Best of Chico - editors’ picks
The best of Chico according to CN&R staffers.CN&R staffers offer their take on the rest of the best stuff in Chico
Best truck stop
Fork in the Road food-truck rally
One Wednesday night each month, the place to be and to be eating is the inviting tree-lined lawn behind Manzanita Place, where the food trucks (and food carts, and food tables under tents) of Chico circle the green and open their windows for the Fork in the Road street-food event. It’s an embarrassment of culinary riches—tamales, grilled cheese, wood-fired pizzas, Paleo gourmet, cupcakes, Filipino barbecue, American barbecue, burritos, Caribbean delights, and more—in a beautiful setting, with a playground for the kids, and beer and margaritas for sale for the adults. What more does a community event need?
Best gourmet on the cheap
Grocery Outlet wine and cheese sections
2157 Pillsbury Road
Say you’ve got a hankering for a nice petite sirah and some Camembert, but you’ve only got 10 bucks. No problem. Head to the Grocery Outlet on the north end of town. There, you’ll find all sorts of fancy cheeses, from smoked Gouda to chèvre. You’ll also find dozens of varietals of wine, from growers in California to New Zealand. The best part: All of it is marked down, so you can pick up a bottle (or two) and some cheese.
Best place to find super-cool used shit-kickers
Cowboy-boot vendor booth in the back building of Eighth & Main Antique Center
745 Main St.
Enter the front doors of Eighth & Main Antique Center and head straight to the back of the building and out the back door, like you know exactly where you are going—because you do. You will next walk through the doors of the antique center’s second building (after walking through a breezeway containing used garden furniture, etc.), and before long you will run straight into a vendor booth containing a huge collection of used cowboy boots in a variety of colors and sizes, where you can step into your new used shit-kickers.
Best way to turn a local conservative into a staunch defender of Mother Earth
Plant pot in the foothills
Butte County Supervisors Bill Connelly and Larry Wahl are not exactly known as protectors of the environment. But when aerial photographs of grading in the foothills to accommodate marijuana gardens were shown at a supes’ meeting last April, they suddenly expressed grave concerns about erosion of the land and pollution of the watersheds. Assemblyman Dan Logue climbed on board and toured the area. He, too, was disturbed by what he saw and questioned why environmentalists hadn’t chimed in on the matter.
Best “Chico Condition”
Approval of the Winchester Goose’s ABC license
This award goes to Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle for wisely stepping out of the way of blocking the new craft-beer bar’s ABC license. There are real alcohol problems in Chico that the city and the police are facing, but bearded beer-geeks quaffing barleywines and sour beers are not the issue.
Best local controversy
The depleted city funds
When the new management took over at Chico City Hall, a thorough look at the city’s books got underway. What’s come to light thus far is that the city was operating with a structural deficit of close to $5 million annually. That led to massive layoffs. But what was also discovered is that to keep the city solvent, former city employees had borrowed millions—in excess of $20 million—from key city funds to pay the bills. Those funds now need to be repaid. Some have predicted it will take a decade to do so.
Best place to go to get into a lively discussion of the merits of Butte County secession
112 W. Second St.
Kirk Johnson, co-owner of West Second Street clothing boutique Konjo, is an ardent supporter of the State of Jefferson, that dreamed-of (by more folks than one might realize) state made up of counties in northern California (including Butte) and southern Oregon. The likeable, ahead-of-the-curve Johnson has been selling and handing out State of Jefferson clothing and flags for some time now, way before Siskiyou and Modoc counties recently decided to vote in favor of secession. Chat him up (and check out his cool store while you’re at it).
Best local Facebook profile
“May I be the first to say that you are the best thing that happened since the horse-drawn wheat combine was invented. Please accept my sincere gratitude for accepting my request to become friends.” Thanks to a mysterious digital wormhole (probably passing through the old Chinese tunnels under Chico), the founder of Chico has traveled to the present, established an online presence and started making friends with the town’s modern populace. The informative and humorous (and always modest) Bidwell has made a splash with his regular postings of historical facts (and photos) about himself and the Chico area that he loves, and seems game for all manner of casual or scholarly discourse with his newfound “friends.”
Best deflated local tradition
Labor Day tubing down the river
The booze ban on the Sacramento River over the Labor Day weekend certainly took the air out of the annual flotilla. The truth is, it needed taming. It had grown over the past decade or so into an event that attracted scores of out-of-towners—folks interested only in partying, making a huge mess, then splitting. The end of this longstanding tradition makes us long for the days when friends used to pick up a couple of 12-packs and cruise leisurely between Irvine Finch and Scotty’s, cooling down in the chilly waters and saying goodbye to the last days of summer. Maybe in a couple of years, a new, chilled-out float day will arise in its wake.
Best place to talk to oneself
Sensory deprivation chamber at Renew Float Spa
1030 Village Lane (next to In Motion Fitness)
When one is entirely deprived of sensory experience, the mind tends to wander. So it is in the sensory-deprivation tank—or flotation chamber—at Renew Float Spa, in which the body floats atop water heated to 95 degrees —roughly body temperature—and infused with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt. After about 10 minutes in the pitch-black, sound-proof tank, a conversation with oneself becomes increasingly appealing. The chances of someone overhearing you are just about nil, so it’s a perfect opportunity for constructive self-reflection. Or maybe your fancy is an old-fashioned crazy ramble? In either case, you might want to shy away from any imaginary friend-making while floating; you don’t want to share such a close space with a human-sized rabbit … right?
Best breath of fresh air
Every Labor Day weekend, the annual two-day avant-garde Butcher Shop theater festival reminds Chicoans how magical it can be to witness theater outdoors elbow-to-elbow with the community. This year, we were also able to, once again, enjoy Shakespeare outside when the Chico Summer Theatre Festival brought the Bard back to Bidwell Park (after a few years of having been staged at Chico Women’s Club) with its production of Timon of Athens in the Campfire Council Ring.
Best place to catch a comet
Chico Community Observatory
1 Observatory Way (off Wildwood Avenue in Upper Bidwell Park), www.chicoobservatory.org
Astronomers are still debating how spectacular of a show Comet ISON will deliver at its brightest in late November, but even now, it’s viewable to those with the right equipment. The Kiwanis Club-operated Chico Community Observatory in Upper Bidwell Park has such equipment: a pair of 14-inch telescopes the public may use free of charge on clear nights, Thursdays through Sundays. Even sans comet, there’s plenty to see in the night sky anytime, and the observatory is a great place to get a guided tour. Check out the CCO’s Facebook page (see link above) for frequent updates on hours, viewing conditions and fun facts.
Best neighborhood store for cheap eats
Warner Street Grocery
1147 Warner St.
Warner Street Grocery is so much of a neighborhood market that it actually occupies an old home that’s easy to miss unless you know it’s there. Dan and Michele Kumangai have owned it since 1994 (the former owners were Michele’s parents) and—luckily for those in the know—apparently haven’t changed the deli prices since. For example, they offer a Polish dog and 32-ounce drink special for a measly $2.50, and a variety of ready-made sandwiches for equally shocking low prices ($1.85-$2.25 on French or onion roll). You can even pick up a side of macaroni or potato salad, snack-sized bag of chips or other goodies for a complete meal under $5.
Best way to get to work
We casual cyclists start sweating when more devoted counterparts even start talking about their favorite 50-mile uphill rides, but that doesn’t mean the joy of bicycling is out of reach without making such a massive commitment. It only takes leaving the car parked a few days during the work week to make your comings and goings something to look forward to. No matter where your points A and B are in Chico, there is likely a flat road ahead and plenty to see in between. Riding in Chico proper—where a short commute can include jaunting past giant trees and across wooden bridges over picturesque creeks—redefines “urban” riding; it’s more like pedaling through an amusement park.
Best view of old Chico
Chico in Black & White: Historical Photos from the John Nopel Collection
Chico Museum, 141 Salem St.
The late historian John Nopel spent more than a half-century gathering historical and contemporary photographs of Chico throughout the years, amassing a collection of tens of thousands of images that might otherwise be lost. Some of the best of these are currently displayed at this Chico Museum exhibit for which Nopel’s son, David, helped select the photos. The old photos were restored by local photographer Gary Quiring and are accompanied by text penned by local historians. All together, it’s a wonderful exhibit that captures the essence of the Chico experience through the years, an absolute must-see.
Best easy bike ride outside of Lower Bidwell Park
Next time you’re looking for a leisurely bike ride, consider something other than the paved paths of Lower Bidwell Park, which are often congested with foot and bike traffic. A less-traveled (and equally scenic) option is Bidwell Avenue, which runs alongside Big Chico Creek and connects to West Sacramento Avenue on its way toward the Sacramento River. As you ride, you’ll also see some of Chico’s most fabulous homes. To get there, take Stewart Avenue off Nord Avenue, and then take a left on Bidwell Place, which becomes Bidwell Avenue after the road bends to the right.
Best day-hike outside of Upper Bidwell Park
Big Bald Rock and Curtain Falls
If you’re the kind of outdoor enthusiast who prefers not so see anyone outside of your away-team during an excursion, this remote hike in the Berry Creek area northeast of Oroville is for you. The trail—overgrown and very challenging in places—starts at the rim of the Feather River Canyon, cuts underneath Big Bald Rock and leads down to the river. Curtain Falls is about a half-mile upstream from that point; to get there, rock-hopping and a long swim are in order. The drive to the trailhead gets so narrow and rocky in places that you might start doubting whether or not there is a trailhead. But if that’s enough to turn you around, it’s probably for the best. Go to www.localhikes.com/Hikes/DomeTrail_1620.asp for detailed directions.
Best way to get your thoughts published
Tell It to the E-R
Oh wait … forget it. The life-support system for that column, which ran for 28 years, was recently unplugged by Chico Enterprise-Record Editor David Little, who said it had more than run its course. The final straw may well have been a caller’s suggestion to decapitate the city manager, the assistant city manager, and the City Council members and place their heads on sticks in the Flume and Second streets roundabout to serve as targets for rotten vegetables.
Best blank canvas
The Second and Flume roundabout
We don’t have an aversion to wood chips, but we’d like to see some sort of decorative or landscaping feature in the roundabout at Second and Flume streets (not decapitated city leaders’ heads, thank you very much). This northeast entrance to downtown Chico could certainly use some pizzazz—shrubs, rocks, a sculpture, perhaps? Let’s not forget we used to be one of the top arts communities in the country. Local artists, make your voices heard!
Best alternative to buying beer at BevMo!
Buying beer at Mangrove Mini Mart
1504 Mangrove Ave.
In May, Charanjiv Singh—the Indian-born owner of Mangrove Mini Mart—lost the ability to sell alcohol from his convenience store. The City Council had voted to deny Singh’s application for an offsale beer-and-wine license, after booze super-store BevMo! waltzed into town a couple months prior with no license issues whatsoever. Thankfully, the council recognized the hardship that rejecting the license application caused for Singh, a first-time business owner, and he eventually received approval. So, next time you grab a six-pack, consider buying it from Mangrove Mini Mart as a small gesture of support for the little guy.
Best place to trade in the shirt off your back
126 W. Second St.
Former Hollywood costumer Sue Reed’s vintage/second-hand downtown clothing boutique has been open only a short time but already it is developing a reputation for top-notch, fashionable used clothing. Add to that the fact that you can bring in your own used duds to trade for cash or store credit (and Reed’s super-friendly, helpful manner) and Bootleg is indeed a super-winner!
Best place to hang with the pack
DeGarmo Dog Park
At DeGarmo Park, Leona Court and Esplanade
The north Chico park is a great place for running, rolling in the grass and sniffing butts. And the dogs have fun, too. Here are the official canine rules: Never chase children or others; make sure your owner picks up your waste; don’t destroy the park (this means no digging); do not bite or attack other dogs or people in the park; always listen to your owner and follow commands. Humans 7 years of age or younger ain’t allowed in. Dogs of all ages are welcome.
Best downtown parking space
Second and Wall streets
Without revealing the exact location and ruining its existence for those aware of it, let’s just say it’s somewhere on the south side of Second Street, directly in front of the University Bar and the last spot before Wall Street. “Why the best?” you might ask. Simple: It’s not burdened by one of those pesky, panhandling parking meters.