Chico lore

Interesting (or just plain weird) stuff you should know about this little college town

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If all you know about this little city you are about to dive into is that it gets hot during the summers, that it’s where Sierra Nevada beers are brewed, and that it has a reputation as a destination for those seeking a degree in the “social arts,” then you don’t really know Chico. Those are just three of the broadest strokes in the picture of this isolated Northern California outpost and, as with any city, there are many more colorful facts that make up the complete portrait. So, to quickly bring you up to speed, we’ve compiled some of the more interesting—and offbeat—bits of institutional knowledge to help give you a better grasp of the lay of the land.

Bidwell Park: It’s a really big park

Situated right in the middle of Chico, Bidwell Park provides that rare getaway that is only a five- or 10-minute bike ride away from most anywhere in town. And at 3,670 acres (the 14th-largest city park in United States), it doesn’t take much riding or hiking to get completely lost in nature. Bequeathed to the city in 1905 by Annie Bidwell, the wife of Chico’s founding father, John Bidwell, the century-old “gift” is the definitely the “crown jewel” of Chico. Visit for more info and for maps of the park.

Famous Chico

Maybe you already knew that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers grew up in Chico and was a star at Pleasant Valley High School and Butte College before becoming the highest-paid player in NFL history (so far). But did you know that the signature Robin Hood flick, 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn, was filmed in Bidwell Park? Or that one of The Daily Show’s multiple-Emmy-winning writers was from Chico? (Yep, Jason Ross not only grew up here but he also used to work at the Chico News & Review.)

A few other notable locals who’ve done Chico proud: Actress Amanda Detmer (Saving Silverman, Final Destination); Olympic bobsledder Emily Azevedo; former NFL players Jeff Stover (raised in nearby Corning, and current Chico resident) and Mike Sherrard; and Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Kyle Lohse (who is from nearby Hamilton City).

Notorious Chico

And just to keep us honest, there are those historical blips that we’ll never shake so we might as well embrace them.

Nearly as enduring as the inflated party-school rep that was fueled by Playboy magazine naming Chico State the nation’s No. 1 party school in 1987 is a famous dig by famed S.F. Chronicle columnist, the late Herb Caen, who noted that Chico was the kind of place that stocked Velveeta cheese in the gourmet-foods aisle. From then on, every reference Caen made to Chico included the tag: “Velveeta capital of the world.”

There was also the time in 1996, when Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole made a campaign stop in Chico and, leaning down to shake hands with supporters at the local Elks Lodge, tumbled off the stage when a decorative railing gave way under him, putting Chico on the national radar once again.

It’s pronounced: “ammen”

Almond trees are one of the biggest crops filling out the orchards surrounding Chico, and the real locals call the tasty nut an “ammen” (like salmon), not “all-mond” (like “palm frond”) or “ah-men” (like “common”).

Spell your way home

In the student-heavy south-of-campus neighborhood, if you’re having trouble memorizing the order of the five streets leading up to the railroad tracks, just remember that the first letters spell out “Chico”: Chestnut, Hazel, Ivy, Cherry and Orange.

You’ve entered a nuclear-free zone

According to Section 9.60.030 of the Chico Municipal Code, “No person shall produce, test, maintain, or store within the city a nuclear weapon, component of a nuclear weapon, nuclear weapon delivery system, or component of a nuclear weapon delivery system.” You can now rest easy tonight.

Home of the “last wild Indian”

In the summer of 1911, a man believed to be the last “wild” Native American in the United States emerged from the wilderness near Oroville. Named “Ishi” by the UC Berkeley anthropologists who took him in, the then 49-year-old Yahi (and possibly half-Maidu) Indian has since become the face of Butte County’s Native American culture and historical legacy.

Strange attractions: A four-stop local-oddity tour:

• Echo chambers: There are two. Stand right in the very center of either the big circular slab of cement on top of the Roth Planetarium at Chico State or the one in front of Tri-Counties bank (at Fifth and Salem streets), talk and listen.

• World“s Biggest Yo-Yo … museum: The 256-pound “Big-Yo” is no longer the biggest functioning Yo-Yo in the world, but The National Yo-Yo Museum in which it’s housed (at the back of the Bird in Hand gift shop, at 320 Broadway) claims to have the “largest public display of Yo-Yo’s and Yo-Yo memorabilia in the country.”

• The park with no visitors: Head south on Broadway until it splits in two, take the left fork (which becomes Oroville Avenue for a block, then Main Street for another block for some reason), and just before it blends into Park Avenue, you’ll see a lovely shaded triangle of grass on the left, complete with a water fountain. Trouble is, there is no legal path leading to the lost island of a park. You can’t park on the street, and there is no crosswalk leading to it.

• Norm“s house: Head down Ninth Street a few blocks, turn left on Orient Street and you won’t be able to miss the polka-dotted masterpiece known as Lumina. The outside and inside of the house at 821 Orient have been covered with the colorful pointillist paintings of its owner, Norm Dillinger—even the windows! HGTV’s Offbeat America series even did a segment on the place in 2006. Stop by and gawk from the sidewalk, or knock on the door and ask Norm for a tour.