Chico is 22 miles east of I-5 via Highway 32.

Though many residents of this charming small town prefer to play it down, Chico is most famous for its party school, Chico State–the second-oldest university in the state.  Both Playboy and MTV have acknowledged this claim to fame.  And indeed, students are seen all around the town, which is not particularly surprising since downtown streets dead-end at the campus.  Still, in spite of the fact that Chico is first and foremost Party Central, much more to see and do awaits visitors here.  It is no wonder that Chico is also referred to as “the crown jewel of the north valley,” and many movies were filmed here, among them Gone with the Wind and Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales.  It is an interesting fact that streets are named for plants and trees near the college–Chestnut, Hazel, Ivy, Cherry, Orange–spelling out “Chico.

Chico annual events

Endangered Species Faire 
May.  Free. 
Interactive educational activities, live animal presentations, and musical performances combine to make this an enjoyable event.

Chico attractions

Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park 
525 The Esplanade, downtown.  Fee. 
An early pioneer, General John Bidwell arrived in California in 1841 and founded Chico in 1860.  He built this 3-floor, 26-room Italianate Victorian mansion in 1868.  Its cavernous rooms have 14-foot ceilings and provide a cooling break in summer.  Interesting features include eight slate fireplaces painted to look like marble and a third-floor ballroom that–because the owners were Presbyterians–was never used for that purpose.  Shockingly, the house once served as a Chico State dormitory.  A gigantic Southern magnolia tree planted out front in 1863 is now taller than the house, and an adjacent carriage house displays several antique coaches and wagons.

exterior of Bidwell Mansion in Chico, California
exterior of Bidwell Mansion
in Chico, California

Bidwell Park 
The third-largest city park in the U.S. (Phoenix’s South Mountain Park is the largest; Los Angeles’ Griffith Park is second), this 3,670-acre park was the movie stand-in for Sherwood Forest in the original 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood.  Among its numerous trails is the ½-mile-long World of Trees Independence Trail nature path that winds through a former U.S. Forest Service tree nursery and is accessible to both the physically and visually challenged.  Most of the park is closed to cars and so is particularly enjoyable on a bicycle, which can be rented downtown.   In summer, Chico Creek is dammed to form several swimming holes.  Imaginative Caper Acres playground located at the south end has a nursery rhyme theme, and a stables rents horses. 

Chico Creek Nature Center 
By donation. 
This busy center displays living examples of area wildlife and operates a children’s program. 

California State University, Chico (Chico State) 
2nd St./Hazel St. 
Founded in 1887, this beautiful campus has several art galleries, an anthropology museum, and a rose garden.  Free guided campus tours are available; reservations advised

Chico History Museum 
141 Salem St.  Fee. 
Housed in an architecturally interesting former Carnegie Library dating from 1904, this gem of a museum focuses on Chico’s history and culture.  Collection highlights include the town’s original Chinese Taoist Temple and some exceptional Maidu and Yahi Indian baskets. 

National Yo-Yo Museum 
320 Broadway, in Bird in Hand store.  Free.
More than 2,000 yo-yos are displayed here.  Among them is the world’s largest–a 256-pound wooden behemoth that requires an 80-foot crane to operate.

The National Yo-Yo Championships are hosted here annually in October. 

National YoYo Contest in Chico, California; image courtesy of venue
National YoYo Contest in Chico, California; image courtesy of venue

Glass-blowing studios
Orient & Flume Art Glass 
2161 Park Ave. 
This stunning glass art studio has work displayed in the Metropolitan Museum and Smithsonian, and pieces are for sale in Gump‘s in San Francisco.  The artists here make everything from paperweights to vases.  Prices are high, but seconds are available for less.  You can view glassblowers in a warehouse behind the gallery, and an art glass museum is on-site. 
Satava Art Glass Studio 
819 Wall St. 
Using ancient techniques to create nature-themed glass pieces, Richard Satava has been blowing vividly colored artworks at his studio here since 1977.  His ethereal jellyfish pieces sell for between $400 and $10,000.  Less expensive items are also available in the gift shop inside a converted house.  Watching him in action out back in his cool, open-air studio is fascinating.  There, surrounded by mature black bamboo and a giant fig tree, Rick and crew perform their finely orchestrated glass-blowing dance to vintage Beatles tunes and squawking jays.

blowing glass at Satava Art Glass Studio in Chico, California
blowing glass at Satava Art Glass Studio in Chico, California

Chico restaurants

Shubert’s Ice Cream & Candy 
178 E. 7th St./Main St. 
On a hot summer day in Chico, nothing beats an ice cream cone.  Family-owned since 1938 and now a town landmark, this shop dispenses to-die-for housemade ice cream and candies.  There’s no place to sit inside, but get a cone–consider a simple Chico mint, a Mount Shasta (chocolate ice cream with coconut and marshmallow swirls), or a fabulous Turtle (caramel ice cream with pecans and chocolate swirl)–and then sit on a bench out front, just licking lazily and watching the world go by.

Sierra Nevada Taproom & Restaurant 
1075 E. 20th St., just W of Hwy. 99 at 20th St. exit. 
This renowned brewery is the country’s seventh largest.  Its stylish taproom and restaurant are situated inside a large room accented with polished copper and gleaming wood.  The brewpub’s modestly priced menu includes its famous Pale Ale and other housemade beers (a sampler is available) as well as deliciously executed items such as beer-battered fish & chips and a hamburger.  More exotic fare includes an Asian noodle salad and an assortment of wood-fired oven pizzas with chi-chi toppings.  In nice weather, the outside patio is primo and the perfect place to try a milkshake made with the brewery’s own malt.  Mustards and malt vinegar made with house beers make good souvenirs. 
●Free guided brewery tours are available for age 12 and older.

Chico Certified Farmers Market 
Broadway/3rd St., downtown. 
For this weekly event, the streets are lined with vendors displaying handmade goods and farm-fresh produce, and shops and restaurants stay open later than usual.  Children’s activities and entertainers provide diversion for everyone. 

stand at Chico Certified Farmers Market; image courtesy of venue
stand at Chico Certified Farmers Market; image courtesy of venue

Tres Hombres Restaurant 
100 Broadway/1st St., downtown. 
Popular with students, this restaurant serves a selection of Mexican items in John Bidwell’s former storehouse and office.  In a large, open, brick-walled room with comfy booths and roomy tables, this happening place’s menu offers the expected as well as more imaginative items such as tequila-lime paella and pasta.  The excellent fajitas dish is large enough for two people with average appetites to share.  A cheeseburger is an option, and margaritas come in many styles, including non-alcoholic fresh-fruit versions. 

Upper Crust 
130 Main St. 
Delicious sandwiches, salads, and soups are made from scratch at this friendly spot.  When available, the club sandwich special made with garlicky aioli sauce and honey oat bread is a must.  A case loaded with pastries, cupcakes, and sometimes even a salad plate-sized, vanilla-frosted snickerdoodle cookie–not to mention a selection of coffees–are also options.  All this and attractive local art hangs on the walls, too. 

hot pink polka dot cake at Upper Crust Bakery in Chico, California; image courtesy of venue
hot pink polka dot cake at Upper Crust Bakery in Chico, California; image courtesy of venue

Chico hotels

The Grateful Bed 
1462 Arcadian Ave./W. 5th Ave., (530) 342-2464;  4 rooms.  No TVs.  Full breakfast.  No pets. 
Situated on a tree-lined residential street near downtown, this lovely 1905 Victorian farmhouse features beautifully decorated rooms.  Suite Dreams is a standout, with a king-size iron bed and oversize bath with clawfoot tub and twin pedestal sinks.  The three-course candlelight breakfast sometimes includes decadent white chocolate scones. 

exterior of Grateful Bed B&B in Chico, California
exterior of Grateful Bed B&B
in Chico, California

Holiday Inn Express & Suites
2074 East 20th St., 2 mi. from downtown.  4 stories; 172 rooms.  Breakfast included.  Indoor pool. No pets. 
Located on the quieter outskirts of town. 

(; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)