Park it here

Looking for a place to swim? People watch? Find a date? Chico’s got ’em

Wanna park?, At 3,670 acres, Bidwell Park is the third-largest municipal park in the country.

Ask just about anyone who lives here what their favorite things about Chico are, and it’s likely that at least one of those favored things will be Chico’s lovely parks.

They’re full of trees and often have perfect swimming holes or pools, jungle gyms for the little ones, large lawns that beckon revelers for a nap or picnic, and some of the best hiking trails anywhere. In most cases, they’re also pretty big (although in this case, size really doesn’t matter—just look at charming but tiny Rotary Park!)

In any case, Chico’s parks are tops. But since there are, indeed, so many parks here (a total of 12 city parks), we thought we’d help you figure out which one might best serve your purposes—be they scamming a date, sipping a smoothie and tanning, or taking the kids for a little afternoon playtime.

Hooker Oak Park
Located on Manzanita Avenue near the entrance to Bidwell Park’s Five Mile Recreation Area, Hooker Oak is perfect for families with kids. It offers a well-maintained swing set and jungle gym area, along with one of Chico’s nicest baseball diamonds. There’s also a pretty stretch of Big Chico Creek that runs through part of the park, and although it’s not deep enough for swimming, there’s definitely wading room.

What you’re likely to see and hear: Busy moms toting melty peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, kids playing hide-n-seek, scattered sun seekers.

Why it’s cool: Easy access, tends to be uncrowded, nice, big, picnic-friendly lawns that stay green all summer.

Downtown Plaza Park
If you’ve been to downtown Chico (and hey, who hasn’t?), you’ve seen this Chico landmark. It is, of course, where the Friday night summer concert series takes place and a popular weekend and weeknight hangout for teenagers. It’s also the venue for many of Chico’s annual arts events, such as the sidewalk chalk art show and the Artisans’ Faire. The gazebo has also been the site of at least one wedding.

What you’re likely to see and hear: Teenagers in Metallica T-shirts talking about the tattoo they want, college students eating lunch, groups practicing playing the guitar and a few people stretched out on the lawn, taking naps.

UP THE DOWNSLIDE <br>Chico’s parks are full of playgrounds and gyms for kids—and their parents. The slide at 20th Street Park is a longtime favorite.

Photo by Tom Angel

Why it’s cool: Location, location, location. Also, thanks to the huge trees, the park stays shady all year. Plus, it’s where the city decorates one of the big spruce trees for Christmas each year.

Bidwell Park
Do I even have to mention Bidwell Park here? It’s become such an integral piece of Chico that it’s sometimes hard to separate the two. Love Chico, love Bidwell Park. It’s part of our collective consciousness, the desire to preserve, protect, and enjoy this jewel in the crown of Chico, Bidwell Park.

The basics: At 3,670 acres, Bidwell Park is the third-largest municipal park in the country. It reaches from five miles up Big Chico Creek Canyon to the center of Chico, at One Mile Recreation Area. It’s full of hiking trails, swimming holes, mountain bike trails and pristine wilderness.

Most often, Bidwell Park is referred to in two parts: Lower Park and Upper Park. Lower Park is home to the aforementioned One Mile, which in turn is home to Sycamore Pool, a section of Big Chico Creek that has lifeguards on duty in the summer months, when the creek is dammed for swimming. Upper Park is a larger and wilder area of oak woodland sliced down the middle by Big Chico Creek. It’s got a number of excellent swimming holes (reachable by vehicle along a rough dirt road a few days of the week) and many fine hiking and biking trails. Closer to town, off Centennial Avenue, is the Five Mile Recreation Area, a lovely picnic area with expansive lawns, BBQ pits and wading spots.

What you’re likely to see and hear: Depending on the season, you’ll see just about everyone and everything at Bidwell Park. Sycamore Pool is crowded with swimmers in the summer (and sometimes, on hot nights, with skinny-dippers), the trails are well marked and well used. You’ll also likely see horses, as they’re allowed on many of the trails.

Why it’s cool: No reason needed. Just look around, and you’ll feel it.

Caper Acres
This fun little park is located behind the baseball diamonds at One Mile. It’s absolutely made for kids—and their parents. I mean, the entrance is kid-size, and their parents have to duck to get in. How’s that for kid-friendly? The park features wonderful wooden play gyms, an “underground” bunker for the adventurous little ones, slides and swings galore, and plenty of picnic areas. It’s a popular spot for birthday parties, and there’s a special place (reservations required) made just for parties. But there’s also plenty of space for impromptu get-togethers, so it’s likely that just by showing up, you’ll find a space.

What you’re likely to see and hear: Kids, kids, kids. And parents, parents, parents. Toddlers taking their first trip down a slide, bigger kids tearing up and down ladders, lots of picnic food.

Why it’s cool: It’s cool because it’s made especially for kids, and it’s a perfect place to keep the kids busy for an afternoon. Guaranteed they’ll sleep well after a day here.

20th Street Park
If you’re looking for a huge park with vast expanses of lawn, landscaped trees, soccer fields and baseball diamonds, 20th Street Park is for you. Its name is a bit of misnomer, as it’s located at the north end of Whitman Avenue (bordering Highway 99), and is more behind 20th Street than on it.

What you’ll likely see and hear: Kids from nearby Chapman School playing, families on picnics, folks flying kites, soccer moms toting mid-game snacks, mini-vans, and soccer and baseball teams practicing or competing.

Why it’s cool: 20th Street Park has arguably the best (and most) soccer fields and baseball diamonds in town. Plus, the lawns are level and easily traversed. Good location, especially for those who don’t live in Chico, since it’s so close to the freeway.

Located only a mile or so from 20th Street Park, Chapman Park is a neighborhood park in the truest sense of the term. It’s only a couple of acres, but home to several very well-used basketball courts and what has to be one of the greenest lawns in Chico. It’s on the corner of C and West 16th streets, right in the heart of Chapmantown and on the same property as the Dorothy Johnson Community Center, which offers tons of fun activities for the area’s kids and seniors.

What you’re likely to see and hear: Teenagers playing basketball after school, mothers pushing strollers, kids running on the lawn.

Why it’s cool: Neighborhood parks, by becoming little gathering points for communities, are cool by nature.

Rotary Park
If you blink while you’re passing little Rotary Park, you might miss it. But somehow, its diminutive size makes it even better. Only the size of a residential parcel, it’s located in one of Chico’s coolest neighborhoods—familiarly called “the streets” by Chicoans in the know. Rotary Park is at the corner of West 16th and Broadway streets and features the basics—a small swing set, a picnic table, and a patch of tidy lawn. It’s a perfect destination for a quick jaunt about the neighborhood.

What you’re likely to see and hear: Families on a walk after dinner, little kids swinging on the swing set, maybe even the occasional meditator sitting on the grass.

Why it’s cool: Shady, private and serene, this is a park that begs for evening walks and long talks sitting on its well-maintained lawn.