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Getaway Guide: Weekend Road Trip to Lake Shasta

Shasta Lake
(credit: Thinkstock)

California acquired yet another stunning lakeside––as well as a means to manage water resources––following the construction of Shasta Dam across the Sacramento River in the 1930s. The result is 365 miles of waterfront with hundreds of coves and bays, occasional waterfalls and secluded creeks against a backdrop of manzanita and evergreen-covered slopes. 

Getting There

From San Francisco, 223 miles will get you to idyllic, lazy Lake Shasta. Along the way, anyone looking for a charming, old Western town stopover cannot do better than the corner of Main Street and Railroad Avenue in Winter, CA. Take I-80 from the Bay Bridge north until the intersection with I-505 N, which changes into I-5 N. The exit for Shasta is 685 onto CA-151. Located 10 miles north of Redding, this lake is actually the state's largest reservoir. Before plunging into water sports and recreation, why not have a closer look at the nation's tallest, second-largest, concrete dam?

What To See

Shasta Dam Tours
16349 Shasta Dam Blvd.
Shasta Lake, CA 96019
(530) 275-1296

It's not every day one walks across a working dam. Free one-hour tours are offered seven days a week in the winter and summer (early June through Labor Day). Only a five-minute drive from town, park for free and check in at the Visitor Center at least 30 minutes early. The photo opportunity of three Shastas (lake, mountain and dam) will be pointed out. Learn about historical aspects, the construction of the dam, its generation of hydro-electric power, flood control and irrigation, how the dam supports California's needs for power and water, and learn what the future holds.

Turtle Bay Exploration Park
840 Sundial Bridge Drive
Redding, CA
(530) 243-8850

Price: Adults $14, Children (4-12) and Seniors $10, Children under 4 free

The more than 300 acres to explore on both sides of the Sacramento River are connected by the ultra-cool Sundial Bridge. There's an arboretum, botanical gardens, exploratory and children's museum, aviary, aquarium, butterfly gardens, interpretive redwood forest, plus the animals living at Paul Bunyan's Forest Camp are all rolled into one special place. Kids learn why Gidget, the sulphur-crested cockatoo, screams in the morning and why Stelli, the bluejay, thinks she is human. This is such good fun, you'll need the better part of a day to pack it all in. There's also a cafe on the premises when you get hungry.

Where To Stay

Ski Island Boat-in Campground
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
14225 Holiday Road
Redding, CA 96003
(530) 275-1587

Gentlemen, don't pack a sports jacket, and ladies, leave the heels at home. Camping and boating are top of the to-do list at Lake Shasta. Find 22 campgrounds and 11 marinas around the lake, as well as the signature Lake Shasta boat access-only campsites, of which there are four. Operated by the U.S. Forest Service, boaters should reserve online and take careful note of lake levels and location before heading out. This is peaceful "roughing it" for boat-lovers. There are tent camping sites, picnic tables and vault restroom facilities––no water, and no fees.

Lakehead Lodge
21417 Main St.
Lakehead, CA 96051
(530) 238-9688

Price: Doubles from $50 off-season

If you'd prefer to sleep with a roof over your head in a cozy room with kitchenette, let Jim (the owner) show your kids where the lodge's recreation room is located. There's a pool table, air hockey, plasma screen TV, and DVD player. Find laundry facilities, vending machines, a barbecue and picnic tables (Jim has the coals), a restaurant down the street, free WiFi, satellite TV and daily maid service. Rover and Fido are welcome, too. Call ahead for pet arrangements and boat moorings, available at the lake nearby. Bring your fishing gear and some DVDs.

Sugarloaf Cottages Resort
19667 Lakeshore Drive
Lakehead, CA 96051
(530) 238-2448

Price: One bedroom cottages from $112 off-season

Sugarloaf offers guests outdoor activities and a private dock right on the front doorstep. The idea is easy access for guests to fishing, waterskiing and boarding and tubing. They like to say that nothing is overlooked except the lake at Sugarloaf Cottages, so rest assured you'll be taken care of here. Cottages of up to three bedroom have a minimum two-night stay and come with one boat slip per cabin. For landlubbers, there's volleyball, basketball, horseshoes, a swimming pool, and a sandbox for the little ones.

Where To Eat

Basshole Bar & Grill
20725 Lakeshore Drive
Lakehead, CA 96051
(530) 238-2170

The annual trout and bass derby at Sugarloaf Cottages ends up with beers at its sister establishment, Basshole Bar & Grill. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is served seven days a week here, with popular nightly specials, such as pizza, tacos, bacon cheeseburgers. Happy hour is 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., while Friday nights at 9 p.m. feature the open pool tournament. In good weather, enjoy a mountain view from the patio nestled under the cedar trees. 

Tapas Downtown
1257 Oregon St.
Redding, CA
(530) 247-7299

South of the lake in Redding, go with tasty shared tapas or an individual menu choice for lunch, dinner, or a Sunday brunch featuring live jazz. A mix of Mediterranean, Greek and Spanish describes the eclectic, tasty menu choices. Empanadas, skewers, sliders, wraps, gyros, burgers, paella are calling. In a casual setting, enjoy wine and a full bar, with half price wine by the bottle on Monday evenings. The friendly service gets honorable mention. 

Laurie JM Farr is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. A transplanted New Yorker, she has traveled throughout the world as the Big Apple's official tourism representative. She served as organizer for three Royal Visits to America. As an international relocation consultant, Laurie assisted more than 400 families with overseas moves and is a proud mother of two, thoroughly bi-cultural children. Her work can be found on
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