Shasta Cascade pit stop: Turtle Bay Exploration Park

If you’ve taken I-5 on a west coast road trip, chances are you’ve driven right through Redding, California. We had passed through numerous times before we had the opportunity to stop and check out this Northern California town. If you’re looking for a place to stop with kids, it’s a great choice! The Sacramento River runs through town, offering plenty of opportunity for families to cool off in summer. In the winter, it rarely gets too cold here. The best place to stop within Redding with access to the river is Turtle Bay Exploration Park.

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This sprawling indoor and outdoor park is home to a natural history and science museum, botanical gardens, live animal exhibits, butterfly gardens, and walking trails. Young kids will find playgrounds and interactive exhibits, and older kids will love the miles of trail.

Families enter the park via the parking area by the Sundial Bridge. It’s worth letting the kids stretch their legs on this bridge first; it’s pedestrian only, and visually interesting with a tinted glass floor and sundial feature. Afterward, head to the Turtle Bay park entrance and museum, and explore the indoor exhibits. We loved the aquarium with fish from the Sacramento River, the mining exhibits explaining the area’s rich mining history, and the river lab, with information about watersheds and the nearby Shasta Dam.

The museum does a great job incorporating local landmarks, such as Lake Shasta, into its educational exhibits on water and land management.

Don’t miss the temporary exhibits, tucked a bit out of sight in the museum’s Exploration Hall and Art Gallery room. During our visit in the early spring of 2016, they were featuring an interesting Charles Schulz exhibit called Peanuts…Naturally, and an interactive maze-type exhibit on the water cycle in which kids can pretend they’re a raindrop and spin wheels to determine their fate. It was a lot of fun for all of us.

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Outdoors, the Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp is a huge area with winding trails leading to animal enclosures, play areas, and outdoor exhibits. Be sure to grab a program and look for daily shows and demonstrations on offer. Our crew enjoyed the creek water feature at Stipple Creek, where they could create dams and watch a water wheel turn, and the Mill Building, which houses reptiles. The bird exhibits in crude hawks, golden eagles, and magpies, among others. I enjoyed seeing red and gray foxes and a bobcat. By far, our son Tobias’ favorite exhibit was the Parrot Playhouse, where he could feed nectar to lorikeets (bring $1).

Dining at Turtle Bay:

There’s a small gift shop and coffee shop attached to the museum, but while it has some snack type items, you’re best off bringing your own picnic lunch. There are numerous places to eat outdoors, and Redding is almost always warm enough for this. Find a place along the paths by the river, or find shade at the tables outside the coffee shop.

sundial-bridge

Lunch in Redding:

If you’re not bringing a picnic lunch into the Turtle Bay area, we suggest one of the following two excellent lunch spots for families, only 5-10 minutes from Turtle Bay and the Sundial Bridge:

Wilda’s Grill: This small restaurant has limited indoor seating and some nice patio seating, but the main draw is the great food! Choose between their Buddha bowl (rice and veggies with tofu or chicken), their falafel, or their gourmet hot dog options. Either way, be sure to get their ‘hot mess’ instead of fries: this side order consists of all Wilda’s side dish offerings in one, including sweet potato fries, french fries, onion rings, and cheese and chili fries! I loved the Buddha bowl, and the others each tried a hot dog entree. Located at 1719 Placer Street, Redding.

Carnegie’s: Carnegie’s is a local favorite, with hearty sandwiches, soups, and craft beer on tap. It’s located adjacent to Wilda’s, and often gets crowded at lunch. Take this as a good sign, as we did, and enjoy! Located at 1600 Oregon Street, Redding.

wildas-grill

In the area:

From the same parking area, you can access miles of walking and biking trails, especially along the Sacramento River National Recreation Trail. We didn’t see a bike rental shop in the Turtle Bay area, but it would do a brisk business if it existed…this area is perfect for a family bike ride. After crossing the Sundial Bridge, you can pick from several riverwalk trails. If you bring your own bikes, even better. In the summer, Redding gets very hot, so plan to stay close to the river to cool off as needed.

Note: there is currently some construction going on in the area behind Turtle Bay, as they build a Sheraton hotel. It didn’t impact our visit, but families should be aware.

Admission and hours:

Turtle Bay Exploration Park admission is $16 for adults (16 and up) and $12 for kids. Children under age 4 are free. On the 5th and 10th of each month, Turtle Bay hosts ‘Nickel and Dime Days’, in which admission is $10 for adults and $5 for kids. By far the best deal, if you think you’ll find yourself passing through even a handful of times a year, is a family membership for $80/year. Check here for current hours.

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Directions:

Turtle Bay is located at 844 Sundial Bridge Drive, about five minutes from I-5.

As we disclose whenever applicable, we were hosted at Turtle Bay Exploration Park for the purpose of review. All opinions remain our own.

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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