Downtown: Chico’s cultural and commercial meeting place

People-watching, shopping and just hanging out are a major focus of Chico’s historic and lively downtown. Go there and check it out!

No matter the time of day, downtown streets are always inviting. Whether you’re window shopping, grabbing a bite to eat, or enjoying music in the park, Chico’s cultural diversity and artistic nature are evident everywhere you look.

No matter the time of day, downtown streets are always inviting. Whether you’re window shopping, grabbing a bite to eat, or enjoying music in the park, Chico’s cultural diversity and artistic nature are evident everywhere you look.

Photo By Tom Angel

Chico’s downtown defines this community. It’s where locals gather for special events and visitors get a sense of the character of the town. Hot summers give way to pleasant, cooler months, and shoppers and strollers come out to enjoy commerce and camaraderie.

The Thursday Night Market and Saturday morning farmers’ markets thrive with seasonal food offerings, along with gifts and live entertainment. As the holiday shopping season starts, watch for the annual tree lighting ceremony and Christmas Preview, when shops show their wares.

At night, restaurants and watering holes are a main attraction. (See “Entertainment,” page 48, and “Wine and Dine,” page 56, for more information.)

Note that parking is free on weekends, even at the meters.

Here are some of the sights you might want to be on the lookout for as you stroll downtown. If you’d like to dig a little deeper, there are now $5 historic downtown walking tours leaving each Saturday from the Chamber of Commerce (Third and Salem streets) at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m.

Downtown murals
There is something in Chico that detests a blank wall. Turn almost any corner downtown and you’ll see a mural. Look for a portrait of the Bidwells the town’s founders near the corner of Second and Broadway, a remarkable “trompe l’oeil” mural at First and Salem, and others. If you stand on the steps of the City Council chambers at Fourth and Main and look north, you’ll see the newest mural, of Chico’s first town hall. It was done earlier this year by Scott Teeple, who’s created many of the murals downtown.

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Stansbury Home
Chico’s best-preserved example of Victorian architecture, located on the corner of West Fifth and Salem streets, is a journey into the past. Tours, which are given most Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 p.m, cost $2 for adults, $1 for students, and children under 10 are free. Call 895-3848 for more information.

Bidwell Mansion and Visitors’ Center
Chico’s most famous home is the three-story, pink-and-brown mansion its founder, John Bidwell, built for his wife Annie. This restored jewel of a home, located at 525 The Esplanade, across the creek from Children’s Playground, is now a state park and offers hourly tours Mon.-Fri., noon-4 p.m., and weekends, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tours cost $1 for those 16 and older; everyone else is free. For more information, call 895-6144.

Located alongside the mansion is its Visitors’ Center, which provides a wealth of information about not only Bidwell Mansion, but also the city of Chico and its heritage. Here you can pick up tourism information as well as purchase books on topics ranging from Butte County as Old West settlement to the internment of local Japanese Americans during World War II.

Downtown Plaza
This one-block park in the heart of downtown (it is bounded by Fourth and Fifth and Main and Broadway) is a great place to people-watch or just rest your feet. The new Chico Municipal Center and Chico City Council chambers are just across Main Street, the historic downtown post office is just across Fifth, and the beautifully restored Silberstein Building is across Broadway.

Chico Museum
Housed in the former 1904 Carnegie Library at Second and Salem streets, the museum has three parts: a historical museum, which includes a permanent Chico collection; a re-creation of a Taoist temple altar much like one formerly found in Chico; and a rotating exhibit. Entry is free, but donations are appreciated. Open Wed.-Sun. noon-4 p.m. 891-4336.

Yo-Yo Museum
The world-class National Yo-Yo Museum is housed in the Bird In Hand store at 320 Broadway. Among the exhibits is “Big Yo,” the largest yo-yo in the world. Open daily, with no admission charge.

1078 Gallery
This artist-managed, non-profit gallery is a showcase for experimental, progressive and “not necessarily commercial” art. 738 West Fifth St. Hours: Tues.-Sat. 12:30-5:30. 343-1973.

Vagabond Rose Gallery
Located downtown on Main Street between Second and Third streets, this business features exhibits from local artists that rotate on a monthly basis. Hours: Mon.–Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.