At the beginning of the year, I had several exciting trips planned. My friend’s bachelorette weekend in Savannah! New York in the Spring! Wimbledon in July! But all those plans changed as COVID-19 spread around the globe. Goodbye, Savannah. Goodbye, New York. Goodbye, London.
While I have been fortunate throughout this period, confining myself to 720 square feet was certainly an adjustment. The 1 bed/1 bath apartment I share with my fiance started to feel a bit like prison. By the time the end of June rolled around, I was majorly craving a change of scene.
My fiance and I brainstormed locations and ideas. Chicago? No, we weren’t comfortable flying. LA? Nah, too crowded. In the end, it was my dad (the real MVP!) who suggested the Shasta Cascades for a weeklong getaway. I had been to Shasta once before, as a child, but all I remember of that trip was watching Titanic for the first time.
After additional research, Redding grew more and more attractive as a vacation prospect. Considered the gateway to the Shasta Cascades, Redding has all the amenities of a city while still being a reasonable drive to a myriad of local natural attractions: volcanoes, lakes, waterfalls, trails, hot springs, lava tunnels, and many more! It’s also only 3.5 hrs drive from San Francisco.
While it wasn’t the vacation I had envisioned at the beginning of the year, it turned out to be one of my favorite trips of all time, and I’ve been raving about it to everyone I know ever since. Redding is a hugely well-kept secret, and in my opinion a way better option than the reigning favorite among Bay Area 20-somethings, Tahoe. You could squeeze in a trip in 3 days if you’re ambitious, but taking it slow and spreading your adventure out over 4-5 days is ideal.
We did extensive research before and during this trip, so I’m sharing our recommended itinerary here so you can enjoy Redding for yourselves!
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WhiskeyTown & Sundial bridge
Shasta Caverns & Waterfalls
Lassen National Park
Falls & Dam
|Breakfast & Coffee||Theory Collaborative||Heritage Roasting Company||Stirring Coffeehouse||Theory Collaborative||Evergreen|
|Activity 1||Hike: James K. Carr trail to Whiskeytown Falls||Boat + Caverns: Lake Shasta Caverns||Walk through Subway Cave||Walk around McArthur Burney State Falls||Rent a bike and pedal around the Sacramento River Trail|
|Lunch||Pick up lunch in the morning from Country Organics||Burgers at Yak‘s on the 5||Pick up lunch in the morning from Country Organics||Pick up lunch in the morning from Country Organics||La Cabana Mexican Restaurant|
|Activity 2||Kayak and swim at Brandy Creek||Swim at Hedge Creek & Mossbrae Falls||Hike the Bumpass Hell Trail||Free time!||Foot & Body Massage|
|Activity 3||Walk over Sundial bridge||Swim at Three Rivers Waterfalls||Walk the Manzanita Lake Trail||Shasta Dam||Free time!|
|Dinner||Mosaic Restaurant||Champa Gardens||Cinders Wood Fired Pizza||View 202||Champa Gardens|
DAY 1: WHISKEYTOWN & SUNDIAL BRIDGE
Breakfast & Coffee: Theory Collaborative
Start your day with a quick breakfast in Redding. I had no idea how wonderful Redding’s coffee scene was, but boy are you in for a treat! Theory Collaborative is a gorgeous coffeeshop I can only describe as warehouse chic. The coffee is delicious (I opted for whole milk iced lattes). Normally I steer clear of coffee shop pastries, but these are not to be missed. I recommend the gluten free chocolate banana bread and almond croissant, which you can ask the friendly staff to heat up for you.
Activity 1: Whiskeytown Falls (pick up lunch first – see below)
Work off those pastries with a short but intense hike to Whiskeytown Falls, approximately a 40 minutes drive from Redding. Close to Whiskeytown Lake, this 3.4 mile round trip hike is worth the effort. It will certainly raise your heart rate enough to get you excited to jump in a cool lake once you’re done. Bring a hat, as some portions of the hike have little or no shade and the inclines are steep. You’ll be rewarded with a beautiful waterfall at the end of your climb and the way back to your car is blessedly all downhill.
Lunch: Country Organics
There aren’t many food options near Whiskeytown Lake, so pick up lunch and snacks before you leave Redding! After breakfast at Theory Collaborative, drive over to Country Organics, a wonderful shop that’s part convenience store and part restaurant. Grab a wrap or bowl to-go (I liked their pesto bowl), along with water and snacks for the road. All their food is organic and delicious, so you’ll feel light in your swimsuit and ready to jump into Whiskeytown Lake soon afterwards.
After your hike, drive to Brandytown Creek and enjoy your lunch at the picnic tables there. The area has bathrooms for you to change into your swimsuit and wash your hands before lunch.
Activity 2: Brandytown Creek
Brandytown Creek is a favorite among locals, a beautiful lake beach and the best way to enjoy Whiskeytown Lake. The water is perfect to swim in and the lake itself is gorgeous. In addition to bathrooms, barbeques, and picnic areas, Brandytown Creek also has a stand where you can rent kayaks. If you don’t want to rent kayaks, or you’re planning on frequently kayaking in the future, one big revelation was that you can buy inflatable kayaks on Amazon. We bought one prior to our trip, brought it with us in the trunk (also bought inexpensive lifejackets), and it came together at the lakeside in minutes. Highly recommended!
Activity 3: Sundial bridge
Drive to home base in Redding, shower off, and head out again to Sundial Bridge before dinner. As you might infer from its name, Sundial Bridge is a long bridge with a sundial at the end of it. It’s the main tourist attraction in Redding, and very pretty. Since dinner is right next to Sundial Bridge, I recommend checking in at the restaurant (Mosaic) first to see what their availability is and walking the bridge either before or after dinner depending on when Mosaic Restaurant can seat you. There is also a beautiful arboretum next to Sundial bridge that’s great for a stroll before or after dinner.
Mosaic is a beautiful restaurant that’s affiliated with the Sheraton next door. It’s called Mosaic because there’s a gallery of art in the hallway that connects the restaurant to the Sheraton. The food is amazing, and it’s one of the few upscale-ish restaurants in Redding, but the prices are extremely reasonable. I recommend their salads (the caesar with crispy chicken!), pizzas, and cocktails. Try and get seating overlooking the Sacramento River if possible.
DAY 2: SHASTA CAVERNS & WATERFALLS
Breakfast & Coffee: Heritage Roasting Company
Start driving North from Redding towards your first activity, and stop at Heritage Roasting Company on the way. Enjoy their coffee, food, and scones (with all sorts of cool butters!). If you have extra time before your Shasta Caverns tour or prefer a more substantial breakfast, stop at Old Mill Eatery instead for the most amazing pancakes and scrambles.
Activity 1: Shasta Caverns
Shasta Caverns are run by an amazing tour company. The tour starts with a boat ride across Shasta Lake, after which a bus drives you up to the Caverns. If you’re lucky, you’ll see bears and other wildlife on the drive up. If you don’t see any, the Caverns themselves are a sight to marvel at – beautiful caves chock full of stalagmites and stalactites. You can book a tour in advance on their website.
Lunch: Yak’s on the 5
This is the best meal you’re going to have all trip. Yak’s on the 5 is a burger joint par excellence. Enjoy their amazing burgers (beef or veggie patties), which are loaded up with the most bizarrely wonderful toppings. Their cilantro bomb burger (that too with a veggie patty) was the best burger I’ve had in my life. Don’t forget dessert: their cinnamon buns are unbelievable and they’ll warm them up for you to enjoy on the spot. Just thinking of that amazing dripping frosting and buttery, flaky pastry makes me want to drop my laptop and drive up I-5 immediately! The restaurant is owned by an adorable and hospitable elderly couple, who gave us free food after learning about what a foodie I am.
Activity 2: Hedge Creek Falls & Mossbrae Falls
My favorite activity of the trip! Park at the Hedge Creek Falls trailhead, and walk down to Hedge Creek falls. These falls are not very impressive, but there is more excitement ahead. Continue down the trail to the Sacramento River. The river is quite narrow and shallow here, so you can easily wade across to the opposite side of the river. Once you reach the other side of the river, find the unofficial trails that other travellers have created and climb up until you reach railroad tracks. Walk straight along the railroad tracks and turn right (~400 meters, not very far) to get to Mossbrae Falls. These falls are a sight to behold, and a great place for a freezing cold dip under the waterfalls. Be warned…the water is very cold so get in and out of the water as quickly as you can. Several families brought picnics and snacks to enjoy by the falls.
Activity 3: Three Rivers Waterfalls
Drive further north and enjoy an easy walk/hike along the river, passing three different waterfalls on the way. These waterfalls are absolutely stunning, and in retrospect I wish we would have spent all day here instead, as several families had clearly opted to do. The pools at the base of these waterfalls are also a great place to fish.
Dinner: Champa Gardens
You’re going to absolutely starving by the end of the day, so enjoy a great Thai/Laos meal at Champa Gardens. I was skeptical about Asian food in a small town in Northern California, but this was shockingly delicious. I recommend any of the noodle dishes and their yellow curry.
DAY 3: SHASTA CAVERNS & WATERFALLS
Breakfast & Coffee: Stirring Coffehouse
This is the most gorgeous coffee shop I have ever been to, period. If you didn’t have such a packed itinerary, I would suggest bringing a book and spending all day here.
Activity 1: Subway Caves
Lava tunnels? Sign me up! Drive to the Subway Caves, an underground tunnel hollowed out through the rocks by lava flowing underground. The cave, about half a mile long, is very dark, so try and bring a flashlight if you can. We didn’t have one, so we used our iPhone flashlights (though we couldn’t see more than a foot in front of us) and tried to tag along with the other better-prepared tourists to help us through. The Caves are also chilly (unlike the rest of the area), so bring a light sweater just in case.
Lunch: Country Organics (again)
You know the drill! There are isolated restaurants along the way, but your best bet is bring your own food from Redding.
Activity 2: Bumpass Hell
Drive from the Subway Caves to Lassen National Park, named after the volcanic and beautiful Mount Lassen! One could easily spend days in Lassen National Park alone, as the extensive park has a number of different hikes, lakes, and campsites, but for a great half day trip, prioritize Bumpass Hell, a moderate, 2.6 mile hike. The hike is named after Kendall Bumpass, a poor fellow who severely burned his leg after stepping into the area’s thermal springs. The hike is a great way to enjoy the thermal springs more safely than poor Kendall Bumpass. You’ll be able to smell the sulphur and other gasses as you approach the springs. Soak your tired feet in the chilly water of Lake Helen, opposite the Bumpass Hill trailhead, once you’re done.
Activity 3: Manzanitas Lake
At the entrance of Lassen National Park, Manzanitas Lake is a beautiful place to swim, paddleboard, or fish close to the Visitor Center. Enjoy a 1.5 mile loop around the lake to soak in its beauty, and catch some great views of Mount Lassen. Make sure to check the latest advisories to confirm that it’s safe to swim – a river otter recently mauled a swimmer.
Dinner: Cinders Wood Fired Pizza
This is the best pizza in Redding, and also happens to share an indoor space with an amazing ice cream parlor called Taste & See Creamery, which has a goat cheese and blueberry ice cream you need to try! You can walk in or order ahead, and enjoy your food indoors or outdoors depending on your preference. My favorite pizza was the Brie & Balsamic pizza, so unique!
DAY 4: MORE WATERFALLS & SHASTA DAM
Breakfast & Coffee: Kalaidescope
Try out this funky coffee shop, known for their organic roasts and “grillers,” which are halfway between a quesadilla and a sandwich. The chicken pesto griller was recommended by their friendly staff and did not disappoint. Enjoy your breakfast on their outdoor patio.
Activity 1: McArthur Burney State Falls
These 129-ft falls are the most beautiful in the area. The waterfall and the pool below have been a sacred site for the area’s Native Americans for hundreds of years, and the tribe still hold rituals here. When not used for ceremonial purposes, the pool is a treat for overheated tourists to cool off, and is also surrounded by beautiful trails and streams. The park offers several other attractions, but the falls are the main event and not to be missed on any trip to Redding.
Lunch: Country Organics (again)
You know the drill! There are isolated restaurants along the way, but your best bet is to bring your own food from Redding.
Activity 2: Shasta Dam
Drive to Shasta Dam, which created Shasta Lake. There’s a small visitor center, a large parking lot, and plenty of open green fields (with deer and turkeys, strangely enough) from which to enjoy the truly awe-inspiring site of the dam. You can also walk or drive across the dam to get the right angle for your latest instagram post.
Activity 3: Free time!
Dinner: View 202
Having saved the fanciest trip of the meal for last, enjoy dinner at View 202, an upscale spot overlooking the Sacramento River. Make sure to ask for a table outside with a view. The accommodating staff and great cocktails ensure you’ll have a great evening.
DAY 5: REDDING TRAIL
Breakfast & Coffee: Evergreen
Try the best avocado toasts and waffles for miles around, and wash them down with an iced latte from this chic coffee shop and boutique hotel.
Activity 1: Redding Trails
Redding is called the Trail Capital of California, and for good reason – the city boasts over 225 miles of trails in a 15-mile radius! Rent a bike from any local shop (there are many closeby that offer reasonable rates) and bike along the Sacramento River on the Sacramento River Trail, a 5.5 mile loop that offers great views. It’s flat and paved all the way through, so it’s suitable for any fitness level. Bring lots of water, as there are miles at a stretch with no shade cover or water fountains.
Lunch: La Cabana Mexican Restaurant
Because you’re probably sick of Country Organics lunches by now, let’s switch it up with this family-owned Mexican joint. La Cabana is a casual but delicious restaurant serving up classic Mexican fare. Fill up before driving back home.