The heart of Chico

Powell’s Sweet Shoppe

Powell’s Sweet Shoppe

Historic downtown Chico is the place to be during any season, day or evening. Restaurants and shops tucked into beautifully restored turn-of-the-century buildings offer the perfect retreat during our crisp fall and wet winter weather.

Downtown Chico is where locals and visitors gather for special festivities and a sense of community. Enjoy the eclectic range of architecture and art, especially the many murals that bring the region to life. Look for a portrait of Chico founder John Bidwell and his wife, Annie, near the corner of Second and Broadway, or John Lennon leading the rest of The Beatles on Broadway near First Street.

These murals are reflective of the creative folks who help make downtown a vibrant, diverse center of Chico (see Arts & Culture, page 33, for additional Chico arts). These façades 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-do. Enjoy an early-morning stroll through the aisles year-round at Saturday’s market at Second and Wall streets.

Make the most of downtown’s plentiful resources to 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.

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 Entertainment and Wine and Dine 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 where the Bidwells lived. 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 in traditional Victorian style. The park is located at 525 Esplanade, across the creek from Children’s Playground, and offers hourly tours Tuesday-Friday, 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. 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.

Downtown Harvest Festival

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 Wednesday-Sunday, 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 reconstructed to include lighting, a concert stage and a fountain. The park is 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 Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and noon-5 p.m. Sunday, with no admission charge. Call 893-0545.

Saturday Farmers Market

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 are on hold. It is available for special events. Call 895-3848 for more information.