- If you can dream it, you can do it. Walt Disney
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.
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. 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.
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.
You're likely to rub shoulders with the most fashionable locals at the city's newest and nicest restaurant, the Maritime Seafood & Grill. 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.
Local Beer, Local Music
After dinner walk down to Billy Bombay's 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.
Call of the Wild
Fuel up on a huge breakfast at Country Kitchen 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.