Chico’s center of culture and commerce
Chico’s heart and soul is in its historic downtown, where locals step lively and college students add spark. Visitors will find the shopping as appealing as a stroll, with the area’s turn-of-the-century buildings and small-town atmosphere. There’s always something going on downtown.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.
In winter, the weather is mild, and shopkeepers host sidewalk sales and the popular “Christmas Preview” event, as merchants open their doors to show off holiday stock and give away apple cider and cookies. You’ve probably heard by now that Chico gets hot in the late spring and 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.
With the exception of the retail stores, downtown Chico doesn’t shut down at night. 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:
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 Main 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.
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.
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 Wed..-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. The Visitor Center stays open till 5 p.m. for free, self-guided tours of their local history display. For more information, call 895-6144.
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.
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. www.chicomuseum.org.
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. Open Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, with no admission charge. www.nationalyoyo.org
This artist-managed, nonprofit 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. www.1078gallery.org.
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. 343-1110.
Chico Paper Company
In the heart of downtown at 345 Broadway, this custom framing and retail shop features works by local artists, with new exhibits appearing regularly. 891-0900.
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.
Avenue 9 Gallery
A new gallery in town, Avenue 9 has already earned a reputation for diverse, interesting shows. Hours: Wed.-Sun. noon-4 p.m. 180 East Ninth Ave. 879-1821.