What does Redding Offer the Traveler?
Report by Robert L. Reynolds
One of the most surprisingly attractive of the Starlight cities can be reached on that train only by dedicated night owls. The Starlight stops in Redding in the dead of night, both directions (Northbound at 2:21 AM and Southbound at 3:14 AM). Fortunately, the California Amtrak Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin routes offer more amenable connections, although only on through buses from Sacramento.
What does Redding offer the traveler? The city reminds me metaphorically of one of those timeless cabaret singers. You know them, the crooners whose repertoire compasses blues to be-bop to old standards to opera and who can switch from one to the other at the drop of a downbeat. They’re the singers who fill the lounges with customers and good music and when the place closes everyone wishes they coulda’ had more. That’s Redding: we always plot a speedy return as we head south to our home in Sacramento. At one time or another Redding has been a Home on the Range, a [Coal] Miner’s Daughter, an Ol’ Man River as well as a Don Juan.
Most days you can marvel at the looming presence of snow-capped Mount Shasta to the north and Mount Lassen to the east. In winter the city, elevation varies from 400 to 800 feet, can resemble an alpine village. The Trinity Alps to the west climb up steeply into the western sky so you’re looking at snowy mountains on three sides.
Redding history reflects the Home-on-the-Range-Miner’s-Daughter heritage. Originally the Wintu tribe lived here but about one hundred and fifty years ago Pierson Reading took California’s northernmost Mexican land grant and started ranching. Somewhat later the railroad arrived and named the town Redding after a railroad honcho. The locals preferred Reading, but the railroad name stuck, since 1880 we have called it Redding. That’s certainly an improvement over the name the railroad found on arrival: “Poverty Flats”.
After a bus ride from Sacramento the first thing you have to do is eat. For a city this size you have plenty of choices although my breakfast and lunch time favorite has to be the Gold Street Café. Gold Street is a few blocks south of both the Amtrak bus stop and the Amtrak station. Take a leisurely stroll along the tracks and you’ll see it on the right on Gold Street. My personal favorites are corned beef hash and eggs in the morning and the Reuben on rye at midday. Did I mention they serve a bottomless cuppa’ joe? Don’t take my word for it. Breakfast and lunch only.
Dinner choices will cover the culinary world, but this is Jack’s Grill country if you ask me, and if you ask locals they’ll say the same thing. A simple menu of great steaks, chicken or fish washed down with a bottle of good, local wine draws diners from all over. The killer entrée is the blue cheese salad made from a secret but not too complicated recipe. Served family style, you’ll end up stuffed before your main plate hits the tablecloth.
The Redding Area Bus Authority serves the area well, making auto-free visits very easy. They depart from the same station as the Amtrak bus so the convenience factor is high. I’ll mention some RABA routes for us peripatetic travelers now just to get you started thinking: Rte 6: to Discovery Park and the convention center; Rte 9 to the Redding Railroad museum and Rte 14 to the Trestle and the Arboretum.
For two-wheelers the area offers extensive bike trails and that’s an especially good way to visit the Sacramento River, which bisects the city. Not too far downstream from the Shasta Dam and Lake Shasta, the river has drawn fly fishermen for years. Now with the addition of the Sundial Bridge and Turtle Bay museum it draws everyone else (RABA Rtes 6, 14). You could not do better than to chow down at the museum diner while watching the world amble across the bridge, a new monument that puts Redding on the “must see” list. The world renowned Calatrava designed a suspension bridge that majestically defies gravity and features so many special touches that it’s beyond the scope of this article to catalogue them. One thing stands out – its eco-friendly deck is glass so as to minimize the bridge’s shadow and lessen disruption to the trophy trout anglers often pull from the river’s depths. In addition to being a functional work of art, it’s a technical marvel as well.
The Sundial bridge connects many riverside biking and hiking trails although you’ll find that its best function is to join the museum with its truly world class McConnell arboretum. Do not miss the collection of “Mediterranean Climate Garden” trees and plants from exotic areas. Kids will love the museum itself with a number of hands-on activities to keep them busy.
For railfans the number one attraction is the railroad bridge crossing the Sacramento River not far from downtown. In service in 1939, it spans the river and an adjacent city park complex. It’s 4350’ long and 110’ high, and it curves about 45 degrees. Number two on the list is the Shasta Cascade Rail Preservation Society. You can take RABA Rte 9 to visit, it’s quite a ways from downtown. They have done some great restoration work. However, their biggest contribution to the Starlight network involves the restoration of the Redding Espee depot. Even though the Starlight arrives in the middle of the night, Shasta Cascade members open the doors and provide shelter to those night owls arriving or departing Redding. Drop a tip in their jar if you can!
There are numerous motels and hotels downtown within a stone’s throw of the tracks, all look clean and reasonable. There are a bunch of hotel search pages available on Google “redding ca hotels”. Take your pick. You’ll find the big chain hotels on the east side of the river along I-5. RABA routes 4 or 11 take you there and it’s an easy bicycle ride. But it’s not downtown.
All said and done, Redding will fascinate, history buffs, antiquers, railfans, fly fishermen, two-wheelers, families with curious children, walkers and foodies. The Sundial Bridge does put it at the top of the must see list.