Get to know Chico

The best time of year to explore Chico’s downtown is during the spring and summer—especially early in the evenings—when the area comes alive with interesting things to do. The streets are inviting, and so are the people who frequent them; don’t be surprised when complete strangers look you in the eye and nod or say hello.The trendy boutiques, hip cafés, crowded bars and inviting restaurants that make up downtown reflect the diversity of the people who frequent them. Take a self-guided walking tour to discover hidden gems. Look around and enjoy the eclectic range of architecture that mirrors Chico’s growth over time.

These facades provide the backdrop to multiple street fairs, holiday festivities and community events. Farmers markets, where local vendors peddle their fresh produce and other wares, are a must-see. Enjoy an early-morning stroll through the stalls year-round at Saturday’s market.

Downtown’s colorful storefront awnings provide shade on hot summer days and shelter on wet, rainy winter days, making downtown Chico hospitable any time of year. Whether you take advantage of the air-conditioning or the heating, the best free entertainment in Chico just may be chilling downtown, watching the people pass by.

By making the most of downtown’s plentiful resources, you’ll have an authentic Chico experience. Check out unique locally owned shops during the day. Stick around for dinner on any budget, catch a flick at Chico’s independent movie theater or see a live performance, and grab an ice cream or frozen yogurt for dessert. If you’re over 21, hit the dance floor at a downtown club, or relax with a local brew at a lounge.

Parking at the meters is 50 cents an hour. Quarters, dimes and nickels are accepted. A ticket for over-parking is $15 and payable by mail or at the Chico Municipal Center. The parking structure on the corner of Third and Salem streets generally has spaces available. It’s free to park at meters or in the lot on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays and every evening after 6.

Don’t mind the crazy grid of one- and two-way streets that make up the heart of downtown Chico. They just take some getting used to—and help locals pick out the newcomers.

Downtown is not only the cultural heart of Chico, but a center of commerce as well. Gen. John Bidwell had his general store here, and today dozens of merchants keep up the tradition of shopping variety in downtown Chico. Specialty stores, boutiques and shops like Made in Chico are local favorites, but shopkeepers certainly welcome out-of-towners as well. Window-shopping can quickly lead to a buying spree.

Several times a year, downtown merchants bring their wares outside for a sidewalk sale combined with a town festival.

Downtown Chico is also brimming with coffee shops, restaurants and bars in all price ranges and styles (see Nightlife, page 53, and Wining and Dining, page 59, for full listings).

Antiques: If you’re into cool, old stuff, downtown Chico is the place to be. Antique shops abound—it could take you days to go through them all. You’re sure to find that piece of nostalgia you’re looking for—and probably a lot more.

Boutiques: The Chico Mall and North Valley Plaza have some good chain shops, but if you want something unique or enjoy window-shopping, head downtown for all the boutiques. They offer everything from wedding gowns to shoes to cute accessories.

Bidwell Mansion
Chico’s most famous home is the three-story, pink-and-brown mansion the town’s founder, 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. One fun fact: It was the first home in Northern California to have indoor plumbing. During the month of December, the mansion is decorated for the holidays with traditional Victorian style. The park is located at 525 The Esplanade, across the creek from Children’s Playground, and offers hourly tours Tues.-Fri., noon-4 p.m., and weekends, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tours cost $2 for children ages 5-17, $4 for those 18 and older; everyone else is free. The Visitor Center stays open till 5 p.m. for free, self-guided tours of its local history display. For more information, call 895-6144.

A woman browses the cothing racks at Lulu’s Fashion Lounge.

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 Chinese 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.

City Plaza
This one-block park in the heart of downtown (between Fourth and Fifth and Main and Broadway) has been completely revised to include lighting, a concert stage, a fountain and more. The park, which recently reopened for visitors, has been known as 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.

National Yo-Yo Museum
The world-class National Yo-Yo Museum is housed in the Bird In Hand store at 320 Broadway and also includes 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. Call 893-0545.

Stansbury Home
This gleaming white Victorian at the corner of West Fifth and Salem streets seems more than a little out of place surrounded by contemporary brick buildings. But that just adds to the intrigue of Chico’s best-maintained example of late-19th-century Italianate architecture. The historic home is undergoing foundation reconstruction, so regular tours, as of spring, are on hold. It is available for special events. Call 895-3848 for more information.