If the long gather the family together for a trip south of the border — the Oregon/California border that is — and pay a visit to Redding's Turtle Bay Exploration Park? Whether you're a fan of world-class architecture, a natural history buff, or an avid gardener, you'll find a lot to do at Turtle Bay.

The Turtle Bay Exploration Park's 300-acre campus straddles the Sacramento River, and its many attractions highlight the cultural and natural wonders of the region, inspiring a sense of curiosity in young and old. "We have about 140,000 visitors a year," says Turtle Bay's Angela Torretta.

Begin with a stop at the Turtle Bay Museum, which highlights the rich natural and cultural history of the area. One of the first exhibits you'll see is a 22,000 gallon aquarium, located at convenient eye level for children to peer into easily, without having to be hoisted up by mom or dad. The aquarium is home to a stunning variety of fish, all inhabitants of the Sacramento River.

The museum's bright, open interior encourages exploration and discovery for visitors of all ages. Glass terrariums containing pond turtles, newts, and garter snakes invite up-close observations. A stunning structure takes center stage inside the museum: an entire dead cottonwood tree, roots intact. The tree is "planted" in clear Plexiglas; you can look down through the floor at the roots, and admire the way their structure mirrors the branches arching overhead.

The museum also hosts a variety of seasonal and short-term exhibits. "Our butterfly exhibit opens on May 12th," says Torretta. "This will be the ninth year for the exhibit; it's definitely a park favorite!" Visitors can view hundreds of live butterflies in an enclosed garden, with lots of benches for sitting and watching.

The centerpiece of the park is the Sundial Bridge. Lana Granfors of the Redding Visitor's Bureau says the bridge has been a huge tourist draw to the area. "We've had visitors from all over the world come to see the bridge," says Granfors. "Last summer, the New York Times ran a story on Redding featuring the Sundial Bridge, and that's brought us a lot of new U.S. visitors as well."

Built by internationally-renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the Sundial Bridge is part interactive sculpture, part Old World promenade. At 700 feet long and 23 feet wide, it's a soaring, graceful, white structure, strung like a surrealistic harp with huge steel cables. A single pylon at the north end of the bridge, 217 feet high, forms the sundial the bridge is named for.

The bridge's walkway is made of translucent blue glass and is lit from beneath after dark, so the whole structure glows at night. From early morning until well into the evening, you'll meet people jogging, walking, pushing strollers, taking photos, or just sitting in the café on the south side of the bridge, talking. "It's like an old-fashioned downtown, where people go to stroll after dinner," says Torretta.

Once you're on the north side of the river, be sure to visit the McConnell Arboretum and Gardens. The gardens opened in 2005, and are the newest addition to the park. They're a real treat for plant lovers, featuring over 700 different plant species from around the world. Many of the garden beds here showcase plants native to the world's five Mediterranean-type climates: Chile, the Mediterranean Basin, South Africa, Australia and California. These regions have much in common with the climate of the Rogue Valley, so don't be surprised if you return home with a list of new plants to try in your own garden!

One of the most delightful features of the Arboretum is the Children's Garden, with its Mosaic Oasis. The bench, Spanish-style fountain and giant turtle here are all covered with an intricate mosaic of tile and glass. Spend some time here exploring the different mosaic tiles, and maybe enjoying a fresh gelato from a conveniently located stand nearby.

There's no doubt about it: a visit to the Turtle Bay Exploration Park is a sure cure for enduring that long, cold winter.