After spending the morning touring Lake Shasta Caverns and enjoying a picnic lunch, we were hot and ready for an indoor, air-conditioned activity, so we headed over to the Turtle Bay Museum at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park. We had visited the park the night before to check out the Sundial Bridge and the kids wanted to visit the museum too.
Turtle Bay Exploration Park, located in Redding, California, is a non-profit 300-acre gathering place featuring the Sundial Bridge, the Turtle Bay Museum, the Paul Bunyan Forest Camp, the McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, and the entrance to the Sacramento River Trail System.
The Turtle Bay Museum
Turtle Bay Museum contains permanent and changing exhibits related to the area’s natural history, cultural history, art and science. Exhibits include a fish tank modeled after the nearby Sacramento River with trout, perch, and other freshwater fish, a Native American bark house replica, Native American and pioneer history history displays, and hands-on science displays.
When we arrived at Turtle Bay Museum, it was hot. Redding is Second Sunniest City in America and temperatures were hovering around 100 degrees, so we immediately headed indoors to tour the air-conditioned exhibits. The museum is small but exhibits are well done and as usual, the kids gravitated right to the science-related displays and were fascinated with the glass-walled beehive.
One of the coolest exhibits however, was the Mythical Creatures Exhibit all about dragons, mermaids, and unicorns. The exhibit not only told fascinating stories and shared history and myths surrounding these animals, but featured larger than life statues — perfect for a few awesome photos, even if no flash is allowed and the exhibit is dark.
Once we finished the indoor exhibits, we headed outside to check out Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp, the Parrot Playhouse, and the Wings of Summer: Butterflies! exhibit.
Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp
Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp, the outdoor area of the museum, is modeled after an old-time Shasta County forest camp. It includes:
- The Mill Building, which resembles an old saw mill, that has animal enclosures and hands-on exhibits
- An amphitheater with a seasonal animal show
- The Parrot Playhouse, a year-round Lorikeet aviary
- A seasonal butterfly house with hundreds of butterflies
- An old train engine and logging equipment
- Children’s playgrounds with a water feature
It was insanely hot outside, so we didn’t stay too long in this area of the museum… plus, several young children were playing in the water feature, but the playground equipment was torn out while we were visiting because of the hotel construction. Renderings of the proposed new playgrounds were hanging on the construction fences, but apparently they are still pending funding.
The Parrot Playhouse
The Parrot Playhouse was by far our favorite activity at the Turtle Bay Museum. Inside the year-round, walk-through aviary are a whole bunch of small, colorful Lorikeets. These bright Australian parrots love to play and eat, and for $1.00, you can buy some nectar and feed them — just be prepared to have the small birds flock to you and land on your arms, shoulders, and head!
Lorikeets have specialized tongues that look like a bottle-brush and they use them to scoop out nectar from flowers and the minute we each held a tiny cup of nectar, the Lorikeets flew right over to us. And yes, they landed on our heads and all I could think was, “Don’t poop on my head. Don’t poop on my head. Don’t poop on my head.” The kids were cracking up, especially Carter. One lorikeet in particular must have liked the way Carter tasted, because he kept licking his hand.
We had so much fun with these silly birds, that we bought a couple rounds of the nectar!
Wings of Summer: Butterflies! Exhibit
We love butterflies and have had a few opportunities to see them up close at the California Academy of Sciences, the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, and the Monarch Grove near Pismo Beach. But the seasonal Butterflies! exhibit at the Turtle Bay Museum was one of the best experiences because we were the only people in the exhibit for almost our entire visit.
In the butterfly house, we were able to observe around 32 species of butterflies in a tranquil garden in peace and quiet. While we sat and relaxed among the flowers, butterflies landed on our shoes, pants, and even our legs!
Museum Store And Coffee Bar
At the west end of the Turtle Bay Museum, is the The Museum Store & Coffee Bar, public restrooms, drinking fountains, and a pressed penny machine. When we were done exploring the museum, we stopped by the beautiful, glass-walled museum store to pick up our normal collectibles — Natalie collects magnets and keychains, I collect Christmas ornaments, and Carter collects pressed pennies. We also grabbed a few cold drinks to help cool off.
McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Gardens
The McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, also known as the Redding Arboretum, covers 200 acres of undeveloped arboretum and 20 acres of gardens, a children’s garden, a medicinal garden, and two water features. Its principal gardens include the Mediterranean Climate Gardens — Mediterranean Basin, South Africa, Chile, southern and western Australia, and California west of the Sierra Nevada — and other gardens including a children’s garden, butterfly garden, and specialty gardens.
While it was too hot to walk through the Botanical Gardens during the day in the 100 degree heat, we were able to walk through some of the gardens in the evening the night before when we visited the Turtle Bay Exploration Park to walk across the Sundial Bridge. It was beautiful in the twilight hours and I look forward to one day visiting again in the cooler spring weather… probably first thing in the morning.
Know Before You Go
- Turtle Bay Exploration Park is located at 844 Sundial Bridge Drive, Redding, California 96001.
- The Sundial Bridge, the Turtle Bay Museum Store, parking, and the Sacramento River Trail System access are free.
- Paid park Admission includes entry to the Turtle Bay Museum, Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp, Parrot Playhouse, and McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Gardens.
- Download the Turtle Bay Exploration Park Map.
- Pets are not allowed in the Museum, the Museum Store & Coffee Bar, and the Forest Camp, but are allowed on the Sundial Bridge, the River Trail, and in the McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, and must remain leashed at all times.
- Turtle Bay Exploration Park is a smoke free environment, as are the Sundial Bridge and surrounding Sacramento River Trails. This includes cigars, pipes, vapes & e-cigarettes.
- The Museum Store & Coffee Bar, located at the Park entrance and Sundial Bridge, provides a selection of beverages, sandwiches, salads, pastries, and snacks.
- If you want to bring a picnic, there are picnic areas are available in the Botanical Gardens and Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp.
- Bring $1.00 bills! You’ll want at least one for every member of your family so you can feed the lorikeets!