The heart of Chico

SEASONAL SPLENDOR Chicoans gather in the downtown plaza park for the annual lighting of the 100-foot-plus city Christmas tree.

SEASONAL SPLENDOR Chicoans gather in the downtown plaza park for the annual lighting of the 100-foot-plus city Christmas tree.

Photo By Tom Angel

As is true for most cities, the heart and soul of Chico is in its historic downtown. Visitors make a beeline there to shop and stroll amid turn-of-the-century buildings and a homey, small-town atmosphere.

Downtown is also where locals go when they want to get back to their roots, enjoying fresh produce from the Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings and from its summertime companion event, the Thursday Night Market, and chancing by old friends at holiday festivities and street festivals.

But what sets Chico’s downtown apart is not so much architectural character (although it has plenty of that). Rather, it’s the people who make downtown the vital, diverse center of this community. From artists with their culture and creativity to college students with their energy and fun-loving spirit, this is where you see what makes Chico tick.

People don’t rush along with their heads down in Chico; they greet strangers passing by on the sidewalk.

GOTTA HAND IT A distinctive pair of hands welcomes folks to the Chico Municipal Center, where the city’s business is conducted. The hands were commissioned because the city dedicates a percentage of its budget to public art projects.

Photo By Tom Angel

You’ve probably heard by now that Chico gets hot in summer. In the early part of the 20th century, locals beat the heat by coming out at night, and that continues to be the case. Visit the air-conditioned shops in the daytime and stick around at night for ice cream, dinner and a movie, play or Downtown Plaza Park concert. There are dozens of restaurants to choose from, fitting every budget. The club life, too, is vibrant, with bars frequented by college students as well as more relaxed lounge settings.

Downtown is where the action is. It’s where locals get their gossip fix and visitors decide they’d love to move here.

As you enjoy the downtown, keep an eye out for the following highlights:

Downtown murals
It looks like somebody really talented went crazy with a paintbrush in downtown Chico. There are murals on nearly every large wall, from a scene from The Adventures of Robin Hood (which was filmed in Bidwell Park) to bicyclists to The Beatles. A portrait of the town-founding Bidwells peeks from behind a palm tree near the corner of Second and Broadway; there’s a remarkable “trompe l’oeil” mural featuring Greek pillars at First and Salem; and the Victorian “Language Houses” are recreated on the wall of Mid Valley Title at Sixth and Mains streets. If you stand on the steps of the City Council chambers at Fourth and Main and look north, you’ll see muralist Scott Teeple’s recent rendition of Chico’s first town hall.

Stansbury Home
This stately Victorian, Chico’s best-preserved example of late-1800s architecture, is a popular destination for tourists and local residents. The nonprofit Stansbury Home Preservation Association is committed to continued restoration. It’s located on the corner of West Fifth and Salem streets. 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.

STEEPLE ON TOP Local muralist Scott Teeple has decorated many downtown surfaces, including this painting of the original town hall, which can be seen by looking across Third Street from the steps of the current town hall.

Photo By Tom Angel

Bidwell Mansion
Chico’s most famous home is the three-story, pink-and-brown mansion its founder, Gen. John Bidwell, built and lived in with his wife Annie. Now a lovingly restored state park, the mansion was once used for Chico State student housing—a fact that amuses locals. It was also the first home in Northern California to have indoor plumbing. The mansion is located at 525 The Esplanade, across the creek from Children’s Playground, and offers hourly tours Mon.-Fri., noon-4 p.m., and weekends, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tours cost $2 for those 16 and older; everyone else is free. For more information, call 895-6144.

Downtown Plaza
This one-block park in the heart of downtown (it’s between Fourth and Fifth and Main and Broadway) is a great place to people-watch or just rest your feet. The Chico Municipal Center and 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.

National Yo-Yo Museum
The world-class National Yo-Yo Museum is housed in the Bird In Hand store at 320 Broadway and has recently been expanded to include displays of vintage toys. Among the exhibits is “Big Yo,” the largest yo-yo in the world. The museum is about to be renovated. Open Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, 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.-Fri. 3-5:30 p.m., Sat. 2-5 p.m. 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.

Located slightly outside downtown, on Third Avenue off The Esplanade a few blocks north of Bidwell Mansion, this new gallery is an important showcase of the best in Northstate art. 173 E. Third Ave., 345-7500.