244-3089) to mingle with a mixed and not-too-crazy mostly older crowd. “We get everyone from 21 to 91 in here,” said the owner, Leonard Crump. Try a Lost Coast beer, brewed in Eureka, just three hours away; Lost Coast’s citrusy Great White is the bouncer’s favorite. Catch some live music by local and regional acts. If you’re feeling feistier (or lucky), drive six miles south on Route 273 to the Win-River Casino (2100 Redding Rancheria Road, 530-243-3377) to play the slots or whoop it up at the martini bar that opens onto the casino.
5) Call of the Wild
Fuel up on a huge breakfast at Country Kitchen (1099 Hilltop Drive, 530-223-5438) before heading to Redding Sports Ltd. (950 Hilltop Drive, 530-221-7333) to rent mountain bikes ($8 an hour, $25 for 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., $35 for 24 hours; make sure to ask for a helmet). An access point to the Sacramento Trail system is right up the street, and the 12-mile loop will take you past a fish hatchery, Caldwell Park and the rushing river. Don’t be surprised if you see a skinny-dipper in the Sacramento, or startle a deer on the trail — or vice versa.
6) Logging On
Grab a garden sandwich ($7.50) or a Conductor’s Special — roast beef, Ortega chilies and jack cheese on grilled sourdough ($8.25) — at Deja Vu (1590 California Street, 530-244-4272). Then head to the 300-acre Turtle Bay Exploration Park, which surrounds the Sundial Bridge (840 Auditorium Drive, 800-887-8532; www.turtlebay.org); admission is $11, and $6 for children age 4 to 15; $9 for those 65 and older. Pick up a map at the visitor center and wander dirt walkways that lead to an extensive museum of natural history (with exhibits on topics like climate change and logging), an exhibition on birds of prey, a Paul Bunyan forest camp aimed at children and a butterfly house. There is also a mile-and-a-half self-guided walking tour around the McConnell Arboretum and Gardens.
7) Tin Ceiling, Red Meat
If you don’t get to Jack’s Grill (1743 California Street, 530-241-9705) by 4:30, half an hour before the kitchen opens, plan to wait at least an hour before you sit down. As much a phenomenon as a grill, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant still has its original tin ceiling from 1938, a 1944 cash register, iceberg lettuce salads with green beans drowned in dressing and a kitchen too small to serve dessert. But Reddingites flock there because Jack’s serves the best steaks in town ($10.55 to $26.95).
8) Depression Class
A newspaper article described the Cascade Theater (1731 Market Street, 530-243-8877;www.cascadetheatre.org) as a “temple of amusement and culture” when it opened in 1935. Renovated to a pretty close approximation of its original look in a project that involved scraping 10 coats of paint off the walls, the Cascade seats 1,000 and has archways of Aztec-inspired Art Deco gold, silver and copper-colored inlay, and a host of bare-chested Greek goddesses in an elaborate fertility motif on the ceiling. It offers an eclectic range of cultural events, including ballet, plays, live music by the likes of the Indigo Girls and Ricky Skaggs and older movies like “American Graffiti” and “Chocolat.” And after the show, the Sundial Bridge once again beckons — this time, for a romantic moonlight stroll.
9) A Mocha, Then Spelunking
You could while away your morning by lounging on big comfy pink, purple and green sofas, checking your e-mail messages and playing Connect Four and Boggle at Yaks Koffee Shop (3274 Bechelli Lane, 530-223-9999). Instead, order a butterscotch latte (blended with hunks of real butterscotch) and a maple nut scone to go and drive 16 miles north on Interstate 5 to Exit 695 to visit the Lake Shasta Caverns (800-795-2283,www.lakeshastacaverns.com. The two-hour tour costs $20, $12 for ages 3 to 11; 65 and older $17) and includes a ride across the big artificial Lake Shasta on a diesel-powered catamaran, a bus ride up a vertiginous hill and a guided tour of the dripping stalactites and thrusting stalagmites inside the limestone caves.
Redding has a small airport — Redding Municipal Airport — served by Horizon Air and United Express with direct flights daily from LAX in Los Angeles. The city is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive north from San Francisco. The Redding Convention and Visitors Bureau (800-874-7562; www.visitredding.org) publishes a brochure with more than 35 listings of places to stay.
If you like chain hotels, you’ll find them by the dozen, many in sight of Interstate 5 or on Hilltop Drive.
Tiffany House (1510 Barbara Road, 530-244-3225; www.tiffanyhousebb.com) is a Victorian-style bed-and-breakfast in a residential neighborhood that is close to everything. Run by a couple who showcase their family heirlooms — including century-old needlepoint — in their home, it has four rooms for $110 to $150 a night (the most expensive is a stand-alone cottage with a whirlpool tub).
If you’re allergic to B&B’s, the Grand Manor Inn and Suites (850 Mistletoe Lane, 530-221-4472; www.grandmanorinn.com) has spacious rooms, some with balconies (overlooking the parking lot). Its rooms are $91.25 to $110.05 a night.
For something more modestly priced, try the River Inn (1835 Park Marina Drive, 800-995-4341; www.reddingriverinn.net). Ask for a room in the new annex, which has balconies overlooking a pond. Its rooms are $64 to $100 a night.