50 things to do in Chico when it’s dead
Summer Guide 2007
Ah, summer! Time for Chico to turn into Death Valley—temperatures soar, and the campus area turns into a ghost town.
Year-round residents learn to bear the heat. But what about boredom? There’re only so many times you can swim One-Mile or circle the mall.
So we have some suggestions … 50, in fact.
CN&R editors have compiled some of our favorite summer activities. This isn’t a Billboard chart—No. 1 isn’t a bigger hit than No. 50. Consider this a checklist, without the boxes to check. See how many you can do between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Ready, set …
1. Picnic in Clothilde Merlo Park
This lovely little spot near Stirling City is perfect for a mid-summer picnic away from the valley’s heat. It was built by Harry Merlo, the former president of Louisiana-Pacific Lumber Co. to honor his mother and the town where he grew up. There’s a series of ponds, picnic tables, flowers galore and a bocce ball court in a serene, wonderfully quiet setting. Look for the turnoff to the right just before you reach town.
2. Climb Mount Shasta
You know it’s there, all 14,162 feet of it, looming over Northern California like a great white sentinel. You’ve hiked to the top of Lassen Peak several times, but you haven’t yet gotten up the gumption to tackle Shasta. Is this the summer when you’ll finally do it? If so, you won’t be alone.
Some 15,000 people attempt to summit via the most popular route, Avalanche Gulch, every year. If you join them, remember to take time to acclimate yourself to the high altitude. (An overnight campout at Lake Helen, at about 8,000 feet, helps in that regard.)
And prepare yourself well beforehand; logging on to www.climbingmtshasta.org is a good first step.
3. Hike the Ishi Wilderness Area
This is the closest wilderness area to Chico, but few people take advantage of its proximity. Named after the famous Indian who was the last of the Yahi tribe, it encompasses 41,000 acres of his ancestral lands along Mill and Deer creeks. It’s rugged country and not easily reached, but rewarding to the intrepid explorer.
You can visit Black Rock, perhaps the most familiar landmark, by driving to Paynes Creek on Highway 36 and taking Ponderosa Way about 20 miles south. Or you can drive up Cohasset Road into Deer Creek Canyon and pick up the Deer Creek Trail there. Either way, drive a sturdy vehicle, take a topo map, and remember that the more southerly regions of the Ishi are hot in summer, so stay close by the creek. Check out www.summitpost.org.4. Leap from a plane
Summer is a prime season for skydiving, because the air at 12,000 feet can be 35 degrees cooler than the temperature on the ground. Parachuters once flocked to Paradise; now their options include SkyDance SkyDiving in Davis (800-752-3262) and Skydive San Francisco in Cloverdale (707-894-9241).
5. Take a dip at Brown’s Hole
Kind of obvious, but swimming in Upper Bidwell will definitely bring the body temperature down a few degrees. The more secluded, the better. You have to hike/bike/drive a little farther to get to Brown’s Hole, but you’ll find it less crowded than the other swimming spots. Tip: Bring a swimming mask so you can see all the fishies.
6. Visit the Forebay Aquatic Center
If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to sail, kayak or canoe, you should check out the Aquatic Center at the Thermalito North Forebay in Oroville. It’s operated by Chico State’s Associated Students and offers inexpensive lessons, children’s camps and equipment rentals. For more info, call 624-6919 or check out www.aschico.com.
7. Cool down with Shubert’s watermelon sherbet
When the summertime furnace of the North Valley reaches its maximum temp—around 6:40 p.m.— one must immediately deliver sweet, delicious coldness to one’s overheated core. A slice of refrigerated watermelon works. So does a frozen taste of tummy-friendly sherbet. But best of all? A cone full of Shubert’s seasonal specialty (by mid-July, in time for Slice of Chico) watermelon ice cream—with seeds and all! Shubert’s is at 178 East Seventh St.
8. Join a softball league
Nothing says summer quite like America’s pastime, adapted for mere mortals who can’t hit a 100-mph fastball 500 feet. If you aren’t on a slow-pitch team that’s already registered, you’ll have to wait until fall to join a Chico Area Recreation District league. But good news: Women’s fast-pitch teams have until Friday (May 25), and any team can sign up for the All City Tournament, running the week of Aug. 6. Check www.chicorec.com for details.
9. Stroll along Butte College’s nature trail
It’s fitting that Butte County’s community college sits on a nature preserve. The Clear Creek Nature Trail is a great way to take it in—and learn something in the process. When campus gates are open (6 a.m. to 10 p.m. except holidays), you can get to the trail. Come in through the Clark Road entrance and look for the horse arena; just south of it, near Campus Drive, you’ll see a kiosk displaying the trail loop. If you’d prefer a guided tour, call Deb Conway at 895-2449.
Is there a prettier place in the world? If so, we haven’t found it yet. Beaches, headlands, flowers, great hikes, the Pygmy Forest, Russian Gulch and the quaintest little seaside town this side of Maine—Mendocino has it all. Oh yeah, and summer temps about 30 degrees lower than Chico’s. Check www.mendocino.com.
11. Rope-swing your way to Feather River
Though tucked away, this swimming hole and sandy beach on the North Fork of the Feather River seems to get more traffic each year. In fact, it trumped the Sacramento River last year as the most popular Labor Day getaway for students.
To get there, drive about a mile past the Pulga Bridge on Highway 70 (between Oroville and Quincy). But pay attention, the area isn’t marked.
12. Give disc golfing a go
The name pretty much says it all. It’s golf, but with a disc. Instead of a hole, there’s a pole. The one who takes the fewest throws to hit the poles wins. Oh, and the good news is it’s all free—you just have to have a disc (about 10 bucks at local sporting goods stores) and head to the course at Upper Bidwell Park. To get there, drive about 4.5 miles east of Bruce Road on Highway 32. Look for the dirt parking area on the north side of the highway with the green gate, and enter on the left side.
13. Explore Lake Shasta Caverns
Off Interstate 5 north of Redding, this popular attraction bills itself as “Three Adventures in One.” That’s because getting to the caves involves first taking a catamaran across part of Shasta Lake, then a bus to the cavern entrance. These are followed by a one-hour descent into and tour of the caves, which is quite an experience—and cool in more ways than one. Info is available online at www.lakeshastacaverns.com.
14. Spend a weekend in Ashland
This lovely little town just across the Oregon border off Interstate 5 is most famous for being the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and certainly a weekend of seeing plays and eating in the town’s terrific restaurants makes for a great summer getaway. But the Ashland area has other attractive features as well, from rafting the Rogue River and attending the Britt Music Festival in nearby Jacksonville to visiting its many excellent wineries.
The sky and every star in it are free … and so is the Kiwanis Chico Community Observatory in Upper Park. Having this place to magnify the universe for every Chicoan is undeniably cool, and now the staff is giving constellation tours outside in the new open-sky planetarium. The observatory is open on clear nights Thursday through Sunday; the planetarium is open every night.
16. Take a day trip to Centerville
Butte Creek Canyon is a popular place during the summer months, when folks like to tube and swim in its beautiful creek. But it’s also a place rich in history, dating back to Gold Rush days, and that history is most on display at the Colman Museum, in Centerville next door to the historic Centerville School, and at the Centerville Cemetery.
The museum is named after its founder, the late Lois Colman, who co-authored a history of the canyon. She is buried at the cemetery, which is a beautiful site among pines and oaks about a mile up the road, along with many canyon pioneers. The museum is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 p.m. Check www.colmanmuseum.com for details.
17. Hike to Feather Falls
This sixth-highest waterfall in the United States is breathtaking and worth both the drive and the challenging eight-mile round-trip hike it takes to get there. The falls crash through a granite chute and spill more than 600 feet below to the Middle Fork of the Feather River. If you pack in a picnic, the best place to enjoy it is in the meadow above the falls.
From Highway 70 in Oroville, take Highway 162 east (Olive Hwy) for 6.7 miles. Turn right on Forbestown Road for 6.3 miles and left on Lumpkin Road for 11.4 miles to the marked entrance. Make sure to sign in and out at the trailhead.
18. Ease into a hot spring
We know, it seems counterintuitive to go to hot springs in the heat of summer. But at a place like Wilbur Hot Springs in Colusa County, there are a lot of cool things, too. Check out www.wilburhotsprings.com or call 473-2306.
There’s a lot to see and do on beautiful Monterey Bay, where ocean zephyrs keep the beaches cool. Santa Cruz has its Boardwalk, with fun rides and other amusements, and a lively downtown area. Monterey has more history in one compact place than any other town in California. It’s also got a Fisherman’s Wharf, zillions of great restaurants and the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium. The quaint seaside town of Carmel is nearby, and of course the golfing in the area is as good as any in the world. Get more info at www.monterey.com and www.santacruzca.org.
20. Relax with a creekside picnic
Summer pleasures don’t have to be expensive or involve traveling. Chico’s creeks offer wonderful escapes. It’s as simple as packing a picnic basket and finding a pretty spot on Big Chico Creek. Set up a camp chair in a shady spot, put your feet in the water, and read a good book while the kids play in the water. It’s a great way to spend a warm afternoon, and it’s virtually free!
21. Raft a whitewater river
This may be the quintessential summer fun activity hereabouts. Running one of the numerous whitewater rivers (the Klamath, the North Fork of the American, the Rogue, et al.) with a group of like-minded outdoors lovers is about as good as it gets.
You can do a day run on the American or spend a week on the Klamath, camping on beaches, feeding your huge appetite with delicious food, screaming and shouting your way through the rapids and lazily floating downstream on the mellow stretches.
22. Plop burgers on the barbie
What spells summer better than B-B-Q? For a local twist—and to make a whole day of it—stop by Farmers Market on Saturday for fresh fruits and veggies, along with some grass-fed beef to throw on the grill. And to make it extra special, pick up a case (or a keg!) of Sierra Nevada’s Summerfest.
23. Savor the splendor of Bille Park
One nice thing about Paradise in the summer is it’s cooler than Chico—sometimes 10 degrees or more in the densely forested areas. In a tree-rich neighborhood sits Bille Park, right at the rim of Butte Creek Canyon, along Bille Road. One end of the park features shaded picnic tables, a playground and a huge grass oval. Walk a little ways and you’ll see a newer playground, a small pavilion, a large gazebo and a walkway with two small bridges. There you’ll see the path to the Grotto. Take it—the view is worth the short, mostly shady hike.
Plenty of crystal clear water is found in this secluded—yet popular—spot near the West Branch of the Feather River. Hike the trail along the flumes to many lagoon-like swimming holes, and jump in the irrigation ditch’s cool water on the way back down.
To get there from the Skyway, take a right on Pentz Road and a left on Dean Road. Keep going after the road turns to dirt and slowly wind your way down to the trail-head.
25. Camp at Whiskeytown Lake
Just about eight miles west of Redding, this lake was dedicated by President John F. Kennedy in 1963. It was created as part of the Central Valley Water Project to provide water for agriculture. But enough about its history! This placid body of water is great for skiing, swimming, kayaking and rowing. And its 36-mile shoreline is equipped with plenty of large, shady camping areas that are perfect for big parties.
26. Get lei’d, poolside
Hawaiian-style party during the hot months can’t be beat. What you’ll need: leis and decorations—ooh, tiki torches! Food and drinks should be easy enough—pineapples, macadamia nuts and barbecued chicken and pork are good staples (unless you care to roast a pig underground. Mmm.). Fruity cocktails like mai-tais and blue Hawaiis (fruit punch for the nondrinkers) are a must.
As for music, if you want something the natives adore, pick up some Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole. We couldn’t find any hula troupes in town, but there are some poi dancers who, if you can track ’em down, would surely be happy to perform.
27. Take the dog for a Honey Run
The Honey Run Covered Bridge in Butte Creek Canyon is the only remaining three-level covered bridge in the country. And it’s surrounded by beautiful scenery, including the creek. So, for nature lovers—and those with pups who like to swim—this is the place to go to cool off and relax.
Golfers who want to escape the valley heat will find several championship greens shrouded by the lofty pines of the high sierras.
Plumas County boasts three 18-hole courses, including Graeagle Meadows Golf Course, as well as two nine-hole courses.
29. Turtle Bay
One of the most impressive features of Redding’s Turtle Bay is the Sundial Bridge. The cable-stayed structure crosses the Sacramento River, linking the north and south campuses of the 300-acre park. The bridge opened about three years ago, and was designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava.
The park is also home to beautiful gardens, along with an art gallery, a museum, various wildlife exhibits and a butterfly house. Check out www.turtlebay.org.
30. Play some street ball
There are two ways to beat the heat of summer—fight or flight. Flight is the path of least resistance, settling in to a cool mood in a cool place. But for a true baller it’s all about fighting the heat on its own turf, in a lively pickup game on the asphalt of Chico’s outdoor basketball courts, from Dorothy Johnson Center to Rotary Park to Oak Way Park.
31. Tube down Butte Creek
Tired of the Sacramento River, but still want to go tubing? With rapids, the run down Butte Creek isn’t as leisurely, but is still a great way to get relief from Chico’s sweltering heat. You’ll find plenty of stopovers along this scenic winding waterway, such as sandy beaches and a rope swing.
The best route is about a three-hour trip from the Steel Bridge to the Honey Run Covered Bridge. To get to the launch, drive up Centerville Road about seven miles. Be sure to leave transportation at your exit-point, take plenty of bottled water, and make sure the creek has enough water.
32. Music in the Plaza
Once again the summer will be filled with outdoor live music, now at the new City Plaza. Friday nights offer a more G-Rated array of bands like Sapphire Soul, The Revells and Leon & the Mustangs. Saturdays put the hip back into hipster with a nice cross-section of local artists like Karen Joy Brown, The Secret Stolen and Sleazy Earl Ray & the 2 Drink Minimum. Remember the sunscreen!
Since you’re already going to be spending your evenings on the front porch, you might as well look cool doing it. For the beginner, you can visit the local music stores—Herried’s ($20/half-hour) or Music Connection ($60-$80/month)—or learn how to start your own band in the Band Builders program at Sid Lewis’s Acoustic College ($25/half-hour). Or, throw down $20 bucks for a copy of good ol’ Mel Bay.
34. Art 1st Saturdays
This can be your new thing—the start of a tradition for you and yours. Look for the CN&R’s once-a-month guide for strolling through the latest art of Chico’s studios and galleries.
35. Make a San Francisco getaway
Escaping the heat is only a few hours away. One option is to make a trip down to S.F. for, let’s see … Baker Beach, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a laundry list of great restaurants, theater, Amoeba Records, hole-in-the-wall coffee shops, Golden Gate Park, music at historic venues like The Fillmore …
36. Watch a movie on the lawn
Feeling nostalgic for the long-dead, communal, summer-evening tradition of going to the drive-in? Buy a long extension cord and haul the TV into the yard, throw a few blankets and lawn chairs around and invite a dozen friends over for Jaws 2 under the stars.
37. Taste away in Alexander Valley
Growing some of the best wine grapes in the world, idyllic Alexander Valley in Sonoma County is home to some of California’s top wineries. Think Clos du Bois, Silver Oak and Rodney Strong.
The region is situated along the Russian River between Healdsburg and Cloverdale, and is known for its diverse production of varietals. If traditional is what you seek, you’ll find Cabernet Sauvignon and other staples. But if you’re hunting for the exotic, don’t worry, you’ll find Viognier, Pinot Blanc and Sangiovese. www.alexandervalley.org.38. Take a hike in Lassen Park
Just an hour an a half northeast of Chico, Lassen Park is a perfect afternoon getaway, or spend the entire weekend and get some fishing and swimming in, too. Lots to do, but breathing in the clean mountain air is reason enough to go.
39. Catch some baseball games
This is America’s favorite pastime for a reason. Nothing beats sipping some suds in the summer heat while grown men smack a tiny rawhide-covered ball with a wooden stick. We’ve got the Outlaws in our own backyard all summer. And the Sacramento River Cats are not too far. Of course, there’s always a trip to the Bay for the Athletics and the Giants. Don’t forget your glove, an ice chest and the grill.
40. Climb Lassen Peak
It’s a bit more challenging than hiking in Lassen Park, but well worth it once you reach the peak. You’ll start at the trail head at about 8,500 feet—from there you’ll zigzag your way up the mountain until you reach the 10,457-foot peak. On a clear day, one can see unobstructed birds-eye views of Lake Almanor and the central valley.
41. Catch a play
For those in the mood for theater, summer offers options that both include air-conditioning and don’t. The Blue Room Theatre, under new leadership, has a typically oddball lineup for the summer months. Chico Cabaret also keeps things alive with tales like UG: The Caveman Musical. If you’re a fan of more classical pieces, check out Shakespeare in the Park Plaza. Chico Theater Company, Chico State’s Court Theatre and Paradise’s Theatre on the Ridge are also presenting a number of performances during the summer months, so there is plenty to choose from.
42. Visit Lava Beds National Monument
On a hot summer day, the differences in environments found in this National Monument on the north side of Mt. Shasta are exhilarating. From the heat radiating in all directions along the trails through the jagged, black lava flows, to the moist, cool air in the lava tubes below ground, Lava Beds (www.nps.gov/labe) is a unique getaway destination.
43. Head to Waterworks Park
Not to be too much of a commercial-jingle shill, but … “You’ll have fun, fun shootin’ down the mountain!” You’ve gotta admit, it’s catchy. Give your inner kid a day in the sun (on the rad new Cyclone slide!) and see what tattoos the folks in Redding are sporting this summer. Before you go check www.waterworkspark.com.
44. Stock up on Otter Pops
Go to Costco. Buy three cases. Eat one pop after another. Thank Sir Isaac Lime Poncho Punch for keeping you so frickin’ cool.
45. Summer Festivals
Start programming your summer soundtrack on the festival circuit. Area highlights include the Kate Wolf Memorial Festival in Laytonville (June 29-July 1); the High Sierra Music Fest (July 5-8) in Quincy, with an eclectic lineup that includes a Leftover Salmon reunion, Drive-By Truckers and Les Claypool; and the powerhouse California World Fest in Grass Valley (July 12-15), with headliners Ani DiFranco, Jackie Greene and Tommy Emmanuel. Other notables include a couple of one-day affairs at Sleep Train: Ozzfest (July 17 ) and the Warped Tour (Aug. 23).
46. Catch a flick at Pageant Theatre
The cost of getting your mind out of Chico and experiencing something fresh and different? Only $3, on Cheap Skate Monday Nights at Chico’s only art house movie theater. See www.pageantchico.com.
You best get in shape before attempting this trek. Head up Butte Creek Canyon on Honeyrun Road and keep pedaling up the winding road. There are gorgeous views and it’s a great workout, but be alert for those pesky cars.
48. Hop on a Party Barge
It’s pretty simple. One enormous patio boat + one built-in barbecue + 20 friends + one tub of SPF 30 = a day of fun, while floating. Rent your own Party Barge on Lake Oroville for $300 per day at Bidwell Marina (589-3165).
49. Lounge in Barnes & Noble
For the price of a $4 Chai Frappuccino you can, for hour upon hour, sponge off thousands of books and magazines, AND the unlimited a/c. Get there at a decent time and you can snag yourself a comfy seat—just don’t be one of those people who kick off both shoes and start sawing logs.
50. Houseboat in style on Shasta Lake
If luxury is your thing, hop on houseboat on beautiful Shasta Lake, about 80 miles north of Chico. Some of the boats are more like yachts. They comfortably sleep 16 people and have all the amenities of home, such as spas and satellite TV. Oh, and the lake isn’t too shabby, either. It offers 370 miles of shoreline and cool, refreshing water. Check out www.shastalake.com and www.houseboats.com.