CN&R editors share some of our local favorites
Best park starting with a “B” that doesn’t end in “idwell”Bille Park
OK, it may seem strange to start a “Best of Chico” list with a place in Paradise, but that’s how we roll here. Nestled in a forest neighborhood, about a mile off the Skyway on Bille Road, the park features many things you’d expect: picnic areas, playground equipment and a large grassy area. What you might not expect is the breathtaking view of Butte Creek Canyon. Short trails to the Grotto and Lookout Point are well worth the hike.
Best reason to go corporate
Chai Frappuccino from Starbucks
Convictions be damned—the Chai Frap from Starbucks is a little slice of heaven in a Solo® cup (patent No. RE28797). And if you feel like people might frown on you for choosing to go to the coffee monopoly, just do what we do—strategically place a finger over the logo (see photo) and walk fast. But take heed: You’ll probably have to take out a small loan to afford one of these things: A tall will run you $3.20; a grande, $3.70; and a venti costs $4.20.
Best-dressed local do-gooderPatrick Clark
Chico is the sort of city where the businessmen wear sandals, coeds wear pajama bottoms and a surfer/stoner aesthetic rules the streets: flip-flops + shorts + Sierra Nevada tee, and you’re in. Sure, it’s not too hard to stand out here, but Patrick Clark does it with class. The tall, soft-spoken Clark can often be found sitting (with unwavering good posture) outside the Naked Lounge, in all his tailored, Euro- simple glory—black pants and shoes, pressed white shirt and jet-black hair. Très chic! Oh, and he does good work too, as a services coordinator at the Torres Community Shelter.
Best place for a very important date
Newly reset and polished, Hotel Diamond is a downtown gem. (All right, enough with the pun.) Inside the historic building is Johnnie’s; if you want to impress a romantic or business contact, take ’em there. The ambience is classy yet comfortable, and the food is as creative as it is delicious. Ever consider macaroni and cheese a gourmet dish? It is at Johnnie’s, particularly with rock shrimp sprinkled on top. It’s located at Fourth Street and Broadway; if it’s full, walk the few blocks to Ninth and Main, where Jedidiah’s also serves a fantastic lunch in a nice setting.
Best place to find the BuddhaHouse of Rice
Harold and Catherine Park, the owners of this delightfully jam-packed store in downtown Chico, would be the first to tell you that the Buddha is found anywhere you stop and pay close attention to the moment—but if you want a physical Buddha to bring an image of tranquility to your house, this is the place to go. They have standing Buddhas (like the one shown here) and sitting Buddhas, Buddhas from Japan and Buddhas from Vietnam. Of course, they also have lots of other cool imported stuff, from Asian foods to pottery, clothes and furniture. And the Parks themselves, who are originally from Korea, are lovely people who enjoy meeting and chatting with their customers.
Best place to “shake” it upBig Al’s Drive In
We’re getting a brain freeze just thinking about it. Big Al’s Drive In has a wide selection of shakes, but it’s the fresh banana variety that really curls our toes. Big Al’s shakes come with a straw and a spoon, but you may as well ditch the straw—these things are thick. It’s a great excuse for getting yourself some mouth surgery that makes it impossible to eat solid foods. And they have fresh bananas, so we say that makes them a healthy way to start the day. OK, maybe not. But for dinner? Yes.
Best place to time travel
Special Collections, Meriam Library, Chico State
Interested in visiting the past? The best place to do so is this wonderful repository of historical photographs and writings from Northeastern California. It’s a treasure trove of materials about the people who’ve lived here, from the original Indians and pre-Gold Rush settlers to those who came after. It’s a collection of collections, including rare books, university archives, a rich selection of American Indian materials, historic topographic maps, and so on. To learn more, go to the university’s Web site (www.csuchico .edu), select Campus Resources/Meriam Library, then click Collections/ Special Collections. You can also access its several virtual collections, including an exhibit on the Vets’ Village that once existed at the university.
Best shadeRedwood grove, Bidwell Park
Area 37—not quite as top secret as Area 51, but you wouldn’t know it by how deserted it usually is. Despite its high visibility in Lower Park, right along the busy North Park Drive, Picnic Area 37 is almost always empty, and it is always shady. A tall grove of a dozen or so redwoods provides a constant canopy, plus a soft ground cover and that unmistakable “camping smell” that creates the perfect getaway spot for a summer afternoon nap.
Best local beerThe sampler at Sierra Nevada
Why pick one beer when you can try them all? The sampler is the answer to all our ale prayers. A cool placemat not only fits all the varieties of brew offered in the Taproom, but it also gives the lowdown on what makes each one special. Apparently, when added together, all the little shooters add up to about 21/2 pints. So if you drink ’em all fast enough (wouldn’t want to let them get warm), you can get a nice buzz going for the $8 it cost you. Cheers!
Best late-night mode of transportationPedicabs
They’re called tuk-tuks in Thailand, rickshaws in Japan. But here in Chico, we call for a pedicab, please. You’ll see the drivers—er, bicyclers—pedaling the streets of downtown on weekend nights, hoping to find partiers who are either too lazy to walk from bar to bar or too drunk to stand up. Not a bad idea! Think about it: The next time you go out in those super high heels, ladies, you don’t have to worry about killing your feet for fashion. Just remember, they pedal for donations.
Best local pronunciation
To an outsider’s ear, the North State take on “almond” sounds much more like a name for a pink fish than a kind of nut. But that’s the way it’s said around here. According to an old CN&R article, the almond farmers’ explanation is when they’re harvesting nuts from the tree, they shake the “L” out of ’em. That’s a reasonable enough answer to that one. Just don’t get us started on Esplanayde …
Best use of neon signageEnloe Hospital, on the Esplanade
It’s a nightclub! It’s a restaurant! It’s a … hospital? Enloe’s use of neon advertising is oddly out of place but comfortingly retro at the same time. Too bad they don’t offer beer and rock music when you walk inside.
Best place to show off your tattoo
A nice tat—or five, or 50—deserves to be seen. Besides hanging out at tattoo parlors (or outside them), showing them off can draw stares. Not at Off Limits. The bar is great for live music and playing pool, but also doubles as a body art exhibit. It definitely attracts a crowd that enjoys the pain of a needle—we’re talking tattoo and piercing needles, folks.
Best local band shirtThe Shankers
This was a no-brainer … well, it was sort of a close call between The Shankers and The Makai. The Shankers prevailed because they were available not only in black, but also red—and red makes everything a little cooler. The illustration of a switchblade piercing a human heart, designed by Kid Evil, is as classic as the band’s sound. If you own one already, you’re lucky—the shirts are hard to come by nowadays, and it seems like Kerra and Johnny Shanker sold out of them just as quickly as they printed them.
Best place to get close to nature without actually getting close to nature
The back patio at LaSalles
There aren’t nearly enough outdoor patios in Chico. Go to Europe, and you’ll find one filled with people every few feet and usually a small group of musicians playing nearby. Still, there are a few in this town that will meet the tastes of just about anyone. Enjoy trees? Hit LaSalles’ back patio, where the trees shoot right up through the wooden deck; you’ll probably find a danceable band playing, too.
Best person to wake up withMelissa Cabral
We may get a little weepy here. Break-ups are never easy. There’ll be no more rolling over at 5:30 or 6 a.m. and seeing the smile of our beloved Melissa. And the relationship was going so well! Sigh. Guess we’ll just have to reprogram TiVo. Before moving to the night side this week, Cabral was the anchor for the local morning show Wake Up! on KHSL and KNVN. Sure, she’d stumble over the occasional word, and her ad-libs were wide-eyed exercises in goofiness, but she struck the perfect tone for early news: pleasant, serious for serious stories, never sickly sweet or caffeinated. Cue the violins: “How will we live without you …”
Best museum curator
Jason Wooten, Speaker Connection
If you’ve ever wondered where all the big, bulky analog music equipment has been going as it gets replaced with small, convenient and digital versions, drive over to the old strip mall at 230 Walnut Street and smell the speakers. Jason Wooten has been acquiring what you’ve been throwing out for over a decade. He has assembled a museum of music history by piling it up, floor to ceiling, at his speaker repair/vintage equipment shop, The Speaker Connection. Crawling up one side of the building is a wall of vintage amplifiers from Vox, Fender and so on. There’s the old 24 track, two-inch analog tape machine and mixing board from Chico State’s recording studio covered in plastic. There’s even a tape machine from Neil Young’s ranch hiding among artifacts. Some things are for sale; some aren’t. Stop in and ask the curator for a tour.
Best ambassador for ChicoDebra Lucero
No one has worked harder to promote our city and county than Debra Lucero. As Friends of the Arts executive director and Butte County tourism director, she has drawn attention to the beautiful side of life with a variety of creative projects. Butte County’s colorful display at the California State Fair won a gold ribbon. She steered the HGTV cable network to Chico artist Norm Dillinger (see next item). And coming up soon is Artoberfest and its new event, Chico Palio, which she aims to develop into an event on the scale of the Gilroy Garlic Festival and Ashland Shakespeare Festival. With her infectious passion, she just might do it.
Best local Howard FinsterNorm Dillinger
Anyone who’s just taken a passing look at Norm Dillinger’s home at 821 Orient Street has seen only the tip of a brightly painted iceberg. Like famed Georgia folk artist Howard Finster (remember Talking Heads’ Little Creatures album cover?), Dillinger has created an entire art environment on the property around his house, which he calls Lumina. It’s mostly made up of his colorful pointillist paintings of people and animals (there’s a wolf hiding in the bushes!), with ceramic frogs, rabbits and even a big Buddha getting the same dotted treatment. The inside of his home/museum is just as impressive, with multicolored painted windows, a ceiling lined with aluminum foil bricks and a huge gorgeous scene depicting the old tree-lined Downtown Park Plaza. But Lumina is not going to just be Chico’s little secret for much longer, as the producers of HGTV’s Offbeat America series are set to run a segment on Dillinger’s home. If you’re in a local band, you might want to get him to do your album cover now while you can still afford him.
Best place(s) to buy artVagabond Rose/deSouza Gallery
Avenue 9 Gallery
We’ve chosen these galleries because they’re run by people who really know and appreciate the best in local art. Marilyn Souza, who has owned Vagabond Rose for 26 years and has represented many of Chico’s best artists during that time, also owns the deSouza right around the corner of Third and Main (the two venues really function as one). She’s got a sharp eye for quality and carries a diverse assortment of items, from clever knickknacks to top-of-the-line paintings. Maria Phillips and Delores Mitchell own Avenue 9, at Ninth Avenue and The Esplanade, and they too are extremely knowledgeable. Anyone seeking to buy quality work at good prices should visit both galleries.
Best place to spin a yarnOld Hutch’s Plaza
They don’t make teachers like W. H. “Old Hutch” Hutchinson anymore. He was schooled in life, not the academy, having been horse wrangler and cowboy, maritime purser, freelance writer and radio personality before he began teaching history part-time at Chico State in 1953. He didn’t have much in the way of degrees, but he was the author of 15 books and innumerable articles and was selected as the Outstanding Professor in the entire CSU system for 1976-77. His students and friends in Chico knew him as a colorful storyteller who wore western duds and had “a face like 40 miles of bad road,” as he put it. His talks and lectures, delivered in a homespun style, were marvels of wit, wisdom and knowledge. Hutch died of a heart attack in March 1990 at the age of 78. He liked to sit on a bench in this small area just west of Kendall Hall, and after his death it was dedicated to him.
Best reason for an evening drive up the Skyway
The scenery is reason enough—Butte Creek Canyon to the left, then forested ridges to the right. Continue into Paradise, and soon you’ll find the distinct A-frame structure housing Abbotswood Restaurant and Lounge. The food is exceptional, gourmet American fare. The specials are so tempting, you might never order off the menu. Music acts such as jazz trio NewmanAmiYumi add sonic bounce to the lounge. If you don’t like that night’s act, check if Theatre on the Ridge has a performance; the Neal Road company offers most enjoyable community theater.
Best place to buy a good night’s sleepSquare Deal Mattress Factory
This modest little company tucked away in a corner of Chapmantown (at Humboldt Avenue and Bartlett, near the Bruce Street bridge) is a Chico pride and joy because it makes products that give people something precious—good zees. Don’t let Square Deal’s unpretentious exterior fool you: Its mattresses are as good as any in the world and far better than most. Each is hand made using the finest materials, notably foam padding that has the highest level of “memory,” or spring-back ability. You spend one-third of your life sleeping—why not make it as sweet as it can be?
Best source of animal protein
Chico Natural Foods
The votes haven’t been counted yet on whether Chico Natty is going to drop its vegetarian ways and go the way of the free-range chicken, but the gun is loaded, so let’s go ahead and jump it:
“I’ll take one soy tofu snack, a plate of mashed yeast and a leg of cruelty-free veal.”
“You bet. Do you have your membership card?”
“No, but I … ummm … Do you take NRA cards?”
If we told you, it wouldn’t be the best-kept secret, now would it?