Kid friendly: Chico and children: made for each other

The new Kiwanis-Chico Community Observatory is a great family outing. On Thursday through Sunday nights, children and grownups alike can gaze upon the night sky from Bidwell Park.

The new Kiwanis-Chico Community Observatory is a great family outing. On Thursday through Sunday nights, children and grownups alike can gaze upon the night sky from Bidwell Park.

Photo by Tom Angel

There’s never a shortage of things for children to do here, and you adults might be surprised you actually enjoy yourself too.

Truly family-friendly cities are hard to find, and Chico prides itself on being one of the few. The adults here (and college kids too!) are pleasant and welcoming to the large population of youngsters who hang out at local playgrounds, swimming holes and fun family gathering points. If you’re in the Bidwell Park area for a picnic or an evening stroll, there are two fantastic playgrounds for the kiddies to enjoy. Murals, musicians, pets and sweet shops speckle the downtown area to create an eye-candy atmosphere for any child.

At the top of the list has to be Bidwell Park. On your first visit to Chico’s cherished park, go directly to Caper Acres, in the One-Mile Recreation Area. This is a wonderful playground strictly for kids—specifically little kids. In fact, the sign on the entrance gate says adults may not enter unless accompanied by a child, which seems fair enough.

After the visit to Caper Acres, you and your child can enjoy a walk through nature. Starting at One-Mile Recreation Area and heading east is a good way to enjoy the huge oak trees and the wildlife. There’s a nice walking trail next to the creek and a paved bicycle path a bit farther away.

Other intriguing places to explore in the park include the cork forest just behind Parkview School near Cedar Grove. Cork trees are pretty strange by themselves—a whole forest of them is really weird. Nearby is John Bidwell’s experimental tree-growing area, where John planted a wide variety of trees from around the world. There is a self-guided nature trail to help you identify the trees.

From there it is a short walk to the Chico Creek Nature Center, where kids can experience a safe and organized introduction to the natural world of Bidwell Park. The center’s Living Animal Museum includes tortoises, birds, snakes, frogs and ferrets.

These attractions are all located in Lower Bidwell Park. Older kids will enjoy hiking in Upper Bidwell Park, which encompasses the whole of Big Chico Creek Canyon beginning five miles east of downtown. Check out the Yahi Trail, which runs along the north side of the creek, featuring swimming holes and dazzling basalt rock formations.

If your children are looking to do something more active, Chico has plenty of playgrounds, fun centers and other diversions. Here is a list:

There are two great playgrounds in Bidwell Park—Caper Acres and the Hooker Oak Recreation Area. There is also a small playground area at the Children’s Park, which is conveniently located downtown, just north of the Bidwell Memorial Presbyterian Church at First and Broadway. Chico’s largest outdoor sports park, the Community Park off East 20th Street just west of Highway 99, has a large children’s playground in addition to its volleyball and tennis courts and expansive playing fields. A great place for a picnic while visiting is the Oak Way Playground, at the corner of West Eighth Avenue and Highway 32, which offers a variety of play facilities, including a playground, sports fields and basketball courts.

Cal Skate
Chico’s one and only roller-skating rink is a good one—large, clean and well run. It’s the kind of place where you can drop off the kids for a couple of hours and know they’re going to have fun and be all right. There are some batting cages outside, but they are open only when the weather cooperates. Cal Skate has different activities every day of the week, so call its “fun line” at 343-1601 to find out what’s happening and what the hours are. The rink is located at 2465 Carmichael Drive, just west and north of the Park Avenue and Highway 99 intersection.

Ray’s Fun Center
This indoor fun center offers a video arcade, video game rentals, a pool parlor and a kiddies’ soft-play facility. A small cafe provides snacks and quick meals. It’s an especially good place to go on a rainy day. Open 9 a.m.-10 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m.-midnight weekends. Located at 130 West East Ave., in the Albertson’s shopping center. 891-8273.

Chuck E. Cheese
We can’t leave Chuck the “Big Cheese” out of this list. Our own kids won’t let us. You have your mechanical band made up of a gorilla, a chicken, a mouse and a pizza maker. There are carnival-type games, video games and rides for the real little kids, as well as an indoor soft-play facility. Located at 966 East Ave. 894-0400.

Treat your kids to a drive in the country and a visit to a fine collection of rescued livestock at Orland’s Farm Sanctuary.

Photo by Tom Angel

Orchard Lanes
More than a bowling alley, this an arcade, snack bar, pro-family shop with plenty of family fun at 2397 The Esplanade. 895-3257.

Farm Sanctuary
Just down Highway 32 from Chico, in Orland, is Farm Sanctuary, where animals such as cows, pigs, sheep, goats and turkeys are protected from harm—including becoming dinner—at this shelter. Children can meet the animals on weekends from April through November. For more information or directions, call 865-4617 or visit

Humboldt Neighborhood Park
For skateboarding and inline skating, this park is located between Orient and Flume streets along Humboldt Avenue. The 10,000-square-foot skate track is equipped with a pyramid, rail, box, two 3-foot-wide steps, curbing and steel coping to supply the skaters with enough variation to mix up their patterns. The park is open from 8 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. throughout the summer months; in the fall the park closes at sunset.